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May 9, 2012 at 9:10 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Fashion Trends With Health Reasons

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Have you ever looked at a particular style and thought, “What were they thinking?” 

Those baggy pants down to the knees, for instance, can only function as a dysfunction in my opinion. But is style simply someone’s opinion? In some interesting cases throughout history, the answer is no.  There are actually some cases where fashion choices are health choices as well. Here are just a few examples.

The “Codpiece”

King Henry CodpieceOne of the earliest examples of medical necessity dictating fashion occurred during The Renaissance.  The usual, traditional tunic began to accompanied by a curious component- the codpiece. 

This phallic embellishment covered and maintained the shape of the male genitalia.  Pictured is Henry VIII modeling a fine example of a codpiece.  The name derives from the medieval term “cod” which means bag. By the 16th century, these were commonplace and had taken a fashion all in their own with contrasting colors and embellishments. 

In this arena it was, I imagine, hard to ignore a man’s crotch and interestingly, the inception of the codpiece mirrors a pandemic of syphilis which swept across Europe. Without effective treatment, syphilis left male genitalia with painful draining sores.  A traditional tunic would have only increased the pain.

Enter the codpiece, a sad necessity that caught the eye of the fashionistas of the day.             

High Collars

soilder with high collar fashionRemember the 80’s with the raised collar polo shirts?  I’m pretty sure there was no rhyme or reason to this, but two centuries earlier, however, it was a different story. 

Tuberculosis, known then as “consumption” was wide-spread, affecting people of all walks of life. One possibility of the disease called consumption was scrofula, a grotesque enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck. 

Such disfigurement was quite noticeable with the open-necked fashion of the day.  For the aristocracy, adaptations were made to maintain social ties.  Tailors were commissioned to create adaptive coats with exceedingly high collars to hide the disfigurement.  When these esteemed (yet sick) people were seen around society with their adaptive fashion statements, the look caught on. Even the military embodied this look during this era.

What About in Modern Times?

Consider those scrubs that everyone in the medical field is now wearing.  Once found solely in the operating room where a simple, uniform, comfortable, easily-laundered outfit was needed, eventually, this look migrated out of the operating rooms and into all of healthcare.  Scrubs are now as symbolic of healthcare as the stethoscope or the red cross.

No More Doctors With Neck Ties

A recent study showed that the ties of doctors harbored potentially dangerous bacteria. As physicians moved from ill patient to patient, those ties dipped down on to the field of contamination as they performed their exam. Heeding the data, I no longer wear a tie. 

Most of my colleagues are like-minded. Some hospitals now will not permit neckties worn by staff. Honestly, I can’t say that I mind.  An open neck is more toward my casual style. My wife is pushing for bow ties… but we’ll see. 

Look in your closet.

How much of your style mirrors a function that serves you presently or that has been lost to history?

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