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Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  774 ratings  ·  115 reviews
Have you ever wondered why we wear the type of clothes we do? Packed with outlandish outfits, this exciting history of fashion trends reveals the flamboyant fashions adopted (and discarded) by our ancestors.
In the days before cosmetic surgery, people used bum rolls and bombastic breeches to augment their figures, painted their faces with poisonous concoctions, and doused t
Kindle Edition, 176 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Skyhorse Publishing (first published 2016)
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karen, darling, how can we take you seriously as a scholar of Regency fashion if you can't spell Jane Austen's name correctly? And then your illustrations vary between legitimate artifacts from the period under discussion to later Victorian imaginings. This is an amusing hodge-podge of a book with some delightful anecdotes and information, but it's not a rigorous history. Also, I hate coated-paper books.
They're stiff and unpleasant in the hand.
I'm going to start out by saying that this is not really a bad book. It's pretty mediocre, but it's not terrible. Corsets and Codpieces is an overview of historical fashions and clothes, and fashion history is one of my interests, particularly as how it ties into cultures and customs of the time as well. There is a little bit of that here, but it's largely just a costume history, with no attempt to tie it into any larger trends. It's also very narrowly focused on British fashion, with no indicat ...more
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, historic, ku
This is an informative and just amazing book. I am not a fashionista (surprise) nor am I a student of fashion excluding periods of history I have some interest in. This book deals almost only with British fashion from pre roman until 1960s

My largest take away was about legislation and clothing. I thought only kooky American government officials wanted to legislate clothing but it is a tradition going back to the earliest times. Which makes you realize that government has been excessively intrusi
Literary Chic
A quick review of fashion, particularly female fashion, through the ages. Cute, interesting, but some obvious errors. (It could be an error in formatting, but any researcher/editor should know that it's Jane AustEn not AustIn.) An engaging read none the less.

Basically, the Wonderbra and Spanx are offenders in a long line of items meant to enhance the female form. One of my favorite portions of the book was a quote from a Parliamentary bill from 1690 that made it a crime equal to witchcraft to s
Rob Atkinson
I read this after a laudatory Sunday New York Times Book Review piece which ran in December 2016; frankly, I can't fathom why the review was so uncritical. While "Corsets & Codpieces" is entertaining for the most part, the book is often sloppily written and was very poorly edited. Spelling errors are common (even misspelling famous names -- Sir Thomas More rendered as 'Moore' and Jane Austen as 'Austin'!) and errors in punctuation, grammar etc. are frequent enough to detract from one's reading p ...more
Exceptional! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves studying history and reading historical fiction. This book is jam-packed with interesting information on fashion over the centuries. It makes me that much more grateful for my yoga pants.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fashion in different eras has always fascinated me, and whenever I read a novel or biography set in a particular time period, I always look up fashions of the era so I can accurately picture the people in the book. I was therefore intrigued and curious to read this book and learn some more details about fashions from the time of the Romans until now.

There were some grammar and spelling errors that should have been caught by an editor. I'm no grammar nazi, so if I noticed it, it's pretty egregio
Giselle Bradley
This was the perfect book at the perfect time for me! I was so in the mood and I completely inhaled it. Why were people in the past so absurd?!
Sophie Turner
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The info is generally good but this would definitely have benefited from more editing and a more careful structure. There were a fair amount of redundancies and repetitions.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Very dense and not informative enough to warrant it. It reads like a bad research paper - one that wasn’t quite long enough and that the student had to add a lot of unnecessary words to in order to meet a page minimum. The errors make it hard to take seriously and it’s not entertaining enough to be a strictly fun read. She seems very unreliable for a lot of little reasons. She tries to use “olde” English speak but mostly sounds silly. Also definitely not unbiased.
Awkward phrasing. Amateurish. U
Noah Goats
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Living in the 21st century may have it’s drawbacks, but at least I don’t have to wear a powdered wig. The history of fashion is the history of people choosing to wear monstrously uncomfortable getups just to look stylish. Woman is born free, but is everywhere wearing hoop skirts and corsets. This is the story of emancipation (particularly for women) from restricting fashions.

In Corsets and Codpieces Karen Bowman goes over the history of clothing with a focus on the stranger items. For example: “
Amber Spencer
3.5. This was such a funny book about fashions and the reasons behind them. Most of the reasoning was hilarious and I laughed out loud.
Kris - My Novelesque Life

(Review Not on Blog)

