Teach yourself Victorian deportment with just a little pain

 

I’ve been thinking for some time about thinking some time about how to get present day people to have “Victorian deportment”.  So here we go!  I’m sorry not a lot of photographs.  I did take some images of a 14 year old girl in Victorian dress doing these exercises.  Quite wisely I think, her mother did not want the photos on the web to be used by the weirdos, so sorry, no photos from me.  However, quite a few from the web..

First, what do we mean by deportment?  Probably the same as what the Victorians meant.  A few words of explanation:

Victorian deportment today tends to mean walking, sitting and standing in an (to us) unnaturally upright and stiff manner.  The Victorians extended this to how to enter a room, introduce one person to another, table manners and generally “how to be polite”.  The Victorians tended to call posture related matters “carriage”.  It’s easy to find exceptions to this in books and newspapers of the time, but as a generalisation it is acceptable.

So, quickly, why was posture, deportment and carriage so important to the Victorians?  It was important earlier, but another post.  And why for girls and less for boys?  Nearly all the literature on posture refers to “her”.  Well, parents want to do the best for their children!  For boys this meant growing up strong, intelligent and suitably qualified for work.  For girls it meant preparing them for the essential marriage market.  There was no place in middle class society for unmarried females older than 30.  So girls were brought up to be a beautiful as possible in order to trap the most handsome or richest man.  Posture and figure  were among the things that could be changed, faces could not be changed because make was not generally acceptable.

Here’s some help understanding the health aspect of posture.  Consumption was what we call tuberculosis.

06490v

For your DIY Victorian deportment exercises you will need:

  1. A good sense of humor.
  2. Willingness to accept a little discomfort…”no pain, no gain”  ha ha!
  3. An upright chair and a thick book.
  4. A  long piece of string about 10 feet (3 m) long.  A buckle strap is better, but difficult to find this long.
  5. A piece of flexible cardboard about 20 x 3 inches (50 x 8 cm) and scotch tape.
  6. A short light garden cane about 26 inches (65 cm) long.

For  two exercises you do not need any equipment at all.  Try to do each exercise for 30 minutes.  If you think you can’t manage 30 minutes scroll down to the end of the post and look on how to use the cane in the list above.

I’ve tried these excercises with my 14 year old grandaughter and her friend.  They both said that they found the changes to their bodies “bizarre” and they found the exercises uncomfortable.

  1. The figure of eight strap

This is not the most effective way of straightening shoulders, but it is a good start.  Wind the strap round your shoulders in a figure of eight with the ends coming forward under your arms.  Then pull tight, then push your shoulders back, then pull tighter.  Your shoulders will be right back in a way totally strange to us – and for the Victorians this was “good” and even the “normal” position. Clearly you had to train children to have shoulders in this normal position.  I’ve heard an account from around 1900 that the family breakfast all the children were expected to show correct posture – those that didn’t were send to school with an “eight” strap like this and were released at breaktime.strapping

Picture from “Corset et Cyphose – le choix d’un corset chez les enfants” – Dr Charier  Found at the French National Library here  Plate 8, page 45.

2. Arms behind back

This one is best done standing.  Just put your hands together behind your back and push down…..there you are – a wonderful but artificially induced posture.  I’ve heard of this exercise being done for 5 minutes at the start of children’s dancing classes in 1914.  It makes you stick your bust out, and must have been embarrassing for girls with emerging breasts. Here is an actress doing the same exercise to display her charms. She was born 1880, so this is probably taken around 1900 when straight fronted corsets were à la mode.  She is very upright, and a very small waist, but we will discuss that in another post.  However this pose was associated with “correct” posture,  no matter how uncomfortable.

916055f7f5ed4155e0e8881661749aa1

3 Arms folded behind back

This is a variation of no 2 above.  Just sit down and fold your arms BEHIND your back. Like this.

 

young-woman-with-arms-crossed-behind-her-back-AJ8RH0

(all copyright acknowledged!)

If you really pull your shoulders back it can really hurt.  I interviewed a woman who said in the early 1920 she learnt French verbs at school in this position at the age of 11.  She was an early developer and hated the enforced prominence of her emerging breasts.

4.  Edge of chair

Here’s another deceptively uncomfortable deportment training position – enjoy the feelings.  Take hard chair with a straight back.  Avoid low chairs.  Put a thick book on the back of the seat so that there is a MAXIMUM of 6 inches (15 cm) for you to sit on.  Then sit, and you will be forced into a nice, if uncomfortable good posture.  This is “perching on the edge of a chair” and is uncomfortable for more than a little while.  I interviewed a lady who had this treatment during family meals – and she said it was uncomfortable.  Even worse was that her brothers did not have this “nice ladylike” treatment.

