Call the Fashion Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

To keep my hats jaunty but secure at Edwardian events, I use one of my antique, pre-ban hatpins. Pre-ban? What’s that? Well, as silly as it may sound to us, in the 1910s, cities around the globe passed laws outlawing certain sizes of hatpins! Why would governments and police departments waste valuable time outlawing fashion accessories?
Until about 1970, hats were a major part of a woman’s wardrobe. They have varied in size, material, and decor, but one of the primary problems with hats is that, if caught by a gust of wind, it can easily escape from you! Ladies have employed a variety of methods to avert this: making the hat deep enough that it sit snugly on the head or using ribbons to tie them down, wire loops that grasp your head (many 1950s hats use this method), or clips and combs that grab onto your hair. One of the most popular antique methods we no longer use was the hatpin. Hatpins hold your hat on securely by attaching your hat to your hairstyle. That way, as long as your bun is secure, your hat can’t fall off or blow away in the wind! It also helps perch the hat high on your head so it’s not smashing your hairdo or hiding your face. To wear one, you position your hat as desired, thrust the pin through one side of the crown, carefully sliding it under a portion of your hair, and then pushing the pin back out the other side of the hat.

Sort of like this…
The closer yo can get the pin to your scalp, the better. But watch out! You don’t want to jab yourself!

Hatpins  started out as wimple pins used to hold women’s veils in place as far back as Roman times. Those pins were fairly small. However, as women’s headwear changed, so did the pins. It was during the late 18th century– when outrageous large hats perched on outrageously large hairdos–that hatpins first began to appear. Hatpins didn’t truly become common until the mid-to-late 19th century when hats overtook bonnets as the most fashionable form of headwear. A hatpin became an indispensable part of a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. Victorian hats were fairly small for the most part, but as the turn of the century drew near, the hats grew larger and more elaborate…not unlike the giant hats of 100 years earlier.

Mary Boteler by John Hoppner, 1786

Publicity photo of performer Rhonda Ray, circa 1903-1907

Les Modes Hats, circa 1907

Hats and hairstyles in the Edwardian era were enormous, requiring equally enormous hatpins– often so long and sharp that they could not only jab you, but anyone that got too close to you. Indeed, at over a foot long and made of rigid steel, an Edwardian hatpin makes a formidable weapon! There are even poems, books, and songs written about women defending themselves with hatpins! Mugger trying to get your purse? STAB ‘EM! Pervert “mashing” (harassing) you on the train? EN GARDE!

Poke me, eh? I’LL POKE YOU!

Newspapers published many stories about women defending themselves with their hatpins– including in Chicago, one of the first cities to institute  hatpin laws. In 1902 the Chicago Tribune published an article about Jaunite Bonneau– one of the first female couriers for Western Union– defending herself with “Fists and Hatpin” against a group of young male attackers– and being completely blamed for hurting the lads that attacked her.

You can find even more Chicago Tribune articles about hatpins being used as weapons in their searchable archives. Most have a rather negative view of hatpins and the women wielding them, but there are a few articles that mention their use in a more positive light, including this 1898 blurb about Barbara Stack who “routed street car robbers with a hatpin” or this 1907 horror story about a woman defending herself from a kidnapping rapist.

The uniquely feminine weapon did not sit too well with men used to submissive ladies, so beginning in 1908, they began passing laws limiting the length of hatpins, usually to no more than 7-9 inches. Other cities passed regulations requiring safety caps for hatpins rather than outright banning longer ones. This seemed like a much more practical approach to the problem of accidental stabbings– a naked pin point sticking out of a hat could accidentally injure people around you– though requiring a cap rendered the pin much harder to use for self-defense, too. Other cities allowed longer, uncapped pins, but they could stick out no more than 1/2″ or you could face a hefty fine— including paying reparations:

From the Boston Sacred Heart Review April 12, 1913.
It is probably not a coincidence that the notice about outlawing hatpins as weapons appears just below an article about militant suffragettes in England.

Male lawmakers weren’t just making idle threats, either. Women vehemently opposed the laws and some ladies were even arrested for wearing long or uncapped pins in their hats, especially suffragettes. Yes, policemen would actually stop women to inspect their hats for illegal hatpins. For example, here’s a clip from a newspaper article about arresting women with long hatpins. At a fierce 13 inches long, my hatpin could have landed me in the slammer if I wore it without a permit after 1908!

Pre-ban Hatpin on the left, 13″ long circa 1900
“Legal” hatpin on the right, 7″ long circa 1890-1915
Somewhat ironically, the shorter hatpin is sharper. You could definitely still defend yourself easily with it!

Hatpins do require extra attention in order to wear them safely. Truth be told, a properly worn hatpin should not be noticeable at all when worn. It should hide amid your hat trimmings, showing only the bejeweled end if it has one. The sharp end shouldn’t not stick out more than an inch (unless it also has a decorative cap as some 1910-1950 hatpins do).  If you are like me and have a hatpin a bit too long for your hat, you must be very careful when giving hugs or taking selfies with friends, not to mention being careful not to stab yourself! However,  hatpins are incredibly important if you want to wear historical hats properly…or defeat hooligans.

Post-ban newspaper articles take a decidedly dark view of women using hatpins. Many reference the violent protests of women’s rights activists as proof that women could not be trusted with sharp objects, no matter how prettily decorated:

Whether the hatpin ban made women adopt smaller hats or whether the natural flow of fashion made the edicts obsolete, it’s hard to say, but as the 1910s progressed, hats changed to sit lower on the head and slowly shrunk in scale. By 1920, a decade after the hatpin laws passed, women had adopted shorter hair, shorter skirts, and close-fitting cloches that didn’t need hatpins at all. American women also got the vote so we could fight to wear what we want!

A fight for fashion is a fight for freedom!

I actually don’t know when–or even if!– places like Chicago, New Orleans, and Melbourne repealed their hatpin bans…for all I know, it’s one of those weird laws left on the books after all these years and I’m technically a criminal in some municipalities!

COME AND GET ME, FASHION POLICE!

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Fashion and Feminism: Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute and the Hunt for a Healthful Corset

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Portrait of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute in an article commenting on her corset research and practice (among other things), 1890s.

Before I proceed, I am going to ask that you read this post with the following disclaimer in mind:

I do not fluently read/speak French. Therefore the translations provided below are courtesy of Google Translate, which is not perfect. I tried to verify the translations through multiple dictionaries to ensure that I am not misinterpreting the author’s intent, but sometimes things can be lost in translation which is why I have provided the original French alongside the Google English translations.

 

le-corset

Wikimedia’s photograph archive from the book “Le Corset” written by Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute c. 1900 showcases a wide variety of body shapes in the late Victorian/early Edwardian period. The book has illustrations (photographs overtraced by hand) of women of many body types modelling the “old” corset style from the 19th century and the “new” corset style we call the S-bend or flat front corset, which was supposed to prevent lower tummy expansion and be healthier than the older style.

captureClick here to see all the illustrations.

As you go through the photos, notice all the women the have lower belly paunch that comes from age, childbirth, medical conditions, weight gain, gravity, and from wearing corsets which push belly fat and organs downwards– effects which Gaches-Sarraute wished to correct with her new corset design.

