In Praise of Corsets

From Loretta:

      Many years ago in Chicago, while I was attending a Romance Writers of America conference, my sister had friends of ours drive her all over the city looking for a certain type of camisole.  This isn’t my only sister or the only crazy one.  I have three of them.  I didn’t ask for siblings.  They were completely my parents’ idea.  I was fine with being an only child.  But over the years, they have proved useful, and a truce of sorts has been effected.  Cynthia always accompanies me when I travel without spouse (because otherwise I would get lost the instant I left the hotel and never be heard from again), and I hardly ever try to kill her anymore.

Cynthia Cynthia is the Princess & the Pea sister.  I cut the labels off most clothing because they scratch.  She checks the necklines on knit tops to make sure the side seams are tucked under the neck seam because that little bitty seam bulge irritates her princess skin.  If comfort is a priority, this is the girl you want helping you choose underwear.  I often follow her recommendations.  However, I did not send her all over Chicago looking for the camisoles.  That was her special little obsession.

So what would Cynthia do if she had to wear Regency era corsets?  I think she might do all right with them.  There is a commonly held but mistaken belief that the corsets were horribly uncomfortable and possibly optional (and I am guilty of propagating the myth in at least one of my earlier stories).  This may be because people confuse Regency corsets with Victorian ones.  The Regency corset was intended to (a) create a smooth line for those high-waisted gowns and (b), in the case of dinner and evening dress, display as much of a girl’s assets as possible, short of toplessness.  Not that the topless look was necessarily a bad thing, especially during the 18th century.  According to Vyvyan Holland in Hand Coloured Fashion Plates 1770 to 1899, “ in the eighteenth century, and indeed in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the female bosom was not considered to be the shameful object which it became in Victorian days, never to be mentioned and certainly not to be revealed in its entirety.”  In one of the plates, dated 1778, from “La Gallerie des Modes”–a fashion book, not a naughty book–an otherwise fully dressed lady displays one breast in its entirety.  Her shawl or “mantelet” partially conceals the other.

But to return to corsets:  Here are some samples. 
http://kalenhughes.com/_wsn/page6.html

      There’s nothing like seeing a corset close up, though.  I had this opportunity a few months ago at the New England Romance Writers annual conference.  Costumer Heidi Hermiller did a workshop on Regency ladies’ attire.  This wasn’t simply slides & talk.  She brought a mannequin dressed in Regency clothes and undressed her–it–layer by layer, from bonnet and outer garments (I can’t remember whether it was a spencer or a redingote) to underwear.  We in the audience got to pass around the clothing.  And yes, we fondled it.  No one who was in that room wasn’t a Regency nut, and we viewed these garments with the same reverence and longing we–or most of us, at any rate–usually reserve for, say, Colin Firth or Pierce Brosnan or–well, you fill in the blank.

I think what most intrigued the majority of us was the corset.  It was surprisingly soft, thanks to the padding, and while it might have been a bit confining once laced up, I imagine it wasn’t much harder to get used to than a bra.  And I couldn’t help thinking that the girdles of the 1950s must have been far more uncomfortable.  What I liked about the Regency corset is how it made one stand–or sit–very straight, a discipline I’ve always lacked.  Had I been required to wear a corset, starting from about puberty, my posture today would be magnificent.

I am not so enamored of the Victorian era corsets–and that covers many decades of torture devices.  The tiny waist Scarlett O’Hara was so obsessed with was not a Regency phenomenon but a Victorian one–and not one of the better ones.  I say this though I am quite fond of the Victorian era (which puts me firmly in the minority on this blog).  Good posture, displaying one’s assets–I can get behind those concepts.  But crushing my innards for a teeny waistline?  No, that’s like buying beautiful shoes that hurt my feet…which I’ll maybe rant about one of these days before too long.

Right now, though, I’ve got to go see some pigs.

114 thoughts on “In Praise of Corsets”

  1. This is the sister. Just because I dragged Loretta’s two (male) friends all over Chicago looking for a specific brand (Hanro – now available at Nordstrom’s) does not mean I’m obsessive about clothing seams. Doesn’t everyone wear their pantyhose inside out? Who do you think Loretta asks about comfortable underwear?
    The worst part about having a child is I now have boobs. I never wore bras before. I usually wore tank tops (Jockey brand – they have no shoulder seams). Now I’m on the permanent search for a comfortable bra. Victoria’s Secret cotton signature bras are pretty good – lined, not padded, and no seams that rub across the nipples (who thought of those?). I’m stocking up because whenever I find a bra I can wear without twitching all day, the manufacturer discontinues it. The padded or, as I call them, stand alone bras are ridiculous. I just want a bra that keeps my boobs out of my armpits and doesn’t let everyone know when I am cold.
    I am not obsessive about clothing comfort. Ask Loretta how many pillows she needs to sleep comfortably.

    Reply
  2. This is the sister. Just because I dragged Loretta’s two (male) friends all over Chicago looking for a specific brand (Hanro – now available at Nordstrom’s) does not mean I’m obsessive about clothing seams. Doesn’t everyone wear their pantyhose inside out? Who do you think Loretta asks about comfortable underwear?
    The worst part about having a child is I now have boobs. I never wore bras before. I usually wore tank tops (Jockey brand – they have no shoulder seams). Now I’m on the permanent search for a comfortable bra. Victoria’s Secret cotton signature bras are pretty good – lined, not padded, and no seams that rub across the nipples (who thought of those?). I’m stocking up because whenever I find a bra I can wear without twitching all day, the manufacturer discontinues it. The padded or, as I call them, stand alone bras are ridiculous. I just want a bra that keeps my boobs out of my armpits and doesn’t let everyone know when I am cold.
    I am not obsessive about clothing comfort. Ask Loretta how many pillows she needs to sleep comfortably.

