Monday, June 17, 2013

A Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Body

At the beginning of the eighteenth century it seems to have been the prevailing opinion that nature had made the female waist greatly too large; to remedy which, the stiffest stays were laced in the tightest manner, lest young ladies should become clumsy, or grow crooked.

18th century stays. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

Towards the middle of the century, it began to be discovered that, besides the uneasiness of such a situation, it frequently produced the very effect it was intended to prevent. Physicians and philosophers now declaimed the stays...

Stays from the third quarter of the 18th century. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

"We have discovered that our mothers had all been wrong, and that Nature had not made the female waist nearly so large as it ought to have been. But the ladies supplemented this defect so well with clothes that about the years 1759 and 1760 every woman, young and old, had the appearance of being big with child. In ten or twelve years the fashion began to take the opposite direction again, and small waists were now esteemed so great a beauty, that, in endeavoring to procure them, women had outdone all the efforts of their grandmothers in the beginning of the century.

18th century French gown. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

  Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swan,
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

About the beginning of the century it was highly indecent to be naked two inches below the neck; about the middle of it, she was dressed in the highest taste who showed the greatest part of her breast and shoulders; some years afterwards, every female of whatever condition was muffled up to the chin; at present the mode is discarded, and naked breasts and shoulders begin again to appear."

~ Notes from the 18th century physician, William Alexandra.

Courtesy of Let There Be Clothes by Lynn Schnurngerger


  1. Torture devices!!! Though I've always thought it would be fun to put one on and be all done up to see what it looked like/felt like =)

    1. Nat - I'd *love* to try on one of these torture devices. It would be SO much fun!

    2. I think that should be one of our CP goals. One day we will try on gowns like these together and take pictures!