This revolutionary and controversial book is one of the most famous pieces of corset literature from the early 20th century.
(The other, also titled “Le Corset” but by a different author, contains the infamous corset x-rays)

You may already be familiar with some of the images from the book, if not the book itself:

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute vehemently opposed the Victorian corset because of the health problems she observed–like hernias, constricted ribcages, displaced organs, and weakened muscles–in the women wearing them. At first glance, the book may seem decidedly anti-corset and has lent much to the modern hatred/fear of the garment. However, the author herself states that she is not anti-corset:

“I could not think propose the abolition of the corset, we have seen elsewhere that has its uses; it is towards the elimination of its main drawbacks I directed my efforts.
Original French: “Je ne pouvais songer à proposer la suppression du corset, nous avons vu d’ailleurs qu’il a son utilité; c’est vers la suppression de ses principaux inconvénients que j’ai dirigé mes efforts.”

In fact, she is pro-corset, but only if the garment was made to more healthful standards. Her goal was quite a noble one: to improve the overall health of women by changing what she saw as the root cause of many female health problems— bad corsets.
Thus she designed a new support of her own:

Fig. 7 – Corset Gaches-Sarraute

It is very similar to the girdles that we see later in the century and still wear. In many advertisements, the short, light-reduction version of the S-bend corsets closest to Gaches-Sarraute’s original design are called “girdle corsets.”

It was meant to support the organs from below, free the chest from compression, and encourage “proper” posture. She believed her new corset design not only helped women’s organs, but improved their beauty and mental health. This design became the basis for the S-bend or straight front corset that took the fashion world by storm during the first decade of the 20th century.

With an abdominal corset that supports and relaxes her, the woman has less drawn features, eyes less circled, she is more vivacious, more energetic…Many women, sick without the cause of their condition being well determined, condemned to an almost constant repose, are now vigorous, healthy, able to walk, and without exaggerating, are reborn to life. Did the simple change of corset produce such results? Yes, because to this day all corsets, constructed without rules or laws, acted in the opposite direction to natural indications, and thwarted all physiological functions.”
Original French: “Avec un corset abdominal qui la soutient et la repose, la femme a les traits moins tirés, les yeux moins cernés, elle est plus vivace, plus énergique…Bien des femmes, malades sans que la cause de leur état fût bien déterminée, condamnées à un repos presque constant, sont aujourd’hui vigoureuses, bien portantes, peuvent marcher et sans rien exagérer renaissent à la vie.Le simple changement de corset a-t-il pu donner de tels résultats? Oui, parce que jusqu’aujourd’hui tous les corsets, construits sans règles, ni lois, agissaient en sens inverse des indications naturelles et contrariaient toutes les fonctions physiologiques.”

As we know now, the S-bend was not the cure-all Gaches-Sarraute hoped for. It came with its own set of problems.
Though the distended lower stomach caused by the older style of corset was considered unsightly and unhealthy, it had the advantage of allowing viscera some means of expansion. The S-bend/straight front corset did indeed keep the organs from being distended downward, but instead, it pressed them up, much as pregnancy does. The long, rigid front of the S-bend corset could become very uncomfortable since pressure from meals, gas, urine, menstral/hormonal changes, etc. has nowhere to expand except up against the diaphragm. This was not directly the fault of Gaches-Sarraute’s medically-minded design, but the effect was exacerbated by fashion adaptations made by mass manufacturers (as is so often the case, isn’t it?). Many straight front corsets made for the mass market extended too high on the body to allow for expansion of the ribs and upwards movement of the organs.

W. H. K. & S. “Ascot” Straight Fronted Corset Ad, 1902
Notice how much higher it extends compared to Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute design.

Modern corsets suffer from similar problems as we value the straight front, but crave full coverage to avoid unsightly bulges. This hybridization contributes in large part to the corset’s uncomfortable reputation as mass-manufacturers focus on overall slimness rather than the comfort of their wares. Without room left at the top and bottom of the corset to allow for the expansion and movement of flesh, tubular fashion corsets press too much everywhere, leading to chafing, numbness, breathlessness, and constriction. Coupled with general ignorance of how corsets should fit and be worn, it’s no surprise that the garment has gained such a painful reputation.

Inès Gaches-Sarraute and corset-lovers everywhere are cringing so hard right now.

The size/looks-before-comfort method of corset wearing has always been a problem.
Yes, even Victorian and Edwardian women wore ill-fitting or improperly worn corsets, often purchased “off the rack” in shops or through catalogs.  It’s a common myth that everything was perfectly tailor-made to fit by the women themselves. By the mid-19th century, corsets were manufactured in large factories and purchased much as we purchase a pair of jeans today.
Victorian women were number-conscious just like us, too!

Women have heard from their friends about a corset that looks good, which makes a pretty size [waist] – that is the only fact that interests them: they want to wear it, hoping to benefit also from an aesthetic point of view; But as their physiological state and conformation differ, if the corset is applied under the same conditions it produces the contrary effect and hurts them.
Original French: “Elles ont entendu parler par leurs amies d’un corset dont on se trouve bien, qui fait une jolie taille — c’est le seul fait qui les intéresse: elles veulent le porter, espérant en bénéficier, elles aussi, au point de vue esthétique; mais comme leur état physiologique et leur conformation diffèrent, si le corset est appliqué dans les mêmes conditions il produit l’effet contraire et leur fait mal.”

On this point, Gaches-Sarraute and modern corsetiers absolutely agree: do not sacrifice fit for looks! Fortunately for modern corset makers, the corset’s recent rise in popularity has increased awareness of proper fit. Gaches-Sarraute’s principles play heavily into modern corset design, like reduction points closer to the hips, cupped ribs to allow room for comfortable breathing, and embracing the underbust cut for ease of movement.

Gaches-Sarraute’s underbust design was revolutionary. For the first time in over 300+ years of corset evolution, the female breast was not held within the corset. This was a big change. The low front leaves the bust unsupported and pulls weight from the abdomen upwards, creating a top-heavy apple shape with natural-state breasts, which didn’t suit the Victorian feminine ideal of defined hourglass curves. Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute saw this as an bothersome, but positive side effect:

There is therefore a reform to bring to the costume, tedious reform, but which is necessary. The woman who wishes to wear the abdominal corset must not allow herself to be stopped by this modification; She must not hesitate to subject her clothes to the radical transformations required by the apparatus.
Original French: “…il y a donc une réforme à apporter au costume, réforme ennuyeuse, mais qui s’impose. La femme qui veut porter le corset abdominal ne doit point se laisser arrêter par cette modification; il ne faut pas qu’elle hésite à faire subir à ses vêtements les transformations radicales exigées par l’appareil.”


This is the sort of loose, unrestrictive clothing Gaches-Sarraute was probably expecting.

Fashions did change, but not quite as Gaches-Sarraute might have hoped. To adapt to the new corset shape, the dresses of the early 1900s are different than any feminine fashion before them: the waist moves low to the pelvis, bodices hang full and loose, and women in fashion illustrations appear to be rushing forward so fast they are leaving their skirts behind them.

