Corsets, Hoops, Stomachers And Other Weaponry, Our Ancestors' Unfortunate Fashion Addictions

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
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We girls are nothing if not consistent. A love affair with fashion permeates girl history. For more centuries than we should admit to we've fainted, caught fire, been hit by lightening, nursed bruised toes, cracked ribs and displaced organs- for fashion. Those floating hoopskirts, dainty waists and cascading curls synonymous with the ACW were typically torturous to wear. Like most ' fashion '.


This was an artist satiring ' hoops ', corsets, hair and shoes just pre-Revolutionary War. Relative freedom of the Regency era gave way slowly to this,

1840's fullness achieved through layers of petticoats and then-
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..... we lost our minds. Somewhere under there is her corset, a few layers of under-dress, petticoats and a large, wire frame.
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Yes, low necked ball gowns have enchanting bodices although a. you couldn't always see them and b. they became increasingly high-necked. Head-to-toe fabric, pointy shoes and too many pounds of fabric. Where was she? Godey's and Demorest's magazines felt we all were just fine- and sold copy after copy.

We've been doing this ' thing ' to ourselves since the first prehistoric woman thought it attractive to put a hole in her ear, the better to display some wonderful feather or gem or shell. Her BFF said " OH how pretty, where'd you get it? " Poof. Fashion. Nice enough but had to hurt. Rocketing forward into 2019 please no one imagine we're more progressive about it. No one can tell me a 5 inch stiletto heel isn't torturous to wear much less anything coming to a point at your toe. I don't know because platform shoes and those stupid pointed toes defeated me- dislike falling over and who can sit still very long? You'd do a lot of sitting if your toes were taped together.

This steel corset of the 1400's wasn't some exotic costume a female warrior used for battle. You wore the thing, which actually hinged, trapping the wearer in a steel cage you'd need a blowtorch to beat.
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Why did we dress until it hurt? Why do we 150 years after hoops killed their last victim ( we then confined the discomfort to shoes and corsets ) Again, fashion. Commerce helps it along by agreeing whole heartedly with all about how wonderful we look, wouldn't you like several more? There are articles past counting on the crinoline industry, corset production, the hat, glove and shoe industries all lucrative enterprises because we wore this stuff. We're still at. The kind, generous woman who helps my elderly mother around the house was thrilled to bring along her latest purchase. Designer handbag with a price tag as large as her rent. Larger, just made valuable to we females because someone told us it was.

This wonderful pillory was probably evoked by frustration. If ever there were an anti-social fashion it was hoops.

We showed them. A ' stomacher ' was added to corset. Metal, bone, leather and you just know wood kept one's stomach flat. Like to know how they sat without rupturing something. This one is ACW era, they'd been around for centuries.

Crinoline for instance, our hoops, were dangerous, intrusive, unwieldy and expensive. Men genuinely abhorred them, the mortality count caused by wearing them was tragically high, bizarre accidents from lightening hits to being carried away by a pig stuck under one to a passing sleigh catching one, hurling the wearer into a snow bank occurred beyond the nearly daily news stories of death by fire. Crinoline wearers took up so much space ministers got in trouble bemoaning how many fewer church goers could fit in his pews, they were expensive, heavy and really, did anyone wish their rear view to appear larger?


Men loathed the fashion. Have yet to find an era account where a man finds hoops delightful. One may exist but hasn't come my way. Well, if there is one it'd be a good idea to see if owned a factory. Making crinolines.

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Oddly, crinoline became yet another instance where women were pitted against each other. Get this. Instead of creating common ground in defense of this absurd fashion wealthy women objected to how many poor women copied something they considered ' theirs ' and stated well, it serves them right burning to death. How dare they. Corsets were re-defined somewhere along the way. A ' common ' corset was marketed, devoid of the lace, embroidery and those frills making wealthy women itch. No idea how wealthy discerned poor women were wearing theirs but it seems to have worked. No one could breath but at least the pecking order was reestablished. We girls love a good pecking order.

" Common, Cheap Stay "
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It'll never end, lip service to individuality not withstanding. No intention of being negative about some of our ideas about ourselves, it does pay to walk in an ancestor's steel corset, too.

Yankee Brooke

Jun 8, 2018
We had so much "shapewear" at Sears when we closed, including corsets. UGH. Who would wear it, I don't know, but it all sold. The trend is more alive and well than we thought. And this stuff no doubt wasn't NEARLY as extreme as it's Victorian American counterparts, but who would want to wear all that nylon and rigid plastic? Not me, I'm a t-shirt and jeans/shorts/leggings kind of girl. And pretty dresses, but I find a nice skater dress gives me a nice, enviable figure(and I've been complimented by old ladies when I wear them to work:bounce:), without the pain and discomfort.


Jul 6, 2016
Johnstown, Pennsylvania
I actually don't mind wearing my corset. It helps my bad back. Hubby cinches me in tight and I'm good for the day. If it's hot I "glisten" and when I take it off I sometimes have marks from it. If you can't breathe, it's too tight. I can breathe just fine, not horribly deeply, but just fine.
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