Women's Clothing Throughout Time

(70 Posts)
nickelcognito Tue 18-Sep-12 12:45:32

As part of my HND fashion technology, I had to do a major essay on the history of the Corset.

(the module was historical and contextual referencing - we all wanted to make corsets, so in order to fit it into the course in a proper way, it was used as Historical and Contextual Referencing Module)

I wanted to talk about it.

I won't do a massive introduction, because I'm sure we all have our own ideas of why/when etc.

I'll start by:

Women have always been suppressed by men, right?
in fashion, it was one way that they could express themselves and men couldn't touch them.
(and we can discuss the whole thing about cloths etc too!)
in Mediaeval Britain and Europe, women were banned from showing their legs (calves and ankles), so they got round this "modesty code" by lowering their necklines. At one stage in the C13th, they had such low necklines that their entire bosom was showing.
one in the eye for the religious!

TunipTheVegemal Tue 18-Sep-12 21:18:34

As an ex-reenactor I want to back Thistledew up on this. A nice working class set of stays from the 17th century is way more comfortable than a modern bra. Posher clothes are generally less comfortable.
I find it really weird how people don't notice how distorting and uncomfortable the modern underwired bra is. I don't notice mine during the day but it feels nice when I take it off. My experience of stays is that unless you've got them laced too tight, there's less of the 'phew!' feeling at the end of the day.
Even the more restrictive posh clothes (eg the long conical tightly laced late Elizabethan bodice) help with posture so much that you feel comfortably supported.

Thistledew Tue 18-Sep-12 21:39:23

From a feminist perspective I don't think it is at all helpful to perpetuate the myths that women couldn't breath, couldn't move properly, were fainting all the time etc when they were wearing bodies/stays/corsets. I think it undermines the hard manual work that working class women did- because if they were all struggling to breath and fainting all the time the work they were doing couldn't have been all that hard, could it?

SuperB0F Tue 18-Sep-12 22:00:25

This all sounds very interesting. Could somebody link to a picture of these practical 'stays'? I'm not sure I've ever seen them before. How do they support the breasts?

Thistledew Tue 18-Sep-12 22:08:41

Have a look at this site. The site belongs to a friend of mine. I don't profess to know a fraction of what he knows, but everything I know about corsets I know from him!

SuperB0F Tue 18-Sep-12 22:10:49

Brilliant- I'll enjoy that, thanks thanks

Empusa Tue 18-Sep-12 22:33:42

"I wonder how good bras were back in the day (or even if they existed in the form that's typical these days)."

This is interesting!

MmeLindor Tue 18-Sep-12 23:29:57

Marking place.

Must ask MmeGuillotine to come along to this.

TerrariaMum Wed 19-Sep-12 10:17:47

Aren't stays and corsets different things though? I could have sworn that they were. Similar but different?

RubyStolenBootyGates Wed 19-Sep-12 10:41:00

Hello! Another re-encator/corset-maker/costumier here:
I'm a 16thc. bod, and a properly made corset is a boon. Comfy, and helps you sit in an environment that is mostly stools without backs unless you're very posh. Also, properly constructed/boned underthings help to support very heavy skirts which would be desperately uncomfortable without it.

Look at those poor girls with their giant wedding dresses and sore hips. All because they don't wear properly constructed corsets/boned bodices.

RubyStolenBootyGates Wed 19-Sep-12 10:42:30

Recent developments in bra history here:
www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/20/medieval-bras-history-women-support

(There is a more scolarly article but I can't find it now)

nickeldaisical Wed 19-Sep-12 10:44:00

mine was a copy of one i saw in one of the books i used for research.
it was a full-bodied one, i can't remember the exact period, but i think it was mid-victorian. it wasn't stiff because i used rigilene boning and had to make my front bit from stiff interfacing because i couldn't work out how else to do it (one of the other girls on my course had some front ones made from steel!)

