SNARK WEEK: We Really Mean It About the Chafing


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We try not to repeat ourselves too often here at Frock Flicks. But apparently, back during Snark Week #1, when we listed “The Invisible Chemise” as fifth in our list of nine Things Movies Get Wrong About 16th-Century Costume, we weren’t clear enough, and we have to explain it again. Maybe folks thought we only meant you needed a chemise / smock / undergarment with 16th-century garb?  Was that the element of confusion? Because we’ve seen — and pointed out — a lot of corsetry of all historical periods worn over apparently bare skin, lacking proper under-smockage.

RuPaul, no excuses

Costume designers, the principle applies to every historical era! It’s super uncomfortable to wear a tightly fitted garment directly on your skin for a long time, and that’s why every time period had some kind of lightweight, easily washable underwear that was worn first! Ladies don’t want our boobs and underarms — or back rolls — all pinched and chafed at the end of the day spent in costume. Give the gals a chemise, hell, let ’em wear a cotton tank top from Old Navy, at least, because that bare skin is making us hurt by proxy. No more chafing for the costume drama queens, please!


Will (2017)

There’s so much that’s wrong with the upcoming TNT series Will, purporting to show a “rock ‘n roll” version of Shakespeare, but let’s just focus on the painful lack of smocks here.

Will (2017)

Go watch the Will preview and gag. As much as I love a punk mashup, I’m no fool – wearing a corset without something underneath isn’t hardcore, it’s dumb.


The Three Musketeers (2011)

Milady de Winter’s getup isn’t all that historical, but why risk a nip-slip? (Three Musketeers, 2011)


1989 Valmont

Valmont (1989) — Chemise over the corset? UR DOING IT WRONG.

1989 Valmont

Yes, hang your head, bad girl!


Poldark season 2

Behind-the-scenes shot of Poldark season 2 — not a historical smock, but hey, a modern cami is better than nothing!


2016 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2015) was a surprisingly good movie and despite the ruffled rhumba panties, these Regency corsets look decent — EXCEPT they’re missing smocks.

2016 Roots

Sure, she’s just a shittily dressed extra in Roots (2016), but did they have to expose her back rolls? Not cool. Just give her a shirt (under and over, actually).

RuPaul's Drag Race
2016 Roots

IDK, is this the same chick from the front? Wearing a ridiculous red and black dicky over a corset? NOT HELPING.

Copper (2012)

OK, Copper (2012), so you bought everything for these costumes off-the-rack, but you couldn’t spring for a drawstring cotton smock on Etsy too?


Ripper Street (2012)

So hookers DESERVE to chafe, is that it? (Ripper Street, 2012)


Westworld (2016)

Wearing a bra under a corset doesn’t count (and is really uncomfortable). Plus, Sarah helpfully pointed out that these are being worn upside down. WHY, DEAR GODS, WHY??? (Westworld, 2016).


Gaslight (1944)

The problem has been with us for decades — even as Ingrid Bergman is getting gaslit in 1944, she’s chafing.



rupaul, raven, not good

Note: This fucking Twilight movie can get this chemise / smock thing right, even though it can’t get anything else right about historical costume (or vampires; they don’t sparkle, FWIW). So c’mon, costume movies, throw us a bone!


Seriously, Twilight Civil War-era flashback! Crappy Victorian corsets *with* relatively appropriate undergarments. It can’t be that hard.


Are your boobs sore just looking at these pix? 



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35 Responses

  1. Sarah Lorraine

    Don’t tell anyone, but if no one is going to see me undressed, and my underwear isn’t integral to the operation, I wear a cotton cami from Old Navy between my skin and my corsets. Cuts the bullshit of fussing with a smock out of the equation, but still prevents chafing.

    Fuck chafing.

    Bonus fact: my userpic is me in a Dark Garden corset wearing a strategically tucked in Old Navy cami under it.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    Well, I still prefer actresses wearing corsets to costumes with boning that actresses wear without corsets. I give the movie a B- from start before final grade if there are corsets on actresses.

  3. Andrea

    I wear nothing between my corset and myself. No chafing. But that’s my preference.

    The lack of chemise in “Ripper Street” drove me crazy!

  4. themodernmantuamaker

    C’mon, chemises are just so un-sex-ayy and just make it so much harder to objectify women in corsets/stays – and we can’t have that, nope! Modern audiences need all the skin, chafing be damned!

  5. Yael

    Wasn’t it also because you can easily launder dirty and sweaty smocks, etc., but not so much corsets? Argh.

      • themodernmantuamaker

        Well, I guess we have modern dry-cleaning for movie stays/corsets? Still not as convenient as tossing in the wash but close enough to be considered worthwhile? On the other hand, if an art director/director/producer has deemed that as much skin as possible is to be shown do you really think they’re going to listen to wardrobe people’s concerns about laundry?

  6. Kathleen Fry

    Love this post and especially the fact you used gifs from RuPauls Drag Race – so fitting for snark week!

  7. Emily

    from the moment I read “back rolls” it was in Alyssa Edwards’s voice. excellent use of gifs. -clap emoji-

  8. maryndir

    Great post! When I see pictures like these, I feel a little bit of pain for the chafing actresses – and then a whole lot of pain for the wardrobe department people who have to deal with those sweat-stinking corsets, full of dead skin cells and gross. *shudder*

  9. Katie

    The costuming in Westworld is just tragically terrible, but I’m willing to give them a pass, because that is a setting that I’d expect to have shitty costuming, if that makes sense.

