Happy that it is NOT the Victorian Era
There are so many reasons to give thanks that is no longer the Victorian era but heat is certainly at the top of the list. As temperatures soar to near 100 degrees, Most New Orleanians begin peeling off clothing like overripe fruit. We sit dripping in front of overly taxed AC window units that barely cool the room to an acceptable 95 degrees while alternating between cucumber water and the highly touted summer drink known as the Pimm’s cup. We are exhausted. We are dehydrated. We are angry. The murder rate begins its ascent during the long death march of summer.
As bad as it still is in the modern era with all of its amenities, it is still better than it was in the Victorian period especially if you were a woman. The middle class of the Victorian era elevated prudery to an art form. Victorians defined modesty via the so called “Bell Silhouette” with its narrow waist, fuller hips, and noticeable departure from the previous Napoleonic emphasis on the bosom. What this new fashion style meant for women was an incredible amount of undergarments. A downright unseemly amount which is an ironic way to put it since layer upon layer of underclothes was considered an armor with which to protect a woman’s virtue. God knows it may have worked as it would have been damn near impossible to give in to the heat of passion. Someone may have passed out in the heat of summer while engaging in the Herculean task of undressing a woman to the point where sex would have been possible.
A woman must have risen quite early to begin the day of dressing. First, she donned a chemise and then four or five layers of petticoats in order to properly lay the foundation of the Bell shape. I am sweating just contemplating that but in all fairness to the Victorians, it might actually be hotter in my house than it is outside. These items were followed by crinoline made of horsehair with a stiff woolen fabric called weft. This was necessary in order to hold the shape of the Bell Silhouette. The crinoline was followed by drawers or what came to be called pantaloons. These cinched at the waist with a drawstring. Oh yes, please put something tight about my stomach in a 100 degree heat! Next came the dreaded corset. The corset alone took nearly an hour to secure during which point, you can only imagine the poor girl was sweating to a dangerous stage of dehydration and most likely smelling less than fresh. Lastly, the outerwear went over everything. No wonder women were notorious for swooning. It had nothing to do with women being the weaker sex and everything to do with them being unable to get a deep breath as a result of the tightness of their corsets and the ridiculous amount of clothing that accentuated the suffocation and dehydration.
So as we sit here in what amounts to a crawfish pot, let us give thanks that we do not have to suffer through the added indignities of the Victorian era. Can I get an Amen?
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