Thistle - i agree with that about having cast-offs and making new from them. i don't know why i didn't think of that one yesterday smile
and it makes a lot more sense than using stays that don't fit properly.

nickeldaisical Wed 19-Sep-12 11:03:51

when elastic was invented (and made useful), there was a corset that was made with elastic lacing.
some satirist made a cartoon in a newspaper about the fact that now a woman could have an affair without her husband knowing - he basically made out that elasticated lacing would be the ruination of marriage! grin

SuperB0F Wed 19-Sep-12 12:12:13

Ruby, you've answered a question I had there- sitting on stools! I was wondering why people ever though they were necessary at all! And would they help support the back if you were doing lots of lifting and manual work too?

I wonder why rich women's fashion didn't evolve away from them in that case? You know, like how it was fashionable to be pale as opposed to weather eaten like poor women, etc?

Thistledew Wed 19-Sep-12 12:20:31

Boddies, stays and corsets are basically different names for the same garment. In C16th they were called boddies, C17th and C18th they were mostly called stays, and from C19th they were called corsets. The styles and look of them did vary significantly as fashions changed.

SuperB0F Wed 19-Sep-12 12:23:14

Have you any thoughts on my question above, Thistledew? I loved your friend's site, btw.

Thistledew Wed 19-Sep-12 12:50:14

Corsets definitely provide support when doing manual labour. I typed a longer post about this yesterday at 16.55 - does this answer your q? I'm on my phone atm so would rather not repeat myself! smile

SuperB0F Wed 19-Sep-12 12:53:30

Ah yes, I see that now, thanks.

I still wonder why it didnt become a mark of the leisured classes to abandon the corset earlier though. Just thinking aloud!

Thistledew Wed 19-Sep-12 12:54:03

I'm pleased you like my friend's site. He is one of, if not the foremost authority on corsets in the UK and can usually date something to within a couple of decades! The pieces he makes are beautiful.

TunipTheVegemal Wed 19-Sep-12 12:54:12

I think even if you were rich you would still have sat on stools a lot - there are plenty of posh stools.

TunipTheVegemal Wed 19-Sep-12 12:58:53

I think the leisured classes differentiated themselves by making corsets more restrictive rather than abandoning them. Also appearance and fashion would have been more important for wealthy women and that would have been their other purpose.

There's also the issue of the firm foundation they provided helping to take the weight of the skirts and it's the rich who would have had the skirts with the most material.

RubyStolenBootyGates Wed 19-Sep-12 13:00:18

Posh stools, and very posh cushions. Good corsetry makes it all ok though smile

Thistledew Wed 19-Sep-12 13:00:44

On that point I think it is just that there isn't now and has never been a significant difference in clothing between wealthy people and poor workers. It was all on a continuum. You showed that you were wealthy by having your stays made out of an expensive fabric and by lacing them tighter than was really good for you. As someone else said up the page- they had a use even for wealthy women by supporting the heavy dresses.

I would also imagine that much of it is vanity- they do give you a very even, uniform shape. Why would you as a wealthy woman present yourself with a flabby tum and saggy boobs, when your maid servant was looking all neat and trim in her corset?

nickeldaisical Wed 19-Sep-12 13:25:07

i guess that a lot of posh rich women found it easier to lose inches by corsetry - it was unbecoming of ladeees to do any physical exertion (leave that to the working classes, they're uncouth).
there wouldn't have been any need to lose the corset because that's how you stay all nice and shapely and ladylike.

SuperB0F Wed 19-Sep-12 13:30:34

Good points, yes.

RubyStolenBootyGates Wed 19-Sep-12 13:44:43

And of course, the tighter and more restrictive your corsetry is, the less manual labour you can actually do. Thus tight corsetry is a mark of wealth. Although in the Tudor era I believe that most wealthy women still had a very hands-on approach to house-hold management, so early and mid-Tudor corsetry, even for the wealthy is relatively practical.

It's only towards the end of the period that very long busks imobilising the body become fasionable.

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