During the Victorian Era of 1837-1901 going out badly dressed was never an option for all but the poorest in society. In the 1860s, high fashion demanded the wearing of very wide, ‘crinoline’ dresses. There were supported by a hooped affair that the unfortunate lady had to wear strapped around her middle. Then yards of heavy material in the form of an underskirt and overskirt would be worn underneath, and fastened around the hoops, After all that, the final dress would be put on by a helpful relative, or a ladies’ maid, often having to be sewn into position at the last minute.
The demand for ever smaller waists in female fashions led to some drastic measures. Corsets stiffened with whalebone (yes, from real whales) would be tightly laced around the middle, from under the breasts, to the swell of the hips. This was done with such force, it was almost impossible for the poor woman to consider doing it without help.
The resulting tiny waist has to be seen to be believed. Small wonder that women dressed like this could not eat, found it almost impossible to go to the toilet, and often fainted as a consequence of their internal organs being compressed unnaturally.
Men had to look good too of course. Though they might have escaped the rigours of corsets and crinolines, they were expected to wear three-piece suits in all temperatures, along with hard collars, and ties of course. And not forgetting trying to keep a heavy top hat on their head.
As well as the clothes, facial hair was the ‘mark of a man’!
So the next time you are slipping on a barely-there pair of thong panties, a baggy T-shirt, some black leggings, and flip-flops on your feet, just be grateful that you were born after 1920.