Spanning several centuries in eight succinct chapters, Keyser’s narrative takes a look at women’s undergarments—their history, political and social implications, sexual and fashion statements, and complex evolution.
Told in chronological fashion from Greek and Roman times, the account begins by explaining how underwear originated as supportive leather or cloth straps. Keyser is careful to clarify that the record-keeping was done by men, so modern understanding of the purpose of these undergarments is limited. Fabrics and materials used over the ages range from leather to latex, all in a dizzying variety of forms including farthingales, corsets, bustiers, and bras. Generously distributed throughout the book are images and anecdotes that contextualize the use of undergarments during different periods and in various countries. While the subject matter can be interesting at times—many women give up their corsets during World War I so that the steel can be used instead to build an entire battleship—Keyser struggles to keep a consistent tone. She often toggles between explanations of women’s oppression and how later undergarments symbolized empowerment and self-expression. As the chronicling gets closer to the present day, the book shifts to discussions of body image, exploitation, advertising, unions, and celebrities and their influences. The brevity of the chapters may leave readers with little sense of closure or only partial understanding.
A serviceable introduction to the history of women’s undergarments, with some nuggets of importance and insight. (source notes, selected bibliography, further information, index) (Nonfiction. 13-18)