Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Clothes reform can sound boring. When it was a hot issue in the US, making fun of clothes reformers was common.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony both tried wearing clothes that didn't hurt them, but they decided they couldn't do that and also work on other reforms. Amelia Bloomer wore very wide pants gathered at the ankle with a waist length overdress. That was bloomers, at a time when women in the United States didn't wear pants at all. She was following by little boys mocking most of the time when she went outside. All of us women in slacks owe her an occasional backward thank you.

A clothes reformer visited a first grade class on the East Coast in the late 1800's. She asked the children to raise their hands above their heads.

All of the boys, and none of the girls could raise their hands above their heads. (Thinking of women's basketball, the clothes and the movements, is inspiring in this context.)

In corset time, the average woman of privilege was wearing at the waist seventeen layers of cloth. Her daughters would have been wearing not seventeenlayers, but lots more than one. The layers for both mothers and daughters would be pushed in by a corset.

Women autopsied were sometimes found to have marks of their ribs on their internal organs, like their livers, the ribs pushed in by the corsets.

Isadora Duncan and her draped look can look silly from here. At the time, women of privilege of all kinds, who didn't think of themselves as dancers, would drape themselves in Isadora Duncan style loose, long fabrics and do free movement. Women wearing the Isadora look were freed for those hours from the binding of the torso which was the essence of affluent respectibility.

To honor them, Isadora, Amelia, the brave unknown mocked women wearers of clothes that let them move with ease, your mind must have regular periods of being loosely robed.

--facts about children's movements and corsets and layers of clothes from the book "Where She Danced: The Birth of American Art-Dance" by Elizabeth Kendall (1979, University of California Press] The book is fairly short and more widely interesting than the title sounds, being partly about how 19th and early 20th century women changed how they lived in their bodies.

"Getting Our Bodies Back" might be a title for the Kendall book. Getting our bodies back bit by bit. Important history--how's your health if your ribs are pushed into your liver and how can you think? But important history of how people's lives actually were minute to minute is often hidden in things that look specialized or minor. Not just pursuing happiness but getting it sometimes. Having the process of being here now not hurt. These things matter.