Corsets and Religion

Two interesting images appeared on the  staylace site recently.  In fact many of the images there are interesting because they show how corsets were worn in the past.

Here they are, two ladies in Salvation Army uniform.   They are difficult to date but about 1885.

If you want to know more about the fantastic Salvation Army and its continued good work then look at this.

The images show two women dressed in Salvation Army uniform…for women it was dresses made in a very dark blue serge material. The Salvation Army grew out of the Methodist church.  This meant demanding “plain and sober” clothes with very little ornamentation, and no jewellery.

What is interesting is that while the Salvation Army was against fashion following the two ladies here are very visibly corseted with a non natural waist size.   This indicates that in the 19 century a corset was necessary for respectability.  Going corsetless was not really an option for the 19 century woman.  If you want to think in terms of going bra-less today, then that is how a 19 century woman regared going without a corset.  Many women think going braless sends a message ofsexuaality and social position, exactly the same with a corsetless 19 century woman.

You may also see that the lady (girl? how old is she do you think?) on the right is “poking her head”  by not lifting her head up as she should have done!  This is often found in growing girls who are embarrassed by their height.  In the 18 and 19 century a young teenage girl who “poked her head” would be told to hold her head up in a firm manner.  Various devices were used to persuade girls that poking the head was a bad idea.  These included a whack on the hand with a ruler, or various mechanical devices as described by Heather Bigg in his book on orthopaedics in 1868, here’s one.  It’s a variant of the backboard and collar.  Some women wrte in their autobiographies that these devices were both effective and very uncomfortable.

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There we are…..corsets and the Salvation Army….please let me know your views, post a comment here.

 

 

 

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Deportment Devices (ouch!) – Part 1

How girls were taught deportment.

Disclaimer…I’m fascinated by the social aspects of clothing.  We have to admit that 18 and 19 century deportment devices probably caused pain and discomfort.  I’m totally against this sort of thing, but it happened and we should try to understand the reasons.

This post was getting a bit long, so I have split it into  two.  Here’s part 1, the other part will arrive soon.

For centuries corsets have been considered essential for good posture and deportment.  Yes, a corset, depending on the type may straighten your spine and pull your shoulders back.  Some of you may remember that the girdles of the 1960s could change posture too!  To have really good posture, as dictated by the standards of the 18 and 19 centuries, required something more…..posture training, and usually only for girls.

Here’s sneak preview of some of the devices

So why was posture so important?  A search through Google books shows the following

  1. Good posture showed class distinction…. the poorer working classes could not afford the time or money for posture training, and physical work was considered detrimental for posture.
  2. Good posture was good for health….a straight back, shoulders well back and the head held high and back.  It was thought that “poking the head” forward would limit air to the windpipe.  Also this upright posture makes your breast larger and higher..just what a lady needs!
  3. Difficult to attain.  Just look at the posture training devices below…..parents and governesses might well force these on young girls…..but it took time and effort (and pain?) to change the natural body pose into the ladylike ideal.
  4. …and most important, a good posture would show a good level of social class…so important for the marriage market, which is why these devices were primarily aimed at girl.  There was no place in social life for unmarried women past the age of 25 years.

And why, you ask is deportment for girls and not boys?  All the pictures that I’ve seen of posture devices show girls and not boys.  My opinion is that boys had more freedom to run and play games, so they had better muscle development.  And of course, girls were weaker than boys, so they needed help that boys did not.

Let’s look at some of the posture devices inflicted on girls in the past.  Except where I’ve made it clear these are domestic devices, and not prescribed by a doctor. They are in the following categories.

  • Posture corsets
  • Backboards

…..and in part 2

  • Collars
  • Shoulder Braces
  • Furniture – particularly chairs
  • Devices for the feet or legs

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Corsets

All corsets that I’ve come across will change your posture, and for the better.  Even the 1960 girdles that I wore when young had an effect on the way you hold yourself. In the 18 and 19 centuries the posture norm was for a straight back and shoulders well back.  However, some people had even more effective corsets to improve their posture.  The first is from Leicester (UK) museum, a posture corset for a teenage girl.

