Heels, Corsets, and Trousers - Oh My!
Knowing the story of a garment helps us integrate it into our personal style in a way that’s unique to who we are while also being true to history. It is similar to understanding the words we use to describe ourselves, because when we use clothing we are describing ourselves to the world around us in a way. When use words without knowing their root meaning, or honestly forget their definition altogether, we lose a sense of what we are saying. Similarly, when we don't understand the history of a garment we can stigmatize certain clothing pieces as coming from an isolated century or connoting only one meaning.
Last week we had a lot of fun on our Instagram exploring the historical background of various garments (from corsets and tights to trousers and heels) and how much there is to explore in each one’s history!
Why are we drawn to certain garments and overlook others? Often we hold a subconscious
connotation to an event, environment, or person that we hold with each piece. All of that is so beautiful- and we can deepen the meaning of what we wear by learning more about each piece! We got so excited about this that we decided to do a bit of research on some of our favorites.
Let's begin with the corset. It is often misunderstood as an objectifying piece that confines a woman to an unrealistic demand on her body. Well, why it can definitely be used for that it was initially incorporated into daily dress for back support. The corset originated in Greece with the Minoan culture and was worn by both men and women (read more: Tahlia Mckellar Textiles). Over time it began to emphasize the desired shape of the century (typically associated with the bourgeoisie)—but there are still records of the lower class making their own corset-type devices out of inexpensive materials for the continued desire for back support. It is considered to be one of the first bras, and is still used inside a lot of formal wear today!
The more it evolved, the more it began to do the opposite of it is purpose, “Some doctors blamed the corset for respiratory diseases, deformity to the ribs, damage to internal organs, birth defects, and miscarriages, while others approved of “moderate” or “health” corsets that were less rigid and helped support the body” stated by Vogue UK. But there are still women who use corsets today and argue that if a corset is used properly (meaning it fits the woman's body and not improperly tightened) it has great benefits (read more here). Our Lavinia Jacket is even inspired by the history of corsetry! We tagged some videos down below if you want to learn more.
Stockings are one that we didn’t expect to be so interesting. Also known as hosiery, they were initially made of pure silk, recognized as a symbol of wealth, and created for noblemen who rode horseback in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the 1800's the idea to make hosiery in such a way that they could be a replacement for petticoats began— as did calling them tights. It provided some warmth, but more importantly, it was an invention to give women more movement while maintaining the modesty standards of the day. This is where it became controversial. Even though the tights would not be seen under a long dress, some still argued it was too revealing for a woman to remove the layers of petticoat from under her gown. Check out more on the history of tights, and when they were openly accepted due to WWII, here. As we know today, tights are widely worn by women all over for style and practical purposes!
Speaking of personality, one of the classic accessories to detail an outfit: shoes--particularly--heels! Ah, heels—we love the elegance when we wear them, but it takes a lot of work to find a comfortable pair! Where did these iconic shoes come from? Originally they were made in the 10th century for the practicality of aiding those on horseback.
The square, elevated heel kept the rider's shoe from slipping out the stirrup. Flash forward to the 17th century and high heels emphasized a man's social status, wealth, and not to mention those calves and thighs. As women's shoes evolved in design and designers began adding heels to them, men noticed the ever-growing association of heels with women's shoes. The popularity of heels in men’s fashion died out around the mid-18th century. Today, there are still men’s shoes that have a slight heel (most commonly seen in western boots). What would your reaction be to seeing heels made of more masculine materials and shape...in the men’s section?
And finally, how could we resist talking about pants? We began our research by checking out the evolution of trousers being incorporated into womenswear, just like heels were. The controversy grew when the garment was mixed in politics with more and more women using the garment as a battle cry against traditional values during the 1960's. Many assume that a woman wearing pants is still innately rooted in this outcry, but there’s more to this story, and pants go way farther back than the 1960's and Women's Rights movement.
Men and women are recognized in early Western culture to be wearing skirt-like garments—long robes or tunics—which evolved according to the designated roles of their society.
Men were found on horseback more often for hunting or battling purposes, so naturally their garments became more suited to that role--and pants started to evolve. But it wasn’t until the 17th century that women began to give pants a try-- “In 1851, a woman named Elizabeth Smith Miller became one of the first women to give pants a try publicly. She was inspired by women in Europe who were wearing 'Turkish trousers' under knee-length skirts; in America, they became known as bloomers...They also made it easier for women to participate in activities like cycling, which men had been doing for years” (“Women and Pants Fashion Liberation,” Huff Post).
With the introduction of pants, women's clothing became more functional. There was one less hurdle from an enjoyable horseback ride, and similar to stockings, pants provided more range of motion for women while providing the same amount of coverage. Whether it was considered appropriate, however, was what fueled the debate. Bloomers were practical and a lot of designers appreciated that they provided coverage while also opening the scope of women’s place in the world through functionality.
It was not until World War I and II, when women stepped into the workforce while men were fighting, that women’s need for more functional garments was seen as valid by the general public. By wearing pants, women were able to work faster and more efficiently, which in turn helped the country.
We hope you enjoyed the background of these garments as much as we did! We find it interesting how different pieces became gendered over time. Why did the fascination of heels with women’s fashion take root, so much so that society deems it scandalous for a man to wear them; but women wearing pants is still debated from time to time today? Take a look through your closet and let us know what you’d like to hear more about —the materials that make them, the designer behind it, or how that style came to be!
O Lord, please give me the grace to seek understanding beyond my initial assumption and give You glory in the process.
If you are curious to learn more on the history of trousers/pants, check these out!
>When did women start wearing pants
>When did Men Start Wearing Pants
>A Brief History of Women in Pants
If you want to hear more on corsets, check out these videos:
>How Victorian Men Taught Us to Hate Corsets: The Biggest Lie in Fashion History
>Where Historical Movies Go Wrong In Their Portrayal of Corsets
>I Wore A Victorian Corset For A Day
>Comparing Modern to Victorian Corsets (and why not all corsets are ok)