    Reply
  3. This is the sister. Just because I dragged Loretta’s two (male) friends all over Chicago looking for a specific brand (Hanro – now available at Nordstrom’s) does not mean I’m obsessive about clothing seams. Doesn’t everyone wear their pantyhose inside out? Who do you think Loretta asks about comfortable underwear?
    The worst part about having a child is I now have boobs. I never wore bras before. I usually wore tank tops (Jockey brand – they have no shoulder seams). Now I’m on the permanent search for a comfortable bra. Victoria’s Secret cotton signature bras are pretty good – lined, not padded, and no seams that rub across the nipples (who thought of those?). I’m stocking up because whenever I find a bra I can wear without twitching all day, the manufacturer discontinues it. The padded or, as I call them, stand alone bras are ridiculous. I just want a bra that keeps my boobs out of my armpits and doesn’t let everyone know when I am cold.
    I am not obsessive about clothing comfort. Ask Loretta how many pillows she needs to sleep comfortably.

    Reply
  4. I failed the pencil test when I was still in high school, so the idea of being able to go around without a bra at any point past puberty fills me with jealousy. My favorite bras are from bali, but we may have different requirements. 🙂 I want the darn things to work.
    And, that workshop on regency clothing sounds wonderful!
    -Michelle

    Reply
  5. I failed the pencil test when I was still in high school, so the idea of being able to go around without a bra at any point past puberty fills me with jealousy. My favorite bras are from bali, but we may have different requirements. 🙂 I want the darn things to work.
    And, that workshop on regency clothing sounds wonderful!
    -Michelle

    Reply
  6. I failed the pencil test when I was still in high school, so the idea of being able to go around without a bra at any point past puberty fills me with jealousy. My favorite bras are from bali, but we may have different requirements. 🙂 I want the darn things to work.
    And, that workshop on regency clothing sounds wonderful!
    -Michelle

    Reply
  7. From Loretta:
    No, Sherrie, you are not the only one. There was an article some time back in the Wall Street Journal about this. The thing I really, really, hate, is the poly or nylon thread they’re often sewn with. Oh, and another extreme peeve: when the label is sewn with the seam, rather than separately. Then, if you try to pick it out, you have to restitch the seam. Yes, maybe our Regency ladies had to deal with many many inconveniences, but picky labels wasn’t one of them. Grrr.

    Reply
  8. From Loretta:
    No, Sherrie, you are not the only one. There was an article some time back in the Wall Street Journal about this. The thing I really, really, hate, is the poly or nylon thread they’re often sewn with. Oh, and another extreme peeve: when the label is sewn with the seam, rather than separately. Then, if you try to pick it out, you have to restitch the seam. Yes, maybe our Regency ladies had to deal with many many inconveniences, but picky labels wasn’t one of them. Grrr.

    Reply
  9. From Loretta:
    No, Sherrie, you are not the only one. There was an article some time back in the Wall Street Journal about this. The thing I really, really, hate, is the poly or nylon thread they’re often sewn with. Oh, and another extreme peeve: when the label is sewn with the seam, rather than separately. Then, if you try to pick it out, you have to restitch the seam. Yes, maybe our Regency ladies had to deal with many many inconveniences, but picky labels wasn’t one of them. Grrr.

    Reply
  10. from Susan Sarah:
    I loved your post, and like Cynthia, I’m another one who always cut the labels out of my clothes–otherwise I itch, twitch, and squirm all day. And socks with seams, forget it! =:0
    On Regency undies, a few years ago we invited a costume historian to talk to our local RWA chapter (WRW), and she brought examples of corsets, shifts, gowns, all sorts of garments, both Georgian and Regency. Very instructive to see them up close and personal, as it were. Closures and construction were inventive and practical, and the garments were surprisingly soft and comfortable. I was also impressed by the construction of the 18th c. corset (reproduction piece)that she brought. It did wonders for the posture, and also would have helped support the back, rather than interfere with movement. Kewl. 😉
    Susan

    Reply
  11. from Susan Sarah:
    I loved your post, and like Cynthia, I’m another one who always cut the labels out of my clothes–otherwise I itch, twitch, and squirm all day. And socks with seams, forget it! =:0
    On Regency undies, a few years ago we invited a costume historian to talk to our local RWA chapter (WRW), and she brought examples of corsets, shifts, gowns, all sorts of garments, both Georgian and Regency. Very instructive to see them up close and personal, as it were. Closures and construction were inventive and practical, and the garments were surprisingly soft and comfortable. I was also impressed by the construction of the 18th c. corset (reproduction piece)that she brought. It did wonders for the posture, and also would have helped support the back, rather than interfere with movement. Kewl. 😉
    Susan

    Reply
  12. from Susan Sarah:
    I loved your post, and like Cynthia, I’m another one who always cut the labels out of my clothes–otherwise I itch, twitch, and squirm all day. And socks with seams, forget it! =:0
    On Regency undies, a few years ago we invited a costume historian to talk to our local RWA chapter (WRW), and she brought examples of corsets, shifts, gowns, all sorts of garments, both Georgian and Regency. Very instructive to see them up close and personal, as it were. Closures and construction were inventive and practical, and the garments were surprisingly soft and comfortable. I was also impressed by the construction of the 18th c. corset (reproduction piece)that she brought. It did wonders for the posture, and also would have helped support the back, rather than interfere with movement. Kewl. 😉
    Susan

    Reply
  13. tal sez:
    The Parisian merveilleuses of the same era wore nothing at all under their dampened muslins, except perhaps those flesh-colored drawers!
    Victorian corsets, OTOH, were so restrictive that some women had their lowest ribs removed to get them to fit.
    I notice that the costume website mentioned IMPROMPTU, the film about George Sand and Chopin. I cannot recommend it too highly. The most romantic film I’ve ever seen (she fell in love with him before she ever saw him, just listening to him play his music) and one of the funniest. And best cast.
    P.S. How does one get this damned thing to do italics?

    Reply
  14. tal sez:
    The Parisian merveilleuses of the same era wore nothing at all under their dampened muslins, except perhaps those flesh-colored drawers!
    Victorian corsets, OTOH, were so restrictive that some women had their lowest ribs removed to get them to fit.
    I notice that the costume website mentioned IMPROMPTU, the film about George Sand and Chopin. I cannot recommend it too highly. The most romantic film I’ve ever seen (she fell in love with him before she ever saw him, just listening to him play his music) and one of the funniest. And best cast.
    P.S. How does one get this damned thing to do italics?

