When we think of women’s clothing in the medieval period, we don’t generally think of revealing necklines. Nay, plunging necklines! But if you go to this extremely interesting article you’ll see some rather eye-opening illustrations. Some of these little off-the-shoulder numbers could be worn on red carpets today. Mind you, you couldn’t see through the medieval versions as well. Thankfully. Those earlier ladies remained elegant at all times….which can’t be said of some of the freakish people/outfits on display at today’s awards ceremonies.
I used to write novels set in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, the same period as the blessed Jane Austen, with whom we never associate shockingly revealing décolletages. Or do we? Those flimsy little gowns certainly weren’t designed to conceal all that much, and we do imagine handsome gentlemen like Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy flocking around the wearers of such apparel. Don’t we?
The gown worn by the notorious Juliette Récamier in the above portrait by François Gérard is….well, delicate. If the celebrities of today think they’ve invented daring, how wrong they are. But nor did the Regency period invent it, because going back to medieval times, there it is!
If the Regency period referred to men’s lower wear as unmentionables (and other such words), what on earth would they have made of the ever-shortening styles of the 14th century. There was absolutely nothing of the male form that wasn’t on display. And as menswear ascended, the ladies’ necklines descended.
The (admittedly demure) ladies in the illustration below must have found it very difficult indeed NOT to look where they shouldn’t!