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Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style by Caroline Cox
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Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style (edition 2000)

by Caroline Cox (Author)

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Written by cultural historian and fashion academic Caroline Cox, Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style explores the fetish and fun of underwear, referring to influential designers, historical trends, and other factors that continue to shape how we perceive and wear lingerie. A spirited, provocative, and thoroughly informed examination of ladies undergarments, Lingerie is a romp through more than 200 color photos accompanied by sparkling text that makes even the G-string seem faintly erudite. Begining with that most controversial item of feminine garb, the corset, Cox explores just how far this confining contraption has progressed over the past 200 years. The bra likewise comes under scrutiny in a witty appraisal of its iconic appeal.Panties, stockings, and suspenders; slips, peignoirs, and camisoles; and athletic-inspired vests and briefs are all covered (and uncovered) in an expert, artistic, and elegant fashion. In Lingerie, Cox gets to the crux of the evolution of erotic style. AUTHORBIO: CAROLINE COX is Pricipal Lecturer in Cultural & Historical Studies at the London College of Fashion. She broadcasts regularly on fashion for the BBC.… (more)
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Title:Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style
Authors:Caroline Cox (Author)
Info:Scriptum Publishers (2000), Edition: First, 192 pages
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Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style by Caroline Cox

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(4.5/5)At the risk of sounding like a thirteen-year old boy who’s just discovered masturbation, this is a really interesting book.

Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style is written by Professor Caroline Cox, a scholar of fashion and culture at the London College of Fashion. Lexicon takes a broad sweep of the history of lingerie from Victorian times to the present, with the chapters divided by undergarment (“Cleave Lines”, “Hip Zone”, etc.). Cox chronicles how developments in cultural norms and material sciences lead to the differing aesthetic sensibilities of each era.

Cox’s work really shines best when she highlights how the purpose and perception of different garments changed over time, and what that says about changing cultural norms. I found this best exemplified in the chapter on corsets (“Waited Wear)”, which shows just how much a given garment can evolve over time. It begins with the medieval cotte, a tunic-like garment generally worn by men (making shoulders appear broader), before morphing into women’s clothing in the eighteenth century. Since a tightly-laced corset makes physical labor impossible, it became a mark of conspicuous consumption among French aristocracy, in the vein of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, like a less horrible form of foot binding. Cox argues that the tightly laced corsets of the 18th and 19th centuries, by shrinking the waist, was a rejection of “the maternal role ascribed to them. For what does the corset do but emphasize a woman’s waist, the first curve to disappearing during pregnancy”. She also argues that the Victorian-era concerns over women’s health were mostly a fig leaf by male moralizers who were horrified that women were expressing themselves sexually. The corset’s popularity died off, becoming seen as a symbol of old-fashioned stuffiness and oppression by the 1950s, only to make a revival in the 60s/70s/80s in drag and fetish subcultures, before being reincorporated into mainstream fashion and marketed as ‘empowering’, and ultimately reincarnated in the form of Spanx shapewear.

And that really is the whole book. It repeatedly asks (at least implicitly) – when is lingerie sexuality empowering, and when is it objectifying for the male gaze? We certainly seem to be moving in cycles, or perhaps epicycles, trying to avoid dehumanizing objectification on one hand and puritanism on the other. The fashion industry both reacts to and creates these trends, and Cox does a wonderful job of showing how easily it markets nostalgia, retro chic, progressiveness, empowerment, propriety, modesty, and confidence. The last chapter (“Athletic Ambition”) does a great job of showing how the increased emphasis on physical healthiness since ~1980s has gone hand-in-hand with the stylization (and even sexualization) of women’s sportswear. (This also neatly ties back to the chapter on corsets, with Cox asking whether the pressure on women to maintain perfect bodies is worse than the pain of being laced into a corset, which does the body-shaping for you).

Tangentially – I’m reminded of a Tuxedo Unmasked article (“Was Makoto a Member of a Gang?”) about Makoto Kino’s uniform in Sailor Moon. Makoto’s skirt is noticeably longer than those of the other Inner Senshi, which the casual viewer might think as telegraphing a demure/conservative personality. It was actually a relic of 70s/80s sukeban fashion (see: “Remembering Japan’s badass 70s schoolgirl gangs”), associated with female juvenile delinquents who were rejecting the more feminine/kawaii aesthetic expected of them. Thus, what had been modest became a rebellious look, a look which was predictably commercialized back into the mainstream, as is the history of most any punk subculture. The Saṃsāra of fashion.

There are few points where the analysis gets just a little too Freudian for me to get fully buy into it. Did the whalebone of corsets make women feel armored like Jeanne d’Arc? Do men like laces because the act of threading laces through holes is reminiscent of penetration? I’m not entirely sold. But it’s an overall wonderful work that leaves the reader to make their own judgement on where to draw the line between Hooters and a nunnery. ( )
  pvoberstein | Dec 14, 2020 |
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Written by cultural historian and fashion academic Caroline Cox, Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style explores the fetish and fun of underwear, referring to influential designers, historical trends, and other factors that continue to shape how we perceive and wear lingerie. A spirited, provocative, and thoroughly informed examination of ladies undergarments, Lingerie is a romp through more than 200 color photos accompanied by sparkling text that makes even the G-string seem faintly erudite. Begining with that most controversial item of feminine garb, the corset, Cox explores just how far this confining contraption has progressed over the past 200 years. The bra likewise comes under scrutiny in a witty appraisal of its iconic appeal.Panties, stockings, and suspenders; slips, peignoirs, and camisoles; and athletic-inspired vests and briefs are all covered (and uncovered) in an expert, artistic, and elegant fashion. In Lingerie, Cox gets to the crux of the evolution of erotic style. AUTHORBIO: CAROLINE COX is Pricipal Lecturer in Cultural & Historical Studies at the London College of Fashion. She broadcasts regularly on fashion for the BBC.

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