LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
In last week’s Dress Down Sunday, we quoted Cecil Beaton on the female form. This is part of what Beaton said:
With whalebone corsets that ruthlessly laced the human figure into an hour-glass shape, Victorian waistlines became as small as 16 inches. But though a small waistline was essential, the flesh above and below had to be full, of a Renoir-like voluptuousness.Straight into the comments came one of Clothes in Books’ favourite readers Daniel Milford-Cottam, expert costume commenter associated with the world-renowned V and A museum in London.
What he had to say was a revelation to me, frankly, and I think it is well worth passing on to a wider audience. In fairness to him, I should say that this was his extemperaneous, off-the-cuff comment, not edited or rewritten: but he has good-naturedly agreed to my reproducing it.
Meanwhile I have obtained his marvellous book Edwardian Fashion, mentioned below, and will be doing an entry on it soon.
And now I am handing over to our honoured guest blogger.
Daniel Milford-Cottam writes: Ahhh, that lovely old bit of chestnutty dingly-dangly-male-specific-bits about how every Victorian woman had a 16 inch (or less) waist or wanted one. Or that the ideal waist size was 18". I have nothing against waist fetishists and perverts, but sometimes I could quite cheerfully track down the original tight-lacing pervs and beat them about the head repeatedly with an ironclad* for writing their fantasies up in such a way that future perverts and non-perverts took them as gospel truth and reported accordingly.
As the marvellous Mrs. Eric Pritchard wrote in "The Cult of Chiffon" in 1902 (a time when, if you believe a lot of people, every woman was forcing herself into a S-bend corset of unimaginable waist-minusculeness) , "there never was a time when tight-lacing was less in favour" and advising her readers that such practices were vulgar and viewed with disfavour. I have a good myth-busting go at this in my Edwardian Fashion book for Shire. (sorry! Vulgar book plug!)
In addition to this, Doris Langley-Moore, whose collection formed the basis of the Fashion Museum's in Bath, in the late 1940s, carried out an intensive survey with a tape measure of 19th century dresses from the period, to investigate the 18-inch waist myth. She found that almost none of the bodices surveyed had a waist of less than 22 inches, and that the average corseted waist measurement of actual dresses was around 26-28 inches.
Back to Mrs Pritchard: her "The Cult of Chiffon" - basically a style manual advising the fashionable lady of 1902 on how to dress - is magnificent. It desperately needs to be produced as a facsimile edition - I have an original, incredibly rare copy of it, and it provided so many wonderful quotes for Edwardian Fashion, such as, on the tendency of "nice" ladies to wear revolting Victorian underwear, such as hideous "drab-coloured merino combinations - thick, rough and high to the neck":
"Can one wonder that marriage is so often a failure and that the English husband of such a class of woman goes where he can admire the petticoat of aspirations?"I adore Mrs. Eric Pritchard. She needs to be better known.
On well-dressed women wearing ugly undies: "There is something so hopelessly vulgar in beautifying only the outside of the platter."
On flashy footwear: "As for the boots that are visible a mile away, we certainly do not wish to see the woman who is wearing them."
* An ironclad being a popular colloquial term of the time for those VERY heavy-duty bulletproof "tea rose" corsets that were still being worn by well-upholstered ladies of a certain age well into the 1960s and 70s....
----------------------------------Thanks again to Daniel who also provided the illustration which is, of course, the petticoat of aspiration mentioned above.