I have alerts set in Google News to notify me about stories related to the Basques. Every once in a while, I get seemingly off-topic headlines such as “Rihanna poses in black basque and stockings” or “Vanessa Hudgens puts on a busty display in a vampish lace basque.” Of course, these articles have nothing to do with the Basque people or their culture, but it can’t be coincidence that the basque is called, well, a basque, can it?
- The first use of the word ‘basque‘ for an article of clothing comes from the mid 1800s. At the time, it was common for dresses to be made in two pieces, a skirt and a bodice. Taken from French, the term ‘basque’ originally referred to a bodice that extended past the waist and around the hips.
- This fashion was inspired by the traditional dress of women in the Basque Country. Exactly how it made its way in to French fashion isn’t clear, at least to me. I couldn’t really find anything about this transition beyond “it happened.”
- The unique silhouette of the traditional basque has also inspired the ‘basque waist,’ usually seen in formal wear or wedding dresses. This style of dress has the waist extend below the actual waist of the body, forming a ‘V’ or ‘U’ shape.
- A ‘coat-basque‘ took the concept a bit farther, with longer tails, almost like a men’s frock. These were particularly popular in the late 1800s.
- Today, at least in the English-speaking world, the term basque refers more specifically to a type of lingerie, one in which the brasserie extends across the stomach and to the waist or even the hips. In many cases, a basque is tight-fitting, meant to accentuate the curves of the body like a corset, but typically without the rigid boning. In France, basque still refers to the original bodice or jacket inspired by the Basques.
- The traditional basque is essentially a type of overskirt and it can, at least in some contexts, also be called a peplum. I have to admit, trying to learn the difference between various items of clothing, it is amazing to me all of the terminology and distinctions that are associated with clothing. I never realized how complex the topic was. I’m sure I’ve messed up something here…