    Reply
  15. tal sez:
    The Parisian merveilleuses of the same era wore nothing at all under their dampened muslins, except perhaps those flesh-colored drawers!
    Victorian corsets, OTOH, were so restrictive that some women had their lowest ribs removed to get them to fit.
    I notice that the costume website mentioned IMPROMPTU, the film about George Sand and Chopin. I cannot recommend it too highly. The most romantic film I’ve ever seen (she fell in love with him before she ever saw him, just listening to him play his music) and one of the funniest. And best cast.
    P.S. How does one get this damned thing to do italics?

    Reply
  16. Cynthia — it must be tough to have a sister that is a writer. You just never know where you might show up. I’m the first of nine. My siblings shake in their boots when I tell them what I’m writing. Two of my sister’s are prominently “displayed” in my book. Sweet revenge for all those times they peeked through the blinds when I came home from a date. And then ran to get mom. Love your post, btw. 🙂
    As for this very lively discussion on fashion — the labels can stay in my clothes, the seams in my socks and bras are just fine. The thing I hate is when I try to wear something a little feminine, a little bright, like a dress, I get scowled at. Oh for a time when cleavage was admired as a womanly form not gawked at by men and leered at by women. I’ve got’em. Double dose. And they are hard to hide in a tailored, dark suit coat. I’ve actually thought about using bindings just so I can get the top button closed. I don’t know allot about the regency period other than through your books, (which I love) but it sure would be nice to be admired because I am a woman that dresses like one rather than scowled at because I’m not a man when I take a seat in the boardroom.
    Oh for a chivalrous man that would open the door and allow me to pass first, take my coat, or rise when I entered the room. Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t loose the war for women’s rights when we earned the right to vote.

    Reply
  17. Cynthia — it must be tough to have a sister that is a writer. You just never know where you might show up. I’m the first of nine. My siblings shake in their boots when I tell them what I’m writing. Two of my sister’s are prominently “displayed” in my book. Sweet revenge for all those times they peeked through the blinds when I came home from a date. And then ran to get mom. Love your post, btw. 🙂
    As for this very lively discussion on fashion — the labels can stay in my clothes, the seams in my socks and bras are just fine. The thing I hate is when I try to wear something a little feminine, a little bright, like a dress, I get scowled at. Oh for a time when cleavage was admired as a womanly form not gawked at by men and leered at by women. I’ve got’em. Double dose. And they are hard to hide in a tailored, dark suit coat. I’ve actually thought about using bindings just so I can get the top button closed. I don’t know allot about the regency period other than through your books, (which I love) but it sure would be nice to be admired because I am a woman that dresses like one rather than scowled at because I’m not a man when I take a seat in the boardroom.
    Oh for a chivalrous man that would open the door and allow me to pass first, take my coat, or rise when I entered the room. Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t loose the war for women’s rights when we earned the right to vote.

    Reply
  18. Cynthia — it must be tough to have a sister that is a writer. You just never know where you might show up. I’m the first of nine. My siblings shake in their boots when I tell them what I’m writing. Two of my sister’s are prominently “displayed” in my book. Sweet revenge for all those times they peeked through the blinds when I came home from a date. And then ran to get mom. Love your post, btw. 🙂
    As for this very lively discussion on fashion — the labels can stay in my clothes, the seams in my socks and bras are just fine. The thing I hate is when I try to wear something a little feminine, a little bright, like a dress, I get scowled at. Oh for a time when cleavage was admired as a womanly form not gawked at by men and leered at by women. I’ve got’em. Double dose. And they are hard to hide in a tailored, dark suit coat. I’ve actually thought about using bindings just so I can get the top button closed. I don’t know allot about the regency period other than through your books, (which I love) but it sure would be nice to be admired because I am a woman that dresses like one rather than scowled at because I’m not a man when I take a seat in the boardroom.
    Oh for a chivalrous man that would open the door and allow me to pass first, take my coat, or rise when I entered the room. Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t loose the war for women’s rights when we earned the right to vote.

    Reply
  19. From Loretta:
    Susan/Sarah, I’d love to know who the costume historian was who came to that WRW chapter meeting. Maybe the New England Chapter can invite her to the next conference. Costume workshops are very, very popular. And maybe we should bring back these corsets? Victoria’s Secret, are you listening?

    Reply
  20. From Loretta:
    Susan/Sarah, I’d love to know who the costume historian was who came to that WRW chapter meeting. Maybe the New England Chapter can invite her to the next conference. Costume workshops are very, very popular. And maybe we should bring back these corsets? Victoria’s Secret, are you listening?

    Reply
  21. From Loretta:
    Susan/Sarah, I’d love to know who the costume historian was who came to that WRW chapter meeting. Maybe the New England Chapter can invite her to the next conference. Costume workshops are very, very popular. And maybe we should bring back these corsets? Victoria’s Secret, are you listening?

    Reply
  22. From Loretta:
    Tal, I’ve heard the one about the rib removal before, and I’m still trying to find hard evidence. Surgery was so risky (England’s national death rate for ovariotomies in 1860 was 86%), chloroform was very new in 1853 when Queen Victoria used it for the first time, there were no antibiotics, and people had all kinds of interesting ideas about where infection came from. As late as the 1870s, doctors didn’t grasp the importance of washing their hands before treating patients. So I have to wonder how insane the woman would have to be and how irresponsible the surgeon.

    Reply
  23. From Loretta:
    Tal, I’ve heard the one about the rib removal before, and I’m still trying to find hard evidence. Surgery was so risky (England’s national death rate for ovariotomies in 1860 was 86%), chloroform was very new in 1853 when Queen Victoria used it for the first time, there were no antibiotics, and people had all kinds of interesting ideas about where infection came from. As late as the 1870s, doctors didn’t grasp the importance of washing their hands before treating patients. So I have to wonder how insane the woman would have to be and how irresponsible the surgeon.

