jueves, 27 de enero de 2011

History of the Victorian Corset

  In the 1830's, the corset was thought of as a medical necessity. It was believed that a woman was very fragile, and needed assistance from some form of stay to hold her up. Even girls as young as three or four, and probably directed by the best motives, were laced up into bodices.

  Gradually these garments were lengthened and tightened. By the time they were teenagers, the girls were unable to sit or stand for any length of time without the aid of a heavy canvas corset reinforced with whale bone or steel. The corset deformed the internal organs making it impossible to draw deep breath, in or out of a corset. Because of this, Victorian women were always fainting and getting the vapors.

  Women were thought of as the weaker sex, therefore their minds and bodies were weak. So the corset was deemed morally and medically necessary. Tight lacing was considered virtuous - a loose corset was probably a sign of a loose woman. To keep her innocence and virtuosity, a lady had to be chaperoned everywhere she went. She could not read or see any plays lest it excite her imagination. Even Shakespeare was thought unsuitable for ladies. A woman needed to protect herself from lustful men (and her own morality) by wearing heavily reinforced layers of clothing and tight corsets that made getting undressed a long and difficult task.

  Working-class women (except when dressed for special occasions) did not go through the discomfort of wearing tightly laced corsets. They wore looser corsets and simpler clothes, with less weight. The higher up in class a lady was, the more confining her clothes were. This was because they did not need the freedom to do household chores. Paid servants took care of such cumbersome matters.

  The corset is an interesting garment, which to most people in our modern world seems a very strange piece of underwear. We have all heard about the times when women were encased in long stiff corsets, reduced to nothing but objects of beauty, unable to perform any task. This is, however, only a part of the historical facts about that time - and about corsets.

  When talking corsetry, the most interesting period of fashion is the period from 1820 to about 1910. But the corset is much older than that. In Europe, it has been in general use as an undergarment since the middle ages, but it probably dates several thousands of years back. The corset has at all times been used for shaping the body, most often for compressing the waist, but sometimes for raising the bust.

  A compelling question is of course, how tightly were the corsets laced? There are many reports of waists between 18 and 14 inches - even 12 inch waists are mentioned. However, it is believed that most accounts of these very small waists represent fantasies. Measurements of corsets in museum collections indicate that most corsets of the period 1860 to 1910 measured from 20 to 22 inches. Furthermore, those sizes do not indicate how tightly the corsets were laced. They could easily have been laced out by several inches, and probably were, because it was prestigious to buy small corsets.

  So ordinary corsets were not so tight after all, and contrary to common belief, the construction of the corset with the metal busk for front closure and the lacing in the back, enabled the bearer to lace herself in. She did not need a maid or husband to help her.

Severe tight-lacing was practiced, and some corsetieres specialized in cultivating very small waists. Some men developed a fetish for small waists, a fetish which was regarded as quite acceptable. Small waists and the corset probably played about the same role as the wonder bra plays today.

Finally, we want to weigh up the pros and cons of corsets:


-Asphyxia: they could not breathe very well with them.
-Sunstroke: women usually get sunstroke because of all the clothes they had to wear.
-Infertility: the corsets they had to wear were so tight that women had continually miscarriages, many of them remained sterile for life. Wearing corset was not easy for a pregnant women, they could lose their baby. In the "best" cases  babies came out deformed or with cardiorespiratory problems.
-Faints: many times faints were caused by getting a sunstroke, but in many others, faints were caused by the difficult task of breathing well.
Corsets were used to enhance women's figure and to enhance the bust as well.

martes, 25 de enero de 2011


  Before we talk about fashion, we must know its meaning. According to the dictionary of the English Royal Academy, the word fashion means: Use, or custom mode that is in vogue for some time, or in a particular country, specializing in costumes, fabrics and decorations, especially the newly introduced.
 Fashion is based on five basic elements that have survived through the centuries: the color, shape, fall, texture and balance of the garments.

The fashion in its most primitive form, was born in prehistory when men and women wore fur to cover their bodies.With the advance of the ice age, men created needles in order to sew.