The museum text cites ” Adolescent girl’s corset bodice of c.1895-1900 in beige/grey sateen lined with white twill. This bodice was specifically designed to ensure the wearer maintained a straight posture.”  See it at Leicester Museum

This is a no-nonsense posture corset designed to do its job without considering the comfort of the wearer – typically Victorian.  Note the crossed shoulder straps – they will not slip down the arms, the shoulders will be pulled right back by the buckled straps. Also you can see the rigid steels that go up the back to flatten the shoulder blades.  Perhaps a concession to youth, it is not was waisted.  However, this corset must have been very uncomfortable to wear.   I’ve heard an account that it was only worn in the mornings, and removed for lunch, during which she had to hold herself properly, or it was put back on in the afternoon.

French mail order catalogs continued the theme for young teenage girl posture corsets.

From the style of corset these are from around 1900 – 1905.   French mothers clearly had no qualms about using these corsets on their daughters aged 8 – 10 years old.  For those who don’t know coutil is a very strong an inelastic material often used for corsets.  Find the original here Aubonmarché.

I’ve interviewed a lady who wore a corset with broad shoulder straps like the ones above in 1910 when she was 11 – she was born in 1899.  It was not comfortable as was forced on her as teaching and preventative device rather than curative. She said that when she was 14 times were changing to more comfortable corsets.

Backboards and Collars

If you thought these corsets pictured above were uncomfortable wait till I show you backboards and collars.  The theory is that you place a wooden board on the back of the girl needing deportment lessons.  Either she learns to hold herself “correctly” or there is a bit of musculoskeletal change.

The two principle types of backboard were (not now, thank goodness)

The Long Backboard and the Short backboard.

The Long Backboard

Was a board across the back, held in place by the arms like this.

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The arms are held high and the shoulders are really pulled back.  Try it at home with a broom handle!  If it hurts after 10 minutes please remember that 18 and 19 century girls had this for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

Some images on the internet are plain wrong, it was not used like this.

md25   Wrong, wrong, wrong!

A picture stolen from the two nerdy girls site 2 nerdy girls.  In this 1828 painting we see a naughty girl who has thrown her (beneficial, health, “you will thank me when you are older”) backboard on the floor.  Note that her caring and loving mother is threatening to use the birch ready for action in her hand.  Pain and fear were acceptable (even necessary, many thought) in child rearing up to about 1920.  Right click on the picture to see a larger view.   Not only were these backboards painful, but they rendered the poor girl helpless, she could not use her hands.  This was a another way of instilling humility in girls…an essential quality for the marriage market.

Look also the posture of the seated lady in the green dress on the right.  She shows a “correct” and ladylike posture, probably only achievable with stiff stays, a backboard and a little motivation – the cane or the birch on some tender part of the body.  The long backboard was used in England less and less during the 19 century and probably did not make it past the early years of the 20 century.

Scene at Scotsbridge CE Drummond 1830

The Short Backboard.

This was really a fiendish device, and contemporary comments tell us that it was both painful and effective.  Here’s a typical example, although it does come from a fetish style book of the 1860s.

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It’s very simple really, a flat board with three straps.  One goes round the waist, the other two over the shoulders.  The fortunate wearer is held rigid with the shoulders pulled well back (the correct position according to adverts of the time!).  The board flattens the shoulder blades, it may look nice, but it seriously limits arm movements – but genteel ladies don’t want to wave their arms about do they?

Citations on the use of the backboard.

Conseulo Vanderbilt was born in 1877, so the following quote from her autobiography relates to around 1891

A horrible instrument was devised which I had to wear while doing my lessons.  It was a steel rod which ran down my spine and was strapped at my waist and over my shoulders—another strap went around my forehead to the rod. I had to hold my book high when reading, and it was almost impossible to write in so uncomfortable a position. However, I probably owe my straight back to those many hours of discomfort.

You can find the book here here

Interesting to note that she comments on the discomfort and the value gained.

Fanny Kemble was born in 1809., so she’s talking about her early teenage years in around 1820.     In her autobiography she says..

In order that I might “bear my body more seemly,” various were the methods resorted to; among others, a hideous engine of torture of the backboard species, made
of steel covered with red morocco, which consisted of a flat piece
placed on my back, and strapped down to my waist with a belt and secured
at the top by two epaulets strapped over my shoulders. From the middle
of this there rose a steel rod or spine, with a steel collar which
encircled my throat and fastened behind. This, it was hoped, would
eventually put my shoulders down and my head up, and in the meantime I
had the appearance of a young woman walking about in a portable pillory.