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1904

Les Modes, 1904

Because the new style of corset moved the point of reduction to the soft abdomen rather than over the floating ribs, women discovered they could achieve greater reductions than before, an effect Gaches-Sarraute obviously was not aiming to achieve originally. She notes with some amused befuddlement in her book:

Before ending the long enumeration of the modifications made by the Abdominal Corset , I must point out a curious phenomenon, which is difficult to explain; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.
Original French: “Avant de terminer l’énumération déjà bien longue des modifications apportées par le corsetabdominal, il me faut signaler un phénomène assez curieux, assez difficile à expliquer; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.

We would call this effect “waist training” in our modern vernacular. Gaches-Sarraute noticed that the shape and weight of her patients changed after they had worn the corset regularly. From her Observations section later in the book:

Madame. H, 48 years old. Obesity, heart palpitations, very bad condition, does not leave the couch, varicose veins. First corset, October 1898. Since then, a lot thinner: 40 cm of belly circumference [15.75 inches], Since then, has thinned a lot: 40 centimeters belly, circulatory disorders have decreased and general health is much better, the patient walks very well”
Original French: “
Mme H…, 48 ans. Obésité, palpitations de cœur, état général très mauvais, ne quitte pas la chaise longue, varices des membres inférieurs. 1er Corset, octobre 1898. Depuis lors, a beaucoup aminci : 40 centimètres de tour de ventre, les troubles circulatoires ont diminué et la santé générale est beaucoup meilleure, la malade marche très bien.”

It probably wasn’t just the cinching power responsible for Mme. H’s transformation. She might have been able to move around more due to the lower back support provided by her new corset, boosting her impressive weight loss results with increased physical activity.

Back support has long been one of the main functions of corsets and corset-like garments. To provide the back support which Gaches-Sarraute believed Victorian corsets lacked, her corset design was very sharply angled at the lower back. This created artificial lumbar hyperlordosis, commonly called swayback. Some people develop this naturally, but by modern medical standards, it is considered a form of bad posture because it places stress on the lower disks, hip joints, knees, and, with the added pressure from the corset, the kidneys. However, this sort of posture was considered both powerful and graceful– and quite masculine. It was the posture of well-pedigreed gentlemen and soldiers standing at attention with their chests puffed out in confidence.

Early 19th Century British Uniforms

German Soldiers, 1901

Dr. Gaches-Sarraute’s design gave women this same posture, and straight-front corsets were often advertised as “military front” for that reason:

Foster Hose Supporter Ad from 1901

Corset advertisement, circa 1901-1905

This hyper-extended ideal posture was adopted by models, fashionistas, socialites, and famous personalities like Camille Clifford and Edith Lambelle Langerfeld:

Camille Clifford is famous for the curvy figure and is known to many as the original Gibson Girl. She embodied the epitome of the new S-bend look: flat abdomen, swelling bust, and prominent derriere. Her extraordinary photos must be taken with a grain of salt: she is also one of the greatest examples of early photo retouching. The retouching is evident here by the unnatural smoothness of everything from her hips up where the wrinkles of fabric suddenly vanish.

Edith Langerfeild “La Sylphe” was an exotic dancer known her extreme flexibility and extreme forward-arching posture, though not for wearing corsets (she regularly danced semi-nude). She combined the fashionable swayback posture and her contortionist skills to create an exaggerated version of the look sans-corset. Her career– and signature style–extended the forward-leaning trend into the 1910s, though the waistline moved up from the hips to the just under the bust.

Outside fashion photographs and illustrations, the average woman did not usually adopt the exaggerated posture–as this informative article, “The S-bend in Context” by Marion McNealy, shows– and some created the illusion of the shape with padding rather than posture.

Women walking, circa 1902-1905
Edwardian women in day dresses going about their daily lives for comparison to the fashion images above.

Photograph of a working class woman walking, circa 1905-1908
A great example of how the underbust design affects the fit of the bodice over the bust compared to a Victorian corset.

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Padding options from the 1905 Sears Catalogue
They are still called bustles, though they are quite a bit smaller than those of the 1880s!

The S-bend posture ideal had lasting effects. In 1932, Elizabeth Arden released a newsreel urging women to abandon the now “old” swayback style of posture Gaches-Sarraute’s straight front corset encouraged:

Elizabeth Arden advises women to adopt the modern straight posture we still strive for today. This posture ideal has much to do with our focus on unisex athleticism and greatly slimmed-down fashions (athleisure, anyone?). It’s quite impossible to hide the edge of a rigid corset under a pair of yoga pants! Many women wear only one or two layers which hug the body and is often cut to reveal skin and structure. We no longer deal with the bulky layers and heavy skirts our female ancestors considered fashionable, which leads to another of Gaches-Sarraute’s reasons for not throwing out the notion of corsets entirely:

The main role of the corset should be to support the clothes and prevent constriction of ties around the waist, so as to prevent overflow of the viscera downward under the influence of this constriction.
Original French: “Le rôle principal du corset doit être de soutenir les vêtements et d’empêcher la constriction des liens autour de la taille, de façon à éviter le refoulement des viscères vers le bas sous l’influence de cette constriction.”

This same sentiment is shared by Robert L. Dickinson who wrote “The Corset: Questions of Pressure and Displacement” for The New York Medical Journal in 1887:

“In the woman who wears no corsets, the many layers of bands about the waist on which heavy skirts drag are sufficient to cause considerable constriction”

Just like the fashions of the Victorian era, the fashions of 1900 were all about layers that relied on a tight fit at the waist. Women sought to make these layers as lightweight and full as possible to avoid bulk, but there was still many hidden supports under those beautiful outer skirts:

I covered more about historical clothing layers in earlier posts: “With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes” and “Lifting Skirts and Loosening Ties: What goes under an Edwardian Dress?

A corset takes and distributes the weight of the skirts, supporting all the layers so they do not dig into the skin– the very definition of a “foundation garment!”
Gaches-Sarraute’s low-cut corset lead to the creation of a new  foundation garment: the brassiere, though not quite as we know it now. Gaches-Sarraute was emphatically against altering her corset design to provide breast support, devoting an entire chapter in her book to her argument against it. She believed that the new design provided enough support to the breasts by means of the expanded, upraised ribcage it created and that:

Trapping the breasts in an impermeable fabric promotes wilting and atrophy of the gland.
Original French: “Le fait d’emprisonner les seins dans un tissu imperméable favorise le flétrissement et l’atrophie de la glande.”

Gaches-Sarraute’s entire mission was to spare as many organs as possible from pressure, including the mammary glands. She even describes a problem many modern women who have worn an underbust corset with a modern bra have experienced: the dreaded pinch that happens to the flesh trapped between the corset and bra band.  Modern tastes and social mores press Western women today to wear bras, especially in conservative American culture: modern American women are expected to have high, round breasts that do not show nipples– a goal that mandates daily bra wearing under our relatively thin, sheer clothing. Edwardian women, in contrast, wore multiple layers of cloth over their breasts, so show-through wasn’t as much of a worry. Their concern with the lack of breast support was out of habit (used to old corsets) and practical (the need for support while working/exercising) which is why  some women found the underbust unsatisfactory. This meant that underbust corsets didn’t take over the world in a blink. Instead, Victorian styles and high, demi-bust versions of S-bend corsets were sold right along side the shorter style, much, I am sure, to Gaches-Sarraute’s chagrin:

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Corsets Department page from the 1905 Sears Catalogue. Left side shows older Victorian style corsets while the right side corsets are S-bend straight front corsets.

