Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Common historical costume errors

I've been buried under the pressures of work lately, compounded by teaching a spinning workshop all last weekend. But here's the promised post about costume errors that I find frustrating in historical romances.

Silk chemises
Okay, there may have been a few of them around. But the fact is, linen is much more comfortable next to the skin, and could be exquisitely fine and luxurious. Forget modern starched linen. Especially forget fabric marketed as 'handkerchief linen', because most of that is actually ramie, not linen at all. Ramie is not as fine, and is stiffer and scratchier than real linen. Real linen as used for underclothes becomes wonderfully soft the more it's worn and the higher-end stuff is beautifully fine. Even the lesser quality linen was still soft and sensual on the skin. My DH had a pure linen shirt years ago and it was soft, and fine, and draped wonderfully, whisper-soft on the skin. Pure bliss.

Corsetless Heroines
If you're writing Regency, you can get away with you heroine not wearing a corset. If you're writing pretty much anything else between about 1480 - 1915, and your heroine is even vaguely respectable, then she wore a corset the majority of the time.

You think corsets are uncomfortable? Restricting? Tight laced? Ummm... no. Many women (including me) find that a properly fitted corset is more comfortable than a bra. Yes, your posture is a bit different - but women wore corsets from adolesence onwards, and were used to them. They provide back support, boob support, and encourage a better posture.

Facts about corsets:
  • Dresses were designed to be worn over corsets. If your heroine puts on a dress without her corset, it won't sit right. Everyone will know that she's not wearing one.
  • Tight lacing was a short-lived phenomenon practised by only a few in the later 19th century - probably about as common as nipple-piercing today.
  • The slight restriction of corsets on deep breathing can heighten the sensual arousal and excitement for a woman.
  • Corsets are incredibly sexy. Ask any guy of your acquaintance. Men find them very, very enticing - the sense of the forbidden, the hints of what lies beneath stimulating the imagination....
Pre-20th century women in trousers
I recently read a 19th-century set American historical in which the heroine - a respectable woman, employed as a nanny - spent most of her time wearing trousers. Because they were more 'comfortable'.

Yes, some women undoubtably did don trousers in pioneer America and Australia, for practical reasons while trekking, riding etc. But respectable women didn't wear them around their employer's house as a matter of course. And women who'd spent most of their lives wearing long skirts and only loose linen or cotton underwear around their fannies probably didn't find moleskin or denim trousers cut for a man's shape to be 'comfortable.' Physically or socially. Which is probably why, in all the diary accounts and letters of pioneer women I've read, I can't recall any references to women wearing trousers. It's sort of like expecting modern women to go naked to their corporate jobs - yeah, it'd be more comfortable than power suits and heels, and a practical saving on cleaning costs, but there's a whole lot of other reasons why we just don't do it.

I'll probably remember the other costume issues I was planning on ranting about later, but it's been a looonnngg day and my brain just died.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I didn't live back then,
the only time you will see me in a dress is at church time.