One of the weird things about making and wearing historical costumes is getting into the “but doesn’t that hurt?” debate. As a modern feminist who wears what to some is a physical and visual marker of women’s oppression or women’s traditional roles, I’m conscious of trying to counterbalance those views. The point I usually try to make is that yes, wearing corsets and multi-layered clothing does feel less comfortable than wearing a bra, jeans, and t-shirt. But women of earlier eras had different priorities than we did, wore these garments from childhood, and in general simply wouldn’t have felt dressed or presentable for public viewing without those corsets and layers of clothing.
This review article from the Chronicle of Higher Education (which is a few years old) nicely summarizes some of my thoughts and the changes taking place in fashion/costume research. Two quotes that are really working for me: “‘Fashion’ can not logically be reified as a magic power that causes women to behave in ways contrary to their own best interests,” (Valerie Steele); and “You can’t possibly argue that for 1,000 years Chinese women were morons and Chinese men were sexual perverts. You have to ask, what stakes did women have?” (Dorothy Ko).