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  • Writer's pictureLiza

How did they wear that?

We've talked about silhouettes here, but how did they achieve that look? Women's shapes have been augmented by cinching in the waist and embellishing everything else with padding, inflatable or stuffed pouches, oversized pockets, cages and crinolines. We all know the dangers of extreme corset wearing:

This was called "waist training" and led to all sorts of health issues from breathing to digestion and perpetuated the myth of the "weaker sex" but that is a topic for another day.

Although some women enjoy the hour-glass form naturally, many have used a combination of methods to achieve it in history and up to present time. Much of the emphasis on the slim waist has been achieved by accentuating the hips and shoulders. Sometimes it was the cut of the dress and the placement and angles of the trim, other times structural additions were hidden under the surface.

The most extreme examples of hip augmentation are seen in the progression of panniers (side structures) in the French Courts up to Marie Antoinette.

In the first and last quarter of the 19th Century, sleeve sizes were enormous. These leg-o-mutton sleeve shapes and bell skirts created an X shape that emphasized the smallness of the waist. As I use stiffened paper to create my dresses, I do not need to use structures within, but the volume of paper "fabric" to create these shapes is immense.

In the Civil War/Victorian era, off-the-shoulder necklines or sleeve seams and V shaped trim created a wide top to contrast with the corseted waist. Hoop skirts completed the X shape and further focused on the minimized waist.

The turn of the last century saw the fullness of the skirt gathered to the back, draped fabric overskirts and trim contributed to the illusion of slim waist lines. Elaborate bustle structures supported the decorative gatherings and bows.

Fashion changed in the nine teens and twenties so then women's bodies were asked to conform again. Full body girdles were introduced to emulate the slender silhouette of pre-womanhood teenage girls. Hips and breasts were minimized and waistlines dropped as the public embraced a more mobile and active female in society.

In the 1940's, fabric rationing slimmed shortened the skirt flair and simplified the form but the addition of shoulder and hip pads, waist belts and hip pocket details once again emphasized the contrast between shoulders, waist and hips.

The 1950's, with the return of unlimited fabric and accessories launched The New Look complete with new constricting garments and crinoline under structures. Shoulders remained somewhat wide but skirts flared.

Inflatable bras were a thing!

Pockets used again this decade to emphasize hips and minimize waist.

The 1980's saw the return of the shoulder pad to an extreme level.

What silhouette do you like to view? ... And would you wear a contraption to change your shape?

Today's modern fashionista can purchase bum enhancements, shoulder pads, padded bras and custom corsets to achieve any shape.

Costumers, cos-players and reenactors have a wide variety of resources - from extensive online museum collections to historically accurate patterns to designers and seamstresses who will make your bespoke costume to custom fit you and your favorite era. We truly live in abundant times.

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2 comentários

Thank you for educating us in such amazing detail and rich fabrics! I would never need butt pads, inflatable breasts or hips😂😂. And highly doubtful that waist cinching would ever work on me!


Tami Clark
Tami Clark
17 de jan. de 2021

Amazing research and detail in your fabulous creations! You have been so drawn to this form for so many years. I love watching your work evolve.

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