Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear by Amber J. Keyser

I love history, and that includes not only important historical events, but also the history of things and how they evolved over the years. When it pertains to women, as well, I want to learn about it even more, so it’s no surprise this book appealed to me for multiple reasons.

The book is brief (only 96 pages), but it contains a lot of fascinating information. Here are a few examples of things I found particularly interesting:

Bras were presumed invented in the late 19th century, until a 2008 archeological discovery in Austria of four Medieval-era bras, which were radiocarbon dated to sometime between 1390-1485.

  • Upper-class women wore corsets under their clothes, tightly laced in the back. Lower-class women wore jumps—a corset made of leather or thick cloth—which was worn over the clothes and laced in the front. A lower-class woman wearing a corset was often called uppity, vain, or whorish.
  • Two million whales were killed during the 18th and 19th centuries, due to the demand for whale oil and corset stays.
  • Corset stays were made from baleen—a flexible horny substance hanging in fringed plates from the upper jaw of baleen whales—and not actual whale bone.
  • Until the 19th century, women wore loose fitting, open-crotched pants called drawers under their dresses (or nothing at all). The sprung-steel hoopskirt became fashionable in the late 1850’s, but it had the drawback of flying up unexpectedly. The solution was to sew the open crotch of the drawers shut, which sparked a debate over open vs. closed crotch drawers.
  • Bloomers were scandalous attire, and women who dared wear them were accused of being loose, immoral, or “deviant”—a roundabout way of inferring they were lesbians. (The same was said of women who had pockets in their skirts—something women’s clothing had never had until the late 19th century.)
  • Undergarments of any color but white were also highly scandalous in the beginning.

For such a short book, there is a lot of information inside and I really enjoyed reading this book. My only wish is that each section had been more in-depth, with more information, photographs, and drawings.

I’m giving this book a solid 3.5 stars, bumped up from the 3 stars I originally rated it at on Goodreads.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Twenty-First Century Books via Edelweiss.

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Author: Amber J. Keyser
Title: Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Fashion History
Publication Date: January 1, 2018 by Twenty-First Century Books
Rating: 3.5 stars

About the Book

Throughout history, women’s lingerie garments have played a complex role in women’s lives. Learn how undergarments protected and shaped women’s bodies to fit the ideals of the time, enhanced desire in intimate relationships, made statements about social movements such as women’s suffrage, and provided a way to express individual style and personal empowerment. With each swing of the fashion pendulum, new undergarments forced the body into the preferred shapeflat bust and angular ribcage, lush bosom and high waist, sloped shoulders and ample hips which in turn, affected women’s health and activities. Learn how lingerie has been used as a status symbol, a marker of social class, and an economic driver throughout history.

About the Author

Evolutionary biologist-turned-author AMBER J. KEYSER has a MS in zoology and a PhD in genetics. She writes both fiction and non-fiction for tweens and teens.

Her young adult novels include Pointe, Claw (Carolrhoda Lab, 2017), an explosive story about two girls claiming the territory of their own bodies, and The Way Back from Broken (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), a heart-wrenching novel of loss and survival (and a finalist for the Oregon Book Award). She is the co-author with Kiersi Burkhart of the middle grade series Quartz Creek Ranch (Darby Creek, 2017).

Her nonfiction titles include The V-Word (Beyond Words/SimonTeen, 2016), an anthology of personal essays by women about first-time sexual experiences (Rainbow List, Amelia Bloomer list, New York Public Library Best Book for Teens and Chicago Public Library Best Nonfiction for Teens) and Sneaker Century: A History of Athletic Shoes (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015), among numerous other titles.

Her forthcoming books include Tying the Knot: A World History of Marriage (Twenty-First Century Books, 2018) and Underneath It All: The History of Women’s Underwear (Twenty-First Century Books, 2018).

4 thoughts on “Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear by Amber J. Keyser

    1. LOL Yeah, I guess it is an unusual thing, isn’t it?

      It’s always guaranteed to be fascinating to me when it has to do with women’s history. It’s a shame so little of it is taught in schools.

      Liked by 1 person

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