    Reply
  24. From Loretta:
    Tal, I’ve heard the one about the rib removal before, and I’m still trying to find hard evidence. Surgery was so risky (England’s national death rate for ovariotomies in 1860 was 86%), chloroform was very new in 1853 when Queen Victoria used it for the first time, there were no antibiotics, and people had all kinds of interesting ideas about where infection came from. As late as the 1870s, doctors didn’t grasp the importance of washing their hands before treating patients. So I have to wonder how insane the woman would have to be and how irresponsible the surgeon.

    Reply
  25. From Mary Jo:
    Hi, Cynthia!
    Nice to “see” you again! And nice also to see your sisterly discussions posted for all the world to enjoy. Clearly you and your sibs come of very refined and sensitive royal blood.
    Great post, Loretta. In my book that’s just out, I had a scene where the heroine, who is being made over by the best modiste and corsetiere in London (they’re twin sisters), finds that a really first class set of stays are very comfortable, and do wonderful things for her assets, which are substantial. 🙂
    Tal, I don’t think it’s possible to change to bold or italic in comment mode, though we bloggers can do it when in post mode.
    Do we need a term for frequenters of this site? Wenchlings, maybe?
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  26. From Mary Jo:
    Hi, Cynthia!
    Nice to “see” you again! And nice also to see your sisterly discussions posted for all the world to enjoy. Clearly you and your sibs come of very refined and sensitive royal blood.
    Great post, Loretta. In my book that’s just out, I had a scene where the heroine, who is being made over by the best modiste and corsetiere in London (they’re twin sisters), finds that a really first class set of stays are very comfortable, and do wonderful things for her assets, which are substantial. 🙂
    Tal, I don’t think it’s possible to change to bold or italic in comment mode, though we bloggers can do it when in post mode.
    Do we need a term for frequenters of this site? Wenchlings, maybe?
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  27. From Mary Jo:
    Hi, Cynthia!
    Nice to “see” you again! And nice also to see your sisterly discussions posted for all the world to enjoy. Clearly you and your sibs come of very refined and sensitive royal blood.
    Great post, Loretta. In my book that’s just out, I had a scene where the heroine, who is being made over by the best modiste and corsetiere in London (they’re twin sisters), finds that a really first class set of stays are very comfortable, and do wonderful things for her assets, which are substantial. 🙂
    Tal, I don’t think it’s possible to change to bold or italic in comment mode, though we bloggers can do it when in post mode.
    Do we need a term for frequenters of this site? Wenchlings, maybe?
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  28. From Loretta:
    Mary Jo, I’m really thinking it’s time for those corsets to make a comeback. There are corsets around these days, but they’re all spandex and lycra, not the nice cotton with the batting and sticks to keep your back straight. And some of the old corsets were so beautifully embroidered! Works of art.
    Nina: the trouble is simply that these days we buy off the rack, and clothes are not made for individuals. The only solution is taking them to a tailor or seamstress, which is what I need to do with my jeans, because of the gap in the back of the waist. As to cleavage: that was not acceptable in daytime in the Regency. This was one of the few mistakes in the BBC Pride & Prejudice (with Colin Firth) and one of the many mistakes in Regency House Party.

    Reply
  29. From Loretta:
    Mary Jo, I’m really thinking it’s time for those corsets to make a comeback. There are corsets around these days, but they’re all spandex and lycra, not the nice cotton with the batting and sticks to keep your back straight. And some of the old corsets were so beautifully embroidered! Works of art.
    Nina: the trouble is simply that these days we buy off the rack, and clothes are not made for individuals. The only solution is taking them to a tailor or seamstress, which is what I need to do with my jeans, because of the gap in the back of the waist. As to cleavage: that was not acceptable in daytime in the Regency. This was one of the few mistakes in the BBC Pride & Prejudice (with Colin Firth) and one of the many mistakes in Regency House Party.

    Reply
  30. From Loretta:
    Mary Jo, I’m really thinking it’s time for those corsets to make a comeback. There are corsets around these days, but they’re all spandex and lycra, not the nice cotton with the batting and sticks to keep your back straight. And some of the old corsets were so beautifully embroidered! Works of art.
    Nina: the trouble is simply that these days we buy off the rack, and clothes are not made for individuals. The only solution is taking them to a tailor or seamstress, which is what I need to do with my jeans, because of the gap in the back of the waist. As to cleavage: that was not acceptable in daytime in the Regency. This was one of the few mistakes in the BBC Pride & Prejudice (with Colin Firth) and one of the many mistakes in Regency House Party.

    Reply
  31. tal sez:
    Loretta, maybe we should be looking up that rib-removal story on the various urban-legend sites? You make a very good point about the risks of surgery.
    I do know that when very pointy-toed shoes were in fashion back in the 60s or thereabouts, there was a surgeon in the DFW area who got rich amputating women’s little toes at the middle joint so they could wear them. (I myself usually wear a 9M but had to wear a 10AAAA with a 5A heel in pointy-toes.)
    I wonder what those women did when pointy-toes went out of fashion and open-toed sandals came in?
    Incidentally, I have a friend (a classmate of my mother’s) whose father (or perhaps grandfather) was the first doctor in America to wear a white coat for surgery instead of his regular suit coat.
    Mary Jo, Wenchlings would be good. Or Wenchettes? WenchWatchers? Or to borrow from one invented on another board, HenchWenches?

    Reply
  32. tal sez:
    Loretta, maybe we should be looking up that rib-removal story on the various urban-legend sites? You make a very good point about the risks of surgery.
    I do know that when very pointy-toed shoes were in fashion back in the 60s or thereabouts, there was a surgeon in the DFW area who got rich amputating women’s little toes at the middle joint so they could wear them. (I myself usually wear a 9M but had to wear a 10AAAA with a 5A heel in pointy-toes.)
    I wonder what those women did when pointy-toes went out of fashion and open-toed sandals came in?
    Incidentally, I have a friend (a classmate of my mother’s) whose father (or perhaps grandfather) was the first doctor in America to wear a white coat for surgery instead of his regular suit coat.
    Mary Jo, Wenchlings would be good. Or Wenchettes? WenchWatchers? Or to borrow from one invented on another board, HenchWenches?