This is a cool book that looks at the social history of fashion. More to the point, fashion that can sometimes be dangerous! There was an example of some girdles that not only give you an hourglass shape, but also move your internal organs. I did not read every section of the book as it was more of a reference book. I do recommend to anyone interested in social history or fashion or both!
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. A fascinating and informative study of British fashion. Some of the trends were ridiculous or even grotesque, also very unhealthy and even deadly on occasion. The book was lavishly illustrated with antique drawings of the clothing of different eras, and also photos to show some actual clothing. I wished for even more pictures as was finding the description of various costumes and accessories hard to visualize. There were also information on cosmetics, wigs, etiquette and negative reac ...more
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
Probably a 3.5 star-read really. I really enjoyed the look at fashion through the ages, though this is by no means an exhaustive book on the subject. There are a lot of great details and anecdotes, plus social commentary of the times in which certain pieces were at their height of popularity. I found it interesting to learn which articles of clothing and/or accessories were quite dangerous, that I had never given much thought to before in that frame of mind. As always, the corset is the devil an ...more
An interesting, quick read that hits the highlights of fashion history in primarily the UK and Europe (with a bit of the US thrown in). Medieval headdresses, codpieces, doublets, farthingales, corsets, hoops, bustles, and short skirts, all the crazy things we put on our bodies to achieve specific silhouettes, stopping in the 1960s. I did drop it a full star to 3 because the author somehow neglected to cover the development of the brassiere (also the bust minimizers of the 1920s), which is kind o ...more
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this for the fun read it was. There was a tad too much “gossip” in it for me to take it too seriously, but really... how often do we associate crinoline with death?

I don’t know if this is serious fashion history, but it was more pleasantly presented than most books on the topic I’ve read. It covers not only women’s fashion but men’s fashion, and the whole section about the development of men’s trousers and men actually bathing was amusing.

Further, I knew about the stocking shortage dur
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun overview on the changing of fashions in the west from the middle ages to the 20th century. The book is interspersed with illustrated examples of the fashion, though I wouldn't mind more illustrations. The main thing I take from this book is how men and especially the clergy seem to disapprove of how ladies dress themselves all through the ages and no matter the fashion.
Heather Manley
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Obviously the author of this book has a vary strong and negative opinion on how dress was in the past. I honestly got very tired of the extreme negativity of the book. And basically had to force myself to finish it. Ended up rolling my eyes many times.
Cate (support local bookstores!) M.
Not bad! A fun little jaunt through royal courts and their odd fashions borne mostly out of unclean habits (no baths for anyone!). But I do think the subtitle should reflect that this is a social history of Western European fashion. Even Graeco-Roman times are only mentioned briefly.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, style, 2019
Good fun! It would be a good intro fashion history book for someone wanting to get started but not start with potentially stiffer academic reads.
Sarah Bryson
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a lover of history I have long read about men and women’s clothing throughout the ages, yet it has always been as a side note to the situations or events happening at the time. However a person’s clothing, the style of their hair, even the amount of hair upon their bodies or the materials that their clothing was made from can convey a wealth of information about a person. Luckily Karen Bowman has written a book dedicated to the appearance of both men and women throughout the centuries. This d ...more
Lil's Vintage World
3.5 stars
M.A. Nichols
Nov 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'd say this was an entertaining read. While I am skeptical about how historically accurate all the information is, it's an entertaining overview of British fashion.

The writing was engaging, and I enjoyed reading it. I was looking for more detailed information about European fashions, but this still managed to be interesting. It really only features a couple fashions from each historical era in Britain, and then examines the extremes of it. While it doesn't explain the ins and outs of the clothi
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice read that takes you through the evolution of European fashion. I did skip around to eras that I was more interested in but overall a nice read.
Rebecca Spencer
Nov 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: could-not-finish
I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't even finish it. I don't know if it is poor writing, editing, or both.

Information is frequently repeated, sometimes within just a page or two. The author seems to have spent all of her time reading critical descriptions of fashion. The illustrations from cartoons and drawings from later centuries far outweigh those of contemporary fashion plates or paintings, giving the impression that the exaggerated descriptions are accurate. The author constan
Rhetta Akamatsu
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I struggled with whether to give this book 3 stars or 4. I settled on 4 because it was entertaining and I learned quite a lot. However, there were some flaws. My main complaint is that it ended too abruptly, going into great detail until around 1950 and then just skimming through the last 60 years or so. There was so much that could have been said about those decades! I felt as though the author just got tired of the subject and dropped it. Nevertheless, it was a book worth reading.
Kay Hudson
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, e-books
Entertaining, but spotty. The book does concentrate on the loonier fashion trends through history (corsets, bustles, hoop skirts, etc.), mainly from the British point of view. Certainly enough to make any woman appreciate casual and comfortable modern clothing. Fair number of illustrations (many in color), although not as many as I would have liked, particularly in the earlier sections. With an index and a fairly extensive bibliography, which might be useful for historical research.
A rather amusing look at fashion in Britain from the times when the Roman invasion - who thought the wearing of braise/trousers was not only a sign of an unclean heathen but femininity since British women wore trousers also - to the mini, midi and maxi skirts.

There is the preference of beards and long hair on men verses clean shaven which changed back and forth numerous times. Knitting and weaving. Spanish vertigales with the supports threaded through outside horizontal seams which eventually le
Elisabeth Young
Sep 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a short sighted (at best) commentary on primarily women's fashion. It's honestly ridiculous that so little thought would go into a book whose entire production is based on extreme western fashions of the past. The social analysis is nonexistent and at a point malicious. I am critical of the scholarship, as others have stated, but in one anecdote, the author snarkily addresses a mother who had the sense to alter her daughters crinolines with a flame resistant fabric instead of the customa ...more
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