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04 October 2010 @ 11:30 am
Attention costumer friends: need help on terms  
Okay, I have a character in my upcoming book who is a young girl (c. 12-14) trying to look like a young man in a steampunk Victorian/Jules Vern-style setting. I need something that would be believable as a young man who is a educated mechanic's assistant, who occasionally has to wear men's suits at formal affairs. She needs to look like a young man due to the rampant sexism and misogyny among the scientists, scholars, and working class. Discovery that she is a girl would be a really, really bad thing. She has an "underground tailor" who is very skilled at hiding femininity for women or all ages who have to work with men for such purposes.

Most of the time, she will be wearing a work's shirt with large coveralls, so that won't be a problem, but it's the formal settings where she has to hide her hips and chest in finely-tailored suits in close quarters among highly-educated upper crust scientists. I know that there are difficulties hiding hips and breast, especially since this girl is during her "coming of age;" that is, changing body shape as she gets older. I have done some study on the flapper rage of the 1920s, which while that is post-Victorian, has some of the concepts I am looking at. In order for the flappers to look more "boyish," they usually employed a soft corset. But what other techniques might a young girl use to hide her feminine shape?

Is it possible to "train the body" to stay flat-chested? Kind of like Chinese foot binding, but with hips and chest? I was considering just an overall padding, like a "fat suit," which may be my backup. I want something realistic if I can, especially with Victorian-era technology, although given that this is steampunk, I have a little fictional flexibility.

I am not interested in HOW to make one as much as I need terms and possible examples of the period (think like 1870-1900 range). Also, any other problems a young girl might have in such a ruse. I have already covered the sanitary napkins issue, which I am keeping on the downlow because... TMI, right?
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on October 4th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of breasts being trainable-- I think she's going to need to keep binding them. This is just deduction from casual reading, though.

Does your steampunk tech include some sort of elastic fabric? She might at least have something more convenient than wrapping woven cloth around herself.
(Anonymous) on October 4th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
from Missie
Foot binding changes the shape of the muscles and bones of the foot. No hormones involved. Since puberty is entirely hormones, the only way that I know to prevent it is malnutrition (many anorexic starve themselves for the purpose of preventing physical development).

There may be some herbs that interfere with hormone production, but I don't know which.

The usual method of chest binding is to wrap bandages around the torso to flatten the breasts. It's not going to prevent them from growing, but hers would be small anyway, if she is just beginning puberty.
Merry Pseudonym: 1-Poison Appleamelia_eve on October 4th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
There is plenty of girls' adventure literature from that era where the girls dress as boys. They typically bind their breasts with strips of cloth, and leave it to tailoring to disguise their hips. She might want to wear a slightly longer jacket that is less fitted in the waist. She wouldn't need an actual fat suit, because there are very few formal situations where she would ever take off her jacket. Wearing a waistcoat would also help -- that way if she unbuttoned her jacket, the bulkier fabric of the vest would be more concealing than the thin fabric of a dress shirt.
Bureinatobureinato on October 4th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
What she said.
gorgeousgarygorgeousgary on October 5th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
In Diane A.S. Stuckart's Leonardo Da Vinci mysteries, she gives him a female apprentice -- Delfina della Fazia -- who has disguised herself as a boy. After she is "uncovered" by the Duke's tailor, he gives her what is essentially an inverted corset to replace Delfina's cloth strips.

One notes Victorian corsets are different than Renaissance corsets, so the same may not apply. Although, a similarly crafty Victorian tailor could probably rig up a solution.
Doktor Jessdoktor_jess on October 5th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)
She would absolutely have to bind with bandages, there's no such thing as "training" to make yourself flat chested. I second what someone said about the waistcoat, I myself use vests to hide my chest.