    Reply
  33. tal sez:
    Loretta, maybe we should be looking up that rib-removal story on the various urban-legend sites? You make a very good point about the risks of surgery.
    I do know that when very pointy-toed shoes were in fashion back in the 60s or thereabouts, there was a surgeon in the DFW area who got rich amputating women’s little toes at the middle joint so they could wear them. (I myself usually wear a 9M but had to wear a 10AAAA with a 5A heel in pointy-toes.)
    I wonder what those women did when pointy-toes went out of fashion and open-toed sandals came in?
    Incidentally, I have a friend (a classmate of my mother’s) whose father (or perhaps grandfather) was the first doctor in America to wear a white coat for surgery instead of his regular suit coat.
    Mary Jo, Wenchlings would be good. Or Wenchettes? WenchWatchers? Or to borrow from one invented on another board, HenchWenches?

    Reply
  34. I’d heard about the rib removal too, though I thought it was later, during the Edwardian years, when a sort of manneristic shape–tall with exaggerated curves and a long tiny waist–came into fashion. Or maybe the rib thing is an early form of an urban myth.
    My oldest son is an M.D. and I just asked him if he’d heard of that practice. He said it sure sounded unlikely, given how hazardous surgery was back then, pre-antibiotics, and anesthesia was still perilous. Unlikely that docs would take the risk so that women could get into their corsets.
    But then, in the 18th c., women’s fashions affected architecture and interior design — those big hoop skirts needed wide doorways, large rooms, wide sofas — so maybe women’s fashions affected medicine too….
    Wenchlings: I like that!
    Susan

    Reply
  35. I’d heard about the rib removal too, though I thought it was later, during the Edwardian years, when a sort of manneristic shape–tall with exaggerated curves and a long tiny waist–came into fashion. Or maybe the rib thing is an early form of an urban myth.
    My oldest son is an M.D. and I just asked him if he’d heard of that practice. He said it sure sounded unlikely, given how hazardous surgery was back then, pre-antibiotics, and anesthesia was still perilous. Unlikely that docs would take the risk so that women could get into their corsets.
    But then, in the 18th c., women’s fashions affected architecture and interior design — those big hoop skirts needed wide doorways, large rooms, wide sofas — so maybe women’s fashions affected medicine too….
    Wenchlings: I like that!
    Susan

    Reply
  36. I’d heard about the rib removal too, though I thought it was later, during the Edwardian years, when a sort of manneristic shape–tall with exaggerated curves and a long tiny waist–came into fashion. Or maybe the rib thing is an early form of an urban myth.
    My oldest son is an M.D. and I just asked him if he’d heard of that practice. He said it sure sounded unlikely, given how hazardous surgery was back then, pre-antibiotics, and anesthesia was still perilous. Unlikely that docs would take the risk so that women could get into their corsets.
    But then, in the 18th c., women’s fashions affected architecture and interior design — those big hoop skirts needed wide doorways, large rooms, wide sofas — so maybe women’s fashions affected medicine too….
    Wenchlings: I like that!
    Susan

    Reply
  37. tal sez:
    Just checked, and it IS an urban legend! And it’s still around–usually attached to (who else?) Cher: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/vanities/ribs.htm
    “Valerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and an expert on corsets, says, “No Victorians had ribs removed.” The size of a number of corsets from that era that are on display in “The Corset: Fashioning the Body” exhibit leads some to conclude there might have been something to that rib removal whisper after all, but the tiniest of the shapely 19th-century corsets were likely worn by young, thin women who were also small in stature. As well, upper-class children were required to wear corsets in the 18th and 19th centuries; those so appareled from childhood had their rib cages narrowed by these devices, accounting for some of these astonishingly small foundation garments.”
    Here’s another question for all you Wenches:
    I mentioned before that I have a Jane Austen action figure:
    http://www.scribblesvermont.com/ezimagecatalogue/catalogue/variations/848903-300×300.jpg
    She is accessorized with a quill pen, a copy of P&P, and a lap desk.
    So what would YOUR action figure have as accessories? Lady Layton would have to have a large fluffy dog, but I don’t know about the rest of you.

    Reply
  38. tal sez:
    Just checked, and it IS an urban legend! And it’s still around–usually attached to (who else?) Cher: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/vanities/ribs.htm
    “Valerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and an expert on corsets, says, “No Victorians had ribs removed.” The size of a number of corsets from that era that are on display in “The Corset: Fashioning the Body” exhibit leads some to conclude there might have been something to that rib removal whisper after all, but the tiniest of the shapely 19th-century corsets were likely worn by young, thin women who were also small in stature. As well, upper-class children were required to wear corsets in the 18th and 19th centuries; those so appareled from childhood had their rib cages narrowed by these devices, accounting for some of these astonishingly small foundation garments.”
    Here’s another question for all you Wenches:
    I mentioned before that I have a Jane Austen action figure:
    http://www.scribblesvermont.com/ezimagecatalogue/catalogue/variations/848903-300×300.jpg
    She is accessorized with a quill pen, a copy of P&P, and a lap desk.
    So what would YOUR action figure have as accessories? Lady Layton would have to have a large fluffy dog, but I don’t know about the rest of you.

    Reply
  39. tal sez:
    Just checked, and it IS an urban legend! And it’s still around–usually attached to (who else?) Cher: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/vanities/ribs.htm
    “Valerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and an expert on corsets, says, “No Victorians had ribs removed.” The size of a number of corsets from that era that are on display in “The Corset: Fashioning the Body” exhibit leads some to conclude there might have been something to that rib removal whisper after all, but the tiniest of the shapely 19th-century corsets were likely worn by young, thin women who were also small in stature. As well, upper-class children were required to wear corsets in the 18th and 19th centuries; those so appareled from childhood had their rib cages narrowed by these devices, accounting for some of these astonishingly small foundation garments.”
    Here’s another question for all you Wenches:
    I mentioned before that I have a Jane Austen action figure:
    http://www.scribblesvermont.com/ezimagecatalogue/catalogue/variations/848903-300×300.jpg
    She is accessorized with a quill pen, a copy of P&P, and a lap desk.
    So what would YOUR action figure have as accessories? Lady Layton would have to have a large fluffy dog, but I don’t know about the rest of you.