You can read the text here

In 1975 I interviewed an old London man born 1895.  He told me that when he was 7 or so his elder sisters had to learn poetry from books placed high on music stands while holding the long backboard.  As they had their arms extended they could not use their hands to wipe their noses, so it was his job to be a good little brother and wipe runny noses.  It is interesting to note that he remembered the backboard as only used on girls, never a suggestion that it was for him too.

Dance manuals  Library of Congress .

Sketches relative to the history and theory, but more especially to the practice of dancing Intended as hints to the young teachers of the art of dancing. Francis Peacock

Sketches Relative to the history and theory…..of dancing.  Francis Peacock 1805.

Find it  here

Backboards, as they are now constructed, are certainly of great use to children in general, as they not only draw the shoulders back, but they force in the scapula, or shoulder blades, and, in time, may lengthen the clavicles, or collar bones. These all tend greatly to raise and give a fullness to the chest;

 

Henry Bigg – British orthopaedic surgeon, wrote in 1862, see  here.

Greatly as this form  of  appliance been  ridiculed by modern Orthopaedists, there  cannot be the least doubt that ladies of the last generation ower their superiority of form to this simple mechanical arrangement.

…and his drawing of it.

md46

This a “short backboard” with a collar to train the lucky girl not to “poke the head”, that is to say keep the head proudly erect as good breeding demanded.  We’ll discuss collars in the next post.  I’ll just say that this device could be rendered more painful (more effective) by adding sharp pins to the pad under the chin.  Some thought it more humane to replace the pins with a pad with blackboard chalk on it.  Any young lady with chalk under the chin had a swipe with the cane.

 

Well, that’s enough for this post.  Please tell me what you think of these posture devices, how would you feel if you had to use one? Is this all part of “il faut souffrir pour être belle”…you have to suffer to be beautiful?

To post please try here

Love to you all….Mintie

 

Is She Wearing A Corset?

I’m sorry I’ve not written recently, loads of of things have kept me busy!

So, here are two photos for discussion.  Just for a change I thought I would avoid the obviously tight corset and wasp waist, and go for photos where there may be a doubt about the corset.

First, a photo “stolen” from http://www.staylace.com.    This is a photo from around 1890, a defined waist yes, not not a wasp waist.

MD301

In fact, there’s very little waist reduction at all!

We must remember that at this time most dressed had a firm lining that was boned, with a waistband that could be tightened.  It is possible that she is not wearing a corset at all, but using the dress to mold the figure a little.  This is probably a photo taken in a professional studio, and therefore would have been a “special occasion”.  IF she is not wearing a corset, then why?  Possibly she’s been ill?  Or she has borrowed the dress?

What do you think?  Please let me know by posting your comment here.

 

Here’s another “corset or not”  photo. Again from probably 1890, but it is difficult to date.

md33          Le_georgette2

She’s not very old, possibly 10 or 11?.  To me it appears that the dress is just a little tight, it fits her body quite smoothly?  There’s not obvious waist restriction, but her side are a little straight, no natural curves.  In the 1890s a respectably 11 year old girl might well be wearing a bodice rather than a real adult corset – just enough to shape the body a little and give that necessary support.

At the side of the photo I’ve put an 1900 advert from a French mail order company that shows what she might being under the rather pretty dress.

The text in French reads “Corset for young girls aged 9 – 11 years in very beautiful English satin in colors natural or white, buttons in front with shoulder straps.  Real whalebone.  “.   So in the French 1890s young girls were we expected to wear underwear just a little tight, and just a little stiff.  She would probably be wearing a stiffer, tighter corset by the age of 13 or so.  However, the corset come quite low over the hips and even gentle whalebones must have restricted movement a little?

Note how the drawing shows a childish body with straight sides, just like the photo above.  I think the photo shows a girl wearing “something” a little tight under her dress.  What do you think?

Please post your comments here.

 

Love to you all, Mintie

 

Corsets and bicyles 1899

I’ve found a very interesting  YouTube video.  You can find it  here .  It shows many ladies on bicycles in Catford, a suburb of London in June 1899.  It looks like a ladies’ bicycle club outing.  There’s just so much social history to be seen here, but we will concentrate on waists and corsets.

Here’s a still clip of a well corseted lady  at 00:30.

exvid01

I really can’t resist a few non corset comments.

First, just look at those hats!  Just imagine going for a bike ride today with a large and difficult to manage hat….that’s why they used long hatpins.  I can’t find one person in the video who is not wearing a hat.  When did you last wear a hat in the 21st century?

