I’m so happy to have Claudia visit my blog today with this great post. If you read my review of Josefina’s Sin yesterday, you’ll know how much I loved it.
Without further ado….
The great Pantalettes Debate
Josefina’s Sin is a novel of growth and change. In 1687, Josefina, a sheltered landowner’s wife, goes to the vice-royal court in New Spain, where she meets the famous poetess, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Her life is never the same.
Writing a historical novel presents some fabulous challenges. Beyond plot, character development, dialogue and a story arc, there are always experts who ask the hard questions: did they have papayas in 1690 in Mexico? (Yes, but no mangoes until 1785!) Did the men wear long pants then? (No, breeches stopping at or near the knee.) If only dressing our ladies were simple!
The biggest question, of course, is: what did the ladies with those enormous collars, farthingales, overskirts, bustles and bum rolls (yes, that’s what they were called!) wear under their clothes?
Josefina has many adventures at the vice-royal court, and not all of them are intellectual. While her biggest source of personal growth is Sor Juana, from whom she learns to write, to understand and to think for herself, she also learns about love, duty and desire. And sometimes, those last three required a discussion of what she was wearing under her dress.
Many sources of information contend strongly that until the mid to late 1800s women wore nothing at all beneath their dresses. Their chemises, a cross between an undershirt and a modern slip, protected their outer fabrics from wear and kept them clean.
But even wealthy women had far fewer clothes than we do now, and fabric was costly, so clothing had to last and be protected. There were no washing machines, people bathed far less, and during menstrual cycles clothing required additional protection.
Yet, many contend that women wore no “underwear.” Art is of little help here, as women were not painted in “deshabille” during that era. Most opinions are based on speculation, and no one knows for sure.
So when I was writing about Josefina, why was I so sure she was wearing pantalettes? (The term, I admit, was popularized in the late 1800s.) Because unlike England and France, Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors. And Moorish women, and men, often wore a loose-fitting trouser beneath their clothes, called zaraguelles. Although the Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492, their influence in food, clothing, cultural mores, colors and poetry remained. The wearing of underwear, as a practical and modest protection for women, seems natural.
An interesting site, http://www.innatia.com/s/c-vestidos-medievales/a-moda-medieval-ropa-interior.html , talks about zaraguelles. It’s worth remembering that just because it isn’t being spoken of doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. If that were the standard, one would think that in most cultures, women barely existed at all!
Women are often neglected or ignored in the writings of bygone times, and it is up to us to fill in the blanks as best we can. Women filled the dual and occasionally conflicting roles of modest, bodiless homemakers, and sexual objects of desire. Their clothing will reflect that duality, both where we can see it, and where we just have to imagine…
And so the great Pantalettes Debate continues!
Enjoy Josefina’s Sin, by Claudia H Long
Atria/ Simon & Schuster, 2011
Now, for the giveaway! I have one copy of Josefina’s Sin to give away to one extremely lucky reader from Canada or the US. Comment below with your email address for a chance to win. Good luck to everyone and come back on October 25 to find out if you’ve won.