This poem is a nice bit of proof that fashion is indeed cyclical. The current fascination with looking “undone”— women with shirts artfully half tucked in and hair meticulously combed to look uncombed, men with carefully cultivated stubble—dates back at least to the 17th century: Robert Herrick lived from 1591 to 1674.
The stomacher (horrible name!) Herrick mentions in line 6 was a v- or u-shaped piece of fabric that fitted into the front of a woman’s gown (or, sometimes, a man’s doublet) to provide structure and decoration. Some were sewn in; others were pinned or laced to the gown or undergarments. Stomachers were essential parts of a woman’s wardrobe for 200 years (from the late 16th century through the late 18th), and they could be quite beautiful, decorated with gems, lace, and embroidery.
Delight in Disorder
A sweet disorder in the dresse
Kindles in cloathes a wantonnesse:
A Lawne about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction:
An erring Lace, which here and there
Enthralls the Crimson Stomacher:
A Cuffe neglectfull, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly:
A winning wave (deserving Note)
In the tempestuous petticote:
A careless shooe-string, in whose tye
I see a wilde civility:
Doe more bewitch me, then when Art
Is too precise in every part.
Categories: Fashion & Poetry