We don’t think much about dressing ourselves, by ourselves. By the time most kids are between 3 and 5, they’ve learned how to put on their own clothes. So we take for granted that people have always been able to pick their own clothing and get dressed by themselves. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, the idea of getting dressed all on one’s own did not become a reality for women until the revolution in fashion that happened in the first 20 years of the 20th Century.
A fashionable woman in 1900 wasn’t much different from the woman of the 19th century. She was still in a harshly tied corset, with many petticoats, all covered by an ornate dress of some sort. It was the underpinnings that gave the dress its particular architecture, and for most women they would need the assistance of their mothers, sisters or maids to get all the proper pieces in place. Not to mention the amount of time needed to put all the pieces on in the correct order.
That changes slowly over the next 20 years–with a stop in 1914 for the ridiculous “hobble skirt”. What made the hobble skirt possibly one of the worst fashion trends was that the corset was impossibly long, which in turn made it almost impossible for women to move or walk properly. The following graphic demonstrates how corsets changed from 1986 to 1917, with a brief stop in i194 for the extra-long hobble corset.
The odd thing about the hobble corset is that it was meant to be worn under a very simple columnar dress inspired by the Ancient Greeks!
The advent of the Flapper heralds a type of lingerie that allows for both freedom of movement and shorter skirts. If one happened to be slim, a simple unboned brassiere of silk or cotton and a pair of bloomers would be all that was needed.
Here’s a typical brassiere of blue silk and lace. One had to be quite slim and small breasted to wear this sort of brassiere. So the corset didn’t totally go out of style. It just morphed into a garment that women could easily step into, right over their bloomers, attach their stockings, slip on their dress and be on their way!
The first flapper-era corsets were known as “corselets” and yes, they did minimize the breast by flattening them down, but they were a whole lot easier to get into–and one could get into it without needing a mom, a sister, or a maid (or even a roommate or best friend.)
Women could also sew their own corselets rather than relying on a dress or corset-maker. And, as the decade moved into 1925, the bustline of corsets started to free up and be less restrictive as well. By the 1930’s most women were wearing a bra and tap pant, maybe a girdle of some kind if needed. But there was no way that a woman would need a drawerful of petticoats and a coterie of maids, sisters or others to help get dressed.
So, next time you find yourself complaining about having to wear a control panty, or that your bra bothers you, be happy that, at the end of the day, you can reach in, remove, and fling the bothersome bra across the room all by yourself!
Hat tip to : Witness2Fashion, designmatters, and Edwardian Promenade
It wasn’t just corsets that made it difficult for women to get dressed prior to the 1920’s. for more excellent info, see this post on the contribution of Jeanne Lanvin and others to the Dress Reform Movement at the New York Public Library blog