The appeal of a whalebone corset and a bustle

If manners maketh men, then clothes go a long way towards making women

Share
Related Topics

With any luck Phoebe Filo or Stella McCartney or some other big cheese with clout in the fashion business will watch either one of the two new period dramas starting on television this weekend – preferably Daniel Deronda, there are too many serfs and soldiers in Dr Zhivago to satisfy the rigours of haute couture – and overnight will reinvent the bustle. I yearn to return to the age of elegance, which I place somewhere between Nyree Dawn Porter in The Forsyte Saga and Julie Christie in The Go Between.

Life for women seemed so much easier to manage somehow, so much steadier when viewed from the comparative safety of a whalebone corset and a bustle. Liberated woman that I am, I never subscribed to the faction that demonstrated its contempt for male domination by removing its bra and consigning it to the flames. I remember one particular women's lib rally where, egged on by Germaine Greer or Erica Jung, we did just that. Afterwards, freed from our male chauvinist shackles, we capered round the bonfire and then marched shoulder to shoulder with our sisters along Whitehall to deliver some petition about equal opportunities.

Even now it remains a painful memory. When you're used to wearing a size 34DD (I was a busty young woman) capering and marching without one is murder. At the risk of sounding like a po-faced amalgam of Lady Longford, Mary Whitehouse and Mother Theresa, I'm convinced that our increasingly uncivil behaviour is directly connected to the way we dress.

Take yesterday in the supermarket. Had the woman behind me at the checkout been wearing a floor-length crepe de chine bustled skirt, tightly corseted bodice and tulle hat laden with feathers, artificial fruit and flowers instead of a T-shirt and baggy jeans, I doubt she would have rounded as she did on the man behind her and shouted: "For Christ's sake, watch what you're doing. You've just bashed me with your effing trolley.''

If manners maketh men, then clothes go a long way towards making women. I know what you're going to say. In this mythical age of elegance I'm talking about, only the privileged class, the rich toffs and aristocrats could afford to wear fancy clobber. As a distinctly underprivileged refugee I would have had to make do with bits of old sacking and a length of string. Maybe so, but I'd have aspired to whalebone and bustles just as teenage girls aspiring to Donna Karan and Vivienne Westwood buy cheap imitations from market stalls.

Few people would disagree that the most elegant modern attire for women is the Indian sari, which not only looks beautiful but makes the wearer no matter what her size or shape walk like a princess. Long skirts give women dignity trousers and miniskirts don't, it's as simple as that, and as soon as we get back to Edwardian formality the better we shall all be.

Coming home on the bus this afternoon I sat behind a crowd of schoolgirls who were heavily into the Gothic grunge look. Black T-shirts, black trousers, black hair, black eyes, black nail varnish and metal studs everywhere. They were all shouting either at each other or into their mobiles except for one with mousy hair. She sat slightly apart, shoulders hunched, staring out of the window while she picked at her nose stud which looked infected.

When they all got up to go I saw that she was wearing a badge on the front of her shirt which said "Bitch in training.'' I wonder what George Elliott, a liberated woman with ideas well ahead of her time and a penchant for wearing trousers, would have made of that.

I shall probably end up watching Dr Zhivago because I'm a sucker for Russian romantics. I also like the idea of being swathed from head to foot in sable like Lara, who didn't give a damn about political correctness. Good for her. A friend who lives in Moscow told me that when she was jogging round Gorky Park the other day, she saw a line of convicts dragging their balls and chains. Some were moaning pitifully. None of her fellow joggers took the slightest interest. Manacled prisoners seem to be commonplace sights even in communist-free Russia.

It was only when she rounded the corner and saw the cameras that she realised they were part of the Barber of Siberia film set. Maybe the Gothic grunge brigade have taken their fashion statements from the convict lobby. Chacun à son gout.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'