At the end of the 18 century a certain doctor Sir Astley Paston Cooper (1768-1841) developed a torture chair for children.   Here are some photos.  Even in the middle of the 19 century (1850s say) doctors were claiming that these chairs were  unnecessary and painful – so they must have been.

On the right you can see the narrow seat of a little chair for a child.  On the left you can see it in use. Note the more comfortable chair for the adult.

5 Cardboard  collar

This is so simple and so uncomfortable.  Take a strip of flexible card about 3 in by 20 in.   Join two strips with Scotch tape if you need extra length. I used a strip from an office folder.  With Scotch tape  fasten the  strip of carboard around your oh so beautiful neck.  You will now be forced into the “correct” postition for you head.  No poking the chin now!  The collar should not be tight.  You will have to hold your head in proud manner necessary for well brought up young ladies.  You will find sewing, reading and eating difficult – you just have to hold you head up and back and learn to look down.  When you have improved a little then cut out a strip 3.5 inches wide and enjoy your improved posture.

There are some really sadistic refinements for this type of collar, but a later post.

Men too!  The two ladies have collars so high that there natural movements would have been limited – but that is all part of the message sent “I have been well brought up and can wear this without a problem”.

 

You may have noticed that I specified a garden cane in the list of items required, but I have not used it yet.  If 18 century or 19 century did not perform these exercises well, or even complained then the cane would  be used on the body as  a means of motivation.  Often boys were caned on the buttocks, but girls had the more ladylike cane on the back of the calves.  So girls were bought up to learn to suffer and not to complain. I don’t want to go into BDSM etc, but it was not unknown for Victorian children, on being told that they were naughty, had to ASK to be beaten.  Humility is a wonderful thing!

So, if you want to complain, just think about that garden cane and the back of your calf muscles.

 

Later posts will continue on deportment devices, and how women today show protruding shoulder blades that would not have ben acceptable in the past.

love to you all….Mintie

PS  please add your comments either here or on facebook  Interpreting Corset Pictures

 

 

 

 

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.

md27

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.

md28

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

 

Horrors – Corsets, Foot binding, FGM, Training Bras and Dental Braces.

This post is not strictly about interpreting corset images, but what the heck, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to do!

This blog has started a discussion (argument?) amongst some of my family and some costume orientated friends, so I thought I would lay out some of the ideas involved.

First, let me say that I’m really against causing pain and anguish to young girls with female genital mutilation, foot binding, tight corsets or anything else.  There’s not place in the world for that.  However, we encourage early adolescent girls into training bras, is that a form of deformation?  Dentists will tell you that some mothers want dental braces for their daughters for “cosmetic reasons” ie a pretty smile rather than strictly dental /medical reasons.

First, lets have a brief description of each particular horror story, and then we can look at the common factors.

1.  Foot Binding

The Chinese custom of binding the feet of young girls at the age of 7 or so started about 1000 years ago and continued until the early 1900s.  It involved tying cloth bandages around the feet so tightly that the foot did not grow.  In addition the feet were forced into small shoes.  According to reports it was excruciatingly painful while the bones were still growing.  Girls had to be taught to walk again.  More details here.  The reasons – well a mixture of “beauty” and “to ensure marriage to a rich man” .  Western men don’t find small feet beautiful or erotic, clearly Chinese men did.  Who, I wonder, tells these men what is beautiful or not? As in many societies, unmarried adult women are social and financial problem to be avoided at all costs.  Here are some rather gruesome pictures.

For our purposes there are several interesting points to note.  First it was done by mothers to their daughters – men were not involved, it was considered “necessary” in terms of the marriage market, and if not done at an early age it the feet would have grown too large.  One site comments that Chinese mothers would tell their daughter crying with the pain of newly bound feet ” you will thank me when you are older, men will not marry a girl with big feet”. We will meet this comment again later.

2. Girls in Corsets

There are plenty of references to young girls in corsets in the 18, 19 and early 20 centuries.  I’ve already written about a 11-year-old girl of 1740 in stiff stays here.  In the 19 century the idea continued….here’s a comment from the autobiography of Gwen Raverat, born 1885, so she was talking about 1898 or so.

