Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Continuing our sensual journey...

Seeing as we've been getting very up close and personal with our blog readers recently, I wanted to talk about another of the senses-touch. One of the things I love most about writing historical romance is the layers of clothes everyone wore and the whole exercise of taking clothes off or putting them on again. And let's not forget that women didn't really wear undergarments until the early nineteenth century, so beneath all that lush clothing was bare skin.

From a writer's point of view, that combination of tightly laced stays, elaborate gowns and nakedness is incredibly useful. Sex can be had by a mere lifting of the skirt or an elaborate slow and deliberately tantalizing undressing.

One of my sisters bought me the most beautiful book for my birthday called "Historical Fashion in Detail" The 17th and 18th Centuries" by Avril Harte and Susan North, published by the V&A. It's a large 'coffee table' book. On each page a small section of a garment is examined and discussed. Sections include, Buttons, Slashing, Pinking and Stamping, Gloves and shoes. I find myself poring over the details, seeing each tiny perfectly positioned stitch that was set by hand and wondering about the person who put so much time and effort into such creation.

When I look at these pictures, I imagine my characters wearing the particular piece of clothing. I think about how it would feel to touch. Would it be soft like muslin or stiff like Spitalfields brocaded silk lustring? Will the garment slip easily off the shoulders or does it have tight sleeves and endless buttons to undo.

I get fed up with book covers displaying the heroine with her dress around her shoulders or open down the back and she had no corset on! I seem to remember that every 'decent' woman wore one and why not show them? The imagery of the tight lacing and the release from confinement has it's own appeal, especially to a writer of erotic romance. Think about Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind...

(Okay, stop thinking about Rhett Butler, Miss Kate!)

Perhaps it's because my eyesight is so bad that touch is so important to me. When I write I try to make it feel like you are rolling in the velvet with me, feeling it against your skin, licking it with your tongue and sinking deep into its embrace...

Sorry I have to stop now-I have to go write a love scene.

(image from librarythinkquest.org)


Sharon Page said...

Ooh, I really want a copy of Historical Fashion in Detail. It sounds terrific. And how smart of your sister to buy you research books for your birthday!

I'm judging a chapter contest right now and one of the criteria (of many) is the use of setting. You've covered the topic so well here, Kate. I've realized that setting including such detail as clothing can be used to heighten the emotion of a scene. It doesn't need to be a laundry list, but used effectively. For sensuality. Regret. Anger. Etc. I love to find the perfect details that can do so much for an erotic scene.

Pam Rosenthal said...

A very eloquent post, Kate, and I share your sentiments. For a thoughtful discussion of the history of men's clothes, I very much recomment Sex and Suits, by art historian Anne Hollander.

Jane Lockwood said...

Oh, I want that book too!
Underwear, btw, was crotchless until about the first decade of the 20c--the idea was to cover the legs so it wasn't much of a barrier!

I had the privilege recently of viewing a collection of early museum-quality 19c clothing up close and personal--couldn't touch but you could see the stitching and details, like the beautifully made Dorset (? I think, sewn) buttons. It was wonderful.

Kate Pearce said...

Sex and Suits sounds fabulous (memo to self, be nice to Mum)

The fashion book is so beautiful I can happily sit there for hours just staring at the details.

There is a whole section on buttons,Jane!

Kate Pearce said...

btw-the little picture is me dressed up as Elizabeth Bennett. My dh went as Mr. Darcy and we had a lovely evening sneering at each other!

Celia May Hart said...

AH, I had to inform my copyeditor that respectable women didn't wear drawers until a tad later in the Regency period, because I too like the hoisting of the skirt and have at it! Ahoy!

(Hey isn't POTC III coming out soon?)