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An Intimate Affair

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An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality. By Jill Fields. (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2007. Pg. 392. 71 b/w Photographs.) ISBN 13: 978-0-520-25261-5.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - June 18, 2007

Women's underclothing has long served a myriad of purposes, from protection and modesty to creating the foundation upon which the outer clothing is molded. The corset, farthingale, and bra are notable examples of the later use. Women's underclothing also has a sexual component that affects not only the women's sexuality, but that of any potential partners.

In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality Jill Fields, an Associate Professor of History at California State University in Fresno, examines the fascinating and understudied subject of women's lingerie. Part history and part sociological study, An Intimate Affair traces the transformation, beginning in the early 1900's, of women's underclothing from utilitarian items to that of lingerie, and the accompanying eroticism associated with this new style of undergarments.

In this sweeping overview of the state of women's intimate apparel in the twentieth century, Fields not only looks at how women's undergarments have changed over time, but also how they have been manufactured, advertised, and embraced by women. She also examines the social implications of these changes, and how the varied meanings associated with these garments have impacted women's sexuality, gender stereotyping, employment, self-worth, and much more.

On the surface, the history of women's intimate apparel may not seem like a serious topic for an academic study. However, Fields amply illustrates the importance that just such a study has in aiding our understanding of the social and cultural implications of women's undergarments and the significant role that they play in women's lives. This book also ads to the body of work in the study of costumes and the history of fashion.

An Intimate Affair contains a wealth of illustration drawn from fashion and trade magazines, films and posters. The text also includes copious endnotes that serve as a fertile ground for anyone seeking to explore this provocative subject in greater depth. This book is ideal for use as a supplemental text in university level courses related to women's studies, sociology, fashion, and history. This thoughtful overview of the history of women's intimate apparel in the 20th century will also enthrall general readers with an interest in 20th century cultural history or fashion.

Related Reviews:

Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns, edited by Kristina Harris .
A Complete Lady's Wardrobe - Scaled dressmaker patterns for fifty ladies' garments, circa the 1890's. Illustrations of the garments are included.

Turn-of-the-Century Fashion Patterns and Tailoring Techniques, by S. S. Gordon.
A republication of the 1901 edition of The "Standard" Work on Cutting Ladies' Tailor-Made Garments.

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