Saturday, February 05, 2011

Corsets, Bodies & Stays

As a member of the Rices Hotel Hughlett Tavern and a member of the Spiinning and Weaving Guild that meets there, I've been wanting to develop a period outfit for some time. I'm an odd bird, no doubt, and enjoy dressing up in costumes.

The challenge with the RHHT outfit is that I've never been entirely clear on what era we were supposed to be interpreting. The Hotel has been around since before the Revolution. It was in the business of being a privately owned public gathering place up until maybe 30 years ago. So it covers a lot of years.

I was told at one point, they were aiming for 1810 (just prior to the Industrial Revolution when Steamboats went up and down the Potomac River to Baltimore on a regular basis. In fact, travel by land was fraught with hazards and took a very long time. Water travel was, by far, the best.

I have not had time to research it myself (yet) but I suspect that most of the folks here who had a couple of cents to rub together, did a good job of dressing fashionably and probably purchased the majority of their fabrics (perhaps even finished clothing) from points North or even Europe.

This was the age of Jane Eyre. Younger women wore stays but they were short and more closely resembled today's full line bra. And yes, they did have boning made from the baleen of the unfortunate whale.

But this era of Romance only spanned about 10 years when women found themselves laced back into corsets which were even more restrictive than the kind worn by women from 1780 to 1810. By the period of the Civil War, they would hardly breath and they suffered from the effects of lacing that was dangerously tight.

The problem with the Romantic period of dress is that these ladies were wearing gauze. I mean literally. Many of them died of complications of not wearing enough clothing in winter!

I like being warm. I like wool.

So, I've decided that because I have grey hair, I can be one of the old fuddy duddy ladies and wear clothing of the previous era and get away with it.


besshaile said...

Don't you think people like to do the Regency style dress because it uses so much less cloth.

Cate K said...

If you are stick thin this works, but if heavier, this style looks awful. Even back in the period, older women did not wear the very shear clothing that the young women did. In just a few years, the Regency went out of style completely.