  10. Black Tulip

    The Wings of the Dove – so much costuming goodness, until that final scene with Helena Bonham-Carter in a corset with nothing underneath, noooooooooo!

  11. Uinuvien

    Your snark just made me wonder if wearing tank top/camisole under bras would make them more comfortable. To be frank, I have quite big chest and there isn’t bras in existence that would be comfortable to me, they ALWAYS dig in and chafe and urgh! So I tried, and tank top under really do make them more comfortable! And I could believe there wouldn’t be need to wash bras as often, so win-win.
    And now I’m wondering why this hadn’t occurred to me sooner…

  12. The Author

    I routinely wear stays at work (18th century, Diederot-pattern, custom-made by an Etsy vendor who does reproduction undergarments) and I can run, breathe, bend (for certain values of the word), chop wood, finish dressing myself, etc. in them, basically everything except slouch the way I do in modern clothes. I’ve worn late-19th century as well, for fun. I always wondered about actresses bitching about how uncomfortable and awful corsets are….maybe if you tried putting a goddam chemise on under it it wouldn’t hurt so much?!? Just a thought? When I started wearing out my set (they weren’t really meant to be worn to real-life extremes, plus of course in the 1770s they wouldn’t have had steel) and getting poked, it would have hurt a LOT more if it was over bare skin!

  13. Rayn

    Thanks for the article, very informative!

    I have 1 question though. When off-shoulder dress became a thing in the 19th century, did they also had off-shoulder chemise to go along with it or they just wore the corset directly against the skin for that particular occasion where they wore the off-shoulder dress? Thanks in advance for any answer!

      • Rayn

        Could you please share some photos please?

        I tried to search by Google Image but the most “off” shoulder chemises I found are still somewhere around the shoulder, which are unlikely to fit in some of the off-the-shoulder dresses that could be found in some the pictures of that period.

  14. cocaine

    I guess you can now add Dakota Fanning in The Alienist to your list.

    and the effect to the skin is mentioned:

    “The actress says the first thing she noticed about the character is that she needed help to get in and out of her clothes. In fact, Fanning had to be laced into a corset every day during shooting, and there is a scene in “The Alienist” that shows the indentations into the skin that the undergarment makes.”


    To be fair the clothes she wore outside of that corset (the green dress in the picture in the link above) looks like it would not have chemise fit into it.

    So my question, is that dress period correct or not? because it seems a little bit too modern to me.

    if the dress is period correct, how did women in that period who wore such dress fit their chemise into it?

    • cocaine

      never mind, Just found out that this site already has an article which talk about the show! didn’t notice it at first as it has been bumped from the first page when I initially tried to search for it. anyway thanks!

      • Trystan L. Bass

        Yep, we got into The Alienist! And chemises are very thin — fine linen or cotton — worn between a corset & your skin, they take up no space at all. Heck, I’ve even substituted a modern cotton tank top from Old Navy when my historical smocks were in the wash.

        • cocaine

          Thanks for the reply Trystan!

          I think you misunderstood my query. I was not asking about the thickness of the chemise but the about the coverage area. The dress in the photo in the link is with spaghetti strap that’s why I asked whether that’s really what people wore in the 19th century…

          If the dress is accurate to the period – I doubt it is – then my question is how would a chemise fit into a dress like that since there is not way a chemise would not be visible if wore with dress like that.

          In a way my question is similar to the one asked by Rayn in the comment before mine about whether there was any off-the-shoulder chemise to wear with off-the-shoulder dress. However whereas off-the shoulder-chemise (if there was one) could be covered by off-the-shoulder dress, I don’t think there is any shape of chemise that could hide itself under a dress with spaghetti strap. Hence why I think the dress is not accurate to the period.

          • Trystan L. Bass

            Combination of both — as Kendra noted, off-shoulder chemises did exist. Also, gowns would have more of a sleeve than a spaghetti strap bec. that bare of a shoulder wasn’t done at the time. A little bit more would be covered, & that’s all you need to make it work.

  15. Joanna

    Its funny used to wear corsets a lot in various ways and personally found them more uncomfortable with clothing under be that chemise or vest top etc as once you reduce by more than a couple of inches that spare cloth around the waist bunches up and causes sore spots of pressure whereas direct to the skin the pressure is evenly distributed so that doesnt happen..Thats just my personal experience of tightlacing type corsets however and since historically the period when corsets were actually designed to cause any level of waist reduction is tiny that discomfort isnt likely to be a problem.
    My biggest peeve is the obsession with showing ladies being ‘pulled tightly into their corsets’ by their maids as its inaccurate on so many levels.
    Its used in all sorts of era films yet the period of corsetry where a tiny waist was desired was a relatively small one. Corsets were used for varying body alterations but the need to be tightly laced for that tiny waist doesnt apply to most time periods so just doesnt make sense as a scene
    But just as importantly corsets need to be slowly ‘worn in’ over a few weeks and each time they are worn so pulling and fastening tightly (especially on their first wearing) would damage the corset whereas in reality corsets need to be warmed to the body to be tightened so put on and loosely tightened then once comfortable they can be tightened further but trying to do so in the cliche of the maid forcing the waist tiny in one go just isnt accurate.
    Also after only a small amount of practice it is perfectly possible to lace yourself into your corset and get the comfort far better than anyone else ever could yet we never see women dressing themselves in corsets only ever rich women being forced into tinier waists as some sort of fetishised yet feminist statement that all historical films seem to have.

  16. Mercedes Benz

    Oklahoma, made in the 1950’s and set fifty years earlier, gets the corset over chemise right. And Seven brides for seven brothers, as well.


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