Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Viking, Saxon, and Early Christian Irish cultures

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Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby Andrea L Redden on Wed Jul 22, 2009 6:52 am

Hello Guys!

There's been a costuming detail I've been mulling over for some time now and something touched on the subjec again recently so I thought instigate a discussion here. Basically, it's the practical considerations that dictate certain details of the form of women's necklines, specifically: access to breasts.

It all started YEARS ago when we had a couple join Dubh-linn who had 5 kids, one still an infant. I was showing them illustrations and examples of reconstructions and she looked at the neckline on the dress and said "That makes no sense. It wouldn't work. How would I get my breasts out to feed the baby?". Having grown up an only child and not having had any of my own at that point the subject had never entered my head until that time.

Our group represents Hiberno-Norse Dublin just after 1000AD and I have the impression that most women in northern and western Europe, those who didn't enter religious order at any rate, ended up married. Not having access to any reliable form of contraception short of abstinance, they would have spent most of their lives pregnant and/or breastfeeding babies and small children. Now that I've had a couple of my own I can appreciate more fully Leonie's original point. The fitted and semi-fitted necklines with short frontal openings that most female reenactors down here in Oz use "make no sense" and "will not work" on an article of women's clothing.

When you need to have both breasts accessible half a dozen times a day, every day, for a year or two per child there MUST be some convenient access point to them through all layers of the upper body garments. I'm mainly referring to the double-layered, linen under-dress + linen or wool overdress arrangement that appears to have been the norm throughout most areas OF Europe in the late dark ages to early medievel period.

The most likely answer I could come up with was that the frontal slit should extend to the lower sternum. That could then be pulled open to either side to feed a baby. A crossover flap like the Viborg or Skjoldhamn shirts on at least one layer would work even better, as it then wouldn't be as breezy. A slit that long WOULD be breezy if the slits weren't offset between the layers and COULD have a tendency to gape in that location. The only written evidence to support the theory is the mention in chapter 34 of Laxdaela Saga where Gudrun is advised "I know a very good counsel for this: make him a shirt with such a large neck-hole that you may have a good excuse for separating from him, because he has a low neck like a woman."

So, what do female reenactors of child-bearing age in the UK and Europe do about it and why? Does anybody know of any grave finds that have multiple small clothing hooks, bead-buttons or small brooches down the sternum? What actual references do we have for the use of wet-nurses during the late Dark Age-early Medieval Periods that might support the idea of "ladies" having higher neck slits on their dresses?

Andrea L. Willett
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby the_power on Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:52 pm

I ran into this problem when my wife's first time after wearing her quilted under-dress for the first time was when our Sebastian was five months old. What I did was to extend the original keyhole neckline almost to the belly button. I cut & hemmed the front & back linen parts separately, so that they overlapped neatly when closed with a brooch.

I'll see can I get some photos of the garment, though I've only got one of it's use. In this case, it turns out that a cloak over an underdress is very practical. I also noted by the birka period, a lot of women were wearing over-coats, rather than over-tunics. But overtunic + undershirt...I'm really confused. Without destroying a decent over-tunic, I mean.

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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby Cathal on Thu Jul 23, 2009 8:11 am

Andrea L Willett wrote:The most likely answer I could come up with was that the frontal slit should extend to the lower sternum. That could then be pulled open to either side to feed a baby. A crossover flap like the Viborg or Skjoldhamn shirts on at least one layer would work even better, as it then wouldn't be as breezy. A slit that long WOULD be breezy if the slits weren't offset between the layers and COULD have a tendency to gape in that location.


THIS is an perfect example for "experimental archaeology"! As we have no or very few remains of organic material, it's our duty as reenacrors to find out things like this here. Our feeding moms will find the best way to do so.
Anyway, i do not think there's somewhat like "right" or "false". It has to be practical - and i bet our results will come very close to the historical reality.
I see, we need more younger female members in our group... ;) 8-)
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby wiblick on Thu Jul 23, 2009 1:59 pm

this thread at lh.co.uk addressed the question
http://livinghistory.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=11810

the images linked to in one of the posts show many variations. Probably most pertinent to early medieval would be the shift with two slits in the front worn under a boat necked tunic. With the over tunic pulled down to accomodate the lifting of the breast.

http://4sefa.tripod.com/nursing.htm

http://anplica.net/annora/nursing.html

http://www.briaca.com/art/maternity.html



Of course wealthier women may have used wet nurses.
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby the_power on Thu Jul 23, 2009 4:16 pm

Wow, cool. I never thought about the idea of using two slits, to reduce the size of the cuts in the clothing, and the cinches to close over a mid-line slit are a lovely idea, though you would need a good bit more cloth etc. to use.

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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby noodle on Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:45 am

Well, if the woman in question could afford it, it'd make perfect sense to do it.
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby wiblick on Fri Jul 24, 2009 1:16 pm

the_power wrote:Wow, cool. I never thought about the idea of using two slits, to reduce the size of the cuts in the clothing, and the cinches to close over a mid-line slit are a lovely idea, though you would need a good bit more cloth etc. to use.

John


John which image are you talking about?
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby the_power on Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:06 pm

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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby wiblick on Sun Jul 26, 2009 8:01 am

ah yes I see what you mean now. Very interesting.
I am off active duty for 2009 & 2010. I continue to research but will be attending few if any shows for these two years. I got some chickens and hope to bring them along with a more fully rounded household display in 2011.
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Re: Women's Necklines, or Boobies!

Postby bethc on Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:17 pm

I used to belong to a group back in the UK which had a Medieval (mainly 14th and 15th century) dance group. Now, the costumes we wore were 'Court' rather than everyday stuff. We had a couple of ladies with babies during the time I was with them and the way they got around the problem was to have a front opening under dress instead of the usual back laced one. Over this you could then wear a sideless surcoat. You would then be able to access the lacing and retain modesty while feeding baby, and keep things looking as authentic as possible.

You have to remember that the ladies of the class we were portraying would not have had to bothered with such things as their offspring would have been cared for by a wetnurse, something which isnt really an option to today's mums!
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