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Under-bodice

Large storks, sprouting plants, pagodas, squirrels and men jauntily holding parasols cover both sides of this woman’s cream linen under-bodice. Far-Eastern imports with exotic designs inspired fantasies of Asia, and led to a vogue in chinoiserie: European design imitating Chinese art. 

Similar birds with outstretched wings, fantastic flowers and exotic figures appeared in contemporary pattern books. The Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing (1688) encouraged Europeans to ‘borrow a part from one, a figure from another, birds flying or standing from a third’ when decorating objects with exotic designs. 

For those emulating ‘Indian’ style, it advised: ‘never croud up their ground with many Figures, Houses, or Trees, but allow a great space to little work’. Whether the under-bodice’s imaginative designs were embroidered in silk by the wearer, or purchased already decorated, they show the influence of Chinese and Indian textiles. 

By the early eighteenth century, dresses often had open bodices to reveal embroidered stomachers or an underbodice. This padded garment provided warmth and comfort, but was not designed to shape the body. 

Under-bodices (also known as jumps or waistcoats) simply enabled a woman to conform to a fashionable style when, amongst friends, she removed her boned support. Undress or déshabillé was acceptable in such circumstances, but could give the wrong impression if worn outdoors. In the satirical periodical, The London Spy, women seen outside in ‘wadded waistcoats […] without stays’ were mocked as ‘tripping about in search of their Foolish admirers’. Whimsical and unboned this under-bodice may have been, but its wearer would not have wanted to seem loose herself.

 

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