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.

9feda3211942547db470b22f6e7f560b
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 it 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