July 19, 2011

"How to Undress a Victorian Lady in Your Next Historical Romance."

"Authors Who Crave Verisimilitude Learn to Unlace a Corset in a Good Bodice Ripper."

Apparently, it was much harder to get the lady's clothes off than the average fiction-writer would have you believe. But, generally, in fantasies, clothes come off — even fall off! — much more easily than in real life.

This makes me think about "The Peculiar Art of Mr. Frahm."

42 comments:

Drew said...

In Art Frahm's world, underwear had no elastic.

ndspinelli said...

Everything is possible w/ a bar of soap in the shower.

MadisonMan said...

Filed under things I don't need to know about. But interesting nonetheless.

traditionalguy said...

Clothes are the aphrodisiacs of choice. Wear more of them.

Unwrapping a concealed package has a much greater umph than a nude anytime.

Bikinis that cover nearly nothing are not as sexy as the designers of them think.

Women with "figures" of curves under clothes attract men. Naked women, not so much

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"generally, in fantasies, clothes come off — even fall off! — much more easily than in real life."

Tell me about it...

rocketeer67 said...

I love Art Frahm. Because of him, I have insised for the last 15 years that my wife bring home fresh celery from every trip to the grocery store in the forlorn hope that something interesting might happen when she carries the bag in the house. Alas, not yet. On the plus side, my vitamin C, folic acid and deitary fiber intake is of the charts.

G Joubert said...

I'd imagine real life Victorian women lustily participated in their own undressing. That may go against the prevailing romance novel theme of them being seduced with magic male hands, but, hey, maybe it's time for a new theme.

William said...

I think in Victorian times there was a taboo against nudity. Although couples ended up conjugating, they did so with their clothes on and the lights off. On the other hand, for all the laces and layers, the Victorians did not have so repressive a hurdle as panty hose to overcome. It was probably harder to cop a collateral feel but easier to hone in on the prime objective.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"generally, in fantasies, clothes come off — even fall off! — much more easily than in real life."

That is why it is called fiction. DUH.

If we want to have 100% accuracy about sex, food, clothing etc, in entertainment fiction, no one is going to want to read the books.

You might as well read a scholarly historical treatise.

Putting in all of the accurate details about sex in any time setting from caveman to current would be not only boring and off putting....it could also be pretty funny.

John said...

isn't that an oxymoron?

In a "bodice ripper" wouldn't you rip off the corset instead of unlacing it?

If you unlace the corset is it still a "bodice ripper"?

In any event, thank goodness they had gone out of style by my teen years. I had enough trouble with bra hooks technology

John Henry

Sheepman said...

But, generally, in fantasies, clothes come off — even fall off! — much more easily than in real life.

So says Erica Jong

Dan in Philly said...

All historical writings reflect the writer's period far more than the historical one. The modern world is hung up on sex, and that projects since we quite literally cannot imagine a world not likewise hung up.

Thorley Winston said...

I just finished reading the wedding night scene in “Dance with Dragons” last night and they seem to have found their own solution to this problem.

rhhardin said...

The mnemonic for baseball innings is that it's like undressing a girl.

First the top, then the bottom.

edutcher said...

I read once of a Parisian courtesan, I think her name was Cora Pearl, who said, if she was entertaining that night, she went light on the undies. I have a feeling that was the rule. If a woman knew she would be undressing, she didn't bring all her armor.

I have a feeling this was the real beginning of striptease, not to mention the line, "Getting there is half the fun".

William said...

I think in Victorian times there was a taboo against nudity. Although couples ended up conjugating, they did so with their clothes on and the lights off.

Half right. That was the rule in most houses of ill repute. You only unbuttoned what was absolutely necessary and it was done in the dark.

Many respectable Victorian-era women went to their graves proud in the knowledge no man, doctor and husband included, had ever seen them naked, but that may not have been as universal as we might think.

A number of collections of letters, journals, etc., suggest that many of that era didn't follow the code; Armstrong and Elizabeth Custer's letters suggest a much more adventuresome sex life and Insta had a piece about a year or two ago where a female doctor in New England polled her female patients on various women's issues and their answers on sex tend to indicate it was a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling than "lay back and think of england" .

