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What is a Bodice?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Historically, a bodice was an article of clothing that covered the upper half of a person and was worn by women in conjunction with a dress or skirt. In some historical uses of the term, it refers specifically to the top portion of a full garment, though the top was a separate piece from the rest of the clothing. In this use, the two parts were made to be worn together despite being pieces put on separately. Modern usage of bodice typically refers to a particular type of garment worn on the upper body by a woman, usually lacking sleeves or having removable sleeves.

The bodice referred to typically in Victorian or early 20th century fashion was the upper half of a full garment. Two pieces would attach, usually through a hook and eye system, wherein small rounded hooks on one piece of clothing go through loops sewn into another piece of clothing to connect the two. This type of clothing was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, as it allowed large and expansive skirts to be worn with tighter-fitting bodices. In the 20th century, however, single-piece dresses came into fashion and replaced the two-piece dresses for the most part.

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Modern usage of bodice usually refers to a particular type of garment worn by a woman on the upper part of her body. In this usage, bodice refers to a garment that resembles a vest and is sleeveless and tight-fitting. The bodice can sometimes be stiffened with reeds or whalebone, much like corsets, to provide a more distinct shape. Where bodices and corsets primarily differ is that corsets are intended to be worn beneath other articles of clothing to define the shape of the woman beneath, while bodices are intended for wear on top of a shirt or chemise and to be visible.

As a practical garment, the bodice has typically gone out of use in most areas, but exceptions include traditional folk clothing worn by some European women in areas such as Austria or Scotland. Bodices have also found resurgence and gained popularity among participants in Renaissance fairs or by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, who often wear the garment as part of historical costume. The bodice has also found new life and continued to be used in the design of wedding gowns to provide a tight, close-fitting top and in lingerie.

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