Friday, August 5, 2011

From Modesty To Bare Nothings: Ditching The Undies Revolution Part 2 (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

(Continue from page: 2a)

Corsets- Also, called bodices or stays, were worn by the women of Europe as early as the 16th century. These stressed a woman's sexuality. They had fitted bust enhancers. Corsets were strengthened with steel or whalebone, which was fastened at the front with long ties in the back to adjust tightness. In order to achieve the "hourglass" form, which most flattered the female figure, Victorians wore these restrictive corsets. As a result of these tight-fitting corsets, which supported the breasts pushing them upward, hips seemed much larger from the shifting of flesh from the waist. The lacing from behind would draw the shoulders back, forming a high round bosom and upright posture. Activists of the dress reform movement campaigned against tight lacing which they felt caused severe pain and damage to internal organs and bones.

Bloomers- The creator of this part of women's clothing was Elizabeth Smith Miller of Peterboro, NY and Fabrizia Flynn. However, sometime in the 1850's, it was popularized by Amelia Jenks Bloomer. These pants were long and baggy, narrowing to a cuff at the ankles. They would wear bloomers with a short dress or a skirt and vest, which gave a greater freedom of movement while keeping the legs modestly covered. Since most of the women who wore them were activists steadfastly involved in abolition, dress reform, temperance and the women's rights movement, they were widely ridiculed by the press, therefore barely making an impact on the world of fashion. Bloomers were also known as "knickers or knickerbockers."

Pantaloons and Pantalettes- These were longer undergarments worn by women, young ladies and children, which fell under the hem line of dresses that were long enough to cover the entire leg. The drawers were loose and made of two leg sections that were held together with a tie at the waist. As an embellishment, lace and ruffles were added to the bottom of the pants. In the 19th century, women's underwear were usually open between the legs, but in the 20th century, they were replaced by closed knickers.

Union Suit- This was an undergarment made in 1868 for men, women and children, which was a one piece front-buttoning garment with sleeves down to the wrist and leggings down to the ankles. It also had a "fireman's flap" in the back to facilitate going to the bathroom. It resembled a pair of "long johns."

Bathing Suits- During the 1890's, when Victorian women would go to ocean resorts, they would change from layers of petticoats into swimwear in a small house on wheels, which was called a bathing machine. It had a door in front and one in the back, and since it was high above the ground, a step-ladder as well. Inside it had a bench with two towels and a place to keep petticoats. The bathing machine was located on the shallow part of the water's edge, then was pulled out to deeper water by two horses and a driver. This allowed the modest Victorian woman to have complete privacy while she was enjoying her time at the beach. To be on the safe side, she would be attached to a rope around her waist. After she was done splashing and swimming, the little house would be returned to the beach with its sopping wet flannel dressed occupant, where she would change back into her petticoats. Special areas were designated for the men to keep them from gazing at the women in their wet top of the line swimwear, which consisted of black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, decorated with a sailor's collar which was worn over bloomers, trimmed with ribbons and bows. Let's not forget the long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers and decorative caps they also had to wear.

In part 3 of this series we examine the point where women's underwear (and the more private, sexy parts they were designed to protect) began to see the light of day. I hope your heart can take it!

History is Miriam B. Medina's passion. History can be exciting, sexy, informative and humorous, and Miriam wants you to experience the wonders of history, not just READ about it. She loves nothing more than sharing that passion and her 13 years of research with everyone. So sit back, enjoy the ride and LEARN. For fashion pictures, articles and you-tube viewings of fashion shows from the 19th century through the 21st century, please visit: FASHION CENTER

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To be continued: Part 3 (a)

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