11 of the strangest fads throughout history

Since the beginning of time, people have been followers. Check out some of these unusual and often dangerous fads and trends from throughout history.

1. Bad Elizabethan Teeth

blacked out teeth lucy smile

In the Elizabethan Era, unlike today, poor people actually ate a lot more healthfully than rich people did– back then, only the very rich could afford sweets, and the poor subsisted primarily on fruits, veggies and meat. Given that this was before the era of modern dentistry, that meant that rich people had much worse teeth than the poor did.

Thus, crappy teeth became a status symbol. In fact, it became so very fashionable to have bad teeth, that high ranking ladies actually used to use cosmetics to black their teeth out, in order to look more rich and glamorous.

This actually isn’t the only time in history that white teeth haven’t been the ideal. In ancient Egypt people would use red ocher to make their teeth red, and in some parts of Asia, women dyed their teeth black (in Japan this was called Ohaguro) to signify that they were married or to prevent tooth decay.

2. Flagpole Sitters and Stylites


They’re not sick, but they’re not well… probably because sitting on a pole would literally be kind of a pain in the ass.

In the 1920s, a stunt actor and former sailor named Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly started the trend when he sat on a tiny platform at the top of a flagpole for 13 hours for no apparent reason. Soon, everyone was out to beat his record, and marathon flagpole sitting became a thing that people did, for like, days on end. Although the trend died out by the time the Great Depression hit, some people never lost their passion for it. Specifically Richard “Dixie” Blandy who continued performing pole sitting stunts right up until the 70s, when he fell to his death in Chicago after his pole broke.

Flagpole sitting was in some ways related to the ascetic discipline of Stylitism, where aspiring saints would climb up on top of a column and live there for the rest of their life to prove how holy they were.

3. The Polish Plait


This just goes to show you that white people with dreads have been a problem since forever. A Polish Plait is a hair disease/style/nightmare that’s like a long, terrifying unidread mass of keratin fibers cemented together with pus, dirt, dried blood, and old lice eggs.

Anyway, it’s called the Polish Plait because hundreds of years ago it was a pretty big fad in Poland. The dreads were considered lucky amulets, so people grew them on purpose. Also, in Denmark, the King developed one and other people in his court grew them in solidarity.

Later on, people thought that a Polish Plait developed because a person was ill and that was how the illness was trying to escape from the hair– so they thought it would be a bad idea to cut it off. Not to mention the fact that it was believed that a cut off plait could avenge itself on you and make you sick through some kind of weird white people dread magic.

4. Spiritualism


It all started in 1848 when a couple of sisters decided to mess with their mom by convincing her they were communicating with a ghost in the house. Astonished and amazed by this “ability,” mom started inviting all the neighbors over to the house to meet the ghost, and pretty soon… the Fox Sisters were a sensation.

Spiritualism as a religion was one of the biggest fads of the 19th century. All the best homes in the land (including the White House) were having fancy get-togethers and contacting their dead relatives. Even after it was revealed that the Fox Sisters’ act was a hoax– they admitted they were just cracking their toes– the fascination continued.

In fact, in continues to this day in some circles. And not just middle school slumber parties! There’s a whole town of Spiritualists in a Western NY town by where the Fox Sisters lived called Lilydale. Also, Dan Aykroyd is a Spiritualist (he comes from a long line of them) which is part of how he came up with the idea for Ghost Busters.

5. Consumption (ie: Tuberculosis)


No, really. See, back in the day, all the most fabulous, glamorous artistic people were dying of consumption or writing about people dying of consumption. The Bronte Sisters, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, Thoreau, Keats, Chopin, Picasso’s first wife, Balzac and so on. Plus all the heroines of literature and opera- most notably in Puccini’s La Boheme and Verdi’s La Traviata (which was based on Alexandre Dumas, fils’ book “La Dame Aux Camilles”, which was also the basis for the Greta Garbo film “Camille”).