As any large-breasted woman–myself included– can attest, unsupported breasts have many painful complications of their own. Once they are past a certain size and age, they no longer are self-supporting, creating both comfort, health, and aesthetic issues. She brushes these notions aside, saying, “there are few women with breasts sufficiently large for it to be necessary to provide them with a support/il y a peu de femmes pourvues de seins assez volumineux pour qu’il soit indispensable de leur fournir un appui.” However, she begrudgingly acknowledges the criticism of her design and offers a solution. One of the most famous images from the book shows her brassiere design of choice:

She was far ahead of her time when it came to the design: fifty years later, women would be wearing a very similar look:

Formfit Ad, 1949

Spencer Ad, 1959

Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s corset design, whatever our personal opinions of it, undeniably revolutionized fashion even though the woman herself cared very little for any of the outside frills and fashion. She was concerned only with the internal workings of women, not that of their needles and thread. From her earliest design trials in the late 1890s (her first recorded recorded observation is dated 1895), she recorded the health improvements she saw in her patients after wearing her new corset design, claiming to have observed nearly 4,000 cases of successful recoveries ranging from healing incontinence to treating infertility.

When studying old texts like “Le Corset,” it is important to remember that medical practices and knowledge 120 years ago were very different than today. We cannot verify all of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s claims. Her writing must be viewed with some skepticism, as she is writing to promote both her work and designs as well as writing with the limitations of Victorian medical knowledge. As even she states, it was hard to find enough uncorseted women to form a control group, making it difficult to tell which medical conditions were caused by corsets, exacerbated by them, relieved by them, or completely unrelated. For example, many 21st century women have rounded, low bellies like those pictured in “Le Corset” even though they have never worn a corset in their life– it’s just how some bodies store fat and where loose skin forms after childbirth.

 One thing that is clear, however, is Gaches-Sarraute’s steadfast devotion to the healing and liberation of women’s bodies. She was determined to improve and advance women’s lives via her new corset design:

Woman has glimpsed the possibility of altering her way of life; she wants to take part in the work and physical exercise of men; On the other hand, she is incommoded by the present dress, she is ill, and, consequently, ready to accept its modifications. I appreciate this happy disposition, convinced that nothing can be done for women except with their own consent, and I shall be happy if my work, based on scientific and physiological data, is appreciated by the medical profession and by hygienists. It will be much easier for me to fight against fashion and prejudice, which take no account of the needs of our organism.
Original French: “La femme a entrevu la possibilité de modifier son genre de vie, elle veut prendre part aux travaux et aux exercices physiques des hommes; d’autre part, elle est incommodée par le vêtement actuel, elle est malade, et, par suite, prête à en accepter les modifications. Je saisis cette heureuse disposition, convaincue qu’on ne peut rien faire pour les femmes qu’avec leur propre assentiment, et je serai heureuse si mon travail, basé sur des données scientifiques et physiologiques, est apprécié du corps médical et des hygiénistes, car il me sera alors beaucoup plus aisé de lutter contre la mode et les préjugés qui ne tiennent aucun compte des besoins de notre organisme.”

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute, as a female doctor, saw her unique opportunity to influence female freedom. As a medical doctor, she had the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biology that seamstresses, fashion designers, and corset manufacturers at the time lacked. As a woman, she personally understood feminine needs and sensibilities in a way that her male medical colleagues could not. In addition to designing a new corset, she advocated for sensible dress, championed bicycle riding, and was even willing to let women wear pants if they agreed to stop wearing old-fashioned corsets.

Bike Riding with a Corset

Bicycling in lounge pants and and old-fashioned corset. Whoopsie! Sorry, Dr. Inès!

Her legacy continues today in the form of medical corsets/braces (which help thousands find relief from back pain/scoliosis, postnatal complications, hernias, and more), modern corsetry design principles, and, for better or worse, our cantankerous relationship with one of the most controversial garments ever made.

The full text of “Le Corset” is available in the original French on Wikimedia.
It is available in multiple formats, including a wonderful scanned PDF version.

When it comes to corsets–and clothes in general–everyone has different needs. Corsets are certainly not one-size-fits-all, and they aren’t all one-style-fits-all either! Some find the underbust S-bend corset suits their body and is just as pleasant to wear as Gaches-Sarraute hoped it would be. Other people find the flowing curves and high front of the Victorian corset more comfortable and supportive. Many more still have no want for any corset at all, and that is perfectly fine, too.
As for my tastes: Remember those too-tall S-Bends from earlier? Yeah, those work great for me if patterned right! I like the flexible demi-bust front of a Victorian corset for support, but the curve of my back and titled pelvis work best with the back and hips of the S-bend, so long as there is plenty of extra room in the ribs and hips for all my luscious lipids to move around in!
This sort of knowledge is not inherent or concrete. It is something you learn over time with experience. Remember: a corset is just a garment. It is the person filling it with that matters most!

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Animated Edwardian Stereograph by Thiophene_Guy

Looking Ahead: 1870 Imagines the Fashions of the Future

I’ve not done much this past year, or at least it feels that way. I am looking forward to the New Year, making plans and imagining where life will take me.

I was going through old digitized Harper Bazaar magazines from 1870 when I found this gem in the March 19th issue:

harpers-1870s-does-1890

Text:
A LOOK AHEAD
Scene – A Costumer’s   Time – 1890
LADY. “I want a Costume for a Private Fancy Dress Party I am to attend. Something Absurd or Ridiculous.”
COSTUMER. “How do you like That One?”
LADY. “That will do. But is it possible that People ever made such Frights of Themselves!”

There’s nothing like poking fun at the now through the eyes of tomorrow! For the curious, here’s two decadent, fluffy, fashionable dresses and hairstyles…published by the very same magazine only a few days before and after the cartoon lampooning them:

harpers-bazaar-1870

Ball Gown, March 12th, 1870

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House Dress, April 2nd, 1870

Oh, the delicious, delicious irony! We still do it today (just look for “Trends we need to ditch in 2017” videos on YouTube posted by beauty gurus who were touting the same things only a few weeks ago to see what I mean). What’s really wonderful about this cartoon, though, isn’t the Punch-style biting commentary or even hypocrisy of it, but how close they got the fashion forecast! They were just a little early in their predictions, though. Here’s a dress from Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar in 1890:

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Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890harpers-october-1890

Harper’s Bazar, October 18th 1890

There’s a hint of a similarity, but these don’t really look much like the cartoon’s facetious forecast, does it?

But skip forward a bit into the 20th century and…

1903-harpers harpers-1903 harpers-1904Select plates from 1903 issues of Harper’s Bazar

Just to refresh our memory:

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Let’s break it down, shall we?

Tightly fitted, flared-bottom skirts?
Check!

Fashion Plate, 1902

How about some more exciting hemlines?
As you wish…

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1901

But those big, puffy cuffs? Surely nobody would…
Like meringues for your wrists!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Paired with cape-like Sailor collars?!
Mmmmmhmmmmm! Classic.

Fashion Plate 1902

Fashion Plate, 1903

Cute little empire waist jackets with asymmetrical detailing?
You know I could never deny you!

Fashion Plate, 1902

Mounds of hair topped with hats?
Oh, honey, that hat is FAR too tiny, but if you insist….