    Reply
  40. From Jo:
    I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two women of the late Victorian/Edwardian period had their lower ribs removed because — as with the toe removal — there are always a few crazy people willing to main and kill themselves for fashion. After all, look at the use of lead based white face paint.
    On corsets, yes. There was no need for them to be constrictive or uncomfortable, and I work on the assumption that any sensible lady would have a variety, some allowing for completely easy movement, and others making the more of their assets.
    A friend took part in a regency period reenactment once and had a corset made for her. She said that once she was in it she really liked it, but the wide shoulder straps made it impossible to fully raise her arms. As ladies are shown dancing with high-raised arms, and would have many household activities that required it, I’m not sure if the expert who made the corset got it wrong or that was a certain type of corset.
    Action figure, eh? Computer, research book, and coffee cup.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  41. From Jo:
    I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two women of the late Victorian/Edwardian period had their lower ribs removed because — as with the toe removal — there are always a few crazy people willing to main and kill themselves for fashion. After all, look at the use of lead based white face paint.
    On corsets, yes. There was no need for them to be constrictive or uncomfortable, and I work on the assumption that any sensible lady would have a variety, some allowing for completely easy movement, and others making the more of their assets.
    A friend took part in a regency period reenactment once and had a corset made for her. She said that once she was in it she really liked it, but the wide shoulder straps made it impossible to fully raise her arms. As ladies are shown dancing with high-raised arms, and would have many household activities that required it, I’m not sure if the expert who made the corset got it wrong or that was a certain type of corset.
    Action figure, eh? Computer, research book, and coffee cup.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  42. From Jo:
    I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two women of the late Victorian/Edwardian period had their lower ribs removed because — as with the toe removal — there are always a few crazy people willing to main and kill themselves for fashion. After all, look at the use of lead based white face paint.
    On corsets, yes. There was no need for them to be constrictive or uncomfortable, and I work on the assumption that any sensible lady would have a variety, some allowing for completely easy movement, and others making the more of their assets.
    A friend took part in a regency period reenactment once and had a corset made for her. She said that once she was in it she really liked it, but the wide shoulder straps made it impossible to fully raise her arms. As ladies are shown dancing with high-raised arms, and would have many household activities that required it, I’m not sure if the expert who made the corset got it wrong or that was a certain type of corset.
    Action figure, eh? Computer, research book, and coffee cup.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  43. Don’t forget that for a while it was fashionable for ladies (and sometimes gentlemen!) to take small doses of arsenic to make their complexions pale and translucent. One such was James Maybrick, whose wife Florence was convicted of his murder even though he was known to take arsenic. It’s one of the most famous Victorian domestic murders; she was convicted mainly because she was proved guilty of adultery. The murder evidence would never have passed muster nowadays, and the judge was barking mad. He was confined to an asylum a short time later. She spent most of the rest of her life in prison for a crime she in all probability didn’t do.
    James Maybrick was recently floated as a suspect for Jack the Ripper, but the evidence was forged.

    Reply
  44. Don’t forget that for a while it was fashionable for ladies (and sometimes gentlemen!) to take small doses of arsenic to make their complexions pale and translucent. One such was James Maybrick, whose wife Florence was convicted of his murder even though he was known to take arsenic. It’s one of the most famous Victorian domestic murders; she was convicted mainly because she was proved guilty of adultery. The murder evidence would never have passed muster nowadays, and the judge was barking mad. He was confined to an asylum a short time later. She spent most of the rest of her life in prison for a crime she in all probability didn’t do.
    James Maybrick was recently floated as a suspect for Jack the Ripper, but the evidence was forged.

    Reply
  45. Don’t forget that for a while it was fashionable for ladies (and sometimes gentlemen!) to take small doses of arsenic to make their complexions pale and translucent. One such was James Maybrick, whose wife Florence was convicted of his murder even though he was known to take arsenic. It’s one of the most famous Victorian domestic murders; she was convicted mainly because she was proved guilty of adultery. The murder evidence would never have passed muster nowadays, and the judge was barking mad. He was confined to an asylum a short time later. She spent most of the rest of her life in prison for a crime she in all probability didn’t do.
    James Maybrick was recently floated as a suspect for Jack the Ripper, but the evidence was forged.

    Reply
  46. I wear a corset under my Regency reproduction gown. Neither are strictly accurate in construction but the corset does create approximately the right lines. I find it quite comfortable, much like the back support I wear for horseback riding.
    Re Victorian corsets, I had not heard about the rib removal thing, but I have read about women who died from damaging internal organs through tight-lacing. Ugh…

    Reply
  47. I wear a corset under my Regency reproduction gown. Neither are strictly accurate in construction but the corset does create approximately the right lines. I find it quite comfortable, much like the back support I wear for horseback riding.
    Re Victorian corsets, I had not heard about the rib removal thing, but I have read about women who died from damaging internal organs through tight-lacing. Ugh…

    Reply
  48. I wear a corset under my Regency reproduction gown. Neither are strictly accurate in construction but the corset does create approximately the right lines. I find it quite comfortable, much like the back support I wear for horseback riding.
    Re Victorian corsets, I had not heard about the rib removal thing, but I have read about women who died from damaging internal organs through tight-lacing. Ugh…

