Snark Week: Anachronistic Corsets

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Today, we are going to talk about Anachronistic Corsets. These are obviously Victorian/20th-century corsets that appear in pre-Victorian films and TV shows. Usually worn as outerwear. Because no one has any standards anymore.

If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that Anachronistic Corsets make their appearances in flicks set when there was no obvious form of breast support available to women (not that there wasn’t breast support, but it was frequently built into the clothing itself through super close fitting garments). Also, corsets are modern visual shorthand for either “sexy” or “evil sexy.”

I didn’t realize Robin Hood (2010) was set in the 1830s.

And what is it about Robin Hood remakes and corsets, anyway? The BBC’s Robin Hood (2007-2009) had kind of a thing for modern corsets worn as outerwear:

The Evil Woman in Leather Bondage Gear trope is another cliche we’re going to have to address at some point…

Another Anachronistic Corset paired with Anachronistic Blouse and Anachronistic Pants with bonus Unnecessary Lacing. At least Robin isn’t in Contractually Obligated Leather Pants, otherwise this would be Bad Medieval Costume Flick Bingo.

At least this time, the waist cincher sort of coordinates with the rest of the costume, like it was intentional. Of course, there’s the cold shoulders and the ever-present Unnecessary Lacing to round everything out.

No time period is spared. Even as far back as ancient Rome, the Anachronistic Corset will suddenly appear because nothing is sacred and no one has any time for research. Here, it makes an appearance in the tragic climax of the film Gladiator (2000):

Me (watching this scene in the theater): ಠ_ಠ

I know this probably comes as a shock to some of you, but Ancient Rome didn’t have Victorian corsets. In fact, there’s a reason why they’re called “Victorian.” I’ll give you three guesses why, and the first two don’t count.

And Kendra brought these two examples from Frontier (2016-) to my notice with her Snark Week review earlier this week:

Frontier (2016- )

Allegedly, this show is set in the 18th century.

Frontier (2016- )

Allegedly.

Even our old fave Amadeus (1984) gets this wrong:

Although, I will give them points for at least implying that this very-not-18th-century corset is underwear.

So, what does an 18th-century corset look like?

Stays, 1780-1789. From the V&A.

Stays, 1770-1790. From the V&A.

Notice the distinct lack of hour-glass shaping. Notice the straight front. Notice the conical shape. Notice that there is absolutely no tabbed or latched busk at the center front. Do you notice these things? Is it just me? Am I the only one who knows how to do a Google search, here?

 

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

20 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I, too, thought Amadeus. But Cate as Marian would also qualify as Corsets worn as outside garment.
    Wonder if corset periods were given, oh say dog names? GEORGIAN =HORACE, VICTORIAN =DASH or DASH, Or would that require a higher I.Q. than they possess?

    Reply
  2. Donnalee

    That strange blue shirt with underbust corset and fugly pants boggles my mind. You say that was supposed to be a version of Robin Hood, as in the ye-olde British lore…? It wasn’t an Austin Powers or something? Huh.

    Reply
    • Tinny

      I’ve now seen that photo twice in my life, and am nearly certain it has burned my retinas clean off. I cannot possibly enunciate the word NO sharply enough at it.

      Reply
        • MoHub

          It’s similar to trying to get them to watch and appreciate black-and-white films and television shows.

          Reply
  3. angharad

    It’s like they want everything to be steampunk. (Says the person researching Rational Dress so she can make a steampunk version).

    Reply
  4. Trystan L. Bass

    I always have to point out that this shitty Amadeus corset was NOT in the theatrical release of the film, so maybe director Milos Forman had an inkling that it sucked, even if costume designer Theodor Pistek (who won an Oscar for this movie) put it in there. I saw the film in theaters & had no idea about his travesty until Sarah bitched about it years later — she had first seen the movie on video, where the scene was apparently added back in.

    Reply
  5. minette

    Oh, c’mon! Why are people even using 19th century corsets in 18th century setting?! Roccoco stays actually seems rather nice. The Robin Hood costumes kill me even more than those of Reign.

    Reply
  6. Charity

    The Gladiator corset stood out horribly, but that didn’t stop me from finding it gorgeous — that’s still one of my favorite outfits in the film.

    shame

    Reply
  7. Emma Bull

    The whole light blue and red outfit from Frontier: What? and The? and also, Fuck? She’s got a blue fur muff on her head. Which might not be quite so weird if she wasn’t also wearing tiny short puffed sleeves and sheer undersleeves, and…is that a tapestry bolero? And long black gloves? Please tell me her character is the local crazy cat lady.

    Reply
  8. myladyswardrobe

    The cold shoulder Marian dress…..The top of the sleeve head has been folded down onto the arm to show that orange lining. They have FORGOTTEN TO SEW IT IN!!!

    Reply
  9. Violet

    I just rewatched Amadeus and the corset was the only time I had to snark outloud to my husband. It’s not even an accurate Victorian era corset as it’s super short and doesn’t go under her petticoat at all. More of a Merry Widow. I think the whole reason for the inaccurate corset is to make it easy to take off so her boobs can be out.

    Reply
  10. Sharon

    Just discovered a site on YouTube…Prior Attaire. “Dressing as a……..” you see a women dress from the chemise/shift out for a wide range of eras. It really helps to highlight how long it could take for a upper class woman to dress, how they needed help and how comfortable a well fitted corset could and should be.

    Reply
    • Sara L.

      OMG this is my new favorite channel! Wonderful stuff. Watching all the different layers go on is fascinating. I loved the one about going to the toilet, as well! She is a delight.

      Reply
  11. Joe

    I blame a lot of this on the modern-day fashion for corsets as outerwear. Somehow, some way, some costume designers have extrapolated this to mean that corsets were also worn as outer garments in previous eras.

    Reply

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