Living Columns & Blogs

Beating the heat in the old days

When it’s this oppressively hot, with stagnant air and humidity that stays put like a house guest that has long over stayed their welcome, I try to make myself feel better as I feel the first rivulets of sweat trickle down my back at 7am during barn chores, by being grateful I wasn’t alive during the days when southern women were obliged to wear the expected attire of the day which consisted of long skirts over swaying hoops, layers of heavy petticoats, and a suffocating corset that historians claim actually dislodged organs within womens' bodies.

No wonder they swooned everywhere! That had nothing to do with being a delicate flower, but instead, everything to do with a Vitamin D deficiency and lack of circulation. No way would women put up with that, today!

Trust me: if you polled 100,000 women on a hot Friday afternoon as they left work and walked to their cars and asked them what they were looking forward to the most this upcoming weekend, I’m pretty sure they’d all reply, “Getting home and taking off this damned bra.”

So that leads me to believe it must have been horrific to have been encased in all those sweltering underclothes in bygone days. And it also tells me how full of it Margaret Mitchell was when she wrote Gone With the Wind, which I’ve been re-reading.

Because think about it: Scarlett is described as a beauty with arched eyebrows and perfect skin, glossy hair and a 17” waist, while Melanie, with large, wide eyes, is a bit plainer, but still attractive, as were most of the other ‘belles’ that appeared at bar-b-ques and balls. But come on, Margaret, we know what humidity does to our hair and without the help of a flat iron, orthodontists,and Right Guard, the truth is a great majority of the ‘belles’ in those times would have actually been buck toothed, frizzy haired teenagers battling acne as has every generation. No concealer to cover dark circles beneath the eyes, no foundation to even out skin tone- in fact, there’s one passage in the book that described Scarlett, desperate to look attractive as she hit up the imprisoned Rhett for money, repeatedly pinching her cheeks and biting her lips to make them blood red.

Nothing like busted blood vessels to turn a guy on, I guess. No wonder she was always slapping Rhett across the face and picking fights with her sisters- maybe she was secretly hoping she’d get a smack in return, just to get a little color.

It certainly also explains the lashings of rose water and heavy perfumes women of the day doused over themselves. When you don’t have deodorant and it’s 97 outside and you’re laced up and fit to explode like a sausage casing beneath a long sleeved gown and taffeta petticoats, I’m thinking that may have been the reason for the invention of the hoop skirt in the first place- to give everyone a wide, 365 degree berth, if you catch my (and their) drift.

I won’t say women today are far more beautiful than the women of the olden days, because women today have all kinds of things at their disposal to appear more attractive: hair color and relaxers, Lancome and surgical, ahem, ‘enhancements,’ but we certainly are far more comfortable. A Tank top and a pair of shorts or jeans and we’re good. A light, cottony dress and a pair of sandals, perfect. We’re cool and comfortable with air conditioning in our cars and homes.

However, with our present day, scantier apparel, there also comes the public pressure not to spill out of them, and so it’s off to the gym to keep tummies, bums and hips in line.

And that’s where the gals of olden days have us over a barrel. Child, you can eat all the fried chicken and waffles and Krispy Kremes you want when you have a hoop skirt the size of an igloo to keep that under wraps!

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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