Sunday, 1 November 2015

Dress Down Sunday: The Zipped up Corset


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES

Come Tell me How You Live by Agatha Christie
published 1946

Come tell me how you live

[Agatha Christie is shopping and packing to go to Syria]
Life nowadays is dominated and complicated by the remorseless Zip. Blouses zip up, skirts zip down, ski-ing suits zip everywhere. ‘Little frocks’ have perfectly unnecessary bits of zipping on them just for fun.
Why? Is there anything more deadly than a Zip that turns nasty on you? It involves you in a far worse predicament than any ordinary button, clip, snap, buckle or hook and eye.
In the early days of Zips, my mother, thrilled by this delicious novelty, had a pair of corsets fashioned for her which zipped up the front. The results were unfortunate in the extreme! Not only was the original zipping-up fraught with extreme agony, but the corsets obstinately refused to de-zip! Their removal was practically a surgical operation! And owing to my mother’s delightful Victorian modesty, it seemed possible for a while that she would live in these corsets for the remainder of her life – a kind of modern Woman in the Iron Corset!
I have therefore always regarded the Zip with a wary eye.
commentary: There’s already been one entry on this charming little book, a memoir of Agatha Christie’s trips accompanying her husband on archaeological digs during the 1930s. I said then: ‘It’s an entertaining and informative book, with very funny anecdotes and a feel for the area they visited and the history they uncovered’. This extract comes from the very beginning of the book, where she describes trying to shop for the expedition, and the difficulties she has finding the right kind of clothes.
I was intrigued that she mentions something called a double terai, and assumes her readers will know what it is: it is a kind of hat for visitors to exotic parts, with two layers, a deep crown and a wide brim. The easiest way of describing it is ‘it’s the hat people wear in films and book illustrations set in tropical places, when they are not wearing a solar topee. It’s the other one.’ Here’s a picture:
 
Come tell me  terai
 
Agatha Christie is very self-deprecating in the book, tells many stories against herself, but has a sharp eye for other people’s foibles too. But you would say tolerance and interest were major traits, and she is very nice about many of the locals she meets, and interested in the different attitudes among, say, Kurds and Arabs, and religious differences. She sounds like a game old bird, putting up with quite dramatically uncomfortable conditions and situations, when she was in her mid-40s. Some of it was written contemporaneously (you would suspect she kept a diary) and then she completed the book during the war, when trips to Syria were a distant memory and she scarcely saw Max. There is a very well-done air of regret at the end of this book…
Christie’s mother must have been rather ahead of the game in trying out zips on corsets – they don’t seem to have become a regular feature till much later: the one above is from the 1940s. Mrs Miller died in 1926.









20 comments:

  1. I felt the pain of the zip in the corset.

    Who is the man in the picture? He has a look of Stewart Granger.

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    1. Yes, as Kerrie says below, Stewart G. And although it's a funny story I think we can all imagine it with horror....

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  2. That actor is Stewart Grainger.
    Moira, could you add this excellent post to the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival for November please? I'm still travelling and can't do it myself with the iPad.

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    1. Thanks, Kerrie, of course you are right. and yes, will head over to the Carnival...

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  3. I love Agatha Christie's wit, Moira. She is, as you say, self-deprecating, but with such a keen eye to everything going on around here. I think it's terrific. And that zipped corset - such a terrific mental image. I've rather liked her interest in the ways other groups see the world and do things. For her time, she was forward-thinking about that, and that perspective adds to her books, in my opinion.

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    1. I completely agree with you Margot - she has more depth than she sometimes gets credit for, and she travelled a lot and kept her eyes and her mind open...

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  4. I've been away and I'm trying to get caught up on all my blogs, always enjoy yours. I'm an Elizabeth Goudge fan, but the White Witch is not a favorite, the Elliot Trilogy is and I've read it many times.
    I recently read a biography of the Mitfords, call them what you may they were fascinating.

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    1. Thanks! I must try the Elliot trilogy - I think I read it years ago, but don't remember much. And I will always read anything about the Mitfords.

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  5. You are really whetting my appetite for this book, Moira. I shall get it out of the London Library, which is my solace now that I am not buying books.

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    1. I think you will like it Christine, it's a real charmer. And the library must be a godsend for you when you are being so strict with yourself!

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  6. Moira: A shiver went up my spine reading about corsets. They must be one of the most painful garments ever invented

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    1. Absolutely. I don't know why women imposed it on each other for all those centuries. We can't blame men for them...

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  7. Moira, does this by any chance form a part of her autobiography? It reads like a chapter from the book, which, of course, I haven't read yet.

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    1. No it's not, Prashant, it is quite separate - although she does of course write about her travels in the autobiog. I don't know why she made a different book out of this one - it's a good question.

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  8. I'm a bit suspicious about the corset story, If Mama died in 1926, she was a VERY early adopter of zip fronted corsets. So early in fact, as to be incredibly ground-breaking and innovative, given that apparently the first zippers in garments were in leather jackets in 1925.

    I wonder whether it wasn't actually Agatha herself who had the zip-fronted corset, but wasn't quite prepared for the world to know about HER undies issues, but couldn't resist a good story.

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    1. Oh, nice bit of speculation Daniel! I did think it seemed very early, but didn't have your suspicious mindset.

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  9. This is a very dry spell for me, something ought to break soon.......

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    1. *shakes head* - I can see it's not being a great few weeks.

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  10. I enjoyed her comments on the zippers, and I just cannot imagine a corset with a zipper... or the actual wearing of one. The information about the hat was great. Maybe I will read this one someday.

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    1. It's a very short and easy read, and she comes over as charming and self-deprecating. I'm sure I will read it again one day.

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