by Anna Klein
Wearing crinolines and corsets and enormous silk dresses just seems so much more romantic than jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardie. On the other hand, history also has a few peculiar historical trends that are distinctly unromantic and un-swoonworthy. I’ve put together a list of the worst offenders;
Roughly in the time of Shakespeare, high foreheads on ladies were considered terribly sexy, so noblewomen would pluck the front of their hair to raise their hairline for a few inches. That suddenly puts eyebrow tweezing into some harsh perspective.
Portrait of a Lady, Rogier van der Weyden
The front-lacing dress medieval dress that we all know as ‘the sexy wench look’ were actually for the many women not lucky enough to have a maid to dress them – and who needed to be able to unlace themselves in a hurry to nurse their baby. Rich women had back-lacing dresses, maids to lace them into it, and a dedicated ‘wet nurse’ to feed their babies.
It turns out the earliest ancestor of lady’s knickers didn’t become commonplace until the early 19th century. Before then, most women just went breezy under their skirts. In fact, it wasn’t even until the 1920s that knickers gained a centre seam – up until then, it was split up the middle! There are historical examples from around the world of things like knickers being worn by very rich women, or courtesans, but it was considered very unladylike and inappropriate…because they were thought to be trousers, and those were only for men!
Men didn’t get off easy in the historical underpants arena either. They had very long shirts they tucked in between their legs before putting on their hose and that was underpants.
These days it feels like everything is about eating less and getting smaller, while historically, men showed off their wealth by wearing doublets with a built-in belly to make themselves look larger and therefore obviously capable of affording lots of food.
Men’s hose was originally just the two legs tied at the waist, with no centre bit. This was fine when tunics were down to the knee but as the hemlines for the tunic rose higher and higher, pretty quickly the crotch area was left covered with nothing but a flimsy piece of linen from the underpants shirt. That’s when they invented the codpiece, originally a triangle of fabric they laced in between the two legs of hose, before it turned into elaborate fabric representations of the goods underneath. Fun fact: They also used to keep their coin purse inside the codpiece to try and put off pickpockets!
So here’s to zippers, knickers, and non-crotch based cash storage. Maybe that t-shirt and jeans lacks a certain romance, but I’m glad for clothes I can dress myself in! Well, most days – I can’t be the only woman that’s been excited about a smart new office dress only to spend twenty minutes doing contortions trying to do the zip up in the back. No? Just me?
All’s Faire in love and war…
Connie leads a double life. During the week, she is an up-and-coming designer and dressmaker, creating sleek, elegant gowns for the wealthy elite. But come the weekend, Connie becomes Lady Constance, a member of the House Felicitous at the local Renaissance Faire, creating beautiful historical garments for herself and her friends and teaching dancing to fair attendees. Fearing loss of business should her stylish clientèle discover her extracurricular activities, Connie keeps her professional life and her faire life carefully separate. However, everything changes when she’s saved from certain death by Sir Justin: a rising star in the joust and an actual knight in shining armour.
Behind his mask as Sir Justin, Dominic is confident and charismatic, but out of his armour, his courage fails him, and to his own horror he finds himself accidentally pretending to be his own best friend. Suddenly, he is in Connie’s life as two different men: the elusive Sir Justin who courts her over the internet and from behind a suit of armour and Justin’s ‘best friend’ Dominic who hangs out at her apartment and helps her move. The lie only grows bigger and Sir Justin finds himself faced with the most frightening challenge he can imagine: extricating himself from his lie and winning Connie’s heart as his true self.
But there’s something rotten afoot at the Faire, something that threatens its future, the community that has grown there, and even Sir Justin’s life. Will Lady Constance find the courage to step up and risk everything to defend her friends, save the Faire, and rescue her knight?
The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight is available for pre-order now!
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