Friday, June 8, 2012

History and Fashion and Corsets

A corset advert from the Ladies' Home Journal 1906.

When in doubt about what to write about, do Ladies' Underwear.

This ad is from the 1906 Ladies' Home Journal, which I bought off eBay while researching my digital trilogy School Marms and Suffragettes, Threshold Girl (about Flora Nicholson's year at Macdonald Teaching College in 1911/12)Diary of a Confirmed Spinster (about Edith Nicholson's horrible 1910 year where her fiance is killed in an infamous Cornwall Ontario hotel fire) Biology and Ambition about Marion's Nicholson early life, when she chooses marriage over her powerful career ambitions.

1906 was kind of a turning point in the female silhouette. The slimmer silhouette which culminated after the War with the garconne look was just starting to appear.

 (I always thought that flapper look was a direct result of the war and women turning in their steel ribbed corsets to be used in battleships, but that's not quite the case, as I read it now.)

The female silhouette started to get more streamlined in around 1906-1912 because more and more women (young women) were entering the workforce and they could buy their own clothes and dictate fashion trends - and young women are slimmer than matrons.

The Nicholson women of School Marms and Suffragettes made their own shirtwaists (blouse) and skirts but bought an occasional suit because they could afford it. A suit cost about 12.00. Marion Nicholson made 650 a year in 1912 working as a teacher with diploma and Edith Nicholson made just 200 working as teacher without diploma.

Edith had the high-end fashion tastes though, which  is ironic.  Marion was not as preoccupied with fashion but she was the sister who knew how to sew very well. She was a practical kind of girl and sewing was a practical skill. Edith knew how to do fancy needlework (learned at her grandmother's knee) NOT a practical skill. 

Indeed, according to British scholar Amanda Vickery, if a girl could do needlework, it proved her parents were wealthy enough to allow her to do "nothing" and also predicted that she would make a nice docile wife.

I put all this in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster. The Nicholsons were middle class Presbyterian Canadians, and never idle.  Below, needlework belonging to the Nicholsons. Could you make these doilies? Would you even want to? I like to think of them as 'mandalas' of sorts, not as creations of vapid and docile women but creations of meditative wise women.

Sunday Morning, the CBC magazine show, had a bit on the needle workers who adorn the Royals clothing for celebrations like the Royal Wedding, (Kate's dress) and the Diamond Jubilee. It's a lost art and frankly too decadent (time consuming) for today's world.

Below 1906 summer fashions. 

Harper's Bazar 1913. The silhouette slims down (even BEFORE the war) and there's a touch of the exotic. The new communications' technologies are making the world smaller.

School Marms and Suffragettes covers the years 1905 to 1913, when these big changes were happening and women's fashions were reflecting it. Of course, the Automobile had a part in this. In 1911 Edith takes a 6 hour car ride from her home in Richmond Quebec to Montreal, on bumpy roads. Ouch! That couldn't have been comfortable in a tight corset. I wonder if she loosened hers. I am thinking of adding  a bit about that in Diary of a Confirmed Spinster.