Corsets and Petticoats
Under 19th century grand costumes, were rib-crunching corsets and petticoats. Fashions were constricting and time consuming. They were also often described to accent womanly curves. Some even went as far to say "steel-reinforced corsets... produce an embracing feeling of delicious sensations, half pleasure, half pain".
The Ideal Form
Emma McChesney in Ferber's novel exclaims, "An English woman chooses a petticoat like she does a husband-for life. It isn't only a garment, it's a shelter. It's built like a tent". She later confesses that the petticoats will fit the floor as linoleum floor-coverings "better than the human form".
A 19th century actress, Ana Held, was considered to have the perfect form (her waist was 18 inches!).
1: DROOPY DRAWERS!
A lady would first put on a simple knee length cotton or seamless shirt. She would wear stockings held up above the knee with a garter and long cotton drawers.
2: BREATHE IN!
Next came the corset strengthened with whalebone or steel. It fastened at the front but was pulled in at the back.
3: PUTTING ON THE CAGE!
Most structures consisted of a framework of flexible steel hoops joined by bands of tape. This entitled the wearer to step into her cage.
4: CAGE IN!
Once in the wearer would tie the cage around her waist.
5: PRETTY PETTICOAT!
The crinoline cage was then covered with a petticoat, which could be quite simple or elaborately trimmed with lace embroidery. Most petticoats were made of white cotton.
6: MORE PETTICOATS!
The number of petticoats worn with a cage depended on the size of the cage and the dress but it was usually two.
7:THE FINISHED LOOK!
A mid -19th-century dress completes the dressing. It is strange to think that a demure look was achieved by such a mass of cotton, lace, whalebone and steel. Imagine having to put all that on in the morning when you are running late!
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