Embellishment and Mutilation Were Part of the 10 Most Bizarre Fashion Trends in History
Embellishment and Mutilation Were Part of the 10 Most Bizarre Fashion Trends in History

Embellishment and Mutilation Were Part of the 10 Most Bizarre Fashion Trends in History

Peter Baxter - June 30, 2018

Embellishment and Mutilation Were Part of the 10 Most Bizarre Fashion Trends in History
Tooth filing and sharpening, the painful pursuit of beauty. Pininterest

Teeth Filing

Filing and chipping the front teeth to sharpened points is a body modification practice that is very widespread throughout the world. The tradition was, and in some places still is common in equatorial Africa, Southeast Asia, among the Mayans and associated people and from time to time among the Australian Aborigines.

How and why? Well the how part is quite easy. Usually a sharp instrument, sometimes bespoke and sometimes not, is employed to delicately chip away at the enamel until the desired effect is achieved. Painful and brain jarring at the very least, one can imagine that a few hours of that would send you to bed with a headache and a toothache.

Why is a little different. In some cases, teeth were filed down to a nub in order to reduce the impression of anger and hostility, and in other cases to increase the same effect. The practice was certainly cosmetic, because it offered absolutely no advantage in battle or in the business of hunting, or in eating meat. In fact, the removal of so much essential enamel from the tooth surface simply exposes it to enhance risk of decay and disintegration, and after that, hot and cold sensitivity must be awful.

There has in recent years, with the popularity of body modification, been an upsurge in the business of tooth sharpening, but with the advantage of modern dentistry, the same effect can be achieved without necessarily exposing the inner material of the tooth.

Nonetheless, here we have yet another challenging body modification undertaken for whatever specific reason, and another questionable chapter in the pursuit of ideal beauty.

Embellishment and Mutilation Were Part of the 10 Most Bizarre Fashion Trends in History
Lip Plates, surely one of the oddest trends out there. Scribol/lanka Deepa/Pininterest

Lip Platters

We end this list with what must truly be one of the oddest, most impractical and downright unattractive combinations of body modification and ornamentation. Lip platters, and only question is why?

A lip platter, as the illustration makes clear, is simply the perforation and elongation of either one or both lips, usually the bottom, to the extent that a disc of varying size can be held in place and worn as an ornament. Typically the labret is pierced, and as with neck stretching and skull elongating, by increments, the perforation is expanding by the insertion of ever larger discs or plates. The practice is most widespread in Africa where it is still widely practised, most notably in parts of Ethiopia and the Sahel region.

In most parts of Africa, it is usually accompanied by the removal of the two lower front teeth. The ‘why’ part of this is again confusing, and speculative. Anthropologists have postulated that the more extreme the modification, and the larger and more elaborate the plate, the higher the individual stands in the social hierarchy.

As a general rule of thumb, a girl will have her lip pierced a year or so before marriage, after which a simple wooden peg is inserted, and once healed, the process begins. The girl will craft her own plate, and as the size of the plate increases, so does the intricacy of its ornamentation. The largest lip plate on record was identified in Ethiopia, and it measured 23.4 inches in circumference and was 7.6 inches wide.

The only other region of the world where the practice has been recording is in Amazonia, although in the Pacific Northwest of America, among the Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit a similar practice has been observed, usually as a symbol of a woman’s maturity, and not in any way as extreme as those in Africa. In Africa, the practice is confined largely to women, but among Amazon tribes it is strictly a male preserve, usually as a mark of entering the ‘men’s house’.

It also goes without saying that the Modern Primitive movement as adopted this, among many other ancient methods of beautification, so one is just as likely to see a lip plate adorning a youth on the New York Metro as in a tourist village in Ethiopia.


Where did we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Work, not sex? The real reason Chinese women bound their feet.” CNN. Katy Hunt, May 2017

“Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History.’ Smithsonian. Kate Lineberry, January 2007

“Ta moko – Significance of Māori tattoos.” 100% Pure New Zealand

“Why did early humans reshape their children’s skulls?” BBC. Colin Barras, October 2014

“Teeth-filing as a Mark of Beauty and Belonging in 19th Century Africa.” DianaBuja’s Blog. March 2012