Corsets and Updos

I have another confession to make.  In spite of my efforts to avoid recent and post-Eclipse Western media, I have been watching Downton Abbey lately with my spouse.  I do not know that I can wholeheartedly recommend this show, as there is some problematic behavior and it is not completely wholesome and pure.  On the other hand, I have been quite enjoying watching the clothing, hairstyle, manners, and a functioning, and relatively healthy, hierarchy.

Dressing Lady MaryOne of the things that this show has prompted me to do is to investigate and study the Edwardian period with respect to clothing and hairstyles, and there are some things that I have found quite interesting.  One of the things that was interesting is that all women from Countess to the kitchen maid wore corsets.  Now, of course, we have all been told horror stories about corsets, but I remember wearing one for a play I was in a few years back, and it was not as bad as one might think.  One of the things that corsets did was force one into good posture.  Interestingly enough, men’s clothing was also made to force good posture as well, with tight tailoring and accessories that restricted movement.

Anna Arranging HairWith respect to hairstyles, one of the things that I learned, was that in the Edwardian period, all adult reputable women wore their hair up.  I was also fascinated to see that from the highest to the lowest in rank, all of the women arranged their hair for sleeping at night, either in braids or similarly tied back.

I am seeing an interesting pattern, in that there seemed to be a value placed on having things under control, one’s body, one’s clothing, and one’s hair.  It is an interesting contrast to today, where we are encouraged to be as comfortable as possible, and to let everything hang loose.  I think that this is quite symbolic in many ways.

I recently read Jane Eyre, and I am currently reading Little Women.  One of the things that I am noticing in both of these books is an attitude of self-restraint and self-control.  Faults are something that everyone has, but there is an ethos that we must learn to control and correct for our faults.  Virtue is a matter of effort!

While I am not recommending corsets and updos (unless one wants to try them), I do think that we can learn something from the attitude of self-control and self-restraint that these things represent.  A lot of being civilized is not doing what comes naturally for us, but to strive for goodness, beauty, and virtue.  We all have faults and difficulties, but these are things to be worked on, not allowed to just “hang loose.”

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