allowance for period

It is not fair of me to want to punch the author of English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century in the throat. After all, one must remember, it was 1937 when he wrote:

The distinctive feature of a woman’s shape is the disproportionate width of the hip-line, producing an inward slope to the legs, so that in the erect posture the outline of the body is wide at the middle and tapering toward the extremities. Such a shape imparts to the eye a sense of unbalance. Indeed, if the bias of sex-attraction could be set aside, such a shape would be unpleasing, because we have an instinctive dislike of objects that look top-heavy. Instinctively woman is conscious of this, and from the earliest times has attempted to conceal her hip-line. We are told that her first effort was by an apron of fig leaves, applied, no doubt, for that reason. Since then the main function of woman’s dress has been to conceal the bad proportions of her body. (emphasis added)

That’s right, ladies — you know, deep down, by instinct alone, that your body is Shaped Wrong. Your hips are disproportionate, because of course the right proportion is that of a man. Eve knew that in the Garden, without the benefit a mirror to look in! (Maybe Adam told her she had a fat ass.) And human beings hate top-heavy things, which is why, of course, we find it so unattractive when a man has well-muscled shoulders, right?

It is also not fair of me to want to punch him in the throat for the brief mention, in passing, that all the line drawings of hats and hairstyles, and all the notations for them, were done by his wife — who doesn’t get her name on or in the book, nosirree. He’s the only one who did any real work, after all.

1937. This was written in 1937. I have to bear that in mind. <breathes>

0 Responses to “allowance for period”

  1. attackfish

    So bustles and corsets were a figment of my imagination? Glad we cleared that up.

    • Marie Brennan

      His thesis is that there were two ways to disguise those problematic hips, one being the “classical” style where the waist is high so the vertical fall of fabric disguises the hips, and the other being the “Gothic” style where there’s a lot of skirt going on, usually with a tiny waist, to create a triangle shape that again disguises the hips.

      He’s right that those silhouettes exist, but I very much doubt his reasoning.

      • attackfish

        What about the Edwardians?

        I know, I’m preaching to the choir.

        • Marie Brennan

          Maybe he di . . .

          You know, I’m just going to stop that sentence at the two and a half words I’d already typed, because I don’t think there’s much point in trying to finish it. I don’t want to spend time trying to figure out his major malfunction. 🙂

  2. moonandserpent

    Eve knew that in the Garden, without the benefit a mirror to look in! (Maybe Adam told her she had a fat ass.)

    It was the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Would you Look at That Ass?

    And lo, thee Serpent said: She has the form of one of those rap stars’ helpmates.

  3. Marie Brennan

    I try not to listen to modern day fashion designers.

  4. fjm

    There is a painting in Birmingham art gallery in which it is blindingly obvious that the painter has used a boy as model, and then added breasts. I wish I could remember the artist/title.

    • Marie Brennan

      “These aren’t women. They’re just men with tits. And the tits look as if they’ve been put on with an ice-cream scoop!” — The History Boys, on the topic of Michaelangelo’s nudes

      • fjm

        I know it wasn’t him, but yes.

      • fjm

        ps. next time you are over I take you on a trip to Brum for the pre-Raphaelites.

        • Marie Brennan

          I will be there some time in late spring or early summer; haven’t scheduled the trip yet because I may have to build it around the convenience of one particular bit of research, and I’m still waiting to hear back on that one.

  5. dynix

    This fashion writer appears to be spending too much time in the wrong sort of closet.

  6. rachel_swirsky

    When a time machine is invented, surely someone will allow you to use it for throat-punching purposes.

    • Marie Brennan

      But I’d have to punch, oh, 95% of humanity back to the dawn of time. This guy is hardly remarkable for his period; he’s probably not even a particularly bad example.

      • rachel_swirsky

        so, we’ll make you your own throat-punching time machine.maybe we can hook it up so it derives power from throat punches.

        • ninja_turbo

          This would be a great way to create jobs. Hire folks to travel through time, punching idiots in the throat.

          Though to that end, just travel around the world now, punching throats. We just some rich benefactors to get this thing started. I’m thinking Dwane “The Rock” Johnson.

  7. aliettedb

    Ooh. Commiserations.
    That’s why I hate reading period stuff. I have a book about Chinese culture, “My Country and My People” by Lin Yutang, which was written, ooh, back in 1938 or thereabouts. When he argues that the natural condition of woman is marriage and that it makes them happier, deep down, than being independent, I also want to punch him in the throat.

    • Marie Brennan

      Normally I’m fairly able to keep perspective, and to remember there’s not much use in getting exercised about something that was written seventy years ago.


  8. mastergode


    I’ll have to pass this on to my wife… She’ll get quite a kick out of it. =)

  9. matociquala

    Your correspondent prefers boys, madam.

  10. Anonymous

    Dude, hips rule! What the hell?


  11. shadowkindrd

    This guy is a great example of the repressionest era.

  12. bookblather

    No, no, it’s perfectly acceptable to want to punch him in the throat! Actually doing it requires a little more dexterity (and usually a shovel) but if you’re really determined you can get away with it.

    In all seriousness, I’m a history major and frequently find myself wanting to choke historical figures, John C. Calhoun and Thomas Jefferson being major and frequent candidates. I think John Adams is the only one I’ve never had problems with.

  13. pameladean

    I say punch the hell out of him. 1937 is PLENTY late enough for such nonsense to get its comeuppance; there was plenty of feminism around by then. Punch the hell out of him twice for good measure. It’s not like it was 1837 or 1637.


  14. Anonymous

    Now, of course, we know that the most pleasing shape for a woman is that of Barbie. Progress!

    • Marie Brennan

      Dude, if you made a life-size Barbie, people would run screaming from the alien.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, that was my point. Perhaps I should have made the <sarcasm> tags around “Progress” a little clearer. (Apologies in advance if I’m misreading your response in the same way.)

  15. strangerian

    …because we have an instinctive dislike of objects that look top-heavy.

    That is, humans walk on two feet, in a kind of controlled fall, instead of having four legs and an inherently stable stance. We’re *all* top-heavy, women less so than men, whose centers of gravity are higher (on average) up their bodies. If “we” (for this writer presumably shares the disquiet) are disturbed by objects that look top-heavy, it’s either humanity fearing the inevitable stumble over misplaced rocks, or humanity gloriously ignoring their feet in favor of better scenery but occasionally stumbling anyway.

    This is a classic case of of “I am X” + “I like Y” = “Therefore all X like Y.”

  16. cloudshaper2k

    No, no, it’s perfectly fair of you to want to punch him in the throat for such stupidity. When you’re done with him, I want to take a whack at him for twisting Scripture. (This guy’s nailed several of my pet peeves in a single paragraph.)

  17. bellakara

    Hi, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve added you. I like your journal – I found the post on the sexism in TV and Hollywood screenwriting especially interesting.

    Anyway, I’ve restarted blogging after letting my old journal go on the slide. In those days I kept my friends list small, to keep track of people more easily. This time I’m expanding the friends list and limiting the communities list. I started the new blog almost two weeks ago, and so far have been posting reviews and mini-articles mostly. Quite a bit will probably be of a feminist nature – writing on women artists and writers, etc, but there will also be more general stuff.

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