We did rebel against stays. Margaret says that the first time she was put into them – when she was about thirteen – she ran round and round the nursery, screaming with rage. I did not do that. I simply went and took them off; endured sullenly the row which ensued.  When my soft-shelled condition was discovered, l was forcibly re-corseted; and, as soon as possible, went away and took them off again. I had a bad figure, and to me they were real instruments of torture; they prevented me from  breathing, and dug deep holes into my softer parts on every side, I am sure no hair-shirt could have been worse to me.  ref 1

 

Here’s a French mail order catalogue from around 1901 for  corset for girls aged 13 to 16.

1890_french_girl

It might not have been very stiff to wear – ONLY 34 whalebones (!!)placed on the bias to prevent unladylike bending.  Ref 2

If you thought the 1920s brought freedom from corsetry for young girls I’ve news for you.  Here’s the Canadian Eatons mail order catalogue of 1939/40….boned girdles for10 year olds.

Eatons1939girls

It’s  here .    Let me translate for you..the corselette is practical for young girls aged 8 to 14.  Horizontal boning across the abdomen. (We don’t want 10 year old girls with bulges do we?)  The Gaine (girdle) is  for girls aged 10 to 14, elastic and is comfortable but fairly firm to mould the waist.  Probably not as firm as a Chinese girl’s foot bandages, but Gwen Raverat’s mother would certainly understand the need for firm control of early teen flesh?

I think I can conclude that these three examples show it was common to put girls into corsets for the best of reasons.  Even in 1939 I doubt if a 12 year old girl would have challenged her mother on being asked to wear a corset for the first time.  As above this corseting was done “woman to girl”, no men involved, and refusal to wear it was not an option.

3.  Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Fgm is found in the Saharan areas of Africa.  It involves the non consensual removal of some or all of the external genitals (private parts if you are shocked).  I was horrified to find that  by movement of the people to the West it is also practiced in London and New York….sometimes in modern clinics, rather than with a rusty razor blade in the African bush.

I find it all so horrible I’m not posting pictures here …..just Google Fgm and be prepared to be appalled.   Here’s a video here , with blood and screams and multiple helpers holding the “lucky” girl down.

But why?  So that the girl is easier to marry off.  There’s a health aspect too, FGM reduces unhealthy sexual desire.  Again, from what I understand men were forbidden to be present at the “cutting”.

So, why is FGM in this post?  Like the other horrors in this post it is done with the mother’s approval on a girl unable to refuse.  The reasons include being more eligible for marriage and some references to “health”

 

4.  Training Bras….and just Bras too?

Of course, today in the West we have left the above uncivilised ideas behind us……or have we? Just look at the internet advice to mothers buying their daughter her first bra.  “Essential for modesty”, and you will look better, and stop you sagging in later life.  Why are  little girls persuaded into training bras, or why do mothers encourage their daughters into them?

Again, the idea of a support garment of being “necessary” for a growing girl is still with us.  A different degree than in the 18 and 19 centuries but the theme rests  unchanged.

To my knowledge 2 years ago  a 12 year old was finding it hard  to wear a bra for the first time (umm, we all have those memories?).  She said it chafed, her mother told he to smile and get used to it.  “You can’t go out without a bra”.  Perhaps not too far from the 1740 mother who insisted her daughter wore rigid, tight stays?

5. Dental Braces

No need to describe these things.  But dentists are saying that some mothers insist on dental braces for their girls for reasons of beauty and not dental health.  You can find 19 century adverts for shoulder braces to stop / cure girls from stooping.  Are dental braces using the same thinking?  Try searcing the web for photographs of children wearing braces – most are girls.

md_mont_rzl_gaz_oct25_1919

KidNeedBraces-istock

The Common Factors

I’ve listed below  the common factors in these 5 ways of deforming the body.  “What” I hear you say, a modern bra deforms the body?”  Well if you are a different shape with and without a bra then it is deforming you?  Yes, we would add “comfort”  and “respectability”…..but a Victorian woman would say the same about here tight corset?

Here’s a summary of what I’ve said above.  Y = yes   N = No

I’ve added a column to indicate if men were involved in the process, interesting to note  a general “no” except for today’s dental braces.

horrors_gif

Putting this WORD table here took all the skills and laughter of my 15 year old grandson!

So, I’m sorry for the horrors and descriptions of pain on children, but it’s the reasons that I’m looking at.  What do you think?

references:

ref1   Gwen Raveratt “Period Piece”  Page 259  Google Books here

Ref 2   Wiki media  here