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1905

But what about the raised waist, short skirt, fluffy hemline, and cute little hats?
Well, I suppose you could wait another decade…

Fashion Plate, 1915

…of course, you’ll sacrifice the fantastic pastry puff sleeves, but, hey, we can’t all be as fabulous as an Edwardian lady fancy dress shopping for vintage 1870s clothes in 1890!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!

Find amazing FREE digitized copies of 19th and early 20th century Harper’s Bazar/Bazaar magazines here: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000641436/Home

Georgian Picnic 2016: Rainbow Regency and a Normandy Bonnet

I hardly got to attend any events this year since work is short-staffed and work weekends always seemed to fall on guild days. I am so thankful to Carol for covering for me so I could attend my favorite event: Georgian Picnic! It was the first event I ever attended with the DFW costumers Guild and it is still my favorite. It’s laid back and relaxing.

The costuming chaos leading up to it, however, is a different story. This year, as every year, was fraught with last-minute perils. On my plate this year was the ever-variable Texas weather (will it be 85° or 58°?), a new Regency tailcoat (remember how well that went last time?), and a Normandy Bonnet (Wha—???).

After the disappointment of making a costume last year for a friend only to have it languish when she was unable to attend, I was wary making costumes for anyone other than Chris and I. But while I was able to escape work on the 19th, he was not so lucky. So I laid aside my fear of rejection and asked our friend Jen to go with me. She had never worn a historical costume before, but was interested in sewing and was willing to go through multiple fittings. Regency menswear struck her fancy, so we settled on a tailcoat made from Butterick 3648:

Butterick 3648 used to be out of print, but is now available through McCall’s Cosplay website in the “Vault Collection” as M2021. I used the old Butterick version I purchased off of eBay. I didn’t use the trouser pattern, but the coat pattern was very easy to use, if a bit complex. Bag lining is always a bear! I just can’t wrap my head around the pseudo-topology of it sometimes, but I worked it out. I actually got the inside fairly neat and tidy! It’s a miracle! The jacket pattern itself is quite handsome, and I highly recommend it. Depending on the fabric choices and styling tweaks you make, it can work for 1970s to 1830s. Here are some of my inspiration images:

“Portrait of Nicolas-Pierre Tiolier” by French painter François-Édouard Picot, 1817

 

Men’s ensemble with piqué vest and nankeen pantaloons, 1813
This is one of my favorite Regency outfits ever.

Fashion plate, 1813

Fashion Plate, circa 1802

And here’s the final result:

Photo Courtesy of Festive Attyre

This pattern has a waist seam (not usually found before about 1820 for those concerned with HA) and uses modern techniques to put together–a boon since tailoring is not a skill I possess! I used the size XS for the jacket to get a close fit and it was still a little large even after alterations. I treated the coat as a Victorian bodice rather than a suit jacket for fitting. I learned a handy new alteration, too: forward-sloping shoulder. It is the total opposite of HA (most period coats have shoulder seams over the back of the shoulder, not at the top and definitely not in the front), but the fit and comfort level improved 100% with just that one change. Modern folks just sit more, leading to forward-leaning shoulders. If you struggle with shoulder fitting, this might solve a lot of heartache!

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You can’t see it in this picture, but I also raised the armpit, lengthened the sleeve and reduced the sleeve cap to increase movement. Modern suits have a very sharp sleeve drop-off whereas Regency coats have a more sloping line. The forward-shoulder adjustment was significant, almost an inch!

Since the last few picnics were on the cold side, we decided on a soft, warm cotton flannel in a light slate blue. Cotton flannel is great stuff to sew with, it’s fairly cheap, and it’s easy to find, making it a great option for outerwear if you can’t find/afford wool!

With the addition of some vintage pants, white shirt, gauzy scarf, and a tricket-filled fob, Jen was transformed into a proper, if slightly dandified, Regency gentleman!

Overall, the pattern was a good one, but there were two things I didn’t like. First was the bag lining. This is a personal hangup. I hate slogging through the method even if the results are nice. Trying to line the edges up and sew them crisply was a PITA! The little turn where the standing collar and revers/lapels meet turned out so wrinkled because the many think layers all bunch there despite trimming and notching the seam allowance. This is mostly on me, though. Like a always say, my sewing skills are harried at best, vicious at worst, so it’s no fault of the pattern, just a technique I don’t like/am not used to. The second problem, though, was the pattern’s use of iron-on interfacing for the jacket front. Many good, experienced seamstresses and tailors swear by interfacing to give a nice smooth, full appearance. The period correct method of interfacing/interlining is to pad stitch in horsehair canvas. Since this pattern is designed with modern techniques, the instructions recommend iron-on interfacing to make the front of the jacket, its collar, and revers lay smoothly. I’d never used iron-on interfacing before…NEVER AGAIN.

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IT LOOKED AND FELT SO BAD YOU GUYS. Like, maybe I chose the wrong type or weight or whatever, but…NO! It felt like damp paper towel and made the front of the coat look like it was made of craft foam. Thank heavens I had double the amount of the flannel yardage in my stash, otherwise I would have been in a world of hurt. So I had to re-cut and re-sew the entire front of the coat, but this time I used some vintage linen my Nana had given me. It wasn’t nearly as stiff as horsehair would be, but it got the job done and is still soft, more HA, and didn’t make Jen feel like she was being suffocated in a kitchen trash bag.

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You can see that the linen give the revers some oomph.

When given the choice between fabric-covered and metal buttons, Jen chose my favorite brass button from Walmart to give her coat some flash. They are the same type of button I used on my merchant gentleman’s coat. They are cheap and fabulous—I highly recommend them! Plus, they mimic the look of new gilt buttons from the era. Just a few weeks ago I found some original buttons at a local antique store. The Walmart ones are much lighter weight and way shinier, but look at how similar they are:

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Guess which ones are are the Whal-mert buttons!
…yeah, the ones on the right.
They’re not perfect dupes, but for their look and price-point, you can’t beat ’em!

The waistcoat I improvised from the coat pattern by omitting the tails, standing collar (though early Regency waitcoats had standing collars, too), and sleeves and cutting the back as one piece. The striped fabric is way too precious to use my usual slap-dash sewing methods. I’d never made a properly lined vest before, but it was waaaaay weirder than I had anticipated, yet with lots of help of Google and some awesome bloggers who took really helpful pictures, I succeeded.

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The vest has small white plastic buttons down the front because I didn’t have enough vintage mother of pearl buttons that match. I was so proud of myself: I finally gathered the gumption to use the buttonhole function on my machine to spare myself the embarrassment of making hideous hand-sewn buttonholes! Though now, I wonder if that contributed to the death of my sewing machine….

Yes. That happened, too.

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On Thursday, my Singer Simple ground to a halt. Despite all my best efforts oiling, faithfully de-linting, and changing needles, wrenching the flywheel forward felt like it is full of gravel, it sounded like death, and it would only sew at top speed, whumping like a thrash metal drumline with each stitch. And yes, I did try all the usual fixes. I took out the bobbin apparatus. I oiled every bit that could conceivably need oil. I took off the plastic cover and checked every part I could access. I am no sewing machine expert and while I was upset since the machine was a gift from my parents, I had no time to get it serviced before the event and it was more cost effective to buy a new machine. So I did.

