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How to Undress a Victorian Lady

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boswellbaxter
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How to Undress a Victorian Lady

Post by boswellbaxter » Wed July 20th, 2011, 3:07 am

A presentation done at the Romance Writers of America conference gets a write-up here. Hope you can see this link without a subscription:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 44338.html
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed July 20th, 2011, 4:59 am

Great article, thanks for posting.

It is a standard joke at renaissance faire that whoever came up with the term 'bodice ripper' had never actually tried to get one off in a hurry.

One of the usual gigs our guild does at a faire is "dressing the noblewoman". Whoever the victim is stands in the middle of the pavilion in her chemise, assumes the 'noble position for dressing' -- arms held out, standing straight, chin up -- and those of us who play lower household put on the garb while faire patrons watch: a second chemise (if the costume has one); corset; hoops or farthingale or bum roll, depending on the decade; underskirt; tie on the foreparte (what shows beneath the split); overskirt; bodice (also laced on, whether front, sides, or back); partlet or ruff, if any, and tie on the sleeves. Then the victim sits down to have her hair done.

All told, the gig takes about half an hour, longer if a lot of patrons are asking questions.

I disagree with the statement that you can't get corsets off over the head, or that a woman can't get them laced on by herself. Lots of lower-class or poor gentry didn't have servants or helpers, and they managed. I do it when I give high-school talks. The trick is to set up the laces so that you can wriggle into it over your head with them loose, then reach around and grab the strings on either side and pull them from the middle, writhing to tighten the top and bottom sections evenly as you do so. It will keep a bunch of teenagers riveted to what you say while you go through all these gyrations, and all while fully clothed in something that looks like granny's nightgown.

What's really hard is not knocking off your mike in the process.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Wed July 20th, 2011, 5:07 am, edited 2 times in total.

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Fri July 22nd, 2011, 2:51 am

If I had to go through a heat wave like this one we've been having in that many layers, I don't think I would have made it.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri July 22nd, 2011, 4:14 am

It can be brutal, LH. I have never yet worn my noble garb to any faire where I am gate-listed. Nor ever wish to. I wear a single-layer peasant kirtle. If it is really hot, I have a baggy Spanish surcote (loose gown) of lightweight linen and a chemise that is practically cheesecloth.

Our guild quit doing a faire that was over 100 degrees three years in a row, and near the Sacramento river so the humidity was always high. It was a Henry VIII faire, and the last guy they got to play king had to have blue ice packets stuffed down his torso and changed every ten minutes -- his costume included FUR, and in that heat!

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Post by annis » Fri July 22nd, 2011, 7:42 pm

Posted by LH
If I had to go through a heat wave like this one we've been having in that many layers, I don't think I would have made it.
A while ago we had one of those reality TV series where a family lived as a Victorian family as authentically as possible for six months or a year, including dressing in full corsets and petticoats. The mother was a fit woman, but she lost huge amounts of weight and had fainting spells when out in the heat. I feel for those colonial settlers who chopped firewood and dragged up water from the creek amongst other tasks in corsets and petticoats- one had to retain standards, don't you know, so it apparently didn't occur to them that they could dispense with some of the paraphernalia out in the back-blocks.
Last edited by annis on Fri July 22nd, 2011, 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by princess garnet » Fri July 22nd, 2011, 7:47 pm

[quote=""annis""]Posted by LH


A while ago we had one of those reality TV series where a family lived as a Victorian family as authentically as possible for six months or a year, including dressing in full corsets and petticoats. The mother was a fit woman, but she lost huge amounts of weight and had fainting spells when out in the heat. I feel for those colonial settlers who chopped firewood and dragged up water from the creek amongst other tasks in corsets and petticoats- one had to retains standards, don't you know, so it apparently didn't occur to them that they could dispense with some of the paraphernalia out in the back-blocks.[/quote]

Was it "1900 House"? I remember that series on PBS.

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Post by annis » Fri July 22nd, 2011, 9:58 pm

Posted by Princess Garnet
Was it "1900 House"? I remember that series on PBS.
It was a New Zealand version of 1900 House called Pioneer House

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Sun July 24th, 2011, 8:16 pm

[quote=""MLE""] If it is really hot, I have a baggy Spanish surcote (loose gown) of lightweight linen and a chemise that is practically cheesecloth. [/quote]

You reminded me of something funny from "You know you're in the SCA when..." ...the sexiest thing in your closet is a sideless surcote. :D

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Mon July 25th, 2011, 3:10 pm

[quote=""MLE""]Our guild quit doing a faire that was over 100 degrees three years in a row, and near the Sacramento river so the humidity was always high. It was a Henry VIII faire, and the last guy they got to play king had to have blue ice packets stuffed down his torso and changed every ten minutes -- his costume included FUR, and in that heat![/quote] I think I may have asked this question before, but.... why don't re-enacters make lighter, "summer versions" of their costumes? Surely even back in Henry VIII's time the royals wore lighter clothes in the summer (and no fur!)? Or did they just spend the summers cooped up in their cool, shady castles? :D

[quote=""annis""]I feel for those colonial settlers who chopped firewood and dragged up water from the creek amongst other tasks in corsets and petticoats- [/quote] In this part of the world 100+ days are the summer norm. Yes, it's a dry heat, but when you get over 100 degrees it's still HOT, trust me. I've often wondered how the early settlers did it. Did they just find a shady spot and take it easy during the worst of the heat?

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon July 25th, 2011, 4:45 pm

[quote=""Michy""]I think I may have asked this question before, but.... why don't re-enacters make lighter, "summer versions" of their costumes? Surely even back in Henry VIII's time the royals wore lighter clothes in the summer (and no fur!)? Or did they just spend the summers cooped up in their cool, shady castles? :D
[/quote]
Michy, the costumes are so expensive and time-consuming to produce that most re-enactors who go to noble level only have one, maybe two sets. And if you are hired to play king or queen, it's because your garb has sufficient authenticity and lots of heavy bling. The faire coordinators would be extremely upset if any of it came off during a performance.

Now as to back then, during the renaissance Europe was undergoing a 'mini ice age', about 150 years of temperatures 10 degrees cooler than now. England, Germany, Scadinavia and most of France were all north of the Canadian border. So all their styles were geared towards keeping things warm.

It was the Spanish, living in California-like heat, who first came up with verdugos, or hoops, to hold the skirts away from the legs. This keeps things a good deal cooler. They had a busy silk industry too, and the poor could get cotton cheaply from Egypt, which was widely used even though Spain was a wool-exporting country. They also kept the Spanish surcote in fashion, a corset-less gown women could wear in the heat or while pregnant.

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