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Green dress

Admit it. You think a corsage is a small spray of flowers worn on a woman’s clothes, don’t you? Well it is. But it’s so much more than that—or less, depending on the dimension of your bust. In costuming, the term refers to the upper part of a woman’s dress, what’s there and what’s not. I was blown away when I learned this lesser-known meaning while reading last night. Corsages were fresh in my mind, having just purchased them for Mothers Day.

Before we go any further, let me be frank about something: you will never see me in a low-cut neckline. I just had to get that off my chest. (As though I need any reductions there.) I want you to understand—it’s not just that I don’t want to show my less-than-impressive décolleté; I don’t want to see yours either. No, indeed.

But I am outnumbered on that count and have been since Adam and Eve. Throughout history, women have been anxious to display our bosoms. Sure, there are exceptional eras and cultures, but breast-baring has been “in” as much as it’s been “out” over time.

Here are some early examples of exposed décolleté

• Crete art from 1600 B.C. shows a shocking display of bosom that’s far more revealing than a Victoria Secret ad. Think of a bib. Now think of the bib cut away from the bodice of a dress. That’s what I’m talking about!

• In the 1570s, high-collared ruffs were worn as part of aristocratic society, the better to hold your snooty neck up above the crowd. Poor Queen Elizabeth had to merge the ruff with another status symbol for women—the display of her décolleté, which she accomplished by opening the front to expose the bosom and letting the ruff rise at the back of the head. You’ll see this in many contemporary portraits of her.

• If you think women are scantily clad today, you need to revisit the early 19th century when it looked like all clothes were made for summer. Winter in Paris? Chilly!

• Preachers and doctors railed against V-necklines in 1913. Preachers called them indecent. Doctors declared them unhealthy. But pneumonia blouses caught on anyway.

Why no pictures? A) You already know I’m not a fan of the exposed bosom. B) I can’t just snag any old picture from the web and use it on my site. Yes, friends, I try to follow copyright law. Kind of a prude that way, too!

This dress with its square neckline is perhaps the lowest neck I’ve ever worn—and it still could not be considered daring. (Worn with one of my favorites vintage pieces, a 1950s sequined sweater.)

What’s your feeling about décolleté exposure? And, by the way, when is the last time you had a corsage? Mostly, I’ve seen them at the wrist these days.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.