Paul said...

Ann,

When I had my, uh, first time with a lady I was shocked how fast she got out of her cloths! Far faster than I did.

So maybe those cloths do fall off!

Alan said...

Someone should invent a corset that can be put on and taken off in less time than Tony Stark's famous outfit.

Karen said...

Thanks for the link, Ann! I enjoyed reading/watching.

John Burgess said...

@traditional guy: Speak for yourself.

Naked women are sexy in and of themselves and bikinis do a fine job of advertising.

Now, there's nothing wrong with clothing, either, if it's wisely chosen, but even there, there are so many individual quirks on the part of the dresser and the observer that no categorical statement will be even close to universally true.

Some like the cowgirl look; others, the French maid. Then there's the schoolgirl or nun and the high-concept fashion.

Whatever floats your and her boats, though I hope they're both moving on the same tide.

Synova said...

It seems to me that quite a few authors have solved the problem by moving the whole book past the time of such extreme corsets and clothing. There also seems to be a fair amount of advantage taken (in modern books) of the slit in her drawers.

In any case, it sounds like a fascinating convention workshop.

But what this brings to mind is a television show. It *must* be in the sixth season because I just re-watched up to the end of season five, but in one of the Historical sequences of the show Highlander Duncan Macleod is seduced by a bounty hunter and getting them both undressed takes so long and tangles him up in endless layers of clothing nearly as much as her, that her henchmen arrive and tie him up without her having to deliver on her promises.

Freeman Hunt said...

Did people ever have impromptu encounters during that time period? That is an incredible amount of complicated clothing.

Sigivald said...

I do historical re-creation for a hobby (pre-Victorian, in fact).

This is very, very true, and I'm sure the Victorian stuff is even more trouble than Renaissance.

(And what traditionalguy said - suspense is good, and unwrapping is half the fun.)

flynful said...

So, there she is with her panties at her ankles and the winds blowing and she turns to me and says, "Don't just stand there. I need some help." So, I reach for her panties.... Ouch! How did I know she wanted me to take the packages.

Old Dad said...

Keep in mind that even her royal majesty Queen Victoria could easily have squatted and peed in Hyde Park. In other words, the naughty bits were easily accessed.

For many Victorian gentleman, the casual poke was de riguer. A triste with the scullery maid took very little planning, but to take your neighbor's wife or daughter was a bit more complex. Keeping most of your clothes on was often required. See "The Secret Confessions of a Victorian Gentleman" (available on Nook or Kindle) for more intimate detail.

Freeman Hunt said...

Oh, so they just did everything still dressed? That's not so complicated then.

Carol_Herman said...

The answer is so easy! No underpants!

It's where the can-can got invented. In France. When the women danced and lifted their skirts up ... you could see to "paris, france."

Carol_Herman said...

Queen victory was never alone! Her clothes were put on her by servants. And, also taken off by servants.

All Queen Victoria did was lift her arms up and down.

Probably, when squatting to pee ... or shit ... She'd just do "wide stance."

Firehand said...

Oh, c'MON, that's why so many of the 'heroes' of these stories are either highwaymen or barbaric types like highlanders: they've got a knife to cut the laces with! Combine that with their 'lust-fueled strength' for tearing fabric, and you've got it.

WV=ROWIT: "He would rowit her quickly once he got past the damned bloomers."

edutcher said...

Carol_Herman said...

The answer is so easy! No underpants!

It's where the can-can got invented. In France. When the women danced and lifted their skirts up ... you could see to "paris, france."


No, but, as Old Dad notes, there were drawers, which were crotchless, as opposed to knickers, which weren't.

Also remember the outfit envisioned in the article was for a woman of position or, at best, a store clerk. The usual bending and carrying of a woman that worked - farm wife, laundress, etc. - was not made for heavy corsets.

Imagine a rancher's daughter roping a steer in a corset.

ndspinelli said...

Carol Herman,

Kudos on being more focused and less verbose. I enjoy reading you..keep taking that thorazine though. Otherwise those voices telling you to ramble on will return. "redrum redrum redrum redrum redrum redrum redrum..."

traditionalguy said...

