This is a fabulous book that contains some very interesting facts, pictures and an exciting history of lingerie. The fashion critic and writer, Lesley Scott tells us in the foreword “few items of clothing can so easily create a mood, shift the vibe or set off shivers like the right lingerie.” The first few pages really draw you into the book; the way she explains her love for lingerie in a way that you wouldn’t really think of “perhaps foodie culture is to nutrition what lingerie is to sex: a delicious, extravagant touch of mystery and mastery that makes sex more sensual, less prim and that much more fun.”
To give you a little taster of the kind of thing to expect in this book, I have noted some parts which I found particularly fascinating. The first chapter, called “Lingerie from ancient times to the 19th Century,” offers an insight back to ancient Egyptians. In 3,000 BCE, high-status women in ancient Egypt wore body-conscious under-tunics that fell to the ankle, to show off their position in society, while slaves went naked or wore a loin cloth at most. Moving onto the Minoans, historians found a figurine called the “Snake Goddess,” wearing what could pass as a modern day corset. The “Snake Goddess” was discovered in 1903 by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans and at the site where it was found “the typical signs of a male dominated society were simply not present. The archaeological evidence supports the idea that women dominated Minoan culture.”
Leading on to the ancient Greeks and Romans: Roman women wore a strophium (a band belted over and underneath the breasts, made of soft linen between 6 and 8 inches wide and long enough to be wrapped twice around the body). Roman mothers “who were worried that their daughters would overdevelop made make them wear a strophium, as did fashion conscious women who wanted their tunics to drape as flatteringly as possible.”
According to costume historians, the latter half of the 14th century was the starting point of modern fashion, the time when “for women, the tops of their robes dipped ever lower and décolletage emerged, showcasing high, pert breasts. This, combined with a fashionably curved belly and generous hips, was the ideal figure in the Middle Ages, related, naturally to a woman’s ability to bear children.”
Something I found particularly engrossing was about iron corsets of the 16th and 17th century: “their supposed role as tortuous implements of fashion was undoubtedly a tall tale perpetuated by La Vie Parisienne. This racy, somewhat fetishistic turn-of-the-20th century magazine was probably also responsible for the Victorian myth of the chastity belt, for which no hard evidence actually exists” Wouldn’t you just love to have a read of these La Vie Parisienne magazines? It sounds like a very intriguing publication! In case you were wondering about the Iron corsets, scholars now believe they were solely used as orthopaedic or medical corrective devices.
Then, Lesley Scott goes into Victorian dress; “first stripteases were simply women undressing layer by layer down to their chemises and getting into bed” and she covers the innovation in production leading to new lingerie trends.
If you are more attracted to the start of modern lingerie, chapter three includes a bit about the impact of the First World War and the 1920s “as part of the of the war effort, women were asked to give up their corsets in order to free up steel – which they did – willingly providing more than 28,000 tons worth, enough for two battleships”.
After this, Lesley goes into the Second World War and pin up culture, lingerie from the 1960s and in popular culture (film, music and dance). Then up to the very modern day, including Lady Gaga who “uses her lingerie to titillate and control her audience.” One of the very last parts of the book is on the very surprising topic of “Syria’s extraordinary lingerie culture”.
At the end of the book is a very useful guide called “choosing, buying and caring for your lingerie” which includes a great list of lingerie names you should know, gives you info about the companies and the website details, so you can go hunting for the perfect lingerie that you have just learnt the origins of!
Lingerie: A Modern Guide contains a little bit of everything I love: lingerie, fashion, history, film and music. I would recommend this book, even if you don’t have a passion for lingerie but like to learn about history. I’m sure you would still enjoy the book and it is full of great photos and pictures. The other good things about it is that it is a good starting point: if you really like the bit about the middle ages, for example, it might influence you to go and look into this period in more detail and go searching for other books about it.
Review by Roxanne Dorrington
You can buy the book from amazon.com
Lingerie: A Modern Guide, by Lesley Scott
Extent: 224 pages
Illustrations: 150+, full colour throughout
About the Author: Lesley Scott is a highly regarded fashion critic and the Editor in Chief of Fashiontribes.com, an online magazine and fashion blog. She was one of the first fashion bloggers accredited by the IMG to cover New York Fashion Week, and was previously a Senior Editor at Coolhunt.net and Executive Editor at Stitch Magazine in New York.