Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Podcasting History. . . Mine!

Betina here. I made history this week. I participated in my first-ever podcast. Yeah, little old me. Lest I leave you with misapprehensions. . . it was basically a phone call with my editor where I was interviewed and which will be edited (heavily, I hope). But she asked a very interesting question that I've been thinking about ever since: What is it about historicals that makes them so sexy?

I think every good historical has an element of "time travel" about it. It transports us back in time to another era and another culture. . . lets us partake of their joys and frustrations and stimulations and limitations. . . without ever leaving the couch. Who hasn't wished to be able to see what life was like in Loui XIV's court at Versailles? Who hasn't wished to see Marie Antoinette's garden parties or Caeser's Rome in its glory or Cleopatra's palaces and her barge on the Nile? Not to mention Julius and Cleo themselves!

But the sexy part. . . ummm. . . that's a different focus altogether. My take on it is that part of the allure of the olden days has to do with the repression and rules of societies. . . which were enforced mostly on women. Women couldn't chat, be alone with, or even look too long in a man's direction without drawing censure. As late as Victorian days, women in Britain risked their reputations if they walked down the street with a man who was not a family member -- which is basically the same restriction placed on women in fundamentalist Muslim societies today! There were rules for dancing and introducing and walking and touching and speaking and looking at men. Of course, sensible women learned to parse through the bullcrap and lead decent, largely productive lives in spite of such restrictions, but there was always that cloud of "public opinion" hanging over their heads.

There was also a true power differential between men and women. . . and whenever there is a disparity in power, somebody will use and perhaps abuse that power. Women depended on men, were forced to look to men to see to their welfare, sometimes seduced men to equalize the power and pursue their own ends. Sex-determined power differentials are a gold-mine for writers looking for a good basis for conflict! Plus, they make us want to imagine ourselves in the roles of heroines who are beset and beleaguered, but persevere and come out on top. Literally! ::wink, wink::

And thirdly, but not least. . . there are the clothes. Long swishing silk skirts and lush velvets. Laces and hats and bonnets. The sexual allure of corsets and garters and bared bosoms meant to entice. And there were accessories to die for. . . fans, reticules, gloves, kerchiefs, muffs, furs, pearls. . . shoes. . . silk slippers, embroidered stockings, and veils mean to to pique a gentleman's interest. I myself have written more than a few scenes involving the peeling of layers of lady garmets. And even one scene where a heroine refused to get dressed. . . striking a bargain with her bridegroom that she would don one piece of clothing for every one he took off! Do you even have to guess how that scene ended?

Of course, when we write historical romances, we almost always write from the stand point of the privileged of the day. Who would want to read a book about a tavern maid who met a reasonably good looking, reasonably sober sailor, married him, and had 7 ordinary kids? But put that tavern girl in a nobleman's knowledgable and generous hands. . . give her access to some frothy petticoats, a good corset, and a maid who's handy with a brush. . . and there's a grand romance in the offing!
So there you have it. . . what makes a historical sexy to me. Which is probably why I'll continue to write them. I just love time traveling through the ages from the safety and conveninece of my imagination!

What about you? What era would you visit if you have a chance? And why?

Hey let's take a survey-- anybody ever worn a real corset-- for fun or for the real "staying" power of it? In my youth they used to call them "merry widows". . . I wore one for my sister's wedding!! I looked exactly like this in it:
Haven't worn one since, but I could sure see the stimulation value in donning such a garment. And they sure sell alot of them in the department store lingere departments!! Somebody out there has to own one. C'mon. . . fess up. Do you like wearing one and why?


Candace said...

Okay, Betina, I'll confess. I have one. It's made mostly of black lace and instead of hooking up the back it zips up the front. I orginally bought it to provide the underpinnings for a strapless gown I wore to a black-and-white charity ball. I have more often worn it, though, as a top on its own, with jeans and a black velvet jacket.

And, yes, I do like wearing it. It's quite comfortable, it holds everything in and provides a nice smooth line while accentuating all the ins and outs of the female shape, and there's no danger of any "fall out." Plus, it makes my husband drool.

It's not so much the scantiness of it because, actually, it's not that scanty compared to a lot of fashion these days -- it's more the naughtiness of the underwear as outerwear aspect.

As to time travel, well, if I were to go back in time for a visit, I think it would be to the Gibson Girl era. Women were beginning to gain quite a few of the freedoms we now take for granted -- and I would have looked really good in the clothes of that era!

Sandra D. Coburn said...

It would be hard to choose one era in time I would like to visit -- there are so many interesting things to discover. But when it comes to clothes, I really like the 1940s and early 1950s. The clothes then were sexy and feminine and fun without being terribly restrictive -- or should I say constrictive? I would love to own Rosemary Clooney's wardrobe in White Christmas. Sigh.

