Dorothy Baca, professor and costume designer in the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance, recently presented a revealing account of the evolution of undergarments as part of the UNM Alumni Association's Lobo Living Room series. Armed only with a slide show, knowledge and wit, Baca took the audience on a one hour sortie into the history of undergarments covering - or uncovering - everything from loincloth to G-string.
Brief mention was made of the loincloth, the most enduring undergarment in history. From prehistoric times, when man fashioned them from animal hide to protect their special parts from getting accosted while hunting ginormous, toothy things with long nails, through ancient Egypt, Greco-Roman times, to modern day Sumo wrestlers who still don them for competition, the loincloth endures.
Conversely, the chastity belt, a metal panty on lockdown available in the demented garments aisle, was short-lived, as were hip buckets or panniers. These cagey looking devices spread a woman’s hips to a width nearly matching her height. Baca said it caused problems fitting through doorways and precipitated changes in architecture.
Some outfits worn in the 16th through 18th centuries were quite heavy, according to Baca. She showed a picture of Elizabeth I in the famous “Ditchley Portrait” and said that the outfit the queen wore weighed 150 lbs. "It was like carrying a couch around with you," she said.
“The corset was one of the most important articles of clothing for several centuries,” Baca said, “evolving as fashion trends changed.” Women, as well as some men, used it to change the appearance of their bodies. Displaying actual x-rays of women from the 19th century, Baca said that the tightly strung corsets caused deformation of the ribs and spine. “Women were getting sick, but they looked fabulous.”
The corset has experienced periodic revivals throughout its history. Pop icon, Madonna, may have had something to do with the popularity of corsets today. Who can forget the conical bra and corset she wore during her 1990 world tour, “Blond Ambition." And current Steampunk culture feature corsets that utilize late-Victorian fashion to shape couture in new ways.
Baca ended the fun, well-rounded lecture with photos of striking men in briefs. "Finally,” she said, "in the nineties, men became as objectified as women."
Baca has professional television and film credits that include Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Major Dad, Charles in Charge, Murder, She Wrote, Batman and Robin, The Longest Yard, and What Women Want. Baca was the costume supervisor on Suspect Zero and Border Town, both filmed in New Mexico.
The Lobo Living Room is a venue that features notable UNM alumni discussing, demonstrating or performing in their areas of expertise, or UNM alumni-related events.