Historical Sew Fortnightly

The HSF ’14: Challenge #12: Shape and Support

It’s the Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #12 – when we get to this we’ll be halfway through the year!

Challenge #12, due Tue July 1st, is Shape and Support.

Throughout history humans have changed their form and silhouette with garments that pulled in and pushed out.  Few eras of fashion have been entirely satisfied with the natural human body.  In this Challenge make a garment that changes and distorts the human form, whether it pulls it in, as with corsetry, or extends it, with ruffs and sleeve supports, fathingales and bustles and hoopskirts.  As long as the garment creates an extreme silhouette, it counts

Throughout history we have extended our heads with mad hats:

Book of Hours, use of Amiens. 4th quarter of the 15th century

Book of Hours, use of Amiens. 4th quarter of the 15th century

Lifted our bust and pulled in our waists with bust bags and corsets:

Bust bodice found in Lengberg castle, the end of 15th century (ca 1480 ?), University of Innsbruck, photo University of Innsbruck

Bust bodice found in Lengberg castle, the end of 15th century (ca 1480 ?), University of Innsbruck, photo University of Innsbruck

Corset, 1830–35, American  cotton, bone, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3031

Corset, 1830–35, American cotton, bone, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3031

Turned our bottom halves into stiff cones with farthingales:

Catalonian dress of the 1470s

Catalonian dress of the 1470s

And our top halves into stiff cones with stays:

Extant stays (Queen Elizabeth's effigy 'pair o bodies') ca. 1603

Extant stays (Queen Elizabeth’s effigy ‘pair o bodies’) ca. 1603

We’ve ‘improved’ our bums with bum rumps:

Bum rump, 1785, Lewis Walpole Library

Bum rump, 1785, Lewis Walpole Library

And our busts with bust enhancers:

Bust improver or reducer, made of cotton with metal boning, by Spirella Styles, (patented) 1907

Bust improver or reducer, made of cotton with metal boning, by Spirella Styles, (patented) 1907

We’ve lifted our feet with heels and chopines:

Chopines, 1590-1610, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chopines, 1590-1610, Metropolitan Museum of Art

We’ve been cone shaped and bell shaped and elliptical:

Cage crinoline, Great Britain, 1860-1865, Spring steel, woven wool, linen, lined with cotton, and brass, T.150-1986

Cage crinoline, Great Britain, 1860-1865, Spring steel, woven wool, linen, lined with cotton, and brass, T.150-1986

Pinched in and pushed out in ever way, shape and form:

Corset, 1870-1880

Corset, 1870-1880

Nor have men been immune to body re-shaping.

They have had padded doublets to turn their chests into pigeon breasts, and poofed pantaloons to balloon their thighs:

The Gentleman in Pink, Giovanni Battista Moroni , 1560

The Gentleman in Pink, Giovanni Battista Moroni , 1560

Men have laced in with Beau Brummel bodice (and padded thighs, hips, shoulders and calves by the look of it):

Lacing a Dandy, 1819

And stiffened their fronts with doublets:

Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, Painted in 1633 by Daniel Mytens

Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, Painted in 1633 by Daniel Mytens

They have tilted their chins with wide ruffs:

Portrait of a Young Man, by Federico Barocci (Il Baroccio), perhaps c. 1580-90 but possibly slightly later, ca. 1600

Portrait of a Young Man, by Federico Barocci (Il Baroccio), perhaps c. 1580-90 but possibly slightly later, ca. 1600

And both sexes have created full thighs and calves with symmetricals.

All these odd and peculiar contraptions, just to achieve the shape and silhouette that fashion deemed necessary and attractive!

27 Comments

  1. Whereas now, for the most part, we’re expected to alter our actual bodies to the ideal. I think I’d rather wear stays or a steel-reinforced skirt!

    • Elise says

      Right–Pilates makes no bones about it, as they call your core your ‘girdle’. Oh, we do have Spanx, though.

  2. I should live in a time when people think women need a bum rump to rump up our bums. I’d save so much money by doing it naturally.

  3. Kathryn says

    I’d be interested in some discussion of how cultures outside of Europe went about altering their silhouettes! 🙂

    • So would I!
      I can only remember actual body-alteration techniques, though… like flattening babies’ foreheads with some Native American groups.

      • I kinda see full-on body modification as a bit different than silhouette-changing garments which can be removed, allowing your body to revert to a more normal shape (even corsets, unless taken to a historically inaccurate extreme, aren’t permanent body changers).

        • I know the male actors in China wore stilts that mimiced lotus feet to play the female roles. I forget the name for the shoes but they forced the male actors to even walk like the Han women.

    • Definitely! Although come to think of it, here in South Asia, the answer would be “not much.” I can’t think of any history of an infrastructure (such as corsets, crinoline, paniers) intended to give an impression of a different shape. You basically get two types of traditional treatment: draping to emphasize the sensual but natural silhouette (a sari) or accretion (lots of layers of fancy textiles that are all about displaying wealth, so that in effect, a woman could wear her dowry.) The body itself would be physically altered through piercings in order to further hang wealth on it, but the impression of the shape wasn’t changed.

      Come to think of it, changing the shape of the body per se through costume didn’t happen much in the West, either, until the Renaissance, when you saw a huge rise in merchant trade as well as a changed consciousness of the place of the individual and an increased emphasis on invention and change. (Fashions never changed much in South Asia.) Plus, there’s the weather factor: It’s COLD in Europe. People had an incentive to find ways to wear lots of layers!

    • Elise says

      It’s worth mentioning skin-whitening, though, which was and is big business in Asia. Not a silhouette-changing example, but still one of altering your biggest organ.

  4. I just wanted to let you know that the details of the last few challenges haven’t been linked to the main Historical Sew Fortnightly page. The last one linked is #9 – Art, so 10, 11, and 12 are missing. Just a heads up.

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  6. I thought I’d missed this challenge, as I was working on a pair of fitted upper hose and codpiece for my boyfriend… until I realised this was a wonderful and slightly unexpected example of shaping and supporting.

    Thus I present a pair of post-Burgundian Franco-Flemish fitted upper stocks aka “those sexy Flemish shorts”

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