(Oh, and yes on the Merry Widow -- black lace. It has a way of putting everything in just the right place.)

Michele Hauf said...

Oh, Betina, you look so pretty in that corset!

I did get to try one on years ago when our local chapter, MFW, had a Victorian fashion expert in. I was volunteered to try on the clothes. It was fascinating that I could put on the corset and lace it up myself. The strings are made long so a person can do that, though usually they had their maids do it.

As for what era I'd visit, it would be mid 18th-century. Love the fashion!

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- I had Merry Widows in a several colors when I was younger. My mother was a big fan of these for under evening gowns so that was naturally what she insisted we get when we were old enough to begin wearing strapless gowns.

I'm not sure I want to go back in time unless I get to choose my social class! That whole women's rights thing was brutal, too!

Genella deGrey said...

Fun post, Betina!!

I've done my share of historical reenactments. ;)

The trick is to find someone schooled in REAL corsetry. Once you are laced into a corset made specifically to your measurements, you wonder why we ditched them in the first place.

I'm not kidding here. They keep your tummy in, hoist the 'sisters' into a swell view (lol) and keep your back from slouching. You feel so utterly feminine - your whole attitude changes.

Now I'll admit, a formal evening corset is quite confining - There isn't much you can do in one but dance however, there were such things as work corsets for the household staff that were not so restraining. You'd be amazed at what I've been able to accomplish in a Victorian corset or an Elizabethan bodice.

I'd recommend my tailors, but they no longer take new clients.

I love most eras of history - which is why when I write, I'm all over the place, time-period wise.


Helen Brenna said...

I have one of these Merry Widows too. It's black and emerald green and I wore it so long ago I'm sure it'll no longer fit. Sexy as heck, though. You make me want to check out the new ones. Candace's outfit suggestion does sound fun!

As for going back in time. Not sure I'd want to unless I got to be a man! lol

Debra Dixon said...

Genella-- I saw a show on modern corset making on History or Discovery or something. Or it might have just been a documentary on underwear. Can't remember. Anyway... Quite an art to get right. Especially those corsets intended for a dramatic purpose or sensual purpose. Those folks who wanted to get serious had to train their bodies to except the ultra-tight lacing and learn how to sit, bend, breath etc while wearing it. Quite fascinating.

ForestJane said...

Sorry, but I'm not a fan of historicals, mainly because of what they always leave OUT. When I think of the Victorian days, I tend to think more of the lack of flush toilets, baths once a week (or less in the winter) and no electricity. In the winter, breaking the ice in your pitcher to pour the water in your washbasin. In the summer, no air conditioning or screened windows either. Because of no screens, plague. Pestilence. No antibiotics. High infant mortality.

Nope, despite sexy underwear, I'm glad I live now. :)

catslady said...

I tried some on when my daughter got married last year. I felt like I was in a vice lol. It was okay standing but not sitting. I opted for a strapless bra and being comfortable lol.

I like reading about any historical times but actually being there - probably not!

Betina Krahn said...

Whoa, Candace! I never thought ow wearing a merry widow on the outside! You are one daring minx! And yes, the hubs do get a little exercised when they see the things.

Sandra. . . everything in the right place. . . isn't that what we all truly want? Was it Mae West who said: "I've got everything a man could want. . . and in all the right places."

Thanks Michele-- you perceptive wench, you. It's been a while since I had that puppy on. I confess, I love the fashions of 18th century France, too.

Deb, my mom was big on merry widows, too. She thought they were chic. But I can't help thinking that the mom-in-ators probably thought they would be as hard to get out of as they were to get into. (ahem.)

Genella, you're so right on the benefits of lacing up! You do feel trim and feminine and somehow "fortified." But the cinching meant to bring a girl's waist to 20 inches or less was downright cruel. Work corsets-- now there's a concept. I had a hero bound into a corset once and forced to do ordinary household work so he could experience what women went through. Got a lot of reader response, I can tell you!

Helen green and black-- yeow-- sounds perfect for St. Paddy's day! Get it out and try it on, girl! You might get inspired!

Forest Jane, this is why we write romances. We get to focus on the fun stuff and leave out the other. I can justify that because I know that in the "olden days" people's sensibilities were different from ours and they managed to be romantic. . . at least once in a while.

Well, I admit, Catslady, that I wouldn't want to be transported to any previous era. . . except for a brief time of exploration. The odors probably wouldn't bother me. . . my sense of smell bit the dust years ago. But I think the grime and dirt might give me pause. That and I do love my Cottonelle!

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

Never worn one, but this comes from a girl who grew up in a religious venue that rivaled Islam. We joked that we didn't believe in premarital sex because it led to ... dancing. Gasp.