Carnegie Show: Amputated toes, removed ribs among extra fashion efforts

By W. WINSTON SKINNER Amputated toes and surgically removed ribs have been part of the quest for beauty. During a fashion show at the Carnegie on Friday, Carol Healy talked about some of the lengths women have taken to look fashionable over the years. The event, sponsored by the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, featured styles from the 1860s to the 1960s.
Referring to a display of antique underwear, Healy only half jokingly referred to "some of the torture devices" from years past. In the early 1900s, women sometimes had their small toe amputated in order to wear the popular shoes of that day. Later -- in a trend that has not entirely disappeared -- some women have had the two floating ribs removed to create a smaller waist. Also in the late 1800s and early 1900s, women tried to lighten their skin -- using such bleaching agents as buttermilk. Being pale was a sign "you were wealthy enough not to have to work," Healy said. Shampoo was invented in 1908. Prior to that time, women rarely washed their hair. It was generally recommended that women wash their hair only every 6-8 weeks. They usually used a mixture of borax or sometimes a beaten, raw egg. In the event of an emergency, hair could be washed more often but not more than once every two weeks or so. Healy noted that an increasingly common accessory for women during the 1920s flapper era was a silver flask. The women who could take a quick swig of alcohol were the daughters of women who could have been arrested for smoking in public. During World War II, when nylon hose were in short supply, many women "dyed" their legs with an iodine solution to mimic the color of hosiery. The "seam" was created using an eyebrow pencil. Although the 1960s was a time of revolution in society -- and fashion -- the workplace for women remained pretty staid. Healy remembered receiving a list of approved clothing when she went to work for C&S Bank in 1967. The bank's list outlawed anything see-through, as well as dangling earrings and jangling bracelets. Hose had to be nude or tan, and there were specific requirements for pantsuits. The dresses in Friday's fashion show all come from Healy's collection. The 19th century clothes are reproductions, but -- for outfits dating from about 1900 forward -- models wore the real thing. There also was a table laden with underthings -- a satin corset, cotton drawers and a slip with lace and a strand of peach-colored ribbon. Three dresses were displayed on mannequins. The black dress with a belt featuring a rhinestone clasp is now too fragile to be worn, Healy said. It stood between a lawn dress with netting sleeves topped by a straw hat and a stunning green number designed by Oleg Cassini. Local resident Helen Hayes, who celebrated her 96th birthday on Friday, attended the event wearing a dress that belonged to her mother. "My dress is about 100 years old," she said, adding that it was probably made in Athens, Greece. Healy told her audience she hopes posterity will be kind in looking back at current fashions. "Don't laugh too soon," she said, reflecting on some of the lengths women have gone to look good. "We're all guilty of torturing ourselves for fashion."

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