Corsets & Codpieces

Wow, it’s February! Welcome to another Friday Reads. I originally intended to post this a few days ago, but I’ve been so busy preparing for my release party, that I’ve been neglecting my blog. So this month, my Friday Reads is also a review.

Cover of Corsets & Codpieces by Karen BowmanA short time ago, I finished reading Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era by Karen Bowman. When I picked it up, I expected it to be dry and more than a little dull, but the subject matter interested me, so I figured I’d plod my way through it.

When I started reading it however, I was pleasantly surprised by a conversational tone and fantastically interesting nuggets of information woven into the engaging narrative.

For example, did you know that the phrase “street walker” derives from medieval prostitutes who wore sandals that spelled out ‘follow me’ in the sand? Or that sewing needles were “extremely valuable, varying in worth from a yearling calf for a common needle to an ounce of silver for an embroidery needle”.

I found it immensely interesting that blue was once considered feminine because it “was associated with the Virgin Mary and conveyed gentleness” while “pink came from red and red was the embodiment of power, passion, wealth and blood” and was therefore a masculine color.

And how much do you know about crinolines? I had no idea that “accidents as a direct result of wearing a crinoline were more frequent than with any other garment in history”. In fact, “in 1864 a Dr Lancaster reported there had been 2,500 deaths in London alone from fire on account of the monstrous skirt.” Crinolines also, apparently, increased crime. A woman was caught smuggling “5 pounds of cigars, 9 pounds of tobacco, a quantity of tea and a bottle of gin, all concealed beneath her crinoline”.

Then later, during the second world war when strict clothes rationing was introduced in England in 1941, people were issued 66 coupons to last a year, which “would have been spent in the first quarter of any year” by pre-war standards.

My only real ‘complaint’ for lack of a better word to call it, is that I wish more of the “Modern Era” was covered. You only get a couple pages to get you from the 50s to the 70s, and nothing at all further forward. There are certainly some outrageous fashions in modern clothing as well.

Ms. Bowman does offer an extra little bit of information right at the end of the book, explaining why most bras have “a small bow stitched to the front between the cups”. But I won’t spoil the surprise in case you pick it up yourself.

Perhaps now you understand why I found this book so interesting. Or perhaps you think I’m an absolute nutter. *shrug* Ultimately, if you have any interest whatsoever in the history of some of humanity’s weirder garments, I heartily suggest you get Corsets & Codpieces.

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Friday Reads #3: The Creation of Anne Boleyn

Cover of The Creation of Anne BoleynIt’s Friday, which means it’s time for another installment of my Friday Reads series; setting you up for a great weekend of reading. This week’s book is The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo.

I’ve been interested in Tudor England since I discovered The Royal Diaries series as a kid. Since then, I’ve certainly read more Tudor literature (fiction and non) than your average person. Expect to see more Tudor books in future Friday Reads installments.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn still taught me quite a bit. Or perhaps I should say that it made me reevaluate existing knowledge and look at it in a new way. My biggest takeaway from the book was that we don’t have an unbiased, contemporary “portrait” of Anne as a person.

You have either the slanderous views of those who were staunchly against “the Great Whore”, the overly flattering views of those who supported Anne during her rise and when her daughter was queen, or attempts — many years after her death — to put together her story from vaguely remembered anecdotes passed down from parent to child. None of them have much hope of giving us a glimpse into the real Anne Boleyn.

Now, logically, this is something I already knew. Of course the people who liked and disliked Anne would give skewed opinions, but I never really gave much thought to how that shaped the lasting image of Anne herself. I also never really considered how more recent history, culture, and expectations have shaped “Anne Boleyn”.

Susan Bordo has thought about all of this, and she presents her findings and her thoughts in an interesting and entertaining way. The Creation of Anne Boleyn made me think, really think, about just how little we truly know about historical figures. And I wonder just how much of what we think we know is just the persona that people have built around famous and infamous people over the years, decades, and centuries.

Have you read The Creation of Anne Boleyn? Did you like it? What about Tudor history in general?

Check out last week’s Friday Reads, Love You Forever, and come back next week for another awesome book.

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