I will confess that–and it’s a bit silly, I know– when I brought the new machine into the house, I made sure to box up the old machine and lay it quietly in the downstairs closet before I even took the new machine upstairs because–yes, it’s so ridiculous, but I didn’t want to hurt the old machine’s feelings….ya know? The last thing I need is the ghost of Sewing Machine Past haunting me in the middle of the night as I tossed and turned in my bed, tormented by a guilty conscious and the sound of grinding flywheels.

When I typed in “haunted sewing machine” into Google, this was one of the first results. Pearls Before Swine never fails me….unlike a certain sewing mach—nooooooooooo! It’s coming for meeeeeee!
Jokes aside, it was pretty emotionally traumatic and incredibly frustrating since it was so close to the deadline. It actually wasn’t actually the buttonholes that did it. My machine continued to sew well until I had finished my bonnet and started my dress mockup. There’s just something out of plumb in a place I can’t reach.

As soon as the new machine had ascended the throne, I launched right back into sewing. I’d been far too unproductive this year and I felt the burning need to finish something. One too many bowls of mac n cheese had piled up on my hips, so nothing fit anymore, so I had to sew or go plain-clothes! NOOOOOOO!

By slicing and dicing my old version of sliced-and-diced Simplicity 4055, I made a bodice that fit well enough to be wearable:

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That top left photo shows this alteration in progress. I also performed a FBA and changed the gown from a back closure to a front closure and only inserted a drawstring in the front instead of all the way around.

This was not Pragmatic, guys. I will be the first to admit it. It’s a ton of work to size up a pattern that much! It’s great alteration practice, though, so there is a bright side. For example, this pattern will now fit between a 40 and 46 inch bust, so even if current weight trends continue, this pattern will still fit for a while.

Speaking of bright sides, I used a possibly-poly-linen-blend from the Walmart value fabric section in yolk yellow for the fabric. Simplicity 4055 is a great pattern, but the sleeves can be obnoxious. The illustration and notches are kind of confusing. We’re so used to putting the sleeve seam at the back of the dress and the illustration appears to show that set-up, but when you set the sleeves that way this happens:

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The top photo shows the angled wrinkles as the sleeve fullness bunches at the front of the shoulder and you cannot reach forward. When I lift my arm backwards, the wrinkles follow the movement naturally. As I discovered in my previous striped version, the seam goes in the front, quite high up, too! Then you have a nice, full range of motion.

I also made an apron from a sheet, but I didn’t take any pictures. I just freehanded a top shape and used the front overskirt panel from Simplicity 4055 as a guide. I cheated and used the pre-hemmed edge of the sheet–one less thing to hem!

Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

As garish as the ketchup and mustard combo is, the dress and apron are not the stars of the show, though. That honor might go to my bonnet:

Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

It’s certainly not your average regency coif! Indeed, this isn’t like any Regency bonnet I’d ever seen before. (While Chris was helping me take pictures of my pattern draft, he asked me why I was making a chef hat out of coffee filters). It’s quite a statement!  So why did I choose this peculiar bonnet instead of, say, a classic turban or pokebonnet?

Depending on how much you’ve read on my blog, you may remember this particular Find of the Month:

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You can read all about it here, but the TL:DR version is that I bought this early 19th century Saint Lo paste cross on eBay. Much like my weird concern for my sewing machine’s feelings, one of my lovable eccentricities is the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I “reunite” something old with the fashions of it’s youth, for example, wearing an 1890s jacket in a Victorian house or pairing an 1850s book with a crinoline dress. I like to imagine their surprise at seeing something from their distant past after decades of watching modernity grow up around them. This battered old pendant has a particularly soft place in my heart. It’s not as eye-catching as my bonnet, but this is the true star of the show. It deserved to worn in the sunshine on a velvet ribbon once again! But what would it have been worn with?

I set about researching the costumes of Saint Lo in Marche in the Western part of Normandy, France, not expecting to find much about something so particular and obscure. You think I would have learned by now that if you ask the right questions long enough, the internet is full of surprising answers:

Embed from Getty Images

 There are two other images as well, but I do not have a license to post them directly. :(
One is here.
The other, which is my primary inspiration image, is here.

I never in my wildest dreams thought that’d I’d find one, much less three, original engravings of the traditional costume of Saint Lo and from the exact period my pendant was made! What an amazing time we live in!
The book they came from is “Costumes de femmes du pays de Caux, et de plusieurs autres parties de l’ancienne province de Normandie” by Louis-Marie Lante and Pierre de La Mésangère with engravings by Georges Jacques Gatine, first published in 1827. The book is full of full color engravings of the local costumes of the cities, villages,a and countryside in Normandy. There is even a digitized version from the New York Library you can see online! Sadly, not all of the plates were scanned in color and it seems to be missing some (and there a few doubles) so it may be an incomplete copy or some plates came out in a different edition.

Looking through the photos, I noticed that throughout the region there were lots of bright colors, pinned on aprons, and fichus/neckerchiefs/shawls. Oh, and bonnets!

costume-lisieux

The shape of my bonnet ended up being a cross between Saint Lo and Lisieux.

Normandy is famous for its traditional costumes, especially extravagant bonnets/coifs/caps! The caps styles vary greatly from town to town, family to family, and woman to woman, but they are generally lacy and full or tall and frilled…sometimes both! I couldn’t find a pattern online, especially on my short deadline, and my drafting skills are rudimentary at best. So as much as I’d like to make an exact replica, I decided it’d be best to design my own take on a Normandy bonnet. I took the main elements of the Saint Lo Bonnet and broke it down into components:

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Tall body, accordion pleated frill, and puffed top.

I used Swedish sewing paper Becky had given me to draft the bonnet. It’s non-woven and stiff enough to stand on its own. A fabric bonnet would be more work to get it to look right. First, I needed a fabric that was thin, lightweight, but strong. Orgnady would be a good choice, but I already had this sheer white cotton shirt from Goodwill on hand:

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After cutting and assembling the main part of the cap, I starched it…A LOT. I used this recipe, but dunked the cap and un-pleated frill instead of spritzing them. To help hold the shape when it was drying, I made this highly professional hat block:

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Worked great, except the starchy water dissolved some of the paint, so the inside of my cap faintly reads “Taco Casa.”

The back frill was done in accordion pleats. Accordion pleats are tedious to iron, lemme tell you! This book has a great description of the process. Without a pleater board, you can’t get pleats much smaller than 1/2″ or so. One source even said that accordion pleats are best left to professionals only! You know how well that sort of challenge goes in my craft room.

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Accordion pleats stack up just like a handfan, so you are ironing on a tall, thin edge. I ended up having to pleat one half of the frill and then pleat the other half, meeting as close to the middle as possible, otherwise, it became too tall to iron! To keep the halves together as the pleats set, I whips stitched them. Heavily starching the fabric helped immesly because it gave the fabric the texture of paper, so it was similar to working with construction paper.

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 The fanned frill is a separate piece that I basted on to the back of the cap. The tips of the frill are held open using small straight pins (which I had to do without the benefit of a mirror at the picnic. The bonnet is too tall to wear in the car!).

The day of the picnic had just enough wind that I needed two bobby pins to secure it in front since it’s so tall and wide it acts like a sail!

