A Question of Morality
Posted by Donna MacMeans Feb 4 2012, 1:55 am
A friend recently sent some beautiful pictures of Regency dresses. Take a look – aren’t these lovely? The one on the left is from 1805. The white wedding dress on the left is from 1804.
However I look at these low necklines and I wonder how those ladies managed not to fall out of the dress? Did they not lift their arms? How did they manage those little hops in so many country dances? It’s like a wardrobe malfunction just waiting to happen.
My friend and Regency romance author, Susan Gee Heino, who is also a talented seamtress assures me that, as one who has worn regency fashions, such things did in fact occur. The occasional glimpse of a nipple would not be as profoundly embarrassing as it is today. Raising one’s skirts to show an ankle, however – scandalous!
By the end of the nineteenth century, showing one’s ankles was not quite as shocking, especially as more and more women took to riding a bicycle (though that activity was still frowned upon). Of course, any ankles flashed at that time in the course of a game of lawn tennis or a ride on a bicycle were still well covered by opaque stockings. Naked legs and ankles in public was simply not done.
Somewhere along the middle of the nineteenth century, women were allowed to publicly enjoy “swimming” though it would be difficult to imagine anyone actually being able to do more than stand in the combination of flesh concealing skirts and leggings that constituted a swimming costume. By the end of the century, that changed as well. One can see bare legs and arms, though the women were often hidden by “bathing machines” – big boxes on wheels that were pulled into the water so the bathers could dip in the water in private (obviously, as per this french postcard, there were voyeurs that hoped to catch a peek at the bathing beauties).
Fashions made drastic changes in the twentieth century and questions of morality weren’t far behind. Flappers from the 1920s were looked down upon, though I’m not sure if it was due to their bobbed hair or short skirts. Most likely it was the result of their independent attitudes, but their unique fashions helped push along the discussion of immoral versus moral attire.
Hemlines on skirts continually rose throughout the twentieth century. I recall the days of the miniskirt and hot pants. Interestingly enough, in those years, wearing thin barely-there stockings on one’s legs was de rigueur. Not wearing stockings, or nylons, was scandalous.
While Janet Jackson’s famous 2004 Superbowl wardrobe malfunction brought numerous cries as to the country’s declining morality, I have to wonder if that’s so very different from the occasional “slippage” experienced by those Regency ladies. It’s worth noting that the huge $500,000 fine levied against CBS for airing the malfunction was set aside by courts this past November 2011.
Can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow night .
In the spirit of what is old is new again, thought I’d add this image of a 4th century mosiac in what must be a precursor of a bikini. The image doesn’t show that she’s wearing a crown and carrying a symbol of athletic prowness.
So what about you? Any thoughts of what was once considered immoral and now is accepted? Any expectations about the Superbowl tomorrow night? I’ll send a copy of Redeeming the Rogue to someone leaving a comment.
Oh – and by the way – I think my bandita booty prize post from the taverns & pubs post was up for maybe ten minutes last night . Gena Robertson – please check the booty chest for the announcement and instruction on how to claim your prize.
Posted in Donna MacMeans, fashion, Regency, superbowl