Under Where?

Next time you try to pull on one of those lightweight, modern-day wonder-fabric girdles over your bulges, just remember this: In Victorian times, women’s undergarments — at least those of self-respecting, well-appointed fine ladies — typically weighed seven to ten pounds, and women often wore up to thirteen layers under their high-necked, hourglass-shaped dresses.

“First came the drawers, then a chemise was pulled on over that, a corset over the top of that, a petticoat over that, and then there was a bustle,” says Kelly Rasmussen of the Molly Brown House Museum, who adds that the corsets, characteristically embedded with whalebone, were suffocatingly cinched up tightly enough to create a nearly impossible yet coveted eighteen-inch waist. Then the bust spilleth over — or at least one would hope so. And like the rest of us, Rasmussen, who curated Victorian Unmentionables, a show of cast-iron underwear from the museum’s collection, seems just a little bit perturbed by that.

Tour the exhibit — which also includes a smattering of men’s union suits and undershirts (for perspective, perhaps?) and general tidbits of undergarment history — and enjoy the rest of the museum, as well, through April 21; the Molly Brown House is located at 1340 Pennsylvania Street. For details, log on to www.mollybrown.org or call 303-832-4092.
Jan. 21-April 21, 2009

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