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Shaping Femininity


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Notes to the Reader Abbreviations Introduction 1. The foundations of the body: foundation garments and the early modern female silhouette 2. The artificial body: courtiers, gentlewomen and disputed visions of femininity, 1560-1650 3. The socially mobile body: consumption of foundation garments by middling and common women, 1560 – 1650 4. The body makers: making and buying foundation garments in early modern England 5. The everyday body: assumptions, tropes and the lived experience 6. The sexual body: eroticism, reproduction and control 7. The respectable body: rising consumption and the changing sensibilities of late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century England Conclusion: legacies and misconceptions Glossary Notes Selected Bibliography List of Illustrations Index

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Utilizing an array of both well known and rarely seen sources, Shaping Femininity explores how 16th and 17th-century foundation garments shaped the dressed female body in early modern England and consequently how enduring notions of western femininity were established.

About the Author

Sarah A. Bendall is Research Fellow in the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Australia.


Virtually nothing is known about early modern undergarments, although they were clearly worn by (nearly) everyone. Moving beyond surviving inventories, images and objects, Bendall reconstructed her own garments in order to understand how they shaped the female body The result is a fascinating exploration of a – literally – disguised history, one that shows how female agency shaped and defined notions of femininity alongside the male gaze.
*Judges' comments, Society for Renaissance Studies Biennial Book Prize 2022*

Sarah Bendall’s fascinating exploration of women’s foundation garments in Early Modern England shows not just how artisans made clothes, but how clothes made their wearers. Richly researched and beautifully illustrated, Shaping Femininity is both scholarly and accessible, and its innovative use of historical reconstruction ensures that it will become the essential study of female silhouettes before the Victorian corset.
*Timothy McCall, Villanova University, USA*

Body shaping garments determined the social spaces females claimed, an embodied assertion, always political. Sarah Bendall’s original and important interdisciplinary study reveals the gendered meanings of shaping garments, in elite and everyday life. History is enriched through her findings.
*Beverly Lemire, University of Alberta, Canada*

Shaping Femininity provides fascinating insight into female foundation garments in early modern England – their makers and wearers, their materiality and their meanings. With a richly evocative contextual background that takes in a wide range of texts, images, garments and objects, Bendall deftly shows how female bodies were a site of agency and contest, power and beauty. A powerful voice of the role of experiential learning, Bendall charts her own reconstructions of garments. The vital importance of making and experience is at the heart of this book, which insists that we take foundation garments – and the women who wore them – seriously.
*Erin Griffey, University of Auckland, New Zealand*

Bold, innovative (and entertaining) scholarship.

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