As my wife says, "some things look better covered up."

But a good figure inside well fitting clothes ignites a man's imagination. Just add moonlight or candlelight and stir in some romance.

My wife is actually quite breath taking either way. She looks like a mature Reese Witherspoon.

david7134 said...

If you look it up, they didn't wear underclothes, at least the women. Or if they did, it was a very light garmet that could be taken off with ease and the bulk of the clothes stayed on. According to BBC history, they did not wash frequently and used the clothes to wisk away the grime. It also took several servants to dress a woman, most women with any money had servants, usually paid in room and board. In order to do number one or two, the women used a chamber pot inserted under the dress, sometimes at a dining table during a meal.

I really don't see how the men could become aroused when you consider all the clothes, smells, hair, poor teeth, etc.

G Joubert said...

I really don't see how the men could become aroused when you consider all the clothes, smells, hair, poor teeth, etc

Yeah, but the men most certainly were no better, elsewise we wouldn't be here.

Eric said...

In a "bodice ripper" wouldn't you rip off the corset instead of unlacing it?

Is that even possible without injuring the lady? Even cotton undershirts are tough enough to leave bruises.

So they tell me.

ironrailsironweights said...

When you removed a Victorian woman's clothing you'd find something that is tragically absent today :(

Peter

Carol_Herman said...

Well, the men once wore cod pieces.

And, if I'm not mistaken, there's a scene in Gone With The Wind, where Scarlett gets helped with her corset. When it was tied up, breasts popped up along the cleavage. And waistlines shrunk to 19" ... You'd be forced to eat like a bird. And, dancing was popular ... so you could move around the room. And, go from here to there.

Carol_Herman said...

Women don't really know what they look like "down there," because getting yourself bent in half ... isn't what most women could do. If you told them to try to touch their toes.

And, while girdles were different than corsets; I can remember my mom's. They had whale bones in them. They were meant to force in the stomach. And, you had to zipper them up on the side.

They also provided hooks ... so you could "hook up" your stockings. Before pantyhose was invented.

Carol_Herman said...

What people don't get ... unless they go into a house built more than one hundred years ago ... is how small people were!

Gosh, most people would get knocked unconscious just walking through doorways!

Or trying to put on an old pair of gloves! OJ could do what we would find impossible to drag over our fingers.

Today's "short people" would have been considered tall back one hundred years ago.

Synova said...

I think that some of the small-door business was just that people made smaller doors and you were expected to duck down. Small doors, narrow halls, and steep narrow stairs.

And you might have to step over the threshold back when it actually served to "hold" the straw or whatever covered the floor from going out the door, and turn sideways to go through a narrow door in order that bad spirits weren't able to walk in side-by-side with you when you entered.

Mostly, though, it was probably a cold climate effort to keep the warm in and the cold out.

Big Mike said...

That's one of the many outstanding things in Georgette Heyer's romance novels -- she was at pains to study the manners, mores, and way of speaking for the gentry of the Regency. And "making love" back then really did mean only a kiss -- on the lips, of course, but nothing more than a kiss.

(And yes, I do know that a whole bunch of decades separated the Regency from the Victorian eras. But the principle is the same -- you cannot write about a time period remote from our own but give the characters modern underwear, modern manners, and a modern tendency to slip between sheets at the slightest provocation.)

tree hugging sister said...

Lovely article, Anne. Thanks.

And I adored Georgette Heyer's romances, Big Mike! You're absolutely right about the level of authenticity she brought to them. Got sort of lost in the rush for Regency romances she created, but I vastly prefer them. And they're damn near impossible to find, since most of the major publishing houses have either given up their Regency lines or, if they have one, given them over to a more salacious sort of author. Pffft.

I can get THAT on any cable channel.

Delayna said...

I have worn corsets (modern-made) while caroling, and we never undid the laces--those are in the BACK. If you are trying to dress yourself in the mall ladies' room, you use the hooks in the FRONT of the corset to put it on and take it off.

Modern versions of Victorian-style clothing had to cheat to make it possible to dress yourself. You also learn that putting your stockings and shoes on before the corset is vital, esp. if your knees won't let you do deep knee bends.