Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Lesson In Reform

The perfect Edwardian silhouette (1903)
The Reform Era of fashion refers to the time between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries (1850-1920) when women's clothing began to change drastically from the stiff and molded hourglass and "S" figures to a more relaxed and natural figure. For the fashionable woman of the era, daily dressing was a lengthy process which often required the assistance of another person in order to accomplish the silhouette most desirable at the time. A woman's dressing ritual usually started with putting on her chemise and drawers and then her stockings and shoes, since once the corset was laced in place it would be near impossible for her to bend over and button her boots. Next, she would slip on a corset cover, a hoop or bustle cage (and bustle pad), and then a petticoat over this - all before she finally put on a gown or suit. Thus, the beauty of the female figure was not contingent on her genetics or physical fitness, but rather on the pinching of her body into a mold which constricted, padded, and caged her natural form - often to the detriment of her health.

Reform Corset 1917
The real physical distortion of the female body during this era is certainly grotesque, if not strangely beautiful in some morbid sense. I am fascinated to think how these women completed domestic and nuptial tasks so tightly confined in their vetements, and while I find the fashion of the Victorian and Edwardian eras simply delicious (despite their sadistic underpinnings), I must applaud the fashion reformers of the era, both men and women, who rallied behind the movement toward sensible, if not more natural fitting,  garments. I have been strapped in a few period corsets in my time (re-enactments, fairs, costuming galas, etc.) and appreciate their restrictive nature, never again to complain that modern social etiquette and professional attire require me to wear a bra - lol! This brings up the issue of the Ladies' Tipsy Tea in May - and no, it's not all about the gown, but about the undergarments which lend to the silhouette of the era. In the spirit of the Edwardian fashion reformist, since I am constructing an Edwardian tea gown, I have decided to design a button-front reform corset. I am very excited about this new project and the results of the completed garment - although reform corsets still laced in the back, the shape was more relaxed, the boning was minimal, and there were no busks in front.

As you've guessed, the idea for the Ladies' Tea in May is to be comfortable (as one can be wearing layers of velvet and lace from chin to toe - lol!) while also achieving that stylish Edwardian figure, and I believe the reform corset is the perfect compromise for this fashion endeavor. Now don't laugh at my coloring - lol! I could not find the coloring pencils (I imagine they are hiding out with Elvis and the missing sock population) so crayons had to do. Notice that I have borrowed most of my gown's structural design from the shirtwaist and skirt featured on page 52 of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2. The only significant change I am making to the ensemble is in the bodice; rather than having an open bodice that reveals a gathered breast panel (as detailed in original garment), the bodice will be closed with a lace yoke and collar. To finish my look, I am searching for a wide-brimmed, black straw hat (which of course I will decorate). I already have my shoes (black leather Oxfords) and stockings - :) Oooo, and a pair of black lace gloves and a parasol...I need those,!

Won't we ladies be a spectacle (did I mention we are starting our little tea party at the neighborhood pub)? Cheers!


  1. I am so excited! I can't wait for the Tipsy Tea. We will make such a splash at the pub. ;)

  2. A splash, indeed! lol! Watch out, 'cause here we come!