We all know that ladies of the Victorian era often fainted because their corsets were too tightly laced. A tiny waist was highly desirable. Well, it still is, of course, but not to such a ridiculous extent. This tortuous lacing would have been difficult enough for young women to endure, but Heaven alone knows what it was like for plumper matrons. Let’s be honest, ladies, it’s only a lucky few of us who keep our figures all our lives! My waist packed up and left home decades ago!
This must surely have been the case in the medieval period too? For women and men? Yet just think of all those church brasses, showing knights with pinched-in waists. Maybe it was all to do with supporting the man’s body in armour when on a horse, I don’t know, but we’re left with an apparent record of countless lean, fit men with waspy waists. Were they all like that? So active and healthy that they kept their youthful figures?
I don’t believe it. Men became as fat back then as they do now, but it’s my guess that church brasses recorded them as their fashionable youthful selves. Or they were somehow squashed into close-fitting armour and had to survive as best they could? Or they had armour that was actually tailored for their increased girth—but church brasses were certainly not expected to show them as they really were! Their families would have honoured this “tradition”. Vanity was behind it, much as air-brushing is now! The same regarding the ladies. To me, both Simon de Felbrigge and his wife in the illustration above seem suspiciously small around the waist. Or they suffered badly from, er, internal parasites!
This is just my musing, of course, and I hope to be put right because I’d rather imagine dashing knights and lovely ladies than porkers!