Fashion, as glamorous as it sounds, has given enough pains to its fierce representatives in the past. Why is it that whenever you hear this word, the first thing that pops up in your mind is the image of a woman with clothes which appear to speak their own language?
Today’s fashion icons for women are mostly actresses and models donning designer outfits with the perfect amount of accessories and makeup as a tool to hide rather than highlight. There is one thing that appears to be common in their interviews that try so hard to decode their dressing sense and that is, their response to the question-‘what is fashion to you?’ Their answers be like-‘fashion is anything that makes me feel comfortable’ or ‘fashion is comfort.’ Is it? Was it?
Well, for the women of today maybe it is! But let me take you a few years back. Back when one’s clothing sense meant much more than a mere eye pleasing, fashion statement. Let’s begin with the heads, shall we?
The trend for these bizarre wigs was started by Louis XIV of France to hide his baldness but it was not long before the madness spread outside his court and seduced the masses. Another version of the story is that a mistress of his lost her cap while hunting and did a pretty high hair up do that pleased the King and soon everyone was seen with dangerously accessorised heads.
As their complexity increased, so did the hygiene issues. Even though these were mostly carried by the rich, a few of them did not consider cleaning the wigs once in a while providing housing facilities to pests and fleas! But a few ladies took it to whole new level when they would fix candles to the wigs, sometimes setting their heads on fire.
Body squashing Corsets
Corsets first became popular in the 16th century in Europe. In fact this piece of clothing was immensely popular in the Victorian era. However, it was mainly meant for women. Mostly worn as an undergarment, this body shaping article of clothing was first introduced into France by Catherine de Medici in the 1500s. This type of corset was embraced by the women of the French court for its ability to squeeze the waist as much as possible. They made the upper torso look like an inverted cone which was considered very attractive. So if corsets were actually meant to enhance women’s beauty, then why exactly are they being discussed in this article?
Here is why- A corset was meant to shrink the waist size to the then ideal 16 inches (sometimes even 14 inches). Women who wore these on a daily basis did not just face the risk of cracking their ribs but also of damaging their vital internal organs such as the liver and intestines. Doctors over the years have argued that corsets cut off blood circulation and Victorian doctors believed that a tight corset could cause digestive problems as it would limit essential bowel movements.
This was another dangerous, but might I say, slightly elegant looking attempt to achieve an hourglass figure. Dangerous, because they were made so enormous that they would get caught in other people’s feet and knock them down while leaving the wearer in weird positions as even a simple fall was complicated by the use of crinolines.
Crinolines are actually stiff and framed petticoats which are made to hold out a woman’s skirt and make the skirts look extremely voluminous. Just as our bones provide shape to our body, crinolines provided body to the skirts. Except, our bones can never start a fire like these crinolines could. It is estimated that, during the late 1850s and late 1860s in England, about 3,000 women were killed in crinoline-related fires.
Crinoline dresses were mostly made of inflammable fabric that could catch fire in no time and since there no easy way to out of such dresses, many women got severely burnt as their crinolines charred. Crinolines continue to be worn even today but not as frequently as they were back in the 18th or 19th century. However they do not predispose the ladies to dangerous accidents now.
Tiny Lotus shoes
Foot binding is probably one of the most painful practices young girls of about 4 or 5 years were subjected to. Known to have originated in China in the 10th or 11th century this practise involved curling the toes inwards and towards the soles with immense pressure until they were broken.
The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch of the foot was forcibly broken. Then bandages were used to wrap the feet as tightly as possible and sewn in the end so that they could not come off. All of this was done to shape the feet like lotus buds but in reality all that happened was the irreversible disfigurement of the lower limbs.
The strange reason behind this practise was that lotus feet symbolised wealth (women from wealthy families, who did not need their feet to work, could afford to have them bound). While lotus feet looked far from beautiful and healthy, the painful practise resulted in severe infections and gangrene. However this custom almost stopped for good by 1949.
So, it’s clear that women’s fashion, years ago, was quite torturous and not comfortable at all. Beginning from the head and right down to the toes, no part of the body has been spared. It is quite hard to believe the kind of ordeal women put themselves through (sometimes voluntarily) in order to live up to the unrealistic and potentially dangerous beauty standards.