Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Yodel O Hee Ho

In 2013 it would seem outrageous to believe with so much information literally at our fingertips that 18th century female reenactors are caught in the circular trap of the Spirt of 76'.

A survivor of the bicentennial, the dreaded bodice, still lives on.  Nay, it thrives 37 years later on battlefields and museums and historic houses all across America.   Is it an accurate garment for those portraying a woman in the American Colonies?   My opinion is no.

Pretty darn appropriate if you are portraying someone in the Swiss Alps or the countryside of 18th century Alsace.  But we are not in the Swiss Alps or France so why do so many of us look like we should be yodeling?


In my research of 18th century clothing I have come across many an original garment that resembles the "bodice", they are regional European clothing and here is a shocker, they are always silk and most frequently heavily boned.

There is no evidence that this garment was worn by the English or here in the English Colonies.  (New France has it's own regional clothing.)

But to muddy the waters, there is an English garment that looks like and is a cousin to the European bodice.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Worn over stays (note the lines of the side of the waistcoat), under a bedgown or gown for warmth.  Layering in the cold is not a new concept.  This is quilted with wool batting, uber warm and toasty for an unheated world.  Not an article of clothing worn in place of another garment, but rather in addition to.

So why are so many reenactors portraying European peasantry? ( and trust me, they don't look like the babes from Strausbourg above)

The reasons are probably as many as there are people but some of the obvious:

don't know

 don't care

 I am just here to prevent my husband from having fun without me

 it was cheap

someone let me borrow it

get off my back, I look oldey timey and that is good enough

So the Battle of the Bodice is being fought on social media.  On blogs, Facebook and group sites across America skirmishes are taking place.  Who will win?  The side with the most soldiers usually does.  So far the Bodice Brigade has the numbers.  We need recruits.

For more on the Battle of the Bodice, visit the Buzz at the Hive.


  1. THANK GOD for this post. I cannot even believe this is a thing. God bless you! I will now share if everywhere I possibly can because THIS NEEDS TO STOP. This is one of the main reasons I do my undressing the historical lady talk and mention IN GREAT EARNEST that if you cant afford the bodice or jacket over the stays...you likely wont have the stays. This is the best article ever.

  2. Even in southern Germany it is a highly reginal thing! I research a lot about our local fashions here and it seems that they mostly wore jackets, too.
    Just to be very correct: Strasbourg wasn't French before 1697, before it was a part of the Holy Roman Empire and a Free Imperial City, it's culture was more German than French.

    BTW: we have a very uncharming description for reenactoresses wearing visible stays /jumps, someone invented the term "pirate slut"... (especially when paired with looped up petticoats)

    1. This once you are harsher than me, Cécile, I always call it the "Hobbit" look. ;-) The look is also far too widespread with people portraying Highland Scots. -_-

  3. Perhaps you can answer a question for me. What exactly are jumps? How do they differ from the dreaded bodice? After seeing numerous engravings showing lower-class women with the curve of their breast visible under their gown, I'd like to experiment with something less stiff than the full- and half-boned stays I currently use.

    1. Hillary, there is at this time no clear understanding of exactly what jumps are except they are lightly boned. They are mentioned being worn after birth in Lynn Sorge's book, Stays and Body Image in London, but with no real description. One assumes they are front lacing, probably both back and front, but without an original artifact, it is informed guesswork. Hallie

  4. And Sweden! More or less boned bodices were worn as regional clothes in Sweden in the 18th century. But then I'm Swedish, so no problem for me. :) And emigration to America from Sweden was forbidden, so of cource it isn't relevant if you are in the US. :)

  5. ARGH the bodice is de rigeur at the main French fort I go to here, but I haven't really seen one mentioned in an inventory yet (full gowns certainly ARE though), so in this part of New France (the Illinois Country) anyway they don't seem to have been in use. I don't get it...bedgowns are SO EASY. If you can cut down the middle of a really large t-shirt you basically have your bedgown pattern. Down with the Bodice!