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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For The Sake Of Fashion

In May, 2013 I did something I'd wanted to do for a decade. Can't really explain why except that it was as close to a  personal fashion statement as I'm ever going to make and I really wanted it. To the two piercings I have in each ear, I added one more; a stud in the upper cartilage of my right ear. When I had it done it didn't feel like much more than a sting but I knew that would change and also knew that the little stud up there would be worth the ache in the ear.

assortment of body piercing jewelry - not mine!

Fourteen months later it still hurts. "Expect it to be sensitive for about a year", the ear piercer had told me.  The man knew what he was talking about.

So, a few days ago when I clunked my hairbrush against the stud and winced from the zing it caused, I said aloud, "Stop whining. It's the price you've paid for fashion." And that brought to mind a phrase I've read dozens of times in historical romance novels: All the stare of fashion. And that got me to thinking about the curious terms and phrases that are commonplace in historical romances.

I know, rather circuitous thought pattern, but there it is. Happens all the time.

Long before I wrote a historical romance I was reading them and keeping lists of terms and phrases that I liked, such as: a woman grown; beyond the pale; cock-ups; diamond of the first water; has no town bronze; making a cake/hash of a situation or oneself; repair to the kitchens/country/drawing room/water closet, foxed, whey-faced.

In the Regency period, the era I write in, what one wears to a ball, musicale, horse race, picnic or to just lie-about, is an integral part of the story's setting. And there are many terms and phrases associated with fashion. Besides "All the stare of fashion" a lady's attire might be au courant (Fr., in the current), all the thing, or de rigueur (Fr., proper) or comme il faut (conforming to accepted standards/proper). A stunning ensemble might put everyone else "in the shade" or be oohed and aahed over as the "fashion plate" of the season.
Madam Hanska
To someone wearing an ensemble that was considered unfavorable it could be said that he/she "isn't showing to her/his best advantage." Such a polite put down!

Men's fashions were remarked upon as well. A man could look "point-device" (meticulous) in his superbly made charcoal-gray superfine, or "nobby" in his hacking clothes and two-toned top boots and curly brimmed beaver. 

Dashing, au courant couples

16thc iron corset

In historical romances, regardless the century or setting, the fashions of that time and place present a variety of discomforts. Take the corset for instance – PLEASE! Take it and fling it into the Thames. Painful, breath-reducing structures designed to make one appear abnormally narrow at the waist. Whether made of iron, leather, or boned or simply laced, each seem to be spectacularly inconvenient and uncomfortable garments. All in the name of fashion. And not just for women. Men who wanted to appear slimmer endured these also.

wire cage 1880

Having to tolerate all-in-the-name-of-fashion discomforts from neck to waist,  women in the Regency period could at least treat their feet to something comfy. Kid leather half-boots and silk slippers, small compensations for all the other fashion vexations. Men had Hessians or top boots for day wear and slippers or shoes with silly little buckles for formal evening wear.

I haven't researched the history of footwear so don't know when we went from soles that have an intimate acquaintance with terra firma to heels so high they put your head in the heavens.

And pointy toed "winklepickers." Male and female British rock n'rollers have been wearing these for years. They look like substitutes for ice-picks, capable of housing GPS systems. Very skinny GPS systems. Brutally painful looking to someone like me who wears only sandals, flip flops, flat heeled clogs and running shoes.
For Men
 For Women

 An equal contender to shoes and purses as accessories are earrings, perhaps the most universally popular accessory of all.

The Bard

Queen Victoria
Barbara's ruby dangles

 South Sudanese

These gentlemen make me, with my itty bitty stud, look like a little girl playing dress-up. I wonder how long it took before their ears stopped hurting...

What about you? Any nod to uncomfortable fashions? Favorite pair of shoes, earrings or....?

Polly McCrillis, who also writes historical romances as Isabel Mere, likes the contrasts of writing about the here and now or slipping back to other eras and different countries. She owns and operates a secondhand bookshop in southwest Missouri, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, parakeet, goldfish and a very chunky kitty.

Anticipating the fifth book in her historical Almost series to be released this summer and the third in her contemporary romance suspense series, Games People Play in late fall, you can visit Polly at And check out her blog, a new post every Tuesday, at


Rose Anderson said...

Terrific post, Polly. I'm not a slave to fashion, never have been. I do have single piercings in my earlobes. My cousin did that with a needle when I was 13. I'm a sucker for socks though. I love fancy socks in crazy patterns. I call them Happy Socks because they make me smile. :)

Tina Donahue said...

Wow, the iron corset looks like a torture device. I'm totally into comfort - just like a guy. If it hurts, I don't do it. Great post! :)

Polly McCrillis said...

Happy Socks!! Love them too. I have a dresser drawer dedicated to them, organized by color and holiday season. Can never have too many socks, I say!

Polly McCrillis said...

Comfort is where it's at, Tina, I agree. A bra is as close as I get to discomfort. If I could get away with not wearing one, I would!

Sandy said...

Very informative post, Polly. I'm all for comfort these days. When I was young I wore three inch heels, but not ever again.

Polly McCrillis said...

Sandy, I tried 3" heels once. Even tried walking in them:-)Looked like a toddler taking her first steps!

jean hart stewart said...

Love crazy socks and low heeled shoes. Good thing they are fashionable now. I'm writing a Regency now and always get a kick out of the language used,

Tess said...

The only thing I'm willing to do for the sake of fashion is carry a gorgeous purse that is three sizes too big! It may hurt my shoulder but it is well worth it, and I always have room for a book in there!

vicki batman said...

My nod to fashion is handbags. My feet are narrow and shoes are hard to find. I have lots of bracelets, too. Have pierced ears and rarely put an earring in. Give me a t-shirt and am happy.

Polly McCrillis said...

Hard to add Happy Socks to a Regency, Jean. Best you can do is give the ladies some decadent silk stockings.

Polly McCrillis said...

Tess, I thought carrying books is the purpose of giant purses. No?!

Polly McCrillis said...

Vicki, I like bracelets too. Don't have many but I really like the ones I have. Great thing about them is that they never go our of style. Not that I care about that, just saying.....

Cara Marsi said...

Interesting post, Polly. I really enjoyed the pictures and the fashion history. I guess people have always suffered for fashion. I used to wear high, high heels. Can't walk in them anymore. I have two piercings in one ear and three in the other. The third one is on the lobe so wasn't too painful. I once got a piercing on my ear cartilage. My ear got red, swelled up and hurt like heck that after a week, I couldn't take it anymore and took out the earring. Glad yours worked out for you.

Melissa Keir said...

I got my cartilage pierced many years ago. They didn't hurt for too long but then I kept the same earrings in them. Finally when I changed them, then I had problems. My posts would dig into my head at night, so I gave up with the earrings. I'm all for comfort... so no corsets for me!

Hopefully your ear won't hurt as much soon. By the way, the next one you need is your belly button done! :)

Polly McCrillis said...

Cara, I have to remind myself that I wanted the silly earring way longer than I've had it. I'm determined to persevere!

Polly McCrillis said...

No belly button piercing for me, Melissa. Or tongue or eyebrow. It pains me to look at people with either of those. I'm just going to stick with holes in the ears.

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