The Woman in Fashion, Sizing
Posted by Patricia Bingham on August 26, 1998 at 21:32:36:
Sizing from A Woman in Fashion:
...I used to be of the opinion that women had increased considerably in height since the eighteenth century, but the experience of seeing numerous dresses on living models has convinced me that, if there is any change, it cannot be spectacular.
Of 63 specimens from 1805-1870, fifteen definately needed models of small stature, 5ft. 3 in. or under; twenty-eight called for a height of 5ft 4 in. to 5 ft. 5 in.; and twenty required wearers of 5ft 6 in. or over. I should say that a group of modern dresses brought together haphazard might not contain so many intended for small women, but the proportion suited only to tall or tallish women is quite big enough to cancel out the notion I formorely intertained that the way we live now has materially altered our physique.
The number of small garments might very feasibly be accounted for by the probablity, first, that some belong to young girls who grew out of them; second, that the clothes of less than normal size would tend to be put away and kept instead of being turned to other uses. A normal dress, when the owner no longer required it, might be given to a dependent or poor relation; one that was exceptionally small would be hard to alter for a larger person, and would have a better chance of being preserved.
...A belief is current that men as well as women have increased their height in recent generations, and it is often said that armour of the 15 and 16 centurieswas made for a smaller breed. Enquiry at the Amouries of the Tower of London does not confirm this idea. There we may learn of suits of armour between three and four hundred years old which must have belonged to men substantially over six feet in height. The slender proportions of the calves and ankles shown by the leg armour are misleading, I am informed, becuase it was made only for the upper classes, who were invariably horsemen. An authority of the London Museum fully supports this opinion...
The same remarks apply to shoes, for I am assured by the directors of two of the oldest-established shoe companies in London that the difference in the size of women's feet in the last generation or two is more apparent than real. The average size has altered since the First World War from 5 to 6, exactly quarter of an inch. Since it is no longer the custom to squeeze the foot into a tight shoe, it may indeed be concluded that, by naked measurement, the difference is almost negligible. Women simply buy larger shoes because constricted feet are out of fashion.
The Nineteenth-century shoes in my possession are generally -not invariably - very small; but footwear which is handed down in families in likely to be the neater and daintier kind, and so no accurate guide as to averages. The fact that most of the dresses shown here are worn with autentic shoes must, in itself, modify any extravagant inferences as to the extent of the change.
Throughout the Victorian era, and before, smallness of the foot was passionately admired, and we may be sure that numbers of ladies bore the torment of fearfully tight shoes. Judging from the coorespondence columns of the magazines, there was a great deal of suffering from corns and other foot troubles. Those pretty pointed little boots and slippers of the seventies and eightees certainly concealed much unsightlyness. The light kid and satin pumps or elastic-sided cloth half boots worn earlier in the century (regency) were soft and pliable, and we may hope they did less damage; thoughthe specimens I have been able to examin do not appear capable of protecting the feet from chill (and all the Regency magazines offered plenty conjuents for corns and sore feet!)
Goes on about late Victorian...
Gloves too were worn by both sexes as tight as they could be borne. Humorous references to the tight gloves of fashionable or would-be fashionable young men may be found in many novels.
Th practice of keeping the hands almost constantly covered, either by gloves or mittens, served not only to make their real size less evident, but also to render them soft and white, an essential refinement. The shades of kid used, even by men, were very pale, principally lemon, lavendar, and dove-grey - a fashion so deliberately and unmistakably opposed to utility that no one could doubt its origins in a desire to maintain social distinction.
I have skirts calulated to impede their movements - and therby to suggest leisure - in a large variety of ways. Some are so wide that they must always be steered with caution and some so narrow that a thoughless full length stride might throw the wearer on her face. (Gee, I wonder what era that would be) The worst of all, perhaps, belong to the evening dresses of 1912-1914 which are not only decidedly tight but also equipped with a fishtail train, occuring very often at the FRONT of the skirt, and guaranteed to hamper every step since it is far too short to be picked up and carried...
...of appearances suggesting Leisure I have some examples. Conspicuous consumption is manifested in materials difficult to to obtain and laborious to produce; rare trimmings, lace, jewelry and furs. There are also, if I may be paradox, subtle forms of Conspicuous Consumption. The pure white lawns, muslins, and gauzes whiched looked so disarmingly unpretentious after the French Revolution actually required the perpetual attention of laundress and ladies maid; a rich silk would have been far less crushable and easily soiled. Similarly, the canezous and perelines of the 1830 were embroidered by hand with minuteness for which laborious is an inadequate term, but so discrete is the effect that the luxury of the garment would only be conspicuous among the elite.
Waste of a more demonstrative kind is seen in the emmene amount of useless and quasi-useless garments and accessories which are never in fashion long enough to be worn out, and which the collector can therefore acquire in abundance. The fans which change their aspect every few years and are so often quite unfitted by their design to perform any function, the parasols that give no shade, the lacy scarves that give no warmth, the muffs of ephemeral tulle, the boas and the tippets which have only decorous purpose and are not likely to retain that for more than one season - every epoch produces such frivolties by the multitude. Our own specialty in this line has been fashionable jewelry, the sort of jewelry, ever and ever appearing in new types, which is prices high when it is novely but is without the smallest intristic value.
Of course it is not to be imagined that women deliberately buy these things to waste money, but the fact that they are non-utilitarian is eminently one of their attractions. For this reason they circulate in enormous quantities as gifts.
- gloves (again :-)) Constanza 12:52:48 8/28/98 (1)
- to glove or not to glove... P. Bingham 18:10:11 8/28/98 (0)
- Wearing white... The Mysterious H.C. 10:35:45 8/27/98 (1)
- The White Wedding Dress P. Bingham 16:00:55 8/27/98 (0)
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