Want to lose 7kg in two weeks on a carb-heavy diet with pudding every night?

Simply be a woman living in 1916.

Despite spending a fortnight on just such a diet as she attempted to recreate the life of a middle-class Wellington housewife, fashion historian Leimomi Oakes found herself losing weight rather than gaining it - and it turns out the wardrobe had a lot to do with it.

"I'm wearing a corset so I didn't want to eat as much," she said.

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On top of that, the corset made sitting or lounging particularly uncomfortable, meaning it was simply easier to be upright.

"I didn't sit down for two weeks, I just moved all the time and my house got so clean ... even kneeling and scrubbing the floor was better, sitting on a couch wasn't."

Oakes was also walking 3km regularly to the shops and doing laundry mostly by hand, which she called a "seriously phenomenal workout".

Leimomi Oakes holds the corset she wore when she lived for two weeks as a Wellington housewife in 1916. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Leimomi Oakes holds the corset she wore when she lived for two weeks as a Wellington housewife in 1916. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

"It's the most effective diet I've ever done."

Interestingly, the historical dress did not stand out overly much to the Wellington public. As one of Oakes' friends put it: "I thought you just decided to dress really hipster."

The experiment was actually the final product of a year of research into life for women while the men were away in WW1.

Oakes made an entire historically accurate wardrobe for it, and next month she'll be using more historical costumes to explore the roles of women during the New Zealand suffrage movement and through the life of Katherine Mansfield in a free talk in Wellington.

Those attending the talk will be able to ask models how it feels to wear the clothes of the day, including corsets such as the one Oakes wore through her two weeks as a 1916 housewife.

The corset was made exactly like the most popular corset sold in New Zealand in that time - two original corsets from that era are in Te Papa's collection.

Oakes said the idea that corsets were made to compress the waist was a "pervasive myth" that actually arose from publications akin to pornography.

Corsets were more about distributing the weight of the heavy clothes of the time, and providing good back support and posture.

"It's really so everything sits in place and you have a nice solid foundation to hang all your clothes off of," she said.

Corsets are one of the popular things Oakes teaches students how to make in her sewing classes at Made Marion in the city.

Leimomi Oakes teaches a sewing class at the Made Marion studio in Wellington. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Leimomi Oakes teaches a sewing class at the Made Marion studio in Wellington. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

She likes to take techniques from sewing historical pieces of clothing, and use them for modern garments.

Oakes is seeing a surge in the number of younger people wanting to take up sewing.

"In my classes there's a huge revival among a generation that had minimal to no sewing classes in school."

One of the most popular sewing classes is a "make your own knickers" class. Students can also learn how to make drawstring bags, cushion covers, and pyjama pants as beginners, before moving onto things such as dresses and skirts.

Oakes herself makes anything from simple modern clothing, to accurate 18th century dresses, such as what Marie Antoinette would have worn.

"Because my background is in history I came at sewing from a really historical perspective," she said.

Oakes' public talk "Mansfield and the Modern Woman - a social history told through the lens of fashion" will be held at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery as part of the Katherine Mansfield KM130 festival - celebrating 130 years since her birth.

She will be using and talking about historical costumes inspired by Mansfield's writings and the New Zealand suffrage movement to explore the changing roles of women in this pivotal time period.