    Reply
  49. I like the Victorian era too! I like it when Disney mixes its marvelous cartoons with the Victorian era (Lady and the Tramp)–or was that Edwardian? The Aristocats is Edwardian.
    Corsets became popular again after Moulin Rouge (the movie). Victoria’s Secret had a few but the really good ones were at Nordstrom. How do I know this?
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  50. I like the Victorian era too! I like it when Disney mixes its marvelous cartoons with the Victorian era (Lady and the Tramp)–or was that Edwardian? The Aristocats is Edwardian.
    Corsets became popular again after Moulin Rouge (the movie). Victoria’s Secret had a few but the really good ones were at Nordstrom. How do I know this?
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  51. I like the Victorian era too! I like it when Disney mixes its marvelous cartoons with the Victorian era (Lady and the Tramp)–or was that Edwardian? The Aristocats is Edwardian.
    Corsets became popular again after Moulin Rouge (the movie). Victoria’s Secret had a few but the really good ones were at Nordstrom. How do I know this?
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  52. Must have a moment of SQUEEEEELLL, as that’s my site posted on Word Wenches. I think I just got a hot flash! *GRIN* I took a break from working on my revisions and there it was.
    I can wear my regency stays all day without discomfort (as I pretty much did for the Beau Monde conference in Reno last year). My Georgian ones, too (in fact, I think my Georgian stays are the most comfortable ones I’ve ever owned). My Victorians aren’t too bad, unless I REALLY lace down. The worst ones in my experience are the Edwardian ones (as someone already mentioned). That “S” curve, or swan curve (like you see the Gibson Girls in) is back-pain city.
    My Regency stays and the long-line variety, and are made from a pattern taken from an extant pair.
    http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/1830corset.html
    I can’t raise my arms fully in them (though the dress also restricts arm movement). Mostly it’s because you can’t fully articulate your shoulder, and without the shoulder rising up, your entire upper arm can only raise about 90 degrees (level with your shoulder). To see what I mean, put on hand on your opposite shoulder and hold it firmly in place, now try and raise that arm. No one is climbing a tree in one of these (not to mention the fact that you can’t bend from waist, due to the busk). The shorter ones that I’ve seen illustrations of from the 1820s look like they might have been a bit easier to move freely in. I wish I could find an extant example of these, but everything I’ve ever seen is the long-line type.
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1823stay.gif
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1822cors.gif

    Reply
  53. Must have a moment of SQUEEEEELLL, as that’s my site posted on Word Wenches. I think I just got a hot flash! *GRIN* I took a break from working on my revisions and there it was.
    I can wear my regency stays all day without discomfort (as I pretty much did for the Beau Monde conference in Reno last year). My Georgian ones, too (in fact, I think my Georgian stays are the most comfortable ones I’ve ever owned). My Victorians aren’t too bad, unless I REALLY lace down. The worst ones in my experience are the Edwardian ones (as someone already mentioned). That “S” curve, or swan curve (like you see the Gibson Girls in) is back-pain city.
    My Regency stays and the long-line variety, and are made from a pattern taken from an extant pair.
    http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/1830corset.html
    I can’t raise my arms fully in them (though the dress also restricts arm movement). Mostly it’s because you can’t fully articulate your shoulder, and without the shoulder rising up, your entire upper arm can only raise about 90 degrees (level with your shoulder). To see what I mean, put on hand on your opposite shoulder and hold it firmly in place, now try and raise that arm. No one is climbing a tree in one of these (not to mention the fact that you can’t bend from waist, due to the busk). The shorter ones that I’ve seen illustrations of from the 1820s look like they might have been a bit easier to move freely in. I wish I could find an extant example of these, but everything I’ve ever seen is the long-line type.
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1823stay.gif
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1822cors.gif

    Reply
  54. Must have a moment of SQUEEEEELLL, as that’s my site posted on Word Wenches. I think I just got a hot flash! *GRIN* I took a break from working on my revisions and there it was.
    I can wear my regency stays all day without discomfort (as I pretty much did for the Beau Monde conference in Reno last year). My Georgian ones, too (in fact, I think my Georgian stays are the most comfortable ones I’ve ever owned). My Victorians aren’t too bad, unless I REALLY lace down. The worst ones in my experience are the Edwardian ones (as someone already mentioned). That “S” curve, or swan curve (like you see the Gibson Girls in) is back-pain city.
    My Regency stays and the long-line variety, and are made from a pattern taken from an extant pair.
    http://www.koshka-the-cat.com/1830corset.html
    I can’t raise my arms fully in them (though the dress also restricts arm movement). Mostly it’s because you can’t fully articulate your shoulder, and without the shoulder rising up, your entire upper arm can only raise about 90 degrees (level with your shoulder). To see what I mean, put on hand on your opposite shoulder and hold it firmly in place, now try and raise that arm. No one is climbing a tree in one of these (not to mention the fact that you can’t bend from waist, due to the busk). The shorter ones that I’ve seen illustrations of from the 1820s look like they might have been a bit easier to move freely in. I wish I could find an extant example of these, but everything I’ve ever seen is the long-line type.
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1823stay.gif
    http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/1822cors.gif

    Reply
  55. From Loretta;
    Thanks so much, Tonda and Elena, for providing the Voice of Experience. My guess regarding length of corset is that it followed fashion: when the skirts were slim, the corset would be longer, to slim down tummy. When skirts were wider, as in the 1820s, that long, smooth line wasn’t as important. I hadn’t thought about those wide straps, though. But again, maybe this, too, would depend on fashion–on the type of sleeve that was popular. It could also depend, as Jo says, on the lady. There must be fashion extremists in every era. This would explain the Mirror of Graces rant about excessively tight lacing “the hips squeezed to a circumference little more than the waist.”

    Reply
  56. From Loretta;
    Thanks so much, Tonda and Elena, for providing the Voice of Experience. My guess regarding length of corset is that it followed fashion: when the skirts were slim, the corset would be longer, to slim down tummy. When skirts were wider, as in the 1820s, that long, smooth line wasn’t as important. I hadn’t thought about those wide straps, though. But again, maybe this, too, would depend on fashion–on the type of sleeve that was popular. It could also depend, as Jo says, on the lady. There must be fashion extremists in every era. This would explain the Mirror of Graces rant about excessively tight lacing “the hips squeezed to a circumference little more than the waist.”

