Corsets, constipation and Oliver Cromwell - Dulcie Lewis's new short history of women's underwear is definitely educational...and frankly a little bit scary!
1. Ethical undies: The Victorians were so obsessed with underwear that they published books on the subject. According to The Ethics of Underwear (1889): 'Correct underclothing, under all circumstances, shows a nicely balanced mind, and a sense of the fitness of things, which some people can never acquire'.
2. Immovable bowels: Victorian women spent a lot of time on their chamber pots. Apparently, during the period many doctors thought that women were prone to constipation, as so many tightly-corsetted ladies sought medical help.
3. My red beret is going to Oxfam: 'Women of easy virtue were thought to advertise their availability by wearing a red hat'.
4. Knickers to the men: Underwear was once used to suggest sexual equality. In the 1890s, the young members of the Rational Dress Society donned 'masculine' tweed and wool knickerbockers to aid them in manly pursuits, like cycling and climbing mountains.
5. Witchcraft and eyeliner: Oliver Cromwell was apparently responsible for a bizarre piece of legislation entitled 'Vice of painting and wearing Patches and immodest Dresses of Women'. Part of this anti-beauty bill stated that any woman who used 'artificial teeth, iron stays, hoops or bolstered hips' to trap a man into marriage, could be tried as a witch and her marriage annulled.
Casting off the Corsets is published by Countryside Books