A Is For Apple, B is for Basque, Basques are for Ripping Off



In the 1970's we used to eagerly await the arrival of annual Grattan’s catalogue. This solid heavy tome lay around our home all year and was well thumbed. It covered products from three-piece suites to perfume to dresses to washing machines to sheds. For a young boy the toy section at the back was magical and on the run up to Christmas my best chum Ste and I would pour over the toys we ached for - Evel Knievel’s Canyon Skycycle, Action Man, Mobile Action Command, Matchbox car tracks with loops, Scalextric, skateboards, boxing punch balls, Lego, Meccano sets and many others.


After looking wide-eyed at the toys we would look even wider-eyed at the woman’s underwear section. Those silky slips, bras, knickers and suspender belts were hot stuff. Knickers would range from the gigantic parachute-size Brigit Jones size down to the minuscule frilly things so tiny they could fit inside a dice. We didn’t understand why women wore knickers - men wore underpants to stop nut swing but didn’t women just have two bums? - the back one was for sitting on and the front one was a spare? Those were pre- internet times and we barely saw pictures of women wearing hardly any clothes (Hill’s Angels, Hot Gossip and Miss World were as close as you got.)


In the catalogue there was the odd basque – some thin for daily wear and other too garish and frilly for comfort.  When I got older I realised some were for probably used for ‘dressing up’’ in. I remember a work colleague saying his wife wore one and it made her look like a gift-wrapped ninja turtle and “it just needing ripping off.” She never wore it again.


This painting shows a woman unzipping a basque for a nervous-looking onlooker. It was done quickly as there weren’t areas needing slavish work. The man was set in the distance so I just painted him and used a woman’s blusher brush to blunt the edges. I don’t like painting fingernails so I just did two fingers reaching out to the zip rather than four.


As you can guess basque is of French origin. The Basque traditional dress is characterized by a contoured bodice extending down over the waistline and over the hips. The French hijacked it and made it fashionable then it spread, like a virus, to the Western world.