   The main feature of the Victorian epoch was the mix of the best of other styles. Victorian Era was a lively style of ornamentation.
Clothes on the Victorian Era were very elaborated and restrictived on the bodies of those who wore them. The Victorian Era was a time period between 1830 to the end of the XXth century. Queen Victoria  ruled England. The rise of the economy allowed to make more elaborated clothes. Cloth making was made easier and cheaper during the industrial boom of this time. Victorian fashion created by Queen Victoria in England clocked a time completely austere in dress, almost in funeral dresses because since the death of her husband she remained in mourning the rest of her life. She established very strict rules in mourning which can be clearly seen in movies and in texts.
The women’s dress was very elaborated. Their dresses affected the way  they walked, sat or moved  her arms. Women wore a variety of colours for their stockings and dresses. Dresses and stockings undergarments were cut in a style to show off the figure in a modest way. The undergarments had whale-bones or flexible steel to make it more confortable. Here we can see what a woman of that time had to wear:

Firstly the drawers:

Secondly the slip

Thirdly they had to put on the corset 

Fourtly the petticoat    

Fifthly the camisole

Sixthly they had to put on the "bustle" or polisón, this piece was essential to give form to the dress     

Followed to the underskirt 

Finally the skirt and the jacket or t-shirt: 

In that picture we see the women dressed to go out :

  The dress was worn in two pieces and connected with hooks and ties. The style of sleeves changed many times throughout the Victorian Era. The neckline was worn in a high V-neck. Either one or two skirts were worn; with two skirts the underskirt was longer, forming a short train with the top skirt forming an apron. The underskirt flared from the knees down to create fullness. Around 1880, the skirt was cut narrow all around the body, forming a slim outline. The dress was made in different colors, from pastels to darker colors. Different shades of green were very popular. We can see the evolution of the fashion dresses in this picture:


  We cannot fail to mention the importance of the "shawl" in this epoch.

If you want to see pictures of the different women and men clothes depending on the age, you can visit this webpage: 


  In the early XIXth century shoes began to be made with a right foot and a left foot instead of being interchangeable. Men very often wore boots in the XIXth century and it became acceptable for women to wear them too. Firstly they were made of leather but since the 1850s they were made of rubber.However at the end of the century it became fashionable for women to wear shoes again. In the 19th century boots and shoes started to be mass-produced,so it was cheaper. However in the 19th century boots and shoes were still a luxury and some poor parents could not buy them for their children. Boots and shoes were almost always worn with heels and pointed or squared toes.


  Other important accessory were hats. Hats were primarily used as a protection from the sun, to avoid an injury... However, in the later years, hats became a symbol of style statement and authority. The kind of hats worn by women and men were different. Hats formed an essential part of a woman’s appearance and as a result, they always wear a hat when they went out. The hats were layered on a wire base covered with straw braids or twisted fabric and was made from velvet, satin or cotton. Birds were used as decorating piece on the hats and this was a fashion in the last half of the XIXth century.                                                                                                                        The most romantic looking hat of the 1850s was a leghorn straw with a wide brim dipped down at the back and slightly at the front. In the early 1900s, hats had wider-brim and were worn high on the head.

  For men, the top hat or the tall silk hat was generally worn for formal days and evening wear. A light grey top hat was worn in the 1860s for racing parties. Since the 1870s, there was a rise in the number of hats that were considered appropriate for informal wear. Caps of firmly woven wool which were close-fitting were also worn by the Victorian men.

  Shawls, cloaks, mantles, scarves and little aprons were also accessories. Gloves and parasols were popular. Large brooches were worn at the throat and large and small earrings were also worn. The use of fans was also very common. Boas made of feathers or fur were also very big. 



About the makeup of this time, women wanted to look like as fragile ladies. They compared themselves to delicate flowers and emphasized their delicacy and femininity. They always wanted to look pale and interesting. Paleness could be induced by drinking vinegar and avoiding fresh air. Sometimes ladies discreetly used a little rouge on the cheeks, but make-up was not seen very good, especially during the 1870s when social etiquette became more rigid.

   Actresses, however were allowed to use makeup. Most cosmetic products available were still either chemically or homemade with kitchen colourings like berries and beetroot.

  A pale skin was a mark of gentility. It meant that a upper-class lady did not work in the country so she was not dark-skinned . Parasols were very popular and used to protect the skin from the sun. Rooms were shuttered with dark heavy velvet curtains to keep out the sun's rays. Fine blue lines were painted on the skin to increase the appearance of delicate translucent skin and to look like veins.

  During this time it was thought that women's hair was the most valued thing on them. It was rarely cut, usually only in severe illness. It was also supplemented by false hair depending on the current fashion.


  Hairstyles were very complicated. Hair was thick, long, and luxuriant in many different styles.  As we said before, hats were an important part of the outfit. Hair was parted down the middle, curled or braided, then tied or pinned back. Only in informal occasions we can see the Victorian lady leaving her hair fall loose around her shoulders.
Later in the XIXth century, Victorian hairstyles became more elaborated. Bangs made their debut around 1880. Women began to use hot irons to wave their hair or add ringlets to it.

  When Queen Elizabeth died in 1901 her styles died with her. The XXth century brought simpler fashions. Women’s fashions changed considerable with the rise in feminism in the XXth century.

 Finally, to close the post, the trailer of Charlotte Brönte's novel Jane Eyre, and the trailer of  Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice where you can see a good example of the fashion of the time.