Second, right at the beginning, the procession of around 100 ladies is led by a man….of course, women could not be trusted to find the way themselves, could they?

And…..how did these ladies avoid getting their long skirts tangled in the rear wheel?  The easy answer is that they were well used to controlling their ankle hiding skirts, so they just did it automatically.

Also, look at the young children in the left foreground, they are all dressed in loose, easy clothes…..both women and children were beginning to have more freedom as the Victorian era was ending….Queen Victoria died 2 years later in 1901.  Compare with the 1740 young girl described here .

The best way to look at the corseted waists is to look in the right bottom of the video as they move off camara.  The focus and clarity are much better.

If you stop the video at the following times you can see some well corseted waists.

 

And here is the ideal hat for a cycle ride at 00:52!

cycle_hat_00-52
00:52

 

Two well waisted ladies at 01:02

cycle-01-02
At 01:02
cycle-hat00-46
00:46

These ladies are not extremely wasp waisted, this is 1899 and not 1880 when waists were really tight.  However,  if there was an evening dinner after this day time event I expect that these well dressed cycling ladies would have been several inches smaller in their evening dresses.

I’ve worn corsets for reenactment type events.  My feeling is that I could just about manage a strenuous bike ride in a corset, I’m not so sure I would be happy doing so in along skirt that might get caught in the back wheel, and when wearing such a big hat!  Also note that many of the ladies appear (but it’s not clear) to be wearing gloves…well of course, they were well brought up ladies.

Please tell me if you agree with my interpretation, or you think that I’ve got it all wrong.

I’ve got this video as a file on my computer, send me an email if you want a copy.

You can comment here

 

 

 

Shuttlecocks, stays and corsets

In this post I’m going to look at a painting of a young girl done by the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin Chardin  1699 –  1779. He was well known for accurate and lifelike portraits.   Today he would be seen as a skilled portrait photographer.

He painted this portrait in about 1740 of a young girl problably aged 11 or 12.  She probably would not be older, she’s playing with children’s toys, but it is debatable.

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Chardin  “girl with shuttlecock”

Big disclaimer, we will be discussing a girl in tight stiff corset.  Of course, I’m not in favor of this today, and I don’t want to encourage it at all.  However, as we will see, this girl is well corseted, so let’s have a look why and how.

What do we see?
The artistic criticism of this portrait make much of the imagery of the racket, the shuttlecock and the sewing implements hanging from the waist.  However, we will concentrate on the girl and her shape.  We see:

  1. A very conical bodice which is straight from the top of the dress to the waist.  This is not the natural shape of a young girl.
  2. It’s evident that she is very small in the waist.  This is, in my opinion quite tightly restricted, although not really a wasp waist by Victorian standards….she’s 100 years before Victoria!
  3. Her shoulders are held back in a way we would consider very unnatural today.
  4. As with most people (even today) wearing stays her elbows are held well back.  See post on posture..click here

How did she get this shape?
Well,  the only way to get this shape is to wear well boned stays with a rigid busk.  She has probably been in some form of stays since the age of 2 or even earlier, so they are natural for her.

Here are some photos  of adult stays of 1740 and you can see how the stays create the desired look.

In all three pictures you can see that the stays have a narrow back and shoulder straps to pull the shoulders well back. Today that is painful and “unnatural”; at this time t was considered correct and healthy.

Girls today are lucky that they are not trussed up like that from an early age?  Another factor is that she would have be taught to always sit straight, head up, elbows back in the “correct” posture for girls.  I’ll write another post on teaching deportment and ladylike posture.

Could she move  easily?
As tight stays were normal for her she would not see any restriction.  All her elder females, mother, sisters, cousins etc would be like this, so it was “the way things were”.  She could not bend at the waist, but then ladies didn’t do that, so she had no need.  The shoulder straps on her stays would have been fairly tight to encourage chest development and a narrow straight back.  Her stays would have been “highbacked” with rigid bones over the shoulder blades.  The straps just hauled back her shoulders until he mother was satisfied with the look.  See ref 1 .  Here’s a quote from the book.

waugh_p149 One thing that she might notice is that she probably could not play overhand shots with her shoulders restricted, that was unladylike, so she kept to underhand shots.

Please post a comment if you think I’m right, or have it completely wrong.

