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.

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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.

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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.

 

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(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

 

 

 

 

Victorian Girls in Corsets – the evidence

Sept 11, 2019

First, a big disclaimer:  I am not in favor of children in corsets, or forcible corseting, or any form of non consensual body modification.  We have to face up to the facts of history that for many centuries right up to the 1930s some form of corset or stays were an essential item of clothing for quite young girls.  Even today we “persuade” pubescent girls into bras – even when as mothers we know bras can be uncomfortable.

First , what is the evidence for young girls wearing corsets?  This falls into the followingcategories:

  1. Photographic portraits. I’m not using drawings or paintings because the artist may well paint or draw the fashionable ideal, or at least what the paying parents wanted!
  2. Advertising.
  3. Museum collections.

First the photographic evidence.  I think these girls are clearly wearing stays and have well defined waistlines.  BUT, as we shall see later, waistlines were not necessarily the most important reason for wearing stays.

It’s difficult to judge their ages, but this little guide on skirt length may help.

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From this we can guess (ha! and get it wrong!) that the first girl is 12 or 14, the second – don’t know, but she doesn’t look very old.  The third – the elder girl standing is about 12 and the other about 10.  To me all 4 girls look firmly laced, but not painfully so.  We must remember that these are carefully posed (and expensive) portrait photos, so mother would have wanted her daughter looking her best – even if it mean a little tighter lacing before the photo and a sigh of relief when the session was over.  But, they are fairly well laced.

The next photos leave a little doubt, perhaps there is a corset, perhaps not.  What od you think, gentle reader?

Perhaps the first two are wearing corsets?  Difficult to see.

…..and now clearly no corset to be seen, but perhaps one is there?

Look at the 4 girls, the one on the left.  I think her dress is just a little waisted in a way that we would not expect today?  The second girl looks nice and loose under her tent dress – very popular for young Victorian girls.  However, looking at contemporary reports and museum items it is possible that she is wearing stays under this loose dress with no hint of a waist.  Why?  A corset aided posture (read artificially upright), and “held her in” to stop her insides spilling out  – yes really.  While a small waist was not necessarily a requirement for a young girl like this one, some loving mothers want to prepare their daughters both physically and psychologically for a tight corset in her early teens.

So, what do the museums have in their collections to help us ?  Here are a few pictures.

From the Symington Collection at Leicester UK:

 

On the left we have a posture garment rather than a waist controller.  I’ll explain the logic used for child corsetry in another post.  But this garment from around 1900 is not for a wasp waist, it is for “stand up straight” support.  With the crossed straps the lucky wearer would have her shoulders pulled back into the “proper place” by a degree determined by the tightness of the buckled  straps.  And it is well boned.   Details here.

The top right is the famous English “liberty bodice” from the 1920s.  It is not boned but has corded support channels where the earlier corset had whalebones.  It was named “liberty” because it was neither boned nor laced and therefore more comfortable than the 19 century corset.  However, there are several comments from the 1920 right up to the 1950s that the liberty bodice was not loose, and could be a source of discomfort.  It wa not normally worn by boys.  Details here.

The last image bottom right is a baby “binder”…..but a corset in all but name.  The recommended way of putting it on a baby was that it should not be “tight” but “firm”.  Details here.This word firm crops up again and again in corsetry.

The last type of evidence for corsets for girls is in the advertisements.  To be exact this is not real evidence because it is what was marketed and not what was worn.  However, advertisers make their ads for things that will sell, and not rest on the shelves.  Here are a few adverts.  The wording is interesting.

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Look at the extreme right of these beautifully corseted young ladies in the 1920s. Don’t believe the statements that ladies threw away their corsets in the 20s.  Corsets were necessary for them, and therefore also for their growing daughters.  The text reads “good support….only a few well placed stays…..made from strong surgical elastic“.  This was support with a capital S many times over.   For a 13 year old ?  Not only would this garment make long term body changes (a post to come) but would show the girl that she could not easily run, jump or climb trees in this garment – but nice young ladies would not want to do these boyish things, would they?

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We’ll ignore maternity corsets for the moment, but look at the text for the girls…..”don’t use an adult corset, buy a special one for your daughter to have necessary support..shoulders straightened, because your daughter already has a figure problem of drooping shoulders”.  Without hesitation they talk about moulding  young girl’s figure, nonconsensual body modification. A few years ago I saw an ad for a training bra, that gently supported and moulded  emerging breasts.  Have we really progressed?

There we are, enough for one post, please let me have your comments.

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.

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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.

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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