Shaping Femininity

About Shaping Femininity

In sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, the female silhouette underwent a dramatic change. This very structured form, created using garments called bodies and farthingales, existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond, in the form of stays, corsets, hoop petticoats and crinolines, right up until the twentieth century. With a nuanced approach that incorporates a stunning array of visual and written sources and drawing on transdisciplinary methodologies, Shaping Femininity explores the relationship between material culture and femininity by examining the lives of a wide range of women, from queens to courtiers, farmer’s wives and servants, uncovering their lost voices and experiences. It reorients discussions about female foundation garments in English and wider European history, arguing that these objects of material culture began to shape and define changing notions of the feminine bodily ideal, social status, sexuality and modesty in the early modern period, influencing enduring Western notions of femininity.

Beautifully illustrated in full colour throughout, Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale exploration of the materiality, production, consumption and meanings of women’s foundation garments in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. It offers a fascinating insight into dress and fashion in the early modern period, and offers much of value to all those interested in the history of early modern women and gender, material culture and consumption, and the history of the body, as well as curators and reconstructors.


Table of Contents

Notes to the Reader

Introduction: Investigating the structured female body
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

Selected Bibliography
List of Illustrations

Previews of the book are Available via Google Books.


“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






Europe and rest of the world: Available for pre-order on Amazon and all good online book retailers such as Book Depository.


Click here to see details about the online book launch.