Ref 1  N Waugh  Corsets and Crinolines pages 45 and 149. Downloaded from http://www.reenactor.ru/ARH/PDF/Waugh.pdf

If you can’t see the comments box then please click here

Corsets and posture

In history women have worn corsets for a number of reasons – I’ll explore some of them in a later post.  One reason for wearing a corset is that it encourages the socially acceptable posture.  Note that  I do not say “fashionable posture” !  Certainly in the 18, 19 and 20 centuries posture had all sorts of implications – being ladylike, well brought up, social class.

Here are some photos which show the effects on posture when seated.

 

This show the before and after for a corset of around 1910.

 

and here a corset of about 1890.

I didn’t take these photos, but they are interesting.  I’ve more of the same models with  and without corset from the front and the side – a later post.

What can we see from  the photos.  Yes, a straight back with a corset – that’s well-known.  But also look at the arms and elbows, they are “naturally” held further back.  This was considered more lady like in the 19 century.  Holding the elbows back promotes a good bust line…what every woman wants!  I’ve seen early 19 century advice to young ladies that they should always keep their elbows well back.

I’ll look at deportment training of children in another post.

The changes in posture might be more pronounced if they were laced tighter?  Not sure.

Do these photos reflect your experience with corsets?  Please post your thoughts and ideas.

If you can’t see where to post  your comments please click on the title Corsets and posture.

Love to you all, Mintie

Interpreting a wasp waist v2

Here we go with my first real post in “corset pictures”.   Please add your comments and opinions, I’m hoping to see how other people interpret corset images and their reactions to them.

These photos are all late 19 century or early 20 century.  They are, I assume, real photos of real people…..not people dressing up, or modelling historical costume.

A few images to start the debate…..

 

…and 2 more

 

 

Lets number the photos, going clockwise from top left

  1.  Straight front corset professional model.
  2.  Aristocratic lady.
  3. Mother and daughter….1870s?
  4. Telephone exchange operators.

First of all, all 4 photos will have been carefully posed…there weren’t any “quick snaps” in those days.  Therefore we can assume that the people photographed took care look as they wanted to be photographed.

Photo no 1…..1900 straight front corset, a very good and carefully taken image?  Quite a small waist, but not really wasp waisted as she would have been 20 years before.  Note how she gets the Gibson girl posture by putting her arms above her head and also BEHIND her.  This enlarges the bust line, pulls the shoulders back and tilts the spine forward.  I think the hair brush is just an excuse for the artificial pose (and perhaps to gvie a hint of respectability).

Photo no 2  Aristocratic lady around 1880?  Really quite an exaggerated wasp waist.  Her ribs also tape in a straight line from her shoulders to her waist – what was called a “refined figure”.   Probably the result of wearing a tight corset from quite young (how young….aha, a later post to come)

Photo No  Like lady no 2 the standing lady here has quite a tapering bodice and a very small waist.

Photo no 4  Working girls, but all heavily corseted, you can see the ledge across the top of the back.  You can also see how the corset keeps the body straight and the arms, not the body, reach forward.

Interpretation.  It’s likely all four subjects regarded their corset as we regard our bras today…..we would not be seen dead without it!  These photographs help confirm that corsets were always worn and that a waist was not only fashionable but also added respectability and morality (rather like our bras today?)

Here are some questions for a light discussion

1.   Could you achieve the wasp waist shown in these photos over 100 years old? Yes, you have to wear a tight corset, but there are limits to what we will put up with? These ladies thought it “natural” to wear a tight corset all day everyday?

My comment…I’ve worn this styles of corset on stage and for reenactment.  At first a  tight corset is IMPOSSIBLE, but you do get used to it?  I found that I had to judge it not by today’s standards, but by the principles of life at the time?

2.  Would you want to be seen out today with a waist like that? (except of course, for reenacting, theater etc).  What would your friends say…would they say “weird”, “deformed”, “uncomfortable”?  Just think that if someone  in 2117 (100 years on) saw a photograph of you today.  If you are wearing 2017 clothing….. underwire lift bra, high heels and makeup they might say the same things!

My comment…Well…no, I wouldn’t want to go the supermarket with  a waist like that, but perhaps for special occasions I might……

Well, that’s my first post, please add your comment….I’d love to hear your opinions.  If you can’t see the comments box click on “Interpreting a wasp waist v2”

Update…I can’t get the comments box to show, so please email me at

mintie**davis@gmail.com      (remove asterisks!)