Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not your grandmother's Victoria's Secret

My grandmother wore a corset. No joke. An authentic, honest-to-God, corset.

And she wore it every day of her life, whether she was heading for church, hoeing her vegetable garden, or taking to her bed with a book.

(Just to give this factoid a little perspective, my grandmother was born in 1886. We called her “mammaw,” a bastardization of "maman," a throwback to her Creole roots. Until the day she died she kept a secret stash of confederate money, “just in case”. And when in her home, we had our choice of warm Dr. Pepper or cold, mouth-puckeringly sweet, tea. Ask for anything else, and you were considered uppity.)

Anyway…I was fascinated by it as a child. It wasn’t a lovely corset. It wasn’t, for example, the sort of red-and-black satin-and-lace C'mon boys, nice to meet you garment Victoria’s Secret models traipse around in. It was a supremely everyday, keep-things-tucked-in, down-to-business type of garment, similar to this one:

Ventilated corset with removable busk of 1915. Grey coutil interlined with Hessian. It features eyelets for ventilation, detachable spoon busk, and decorative lace.

(Um...Detachable spoon busk???)

In 1886, when my grandmother was born, a lady might well have lured a man to matrimony with a waist cruelly cinched to an impossible sixteen inches, only to show her massive girth of, say, all of twenty inches on her wedding night...after the hapless groom was already ensnared.

The underpinnings -- or unmentionables, as my grandmother would say-- from past eras were all about showing oneself to be something one wasn't: Enhanced bustle-booties to rival J-Lo, tiny waists a man could wrap his hands around, and breasts ridiculously hoisted up or painfully flattened down, according to the prevailing fashion.

Putting aside, for the moment, the questionable morality of snagging a person’s offer of marriage based upon the wonders of whalebones and silk, I wonder how this sort of thing works in today’s world.

Take, for example, the recent plethora of coyly named “foundation garments”. Don’t they pretty much amount to…ya know…false advertising?

I'm not claiming moral superiority. After all, if I were going up for an Academy Award, you bet your life I’d hire the best experts available for hoisting and supporting and cinching and doing whatever it takes to make a person look inhumanly, unattainably, beautiful up in front of the world.

But seriously, how many of us modern women will be able to keep those Spanx shapers a secret until after the commitment ceremony?

If I wear a corset, I want it to be a frilly seductive thing, full of nonsensical ribbons and lace…you know, the kind of undergarments that look lumpy and bizarre under modern dresses. The kind that's really meant to stand on its own, not as an underpinning at all.

Sorry mammaw, but these days, in my world, that corset would be all about the sex.


Pamela Cayne said...

I've got to say there's a part of me that adores your mammaw--I thihk I was hooked with the warm Dr. Pepper or cold sweet tea! And I am absolutely with you, both on the team of structural experts for any major award event and your view on the modern corset. Give me a jewel-toned brocade and black lace underpinning anyday!

Sophie Littlefield said...

great post j. (made me wonder if lily would carry corsets in her shop :)

you make a great point though. Lately it seems like the spanx folks are implying that *every* outfit ought to have a "squisher" (what Junior and I call those undergarments) underneath. Uh, whaaaa? I don't care how comfortable they make them, you still always know you have one on. I don't mind for special occasions, when I feel like we're all in on it - everyone's trying a little extra hard, even the gents (and get this, Spanx just came out with a Man Squisher, a rubbery t-shirt meant to keep the belly flat. Um, no thanks, I would way prefer my man without a girdle.)

Spanx feature prominently in my stella series, and I don't think they're a bad thing. What IS a bad thing is having one standard about what people should look like. That pisses me off big.

Jenny Gardiner said...

Spanx cause abdominal cramps. I'm just sayin'...Right, Sophie???

Juliet Blackwell said...

Thanks, Pamela, I adored my Mammaw too, and only realized how wonderfully anachronistic she was when I came to be an adult.

Sophie -- I'm with you 100%. No girdles for men, under ANY circumstances!

And Jenny...anything that causes abdominal cramps is off the agenda at my house ;-)

Jen Forbus said...

Yay!! And then *sigh*. If only we weren't in a society of people so obsessed about appearance. I don't use any of those things and I always tell myself that I want to meet Mr. Right who appreciates me no matter what. But on the days when the confidence level is dialed down to super low, I think...maybe? Then I come back to my senses and think, "I'm just glad I appreciate people for the right reasons."

P.S. - Sweet tea for me, please!

Jen Forbus said...

O.k., that one wasn't a ridiculous comment from hell, but I'll have one for you one of these days...I'm sure! ;-)

Unknown said...

I'm with you Julie!!!! Corsets as decoration, not flesh binding :)

Eric said...

So let's see - one is supposed to be attracted to the very shapely hot babe. Then once one gets her out of her various garments, there are all those unsightly red binding marks and creases. Not to mention the potential for disappointment that her shape has suddenly changed. As a man, I must say that while I can admire sexy lingerie in photographs and on stage, once I get to the point of admiring it in a more up close and personal manner, I think it looks best on the floor, or draped over a chair.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Ah, there's a brave man! Thanks Eric, for weighing in!

Rachael Herron said...

All I know is this: *I* like wearing Juliet's underpinnings out in public when she lets me.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Ha! Rachael, you made me laugh out loud with that one. You look great in my underpinnings, you sexy thing ;-)

Mario Acevedo said...

A woman who knows how to wear a corset-it's about attitude--is hot, Hot, HOT stuff. Red binding marks and creases are only the beginning of expected love blemishes. And for some reason, I'm on the mailing list of these people:
How did that happen? Hmmm...