Okay. The time period I write is the Civil War. Visions of small waists, confined by corsets and bell-shaped hoopskirts likely fill your head as you think of that time period. I’d like to start by discussing what Victorian women wore underneath those dresses. As a Civil War reenactor, I actually wear all the layers beneath my dresses for authenticity purposes. As a romance writer, when thinking about characters of the period, I want to be as authentic as possible when I describe the heroine dressing, undressing, or ah . . . er . . . being undressed by the hero. Just what did they wear under those clothes? I’d like to begin by discussing the first layer. Next to their skin, Victorian women wore a chemise, a pair of drawers (not bloomers) and stockings. The chemise was a loose shift-like garment with short sleeves. It had a scooped neck collar and could be pulled down over the shoulders for wear with a low cut ball gown or evening dress. It came to just below the knee. Most women owned several of these. The drawers had either a button or drawstring closure on the waistband. Women wore them to mid-calf length, while girls and more fashionable women wore them a bit shorter. The interesting thing about the drawers was that the legs were only attached at the waistband, leaving the crotch completely open. There was a reason for this, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Tsk, tsk. Since women wore tight fitting corsets over the chemise and drawers, plus several layers of petticoats, it would have been impossible for them to have reached up and loosened the waistband of the drawers to use the necessary. I can tell you from my own experience it’s much easier to pull up your skirts, pull the legs of the drawers apart, then when finished, let them drop back into place. Last is the stockings. These were thigh-high and generally knitted of wool, but fashionable women wore silk stockings. Next time I’ll discuss corsets, petticoats and crinolines. That’s all for now, back to work on my book.
Another of my favorite books is CRACKER CULTURE, Celtic Ways in the Old South. This was written by Grady McWhiney and published by the University of Alabama Press.
From the dustjacket: From their solid base in the southern back country, Celts and their “Cracker” descendents swept westward decade after decade throughout the Antebellum period until they established themselves and their culture across the Old South.
The Celts brought with them to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaity and a society in which people favored the spoken word over the written and enjoyed such sensual pleasures as drinking, smoking, fighting, gambling, fishing, hunting and loafing.
I couldn’t help but think of all this as I watched Bucky Covington on American Idol last night. He’s a real throwback to the Old South!
Somebody give that boy some sweet tea, please!
Well, not just North American, Denise. Britain and Europe were involved in some pretty exciting stuff, too, and let’s not forget Australia! From penal colony to Commonwealth, things were really hopping. Speaking of Australia, it was the first place in the world to give women the vote–yup, during the Victorian era.
Although I find these histories fascinating, too, at the moment I am writing about North America. Here’s something I’ve been wondering about. Gaslight. So, this guy wanders the streets on stilts at sundown, lighting the lights as he goes. At first, I thought “what a great job! You are gainfully employed seven days per week, and the only skill required is balance.” But then, I got to thinking. Each city, even if a small size, would need several of these men. And some cities (I’m thinking of Quebec City, particularly) are not what you’d call level. So now, there’s a number of men walking up and down STEEP streets on stilts! Suddenly, not so easy. Then, you add in the snow and ice. I’ve been to Quebec City in the winter (site of my current WIP) and there is a LOT of ice. I’m sure the good residents and shopkeepers kept their frontage shoveled, but the thing about snow and sunshine is, it creates ice. Even if the snow is shoveled. So, how did they do it? Anybody? Anyone at all? By the way, my story takes place about five or ten years before gaslight, so this is just a curiosity question.
We are a small group of romance writers who focus primarily on the Victorian era, from 1837-1900. Our settings range from the U.S to Canada–our time periods from the Antibellum era, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Western Expansion and the Gilded age.
We expect to use this blog to reach other writers, readers and people who are just interested in the period. As Victorian writers, we must do massive amounts of historical research; no complaints as it is a labor of love. We want to share aspects of that research with others who have similar interests to ours, and have on-line “discussions” about it. The Victorian Era, with it’s quick changing technology (telegraph, telephone, gas lights and electricity), social upheaval, and thirst for exploration, was an exciting, vibrant time in history.
So here we are! Let’s have some fun!