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

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  497 ratings  ·  74 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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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: historic, non-fiction, 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 occasionally 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' ...more
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?!
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: “
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!
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
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
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
Lil's Vintage World
3.5 stars
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 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
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Fashionistas Through the Centuries

I purchased this book because I could not resist the title. I am also interested in changes in fashion over the years. I tend to read a lot of novels set in the 17, 18, and early 1900’s, so it is nice to have a better understanding of clothing references. Especially complicated undergarments. There are a lot of pictures, many from the author’s private collection, to illustrate the fashions.

The book begins with the Romans and moves through the years, ending in ab
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This book made me thing of the blog Man Repeller frequently. Ladies, rest assured that no matter what you wear, some man out there will bitch about it. For example, in the Georgian period, women wore a ton of clothing and men complained about how you couldn't tell what a woman looked like underneath all that crap. Then the Regency came and women wore a whole lot less clothing, and men complained that women were indecent and were all probably going to die of pneumonia. So we get back to Victorian ...more
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a light read, but was also plenty of history to keep it from being just fluff. Really enjoyed the depth the author went into for each of the time periods, and that she came fairly close to modern times, basically stopping in the 60s. While I was familiar with most of the terms and items she referenced, the plentiful images were a very welcome addition.

My only (very slight) gripe is that the author was inconsistent at places with inserting her opinion. At times the voice was very factua
Joi Lin
Feb 04, 2018 rated it liked it
OK, but not great. There were a few illustrations, and I found them very helpful, but I think it would have benefited from having even more. Explaining the process of dressing in 14 lbs and 7-plus layers of underclothes when the reader is learning the vocabulary for the first time can be confusing and difficult to imagine without some kind of diagram or chart to help illustrate it. And although I appreciated the recipes for dyes, etc., for both fabrics and hair, I would have liked the author to ...more
Libby Beyreis
This was a disappointing book. The good review I'd seen (I think it was in the New York Times?) didn't prepare me for the fact that this book desperately needed a proofreader. It was filled with spelling errors, unattributed quotes, and illustrations that made no mention of their source (which in some cases was obviously modern recreations of questionable accuracy). As far as content, there were definitely some amusing and interesting stories, but some of them felt like modern fabrications, and ...more
Rebecca Spencer
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
This book provides a brief (and extremely selective) historical review of the stranger (as well as outrageous, ridiculous and hazardous) fashions of European (mostly British) clothing (mostly women's) from Roman times to post WW2 era. The book is short, entertaining, amusingly written, with illustrations, but does have a few errors. The book also lacks a cohesive narrative, left our some of the more outrageous European (and "rest of the world") fashions and could have done with better diagrams t ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So many laughs!

I had the best time, except I wasn't that interested in the info about wigs. I've thad to often read very firmly alone and with my phone far away as I haven't been able to shut up about the silly things I've read. And now I can talk to my history friend for a few minutea longer because I have more anchor points for conversations. I should also add I haven't read another fashion history book yet, but I have been listening to Dressed (a podcast) and looking up more things on youtube
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fast, funny read.

I agree with a few others who said this book should indicate it focuses specifically on English fashions -- I kept expecting to run across American fashions and was surprised not to. I would have liked a few more pictures, to better understand the garments referenced, but it's a funny resource that contains a lot of little snarky tidbits from newspapers past about the fashion practices of females.

One has to wonder why humanity dresses, squeezes, quaffs, and powders oneself into
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun overview of fashion history, starting with the Romans and moving forward to present day. Fashion history is rather an extensive topic, and the author does not attempt to cover everything. Instead she sticks to broad outlines of fashion in particular eras, sometimes focusing on specific garments or fashion trend. While the author discusses both fashion for men and women, she frequently focuses on female fashion (which is fine - after the Regency era male fashion got rather boring). She also f ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Good section on face patches, but did not go into as much depth as I like. They pointed up all the downsides of corsets and all kinds of corset hysteria, but didn't present much positive information about them (and yes, there are good reasons to to wear corsets such as back support, or in past eras, supporting oversized breasts) nor did they give more than a tiny mention of male corseting.

I thought also bras should have been discussed at length--how they developed from Roman breast bands to bul
This is an extremely high-level view of changing fashions over centuries. Since so much time is compressed into the book, the author made the choice to only showcase the most extreme versions of these trends.

The part that I liked best were the quotes from contemporary writers, many of whom DID NOT APPROVE OF the things people were doing. Change some of the nouns and update the syntax a bit and you could take the same sentiment and apply it to MC Hammer pants, blue jeans where the waist is under
Kay Hudson
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: e-books, non-fiction
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.
Brittany Sodic
This is one of the more poorly written books I've read in a long while. I have a hard time believing the author had any kind of professional editor look at this. Simple things, such as the effective use of commas in many instances, make for confusing sentences. The entire narrative suffers for it, as I have to mentally edit as I read. Syntactically and grammatically, this book lacks the basis for any good story telling to shine through.
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“There were no gender assigned medieval colours, no pink for feminine or blue for masculine. It was in fact the reverse. Blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and conveyed gentleness. It was considered a weak colour in comparison to pink as pink came from red and red was the embodiment of power, passion, wealth and blood. White stood for purity, but was not worn by brides – whatever their station, people were simply married in the very best clothing they owned.” 0 likes
“Beauty patches were first used to cover pox marks then were gradually adopted purely for adornment. (Author’s collection)” 0 likes
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