Monday, May 20, 2013

Underwear Isn't Optional

I've seen a lot of posts about historical accuracy bandied back and forth across the blogosphere recently.  Part of it has to do with the ongoing "Historical Sew Fortnightly" challenge in which many costumers/reenactors/bloggers are participating.  Some has to do with the ongoing conflict between the various subsets of those who sew historical or historically-inspired garments.  You know, the Pretty Pretty Princesses, the Butter Churners, the Stitch Nazis...don't lie; you've heard them all, and I'd bet you've used at least one of those terms to describe someone at least once before.  That's okay; this isn't about who belongs in what category, or which one shall Reign Supreme.

This is about the fact that I have yet to see anyone mention the importance of underpinnings in any of those "how accurate are you?  how accurate am I?  how accurate should we be?" posts.  And you know what?  They're damn important.

I've seen so many polite debates (and not so polite ones) about how some people just want to feel pretty, some of them want 1,000,000% accuracy, blah blah.  But here's the thing.  If you're not wearing the right underwear, you're going to look wrong.  Full stop.  Historically, people wore specific garments that shaped their bodies in specific ways.  Maybe it was achieved through cording, or whalebone, or steel.  Maybe it was  just strategically cut inner garments with no stiffening.  Doesn't matter.  If you're not wearing the right shaping garments for whatever time period, your silhouette will not be correct.

You can do everything else right--construction techniques, fiber content, witchcraft, whatever--but if you're not wearing the right support structure, you might as well just go home.  Because the number one step in making a historical garment should always include starting with the correct undergarments (or reasonable facsimile thereof).

Which is why I have anxiety dreams about forgetting my corset every time I go to an event.


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Thoughts?  Questions?  Comments?  Rotten tomatoes?  Fire away!

19 comments:

  1. I always fear leaving my shoes and glasses at home. No flaminng here. You're spot on.

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    1. Corsets and contact lenses are my fears! And thank you :)

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  2. This is why I've yet to finish a regency gown, because I've yet to finish my stays. You can't wear regency without regency stays and that is all there is to it. My stays may not be exactly period correct because mama doesn't handsew unless forced mostly because mama would never finish handsewing. But yeah, there will be stays . . . eventually. Damned gussets. ::trails off muttering about cording and such::

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    1. Oh, all my stays and corsets are machine sewn! I finish small bits by hand, but I made the decision long ago that if I wanted to wear them sometime this century, I'd have to machine sew them!

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  3. Amen sister. I give this same lecture over, and over, and over, and over again in hopes that maybe someday someone will listen.

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  4. I agree wholeheartedly. I have quite a collection of different period undergarments now, but when I start a new period, I won't go anywhere near my dress fabric until my undergarments are complete - drawers, chemise, stays, petticoats. The lot!

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  5. I completely agree. And to my horror I once went interstate to a costume formal event and took the wrong stays. I coped, but it was hideously stressful! Next time I travel I'm double/triple checking.

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  6. I agree with you! I also made a post about what to wear for Civil War living historians here: http://victorianneedle.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-to-get-middle-victorian-look_25.html. I try to stress my readers on wearing corsets and moreover, hoops!

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  7. I agree with you completely! Wrong underwear, wrong shape.

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  8. and don't forget the importance of starching (the burden of my life.. :-S) I recently completed a new garment and my starch mix was not strong enough and OMG I am very embarrassed by the photos taken at the event.

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  9. I completely agree about corsets. I know women who use tank tops and pajama bottoms instead of chemises and drawers, but they all wear corsets. Personally I bring several pairs of drawers and chemises to an even so I can wear clean every day. Also, although some think it isn't period, I wear drawers in every era. I have long and short so that they can be hidden under my skirts, even when they are tucked up at Ren Faire.

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    1. I've done the tank top/pj bottoms/shorts/etc thing before...especially in the winter! When it's 20F out and you're going to be standing in a field for three hours, health & safety come before 100% accuracy. Or, you know, if you forget your chemise...which I may have done before.

      I also wear drawers in every era, simply for my own hygiene and comfort. Maybe not perfectly period, but definitely the best option for me!

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  10. I agree with all but one part: that no one ever talks about underpinnings. In nearly every rant about accuracy I've ever read the *first* thing mentioned is underpinnings, lol!

    I must run with the undies crowd. ;)

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    1. Long live the undies crowd! I'm really glad to hear I'm not the only one that thinks it's important...turns out tons of people do! I just want to poke myself in the eyeballs when I go to an event and there are sooo many people that were clearly like "Meh, corsets are for the birds! I'm just gonna make a dress!" AUGH. And then tell people "I'm not wearing a corset because I'm portraying a lower class/working woman and they wouldn't have worn a corset either." *swat*

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  11. So true! The underwear is that part of clothing, which is worn very next to the skin. It is the part of fashion no one usually sees - but actually it is SEEN, as it's main function is to shape the body in a way that the outer garments get their 'right' silhouette.
    And it teaches us so much about the people back then. I solely sew (recreate) garments from the early 19th century and I always thought that the long stays/corset feel restrictive compared to 21st century modern underwear, but in fact the short stays (as in a period correct way) and long stays (the early ones) meant such a change for the women and they thought them to be so much less restrictive than the common stays of the late 18th century. Looking at all the layers and trying to get them right, helps to feel how people back then felt and this helps to get an idea how they might have thought and lived (not knowing anything about the decades and fashions, which followed).
    Sabine

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  12. Oh dear yes...so with you there. It's always so disappointing to either see someone flopping loose in the breeze under their clothing "because they're lower class" or else someone finding pretty cloth I'd kill to get my hands on and then turning it into a gown drafted over modern undergarments. I just want to run up and shake them and say WHAT A WASTE :(

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  13. In truth, I haven't heard of Butter Churners. Could you explain what sort of people they are?

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    1. I personally have only ever heard it referring to people that prefer to wear lower-class clothing. I have a friend who has heard it in a context that implies derision on those who put in the extra work to do things like hand-sew even garments that won't be seen, etc. I think it depends on who you're talking to, but those are the two meanings I've experienced or been told.

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  14. I must admit to chintzing on some of my underpinnings. The only thing I find an absolute must is my corset, because to me that is the only thing that can't be approximated by something modern. I've worn long cotton shirts in place of a chemise, and modern cotton skirts instead of an under-petticoat, and yes it is possible (if not the most practical) to wear modern underpants with a corset and still keep everything together in the restroom.

    And while it is more important to me to look correctly than to be what most modern eyes see as pretty, I'm definitely a person who goes for the high-end fashion as opposed to lower-class impressions. You have my permission to call me a 'pretty pretty princess'. ;) As if you need it.

    -BethT from the Sewing Academy

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