Do you ever wonder how those large hoop skirts stayed in place during the Civil War era? Or, how the 1920s women managed to look like the little boys that Coco Chanel dictated? Well, fortunately, the Otterbein Historic Costume Collection has a large selection of such underpinnings and has paired them with the dresses and suits, which were worn over them, in a new exhibition called "Ladies Unmentionables" in Otterbein's Fisher Gallery in Roush Hall (27 S. Grove St., Westerville, Oh.).
In the late 1930s, a costume historian, Agnes Brooks Young, came up with a theory which she called “The Recurring Cycles of Fashion”. She believed that women’s fashionable silhouettes changed over time from a tubular look (early 1800s--think Jane Austen) to a bell shape (1860s) to a back fashion or bustle appearance (1870s to 1900s). You can see this in Otterbein's group of costumes: the 1860s dress with its caged crinoline, the 1880s bustle gown and the 1900s blue satin. In the 1910s the tubular look begins, continuing through the 1920s, the 1930s and into the early 1940s.
Just as World War II started, fashionable dress was beginning to emphasize the full, uplifted bust line, tiny waist and full skirts with petticoats under them. Change stopped, however, until about 1947 when Dior came out with the same bell silhouette. All during the 1950s and into the early 1960s, women (and young girls) wore circle skirts and emphasized their feminine appearance.
Then suddenly the Beatles came to town along with Mary Quant and Twiggy. The baby boomers adopted the tubular, little boy look, once again with miniskirts, shapeless waists and pantyhose. To continue that look in the 1970s, their mothers adopted pant suits as they took on full-time jobs in the work world. We have been living with this tubular silhouette ever since.
The so-called recurring cycle lasted for two centuries, but today ladies may do as they choose, no longer dictated by “high fashion.” Women needn’t put on cages or large petticoats, heavy boned corsets or uplift bras to try to be “in fashion.” They can be themselves.
"Ladies Unmentionables" is on display on the second floor of Otterbein's Fisher Gallery in Roush Hall. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily. For information, call 614-823-1792.