Casting Off the Corsets by Dulcie Lewis

This highly amusing ‘BriefHistory of Underwear‘ came my way, somewhat appropriately, in my Christmas stocking.

As an introductory note, Dulcie Lewis tells us that ‘At times our underwear has been unhygienic, erotic, uncomfortable, ridiculous, painful, vulgar and funny’. She goes on to develop that comment, showing us how the diaphanous fashions of the early 1800s needed an undergarment to cover women’s private parts.

She follows the development of underwear with an amusing account of the drawers Queen Victoria left to posterity. The fat little lady was apparently only five feet tall and weighed nearly nine stone even before she was married to Albert. She frequently cast her monogrammed drawers and a pair was recently valued at £300 in the Antiques Road Show.

Amusing little anecdotes like this fill this tiny volume and we are brought up to date, via the knitted swimsuits of the thirties which ‘alarmingly … clung to the lower parts of the body, while leaving higher bits exposed’ and the ‘liberty bodices’ of the mid twentieth century.

Fortunately, Dulcie Lewis reaches the present day with a reminder of Cole Porter’s ‘In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, now heaven knows, anything goes!’