The Woman in Fashion, Stays & Corsets
Posted by Patricia Bingham on August 25, 1998 at 23:21:40:
Here is some text from The Woman in Fashion regarding corsets which I thought interesting. And this subject has been brought up so many times here! This is for Henry!
sizes of our ancestors:
...As for the seventeen-inch waist, though nearly everybody's grandmother or mother is said to have had one, I have never come across a single specimen. I have a Victorian dressmaker's dummy with a wiast span of nineteen and a half inches, but the smallest waists in my collection are not less than twenty one. And these are far below the average, which for women's clothing was twenty-four.
However in considering Victorian measurementsm, it must be born in mind that there was a greater bulk of underclothing beneath the wasitband than there is now, so that a decidedly higher degree of contriction would be needed to produce an equivolent girth. The corset itself, unless drastically pulled in, merely adds its own volume to that of the wearer. There was also a wide and often thick chemise beneath the corset, and perhaps another garment over that, the petticoat bodice. We must therefore say that waists used to be appreciably smaller, but not so iraculously small as we are led to believe by the devices of fashion propaganda.
...The modern woman, though her waist is not strikingly different, has a decidedly larger diaphragm than her predecesors, which may be due partly to her greater activity and partly to the kind of corset worn when fashion required the bodice to be tight above the waist as well as round it. The Fin de siecle brought in a mode which permitted a certain exuberance above the belt - indeed, the top half of the torsa looked extremeely like a wllgrown melon - so the restraint of the diaphragm became unnecessary; but while it lasted it may well hav been answerable for much lung trouble. It would be rash to jump to this conclusion, however, without very good medical data. men were victims of consumption as well as women; neither, when we know something of hte provenance of a dress and subsequent history of its wearer, do we seem to find any connection at all between the measurements and the wearer's health. Several of the most constricting dresses shown here belonged to ladies who lived to advanced age.
There aref requent complaintes in the magazines of the 60s and 70s that tight lacing caused redness of the nose and ears, red and puffy hands and other defects of circulation. This is highly probable, but we must also remind ourselves that well-to-do victorian women were often heavy consumers of wine and spirits, wheich may have had some effect in the same direction. A medical contributor to the Enlgish women's Domestic Magazine in 1870 states approvingly that most doctors order ladies to take at least eight glasses of wine a day, "four of htem to be port, with bottled stout or ale twice a day, and brandy-and-water at night'.
The quantity that women took without troubling their doctors for advice might astonish many seasoned topers to-day. No one then seemed to realize the propensity of alchohol for putting on weight, and many matrons who began drinking day with a mid-mornbing pick-me-up o port or sherry and ended it with a copious potation of the favorite brandy-and-water struggles against obesity by the vain means of a tightened corset.
...A highly defined waist was a principle desiratum of the fahionable woman from 1825-1905, when it very gradually began to yeild to the so-called Empire revival.
...stays worn between 1800 and 1820 pushed up the bosom to give it prominence, and, being long and straight, prevented the dress from revealing too truthfully the lines of the diaphragm, waist and hips.
There is the widely held belief that in this epoch women abolished almost all undergarments, including the corset, and, wearing transparent gauzes and muslins, achieved a degree of nudity never dreamed of since. This is the kind of legend that grows out of taking the work of satirists and carictures literally and of accepting as a reliable guide to general conduct some on dit about an exceptional conspicuous personality. I cannot find that even in france, where 'classical' fashions were more extreme than any other country in Europe, they were really as abaondoned as the typical jests and anecdotes would suggest
We must not be misled by the portraits of French celebrities in semi-diamphonous draperies, for these were the artistic ideal of the time and would depect a heightened and etheralized version of the mode. The fuss about the indecency of women was certainly immense, but it must be remembered that those who had been brought up in the heart of the 18c, a naked arm was quite decidedly immodest object; the dress cut low at the back as well as the front excited amazement; and the frank display of the shoulders which accompanied full dress made everty moralist fear a judgement from heaven.
But most sensational of all was the discarding of an amplitude of petti-coats that, in one shape or another, had been familar for centuries. A single satin slip beneath a soft muslin which allowed the outline of the legs to appear seemd little better than complete transparency. Though the word 'transparent' is often used in angry description of French modes, I think there are only a few instances in which it is to be read in an exact sense. The beautiful satirical series of French prints called Le Bon Genre, began 1803 and carried on over years when the vogue was at its nudest, never show transparent dresses, though many reveal the contours of the limbs in a seductive manner. In several the presence of the petticoat is expressly indicated, and in one the lady, whose skirts has been torn by a man's spur, is seen to be wearing a pair of calf-length drawers with a narrow frilled edging.
Far a few years a the turn of the century stays were no worn by elegant Parisians. The Englishwoman made timorous attempts to follow theis example, bu the advertisements of staymakers continue in the smartest journals all through the epoch, and when in 1814 there was a great rush of English tourists to Paris for the first ime since the Peace of Amens, the stiff corsets of our ladies were the subject of several caractures treasured by collectors today.
...apart from their purpose of giving prominence to the bosom, the long, straight stays of the Empire are nearer to the corselets and scanties if the 1920s than anything worn in the intervening years. The fashionable aim for about 10 years, however, between 1918 and 1928, was to reduce a woman's chest to the flatness of a man's.
...I'll post text about show sizes, gloves, etc. later...
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