Victorian Underwear Research Workshop
by Anita Mae Draper
One of the most informative workshops I’ve ever attended was at this year’s Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in New York City. Presented by historical romance author Deeanne Gist, the workshop was entitled Bottoms Up: a Look at Victorian Women’s Clothing from the Inside Out.
So why all the interest in Victorian women’s underwear? Because writers today take pride in the historical accuracy of their stories. Every detail, both commonplace and rare, should be questioned and researched. And the task can become quite daunting when the information sought isn’t readily available. (Check my website for a short article on why I research to the best of my ability.)
Victorian underwear was one of those hush-hush topics so necessary to daily life that few people bothered to record the details of what it entailed. Because of this lack of common knowledge, several myths pervaded. From Deeanne’s workshop and my later research, those myths are shattered.
Myth: A corset is worn next to bare skin.
Fact: Laundering a corset is next-to-impossible. To alleviate the necessity, women wore a chemise beneath the corset to absorb the sweat and grime of daily life.
Myth: Every woman wore a corset when it was in fashion.
Fact: Corsets hampered breathing and interfered with household tasks and chores. Although most women wore corsets in public, the rigid structure of the device precluded the wearing of a corset all hours of the day except women of leisure and those most conscious of current trends that they'd forgo comfort for fashion.
Myth: A woman could lace her own corset properly.
Fact: Corsets were laced in the back which necessitated a second person, such as a lady's maid, to ensure it was laced properly. As demonstrated at the Bottoms Up workshop, a woman couldn't lace her own corset and have a tight fit. And a loose or ill fit negated the whole purpose of a form-fitting corset.
Myth: A woman could shed her corset in moments, whether by allowing it to slip down or sliding it over her head.
Fact: A properly fitted corset took almost as long to unlace as it did to lace up. There was no quick and easy way to get it off.
After the presentation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) posted this story complete with video and slideshow:
How to Undress a Victorian Lady in Your Next Historical Romance
Authors Who Crave Verisimilitude Learn to Unlace a Corset in a Good Bodice Ripper
The WSJ slideshow is made up of photos taken of Deeanne at her Bottoms Up RWA workshop.
Deeanne borrowed a coat/dress/luggage rack from the Merriott Marquis to hold all the apparel she would don during the presentation. When it was over, I helped her and Heather return it to the Bell Captain. As she walked away in her full outfit, I watched people stop and smile as she passed them. It wasn't until she'd entered an elevator that I realized I hadn't even taken a photo of her in her 1860's dress. So, thank you Keli Gwyn for providing me with this photo.
I appreciate the length Ms Gist has gone for accuracy in her research. And I'm grateful she's willing to share that knowledge with the rest of us.
Find out more about Deeanne Gist and her best selling books at http://www.deeannegist.com/ .
Thank you, Keli Gwyn for taking the gorgeous photo of Deeanne in full costume.