Thursday, April 12, 2012

Response to article "Corset Controversy"

I use the internet a lot for my research when I'm working on a new book. My current project is not any different. In order to understand fashion in the 1900s I had to look up images of what people wore around then.
In my search, I ended up on the Wikipedia page that discussed extensively the "Corset Controversy ().
I know, I know, Wikipedia's not the most reliable source of information, but as a fiction writer I use it more as an idea jumping off point to get the creative juices flowing.
Or the angry juices flowing as it was when I read this piece. My anger wasn't so much directed at the writer of the piece in general, but rather the attitudes expressed in the reference materials throughout the piece. So much so I inundated facebook with bits of trivia that I found, which ended with my observation that I'm glad I grew up in the 1980s instead of the 1880s. Our fashion mistakes were many, but enforced tight lacing of corsets was not one of them.

From the above image you can see that corsets were marketed for infants as well as developing girls and women.
One reference is: "A friend of mine has a wonderfully slender figure, which she says is the result of her mother putting a flannel band round her, when she was only a year old, to mould her soft bones. At six she wore a corded corset with whalebones, and at thirteen her mother had her tightly laced, making her waist only fifteen inches"... A one year old, barely old enough to know how to get their feet working properly is wearing an article of clothing that binds them, all for aesthetic appeal later on in life.

Also the appeal of bondage seems to be in popular thought at this time, as an endeavour to keep teenage girls from cutting the laces on their 'stays' to be able to sleep at night...
"I have a very simple plan to prevent my children cutting their laces at night when they are first put in tight stays, to obtain a temporary relief from the pain which is undoubtedly severe at first. When one of my girls disobeys me by removing her stays, I adopt this plan: — After retiring I fasten her wrists together with a silk handkerchief. This keeps her hands out of mischief, and she soon gets accustomed to the stays."
"I positively smiled at the plans suggested to prevent girls under training removing their stays, such as whipping them or tying up their hands. Mothers, listen to my plan. I get a small chain and a little padlock. When the stays are laced, I put the chain round the waist and fasten it with the lock, and put the key in my pocket, and there the stays have to remain until I remove the chain. Is not that simple?"
The cost of a tiny waist is that you won't get much sleep, but that's okay?

For those who were sent away to boarding schools all over the world, parents also paid for 'Figure training" as part of the girls' tuitions because it was essential to finding a suitable husband.

One woman expressed the opinion that "For the first month the pain from the continued compression was very severe, but nature soon accommodated itself to the pressure and I began to enjoy the sensation of tightness. I have continued tight-lacing ever since, and my health has in no way suffered and the charm of my figure is more than compensation for the amount of suffering I had to undergo.
I have not been without a pair of stays, excepting the few minutes I spend in the bath, for over seven years, so I think I can speak with some experience."
As long as she looked pretty, being in pain was a suitable cost.

Doctors were strictly against tight lacing, citing health risks against it. In this quote, I wonder if he's hinting that a woman's fertility may be at risk... "A girl who has indulged in tight lacing should not marry. She may be a very devoted wife, yet her husband will secretly regret his marriage. Physicians of experience know what is meant, while thousands of husbands will not only know, but deeply feel the meaning of this hint"... Of course, (according to this doctor), being a woman I may be on the wrong track.

Husbands weighed in with their opinions, most coming down in favour of corsets and tight lacing. "When I married my wife she did not wear stays, but I soon induced her to improve her figure and before long, she had a nineteen-inch waist instead of one measuring nearly twenty-six inches, and though it is many years since then, she still retains a charming figure. At the age of seven, my girls were each placed in corsets and they are growing up with small waists that I can nearly span. Putting girls into corsets at a tender age before the figure is formed saves them from the pain induced by lacing at a later period. But I quote the case of my wife to show that even with a girl is grown up she can obtain a good figure with a little pains." Then again, if men had to wear corsets to ensure that their waists were tiny and had to endure the 'little pains', surely the practice would have never reached popularity.

I know this post is a little clumsy, a little unsteady in places.
Maybe my brain needs a corset (she jokes)

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