Overall, the picnic was a success! We played a skittles/tenpins, took a few turns trying out the bandelore (yo-yo), and generally enjoyed the refreshing autumn air.

My friend Jen pointed out that we were Disney Princess colors!

I’m looking forward to next year!

Find more photos on Festive Attyre’s (Jen Thompson) Flickr Album:

2016 Georgian Picnic

And on my meager Flickr page:

Georgian Picnic 2016

The Original Red Death?! An Antique Victorian Fancy Dress Costume Fit for a Phantom

The perfect outfit for threatening guests at your next Masquerade!

Hello and Happy October, world! This blog began over 5 years ago this month when my very first post went live on October 5th, 2011.

Great Galloping Galoshes, how things have changed!

My blog is now old enough to be trusted with knives, open flames, and witchcraft according to antique greeting cards.
I’m so proud…*sniff*

5 years ago to the day (on October 28th, 2011), I posted a photo of a delightful vintage fancy dress costume in honor of Halloween:

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To pay homage to that anniversary, here’s another amazing fancy dress costume I recently found on eBay: a STUNNING Victorian version of a Tudor gentleman!

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Or perhaps, since this fabulosity hails from France, we should call this a Third Republican version of a Valois/Bourbonic gentleman, but that doesn’t sound quite as romantic…

From the seller’s description:

“This is a complete outfit for a young nobleman of the Renaissance, 5 pieces:
– the doublet, (inner front is padded)
– the breeches [trunk hose]
– the cape
– the hat and
– the scabbard belt”

The original eBay listing can be found here.

tudorvictorian2  tudorvictorian5

It’s encrusted with faceted jet black glass beads and buttons– an elegant look in full sunlight, but even more decadent and  glittering in the light of gaslamps and candles!
(And I can’t be the only one getting Phantom of the Opera vibes, right…right?!)

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Judging by the colors, shapes, and especially the trims, this handsome outfit likely dates between 1885 and 1895–more likely the latter (that’s when black beaded trim was in vogue and just look at that cape…it screams 1890s!) This fabulous fancy dress costume could have either been worn for one of the many costumed balls popular during the late 19th century, made for a sumptuous Shakespearean spectacle, or donned during an opulent opera. Whatever the event, the costume has survived in superb condition! It is made of, as the seller perfectly put it, “soft red silk satin, the finest lightweight silky clothing velvet, very thin brown and cream polished [cotton] for the inner linings of the doublet and breeches.”

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I do believe the trunk hose are displayed backwards. The buttons probably went in back and the open “butt” was worn in front– filled in with a (now missing) codpiece, of course! Since it’s a Victorian recreation, it probably wouldn’t have been a very exciting codpiece by 16th century standards, though. ;P

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The full list of detailed measurements:

Cape height : 29″ width at top: 17″ width at bottom : 107″ 
Doublet Armpit to armpit : 20″  (chest about 40″) length : 20″ 1/2 collar : 17″ waist flat : 21″ chest flat : 19″ 1/2 
Breeches  waist : 15″ 1/2 to 16″ 1/2 legs opening : 21 ” length : 17 ” 
Hat inside: 21″ 1/2 length: 11″

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Such a miraculously fine bit of fantasy to survive in such condition for 120 years!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Click for base image source

The Genteel Fashionista’s Dialogue: A Humorous Timeline of Fashion

In the Classic Style of Historical Fashion Satire and in the Spirit of Congenial Camaraderie, I Present to You the Product of an Overly-Active Brain in the Form of a Fashion Timeline in which there is much Over-Generalization, a Single Expletive, and a Dearth of Illustrations:

THE GENTEEL FASHIONISTA’S DIALOGUE

The Genteel Fashionista Dialog

1770s – Let’s flaunt how wealthy we are with lots of delicate, expensive fabric and wall-like skirts so wide we need special doors, furniture, and houses built just to accommodate them! Pass the hair powder and Pomeranians!

1780s – Thanks to new technological advances and the start of the Industrial Revolution, I am enjoying my emerging merchant-class lifestyle! However, panniers get in the way when I try to navigate city living. High hats and hair, though, I can do. Also, I am strangely beguiled by these cork rumps….

1790s – The peasants are pissed. Maybe big hair, big hats, and big butts weren’t the way to go. Plus, there’s a bunch of cool Greco-Roman stuff in style. Let’s ditch ridged stays and huge skirts for the more refined Empire look…YIKES! A PIKE!

1800s – What a mess that was! Now that the bloodshed is over, I can safely wear white again. These fine, diaphanous fabrics are really expensive and the white makes my spendy imported shawls really pop! I feel on top of the world again!

1810s – Slim sleeves and silhouettes make me look like every other belle at the ball. Some fancy hem trims and puffier sleeves will make me stand out!

1820s – MORE TRIMS! MORE SLEEVES!
Also, maybe some petticoats to help show off ALL THESE HEM TRIMS better.

1830s – F*ck yeah, giant sleeves! Also, I’ve got a pretty hot bod. Those old Regency sacks hide all my hotness, so let’s go back to natural waistlines and open up the neckline for some shoulder action. I am ready for some romancin’!

1840s – Hmmm…maybe I went a little too crazy with the sleeves, low necklines, and bonnets the size of a serving platter. But I like having a waistline again. Let’s see just how much waistline we can get. Longer! I NEED LOOOOONGER!

1850s – Thanks to my corset, my waist is looking better than ever! However, I’m beginning to miss big sleeves. Every belle needs bell sleeves. I could layer them, like those exotic Asian pagoda roofs I saw in a book once. Speaking of roofs, these stacks of petticoats are getting tough to walk in. Maybe I need some rafters…

1856 – HELLO STEEL HOOPED CAGED CRINOLINE, MY NEW BEST FRIEND.

1860s – These hoops are awesome! Now I can display yards and yards of expensive fabric easily again and everyone has to clear the sidewalk to let me through, like Moses parting the sea. Bonus points for getting the sofa all to myself! Let’s see just how big these hoops can go.

1870s – I’ll admit that I might have gone overboard with the hoops, but now that I’ve turned them into a bustle, I can hug people again and the sidewalks of town are cleaner than ever! The sewing machine makes adding trims to my trim’s trim so easy, too!

1875 – The bustle’s poofs and swags are hiding my hot bod again. :(

1878 – This princess line gown shows off my naturally-enhanced-by-a-corset form perfectly. I’ll never hide my glorious bum under a bustle again! What a folly!

1882 – Well, a little padding back there couldn’t hurt…

1885 – HELLO BUSTLES, MY OLD FRIEND.
I’m sorry I ever doubted you!

1890s – Okay, I’ll admit that the bustle thing got out of hand, but I have learned the error of my ways. Let’s go back to the classic combo of tons of petticoats and huge sleeves.

1900s – I have given up big sleeves in favor of something new: tons of lace and s-bend corsets! They say a puffy breast makes my waist look tinier, but in reality, it makes me look like I am careening forward towards social, industrial, and technological progress, just like a new-fangled motorcar draped in an heirloom tablecloth!

1910s – Rushing towards progress is hard to do in full skirts. A slimmer skirt line is in order. Should I go hobble skirt to display my fashion prowess or skirt suit to further the march towards women’s independence? Either way, it will need more decorative buttons.

