I recently read that about 2,500 years ago in Greece, wearing unwrinkled clothing was a status symbol. It meant one was refined, clean and probably rich. This article also said that the devices used to remove wrinkles weren’t heated, they were simply pressed against the clothing. Even pleats. Can you even imagine doing that? Talk about labor intensive.

Irons back then were called “goffering irons” and no, I do not know how to say that in Greek. They consisted of an iron bar resembling a cook’s rolling pin. Someone had obviously tired of endlessly pushing down on wrinkled garments, and decided to heat the bar and try doing it that way. Voila! Ironing was invented. Countless women, and even some men, have regretted this discovery ever since. As for me, I find wrinkles kind of adorable. Cozy. The lived-in look. I intentionally keep a lot in my clothing, and the Force knows I carry lots on my face, unintentionally, of course.

Anyway, a couple of centuries later the Romans invented something even better for pleats.

(What’s with all the pleats with those guys? Didn’t they just wear togas? Who puts pleats in togas? Well, maybe the very wealthy wore other things that need pleating. Why, oh why, in the name of fashion, do we constantly make so much work for ourselves?)

So, the Romans heated a small metal flattish mallet, and called that a mangle (I also don’t know how to say that in either Latin or Greek), and with that, they hammered wrinkles out of clothing and hammered pleats into them. That too was labor intensive, so they began to wonder what other methods they could employ to get the smooth fabric look they craved without the hard labor? Easy answer. They made their slaves do it.

Then along came the Vikings, and Vikings being Vikings, they didn’t want anyone on the planet to look better than they, so they began to sport wrinkle-free clothing and pleated garments, too. Smooth clothing and pleats were a huge status symbol to the snobby Vikings. As they strutted about in their wrinkle free ensembles between pillages, they knew their elevated status was obvious to everyone. Their iron of choice resembled an upside-down mushroom they heated and rocked back and forth on damp clothing.

Moving on up to the 15th century, wealthy Europeans had an iron they called a “hot box.” Also made of metal, it was heated with a hot brick or hot coals and they used that to iron their clothing. Their poorer neighbors had it a little easier, and it so happens that those folks of lesser means were also much smarter; they used what they called the “flat iron,” a name that’s still used today. They heated it over a fire so they could iron out wrinkles, but alas, to their dismay, the fire covered the irons with soot, which didn’t add much to the sartorial desires of the owners.

Life is so often series of glitches, isn’t it? They eventually figured out how to heat the iron and avoid the soot, which I’ll bet was a real eureka moment.

When gas lighting became the thing, inventors experimented heating the irons with gas. Bad idea. They leaked a lot and what’s worse, they frequently exploded. After killing the ironer, they often then caused the house to catch fire. Gas heated irons had a fairly short history.
People went back to heating irons on the stove. Those things could weigh 15 lbs. or more. Housewives must have had strong arms, all so that their clothing could be wrinkle free. The irons came in all sizes and designs, some with detachable handles so milady could heat one while another was in use.

Electricity came along and phew, finally a light weight-iron that heated and cooled at will. It could even blast out steam on command! A miracle! Life was good. Wrinkles were in full retreat. But as far as I’m concerned, irons were—and still are—instruments of domestic torture.

Personally, I own several of those old stove-heated heavy flat irons. They make fabulous bookends. Tied to the handles they keep the wires of one’s electric blanket under the bed so someone creeping about in the dark doesn’t trip and fall flat; they easily hold recalcitrant doors open, keep piled magazines piled, and can be used as effective clobbering weapons when some entitled jerks decide to come into your personal space to relieve you of your possessions.

Do I iron clothes? You’re kidding, right? No.

I do, however, send up short prayers of thanks to the guy who invented clothes dryers. Those lovely machines get out the worst of the wrinkles, and anyway, the people with whom Mongo and I hang out are as wrinkled as we are, fabric-wise and skin-wise. So who really cares?
Oh, and we definitely do own a steam iron. It’s around here somewhere … I’m sure of it.