Friday, October 17, 2014

Misconceptions About19th Century Women’s Clothing – Embracing the Corset!

Most modern Americans have an antipathy towards the corset – a foundation garment that women wore for centuries before the invention of modern undergarments including the bra. Women envision Scarlett O’Hara trying to whittle her waist to 7 inches after having children and wrongly assume that was the norm.

To the contrary, most women of the mid-19th Century did not aspire to a waist the size of a twig, Instead, the corset served a multipurpose function of providing back support for the heavy skirts and ensuring women had the appropriate silhouette for the fashions of the day.

A properly fitted corset is extremely comfortable – even if tightly laced. While it does cinch my waist and provides me with the opportunity to contract myself to fit a dress that might otherwise have become un-wearable, I find that I have the same flexibility and ability to run, jump, bend, flex and reach that I do in the 21st century. Today I donned my corset at 7:30am, wore a wool dress over my petticoats and personal linens until 5:30pm, and then changed into a dinner dress to attend a banquet until 9:00pm. So I wore my corset from dawn until past dusk and never felt a moment of discomfort.

The secret is a custom designed garment sewn to my own measurements to the centimeter and dresses equally well tailored. A properly fitted corset will expand and contract according to the daily changes of a woman’s body. That is the beauty of the laces. And it is easy to self adjust.

While there may be a slight learning curve, I found that I could be equally at ease in my 19th Century clothing as I am in the 21st Century. Yes, the layer of personal linens can feel unpleasant in the midst of a particularly challenging summer. But truly, it is impossible to feel comfortable when the temperature rises to 95 degrees while wearing anything. It is also important to recall that before the advent of air-conditioning, people were more accustomed to dealing with heat. I am still amazed at people of a certain age who were raised in the times before central air that these folks can still use a pressure cooker and made jam or can vegetables in the midst of a torrid summer without a thought of the sultry weather conditions. It is what one becomes accustomed to experiencing.

And I am proud to say that I have become accustomed to wearing mid 19th Century clothes. I am comfortable and mobile. I can celebrate the beauty of the fashions and the practical reasons for certain garments.  Perhaps someday we will review the beauty and purpose of split drawers.

Photos courtesy of Originals By Kay. 

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