1920s – Corsets and curves have been incumbent for too long! I vote for President Bob Haircut and Senator Cloche! Drop waists from the ballot and pass the mascara! The world is ready to finally revel in the glory of my knees!

____

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Here is 160 years worth of fashion plates!
See if you can spot the trends:

1770s fashion plates

1780s fashion plates

1790s fashion plates

1800s fashion plates

1810s fashion plates

1820s fashion plates

1830s fashion plates

1840s fashion plates

1850s fashion plates

1860s fashion plates

1870s fashion plates

1880s fashion plates

1890s fashion plates

1900s fashion plates

1910s fashion plates

1920s fashion plates

Review of the Historical Fashion Flip-Up Book “Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”

Subuculas, Stays, and Slips!

I like going to Half-Price Books. They have all sorts of out of print and hard to find books, plus a great antique/collectible section! Their Fashion selection, however, is sometimes seriously lacking. I spent one day frantically trying to find the Fashion section after they apparently moved it. I was looking for a copy of The Tudor Tailor, so I asked the front desk after searching through the Art section, the Craft section, the History section, and even the Collectibles section (where books like Fashion in Detail had appeared before) to no avail. Turns out they had no clue where to put fashion books, historical or otherwise, so they stuck them in the “Salf-Help” category! They had very few historical fashion books of any type, but just before I gave up hope, I found this book:

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“Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
by Margaret Knight with awesome illustrations by Kim Dalziel

Inside, there were stylish illustrations of historical fashions from ancient Rome to the 1960s, all with nifty flip-up clothing layers! At $5, I had to have it!

Inside, there are there are 28 thick cardstock pages that detail fashions for men, women, and male and female children in chronolgical order from earliest to latest fashion, starting with the Roman Empire (27 BC to 467 AD), then the Middle Ages (500-1500), the Fifteenth Century/Early Renaissance, Sixteenth Century/High Renaissance, Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, 1901-1920, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s-50s (combined), and the 1960s.

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Besides the illustrations, each category included a generously-sized foldout describing the changes in fashion and society during the era. Along the edges of the pages are additional fashion tidbits, like hairstyles, hats, and other information not included on the main feature of the book: the flip-up clothing layers.

Each figure has at least one fancy flip up/open/down piece that reveals information about the layer. For example, the “1635” man’s doublet/coat folds open to reveal his shirt beneath and a brief description of it:

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And the “1750s” woman has a layer for her gown and a separate one for her petticoats which both lift to reveal her shift, stays, and panniers underneath:

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The adults clothing has more details than the children’s clothing, but the children’s clothing flip-ups do contain bits of information about popular children’s clothing colors and fabrics.

That’s the basic description of the book. Now, for the review!

This such a cool idea! I love the illustrations and the discovery with each turn of the page and lift of a flap. Children and adults alike are curious about the “weird” clothing our ancestors used to wear and this book is a fun way to explore the basics without feeling like an intruder (how many times have you as a reenactor, cosplayer, costumer, or vintage-lover faced that awkward question or unwelcome groping hand?). The basics are all contained in this book, so it acts as a jumping off point for multiple eras without the intimidating immensity of a fashion encyclopedia.

The illustrations are well-balanced with the double-sided flaps containing the detailed text portion so it’s neither too child-like nor too text-heavy. The colors are well-thought-out and suit the general mood of the chosen eras (lighter colors for Rococo, earthy colors for the Middle Ages, and, of course, bright primary colors for the 1960s).

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There are a few places where I was disappointed, however. The sections, especially for the earlier fashions, are very broad– some covering 500 years or more! I admit that I am not a scholar of the nuances of these earlier eras, so I am not as disgruntled as, say, an expert in the 1340s would be. For example, the Tudor era (1485-1558) is almost entirely skipped, save for Elizabeth I’s reign.

I can excuse some generalizations because this is designed as a children’s book meant to present the very basics of fashion history in an entertaining and quick manner. In a world when most folks know Medieval fashion only from the Lord of the Rings movies, learning even the most basic real Medieval fashion concepts can be confusing to a beginner. The layers and undergarments, which is the main purpose of this book’s illustrations, are all pretty well-covered (ha ha!) despite the broad time swathes. For the most part, petticoats, garters, stockings, stays, and shifts are introduced in the eras they should be.

There was one era, though, which I thought was done a huge disservice: the 19th Century.

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Since this is a book about layers and showcasing the mysterious underwear worn beneath them, it would seem natural to include the many different types of undergarments in the 19th century. It was, after all, probably the most exciting, underwear-centric time in history! There were the short Regency stays and slips, the long stays and crazy-huge sleeve-puffers of the 1830s, the steel-busked corsets and hoop skirts in the 1850s and 1860s, the advent of the bustle in the 1870s and its construction ingenuity in the 1880s!

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Were they centaurs? They must have been centaurs.

Yet, the book dedicates only one section to the entire century and only illustrates the 1810s at the very beginning and the 1850s in the middle– with no children’s outfits to boot! So many shapes that I was bewildered by as a curious child (and even as an adult) are skipped over. The bustle is relegated to a few notes in the top right corner. I would not be as disappointed if the 20th Century decades weren’t given their own sections and illustrations despite the relatively uneventful underwear and layers involved. The 20th Century pages have fewer flaps, and there is little change to the undergarments after the 1920s. The most exciting bit is probably the corset and bullet bra on the 1940s/50s woman:

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The copy of the book I bought was preowned, but despite that, many of the flaps in the later eras had never been touched even though the flaps of the earlier styles, particularly the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian eras, were more “worn in” from use. Whatever person(s) had the book before me was clearly less interested by the modern era! The underpinnings of the 1400s were far more mysterious than the 1940s, at least in this case. In a few decades, perhaps the 20th Century sections will seem more exciting since they will be more distant from the now.

With that said, this book is all about layers and undergarments, so you are literally undressing the illustrations layer by layer down to their skivvies. Some folks might not be particularly comfortable with this, especially since the Middle Ages allows you to see under the lady’s chemise to see her stockings and she’s nude (of course) underneath:

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The illustration is not heavily detailed, but she does have curves denoting her breasts, a little belly button, and the tiniest V where are thighs meet her trunk. Being nude under her shift is historically accurate, but you can easily paste down her shift to make her more modest if you are concerned about it. The children’s layers are not as detailed, so they don’t go down that far and neither do most of the men’s outfits, though the 1960s keeps the playing field even:

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The fashions are Euro/Anglocentric (the author worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum), some of the terms are out of date (the book was written in 1998), the corset/stays/bodies information retains a slightly sensationalized tone, and the 1590s woman is wearing inaccurate pantaloons, but at that point, I’m letting my current knowledge outpace the level this book is intended for.

According to Amazon, this book is for ages 5-7 years, but I believe that’s way too young for this book: not because of the revealing nature of it (the whole point of the book is to reveal the hidden parts of fashion), but because this book has a lot of text and details that a younger child might not appreciate. However, for a 7-14 year old, this book would be a really fun, informative introduction to the world of historical fashion! I would have loved a book like this as a tween and I still appreciate it even though I no longer need it. For $5 or even $15, this book would make a great gift to a budding historical fashionista. The quality of the book itself is very high (great paper, wonderful layout, etc.) and it will answer many questions, prompt new questions, and encourage further research.

Overall rating:

Great fun for a fashion history newbie!