While people didn’t actually contract TB on purpose or anything, there was this idea that having it meant that you had an artistic temperament  As a result, it became very fashionable to be very skinny and pale, in imitation of the disease’s effects.

6. Pedestrianism


Pedestrianism was at one point a popular spectator sport in the vein of marathons and such. People would gather at fairs and such in the 17th and early 18th century to watch people, um, walk really fast for long distances. However, in the late 18th century, a new fad of walking insanely long distances came into fashion.

It started mostly with an attention-whore journalist named Edward Peyton Weston who won $10,000 by walking from Maine to Chicago in 30 days in 1867. Soon, people across the nation (not having much to do in the decade after the Civil War) started doing marathon stunt walking for funsies.

7. Hunkerin’


Hunker down folks, and prepare to hear the tale of the most bland, pointless fad that ever was. Basically it was just squatting. Squatting for long periods of time. That is the whole tale.

Hunkerin’ came into fashion in the late 1950s on college campuses throughout the south. People would have like, hunkerin’ contests to see who could squat for the longest. Some even looked at it as a type of bonding exercise, as one hunkerer described it:

“A respite from a world of turmoil. The main purpose of hunkerin’ is to get down and hunker together. It’s a friendship thing: get your friends to hunker with you. The man you don’t know is the man you haven’t hunkered with.”


8. Flowers


People were crazy for flowers back in the day. Most notably, of course, was the 17th century Tulipomania craze in Holland- which caused one of the first economic bubbles. The Victorians were also mad for collecting flowers– particularly orchids and ferns.

They loved flowers so much that they even started communicating with them, in what was called “The Language of the Flowers.” Different flowers meant different things. For instance, tansies would mean “I declare war on you,” aconites would mean “I am/you are a misanthropist” and lettuce would mean “you are coldhearted.” Which is kind of awesome, and the next time I have a bad break-up I am totally mailing the dude a head of lettuce wrapped in tansies and aconites.

9. Goldfish Swallowing


Ok, sure. Everyone knows about the infamous live goldfish swallowing fad of the 1920s already, which is why I was originally hesitant about even including it in this list.

What’s interesting, however, is that because it became such a huge thing– with people swallowing like 10 or 15 goldfish in a sitting– that towns started passing ordinances against it. One Massachusetts Senator actually proposed a bill to protect the fish from “cruel and wanton” consumption. Doctors were divided on the issue. Some said that it would definitely give you a tapeworm, and others said that one could probably safely eat 150 live goldfish.

If for some reason you’d actually like to see someone eat a live goldfish, people still do it, and there are tons of videos on YouTube. I can’t really bear to watch it myself.

10. Arsenic


The Victorians were all the fuck about arsenic. They used it in facial creams to enhance their complexion, they put it in diet pills, libido pills (like an early Viagra), to cure snake bites, to cure asthma, reverse baldness. Lotta people died that way. On one occasion, a candy maker in England put it in some mints as a filler, and about 200 people ended up getting poisoned.

Oddly, people were not unaware that arsenic could kill you– there were loads of arsenic murders throughout these years. However, it seems they probably thought it was OK in small doses. Which, um, it is not.

11. Dance Marathons


As innocent as they sound, the Depression Era dance marathons were probably one of the most messed up fads of all time. They often lasted for a month or two– and in one case almost a year.

In case you’re wondering about how anyone can actually dance for a month or more straight- the way it usually worked was that people would get 15 minutes of “rest” every hour during which they would sleep, and they’d get to eat 12 small meals a day while “dancing.” It wasn’t full on dancing– most of the time it was just sad stumbling around while trying not to die. People would pay 25 cents to watch, and could then come and go at any time. Basically, it was organized sadism.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, people actually started dying during these endurance tests. The first was 27 year old Homer Morehouse who kicked it after 87 straight hours of dancing.

Eventually, the events were pretty much banned across the country for being awful and depressing and cruel.