LESLEY'S LIST: The Four Most Marvelous Things I'm Obsessed With This Week

I hope you guys like underwear history because I put a lot of underwear history into your list.
Publish date:
June 21, 2013
shoppables, history, british tv, chub rub, bloomers, manicure cheats


You guys know about Hips and Curves, right? Oh, no big deal, it’s just one of the most magnificent plus-size lingerie shops EVER.

I should caution you right now that I am not ordinarily a lady who gives much credence to traditionally sexy lingerie. I find it fussy and annoying myself, and even before I was a married person, nobody really seemed to give a crap about my underthings except insofar as how efficiently they could be removed. So if I wasn’t doing it for myself, and I certainly wasn’t doing it for anyone else, then why the hell would I bother?

I quit trying, and since then my underthings have reliably been seamless, comfortable, and usually black (except for when bright colors are marked down), and I can’t say I really regret those decisions.

Having said that, I also have a weird obsession with historical underthings. Yeah, I know, NOBODY IS SURPRISED. I spent a goodly portion of my second Master’s degree analyzing the cultural meaning and impact of historical unmentionables, specifically corsets, specifically from the mid 1800s through their eventual decline out of fashion after the first World War.

Point being, my interest in what people wore under their clothes a hundred years ago is not a new one. So when I decided I wanted to investigate bloomers as a summertime under-skirt option, this wasn’t exactly a surprise.

But hey, what are bloomers anyway? The word comes from Amelia Bloomer, a late 19th century advocate for women’s rights and dress reform. Bloomers, at the time, were big foofy voluminous pants to be worn under a shorter dress, enabling their wearers to, like, walk around and do stuff like men did, without the burden of heavy skirts. The term “Bloomers” was actually a mocking disparagement begun by the press of the era -- and an inaccurate one as well, since the ensemble was actually invented by Elizabeth Smith Miller.

This sounds kinda unimpressive on the surface, but that’s only because it’s difficult for us to appreciate how restrictive fashionable women’s costumes were at the time, at least for the middle and upper classes. Not only did women wear stiff corsets that could impair breathing and flexibility, on top of that they applied layers of underskirts and heavy dresses. Depending on the decade, sometimes these dresses featured sleeves so tight women could not raise or extend their arms. Such was the price of fashion.

The rational dress reform movement sought to end all that by advocating for more flexible corsets -- and later, the “liberty” or “emancipation” bodice, initially offerred as a less horrific option than corsetry for young girls (and young girls did wear corsets prior to this) which actually did catch on for women of all ages in time.

What we now consider “bloomers” -- that is, loose underpants often gathered at the thigh, or, in longer versions, the knee -- were not the same as the reformist outerwear of Amelia Bloomer and her ilk. These were fairly standard feminine undergarments, usually long, loose through the leg, joined at the waist but usually not joined at the crotch seam.

Basically, yeah, under all those skirts Victorian women were running around in crotchless pants. During the mid to late 1800s these shorter knee-banded versions were called “knickerbockers” -- this is where “knickers” comes from -- and when they fell out of style as undergarments around the turn of the century, a joined-crotch version would become popular as athletic wear.

I SWEAR I didn’t start this expecting to write you all a short history of women’s drawers, but there you go.

Anyway, WHAT HISTORY! Can you blame me for being into them? Modern bloomers tend to be thigh-short, and with elastic waists and bands, which are far more comfortable. They’re also a quirky method of chub-rub prevention under fuller skirts and dresses (so the bulk isn't a problem), for those who disdain bike shorts or protective creams for this sort of thing.

Hips and Curves carries them in a terrifically soft white cotton version, as well as a black nylon style. Etsy is also a good source of about a billion different styles, many of which are made to order.

“Mr Selfridge”

Tangentially related to bloomers, “Mr Selfridge” is a television series that aired earlier this year, a fictionalized account set at the opening of famed London department store Selfridges in 1908.

Jeremy Piven stars as Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American entrepreneur bringing his radical ideas about shopping across the pond -- radical ideas like that stuff should be OUT, for people to look at, and not hidden behind a counter. Also that perfume and beauty products should be sold together, on the ground floor.

When the prickly new head of fashion even goes so far as to suggest that one day, women will be able to walk into a store, see an outfit they like, and purchase it to take home right then, her colleagues look faint at the notion. BUT NOT HARRY SELFRIDGE. What a guy.

Part of what kept me from watching this when it originally aired (back in March for those of us who get PBS and in January for those in the UK) was the fact that the Selfridge family was American. And seriously, what am I watching British TV for if it’s only to watch a bunch of Americans? I can do that here just by stepping outside.

I’m a jerk, though, because it turns out this is a really excellent series. Piven does an extraordinarily job portraying Selfridge as a man irrepressibly cheerful to his employees and everyone around him, but who is also tortured by long-ago demons (not to mention some current bad behavior of his own).

I also adore Agnes Towler (played by Aisling Loftus), a shopgirl who comes to work in Mr. Selfridge’s store and proves to be that Mary-Sue like combination of willful and sensible and smart that shows up in pretty much every light historical drama. Not to mention the self-assured suffragist Lady Mae Loxley (played by Katherine Kelly) and Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), a music-hall performer with who becomes the store’s signature model (and also a bit of an entanglement).

Actually this series is RIFE with complicated and awesome women, and is also tangentially about the history of shopping, so obviously I am way into it. PLUS, there are lots of preposterous and elaborate hats.

Essence French Manicure Tip Guides

I saw somebody mention these Essence French Manicure Tip Guide stickers on Instagram a few weeks ago and was immediately interested. Not because I am into traditional french manicures. I’m not. Actually I find them inexplicable -- if I’m doing my nails I don’t want them to look like a weird trompe l’oeil of a fingernail. I want them to look DIFFERENT.

Apparently these things are popular, as on my first two trips to Ulta (the only store I know around here that carries the Essence brand, which is apparently made by a German company -- and according to their website, you can find them at Walgreens too, among other places) the tip guides were sold out. Finally, last weekend I found two lonely packages left and bought them both.

These are not stickers you decorate your nails with -- they’re temporarily applied during a manicure to give you a border between two colors. You put them on, paint your accent color, and then take them off.

My idea was to use them to do a quick and easy colorblock manicure -- one that doesn’t require much of a steady hand since most of the time I seem to find myself doing my nails at midnight in the dark. My patience for self-applied nail art is pretty much zero, so I had hoped these would work to make it simple enough that even I could do it.

Last night I gave it a go: I first applied two coats of Julep’s Sasha. Then I stuck the stickers on a few nails, and painted just the ends with Julep’s Tina. Took the guide stickers off and VOILA, it’s like magic.

A couple tips (HEH, TIPS): These things are sticky as hell. And when you stick them on, you want to press them down firmly so they do their job. Thus, you want to make absolutely certain that your bottom color is COMPLETELY DRY before putting them on. Otherwise big chunks of your under-color will come off when you remove the sticker.

Also, wait until you’re pretty damn sure the accent color is also dry before trying to take them off. DRY DRY DRY. Learn from my mistakes.

The up side to them being so sticky is that the accent polish stays put, and doesn’t bleed under the sticker, so they really do produce a nice clean line, much cleaner than I could possibly hope to develop the patience to accomplish freehand. It almost looks like I know what I’m doing!

They come in packs of 30, and here’s the best bit: THEY COST A DOLLAR. LITERALLY A DOLLAR. Name me something half as awesome and useful that costs a dollar! So check them out and let me know how they work for you.

Pussy People

To conclude, a hilarious short video about cat enthusiasts, which I am including mostly because it features a bunch of Sphynx kittens.

Have a radical weekend, guys.