    Reply
  57. From Loretta;
    Thanks so much, Tonda and Elena, for providing the Voice of Experience. My guess regarding length of corset is that it followed fashion: when the skirts were slim, the corset would be longer, to slim down tummy. When skirts were wider, as in the 1820s, that long, smooth line wasn’t as important. I hadn’t thought about those wide straps, though. But again, maybe this, too, would depend on fashion–on the type of sleeve that was popular. It could also depend, as Jo says, on the lady. There must be fashion extremists in every era. This would explain the Mirror of Graces rant about excessively tight lacing “the hips squeezed to a circumference little more than the waist.”

    Reply
  58. From Pat Rice:
    I probably put my hatred of all things confining into my heroine’s dislike of corsets. I can tolerate neck tags most of the time, don’t much notice seams at all, but anything the least bit constricting gets shed within hours. I doubt that I can ever return to the working world if I have to wear garments with elastic. or shoes. hate shoes. duck feet simply don’t belong in shoes.
    so I think we can safely have our heroines have as many prejudices about clothes as we like.

    Reply
  59. From Pat Rice:
    I probably put my hatred of all things confining into my heroine’s dislike of corsets. I can tolerate neck tags most of the time, don’t much notice seams at all, but anything the least bit constricting gets shed within hours. I doubt that I can ever return to the working world if I have to wear garments with elastic. or shoes. hate shoes. duck feet simply don’t belong in shoes.
    so I think we can safely have our heroines have as many prejudices about clothes as we like.

    Reply
  60. From Pat Rice:
    I probably put my hatred of all things confining into my heroine’s dislike of corsets. I can tolerate neck tags most of the time, don’t much notice seams at all, but anything the least bit constricting gets shed within hours. I doubt that I can ever return to the working world if I have to wear garments with elastic. or shoes. hate shoes. duck feet simply don’t belong in shoes.
    so I think we can safely have our heroines have as many prejudices about clothes as we like.

    Reply
  61. This may be the earliest stricture against tight-lacing, from Congreve’s THE WAY OF THE WORLD (1700):
    MIRABELL: ITEM, when you shall be breeding –
    MILLAMANT
    Ah, name it not!
    MIRABELL
    Which may be presumed, with a blessing on our endeavours –
    MILLAMANT
    Odious endeavours!
    MIRABELL
    I denounce against all strait lacing, squeezing for a shape, till you mould my boy’s head like a sugar-loaf, and instead of a man-child, make me father to a crooked billet.

    Reply
  62. This may be the earliest stricture against tight-lacing, from Congreve’s THE WAY OF THE WORLD (1700):
    MIRABELL: ITEM, when you shall be breeding –
    MILLAMANT
    Ah, name it not!
    MIRABELL
    Which may be presumed, with a blessing on our endeavours –
    MILLAMANT
    Odious endeavours!
    MIRABELL
    I denounce against all strait lacing, squeezing for a shape, till you mould my boy’s head like a sugar-loaf, and instead of a man-child, make me father to a crooked billet.

    Reply
  63. This may be the earliest stricture against tight-lacing, from Congreve’s THE WAY OF THE WORLD (1700):
    MIRABELL: ITEM, when you shall be breeding –
    MILLAMANT
    Ah, name it not!
    MIRABELL
    Which may be presumed, with a blessing on our endeavours –
    MILLAMANT
    Odious endeavours!
    MIRABELL
    I denounce against all strait lacing, squeezing for a shape, till you mould my boy’s head like a sugar-loaf, and instead of a man-child, make me father to a crooked billet.

    Reply
  64. Yes, but when they speak of “tight lacing” so early they’re not talking about the same kind of thing the Victorians meant by it.
    Simply because it’s impossible to lace tightly enough to really cause any problems before the invention of the metal grommet (1828). The fabric, with only hand sewn eyelets, simply won’t hold up for it.
    The extant stays I’ve seen from the 18th century would not be uncomfortable for a woman of the correct size today, The chest to waist differential is NOTHING like what you see in the 1850s and 1860s, when true tight lacing comes into play.

    Reply
  65. Yes, but when they speak of “tight lacing” so early they’re not talking about the same kind of thing the Victorians meant by it.
    Simply because it’s impossible to lace tightly enough to really cause any problems before the invention of the metal grommet (1828). The fabric, with only hand sewn eyelets, simply won’t hold up for it.
    The extant stays I’ve seen from the 18th century would not be uncomfortable for a woman of the correct size today, The chest to waist differential is NOTHING like what you see in the 1850s and 1860s, when true tight lacing comes into play.

    Reply
  66. Yes, but when they speak of “tight lacing” so early they’re not talking about the same kind of thing the Victorians meant by it.
    Simply because it’s impossible to lace tightly enough to really cause any problems before the invention of the metal grommet (1828). The fabric, with only hand sewn eyelets, simply won’t hold up for it.
    The extant stays I’ve seen from the 18th century would not be uncomfortable for a woman of the correct size today, The chest to waist differential is NOTHING like what you see in the 1850s and 1860s, when true tight lacing comes into play.

    Reply
  67. Thanks, Tonda–one of those simple little details that never occurred to me; or else I simply assumed that the grommet had already been invented (possibly by Wallace).
    I got a new catalogue from Pyramid New Age, and there are various Regency-style garments in modern versions–dress, blouse, waistcoat. I can post a link if anyone is interested.

    Reply
  68. Thanks, Tonda–one of those simple little details that never occurred to me; or else I simply assumed that the grommet had already been invented (possibly by Wallace).
    I got a new catalogue from Pyramid New Age, and there are various Regency-style garments in modern versions–dress, blouse, waistcoat. I can post a link if anyone is interested.

    Reply
  69. Thanks, Tonda–one of those simple little details that never occurred to me; or else I simply assumed that the grommet had already been invented (possibly by Wallace).
    I got a new catalogue from Pyramid New Age, and there are various Regency-style garments in modern versions–dress, blouse, waistcoat. I can post a link if anyone is interested.

    Reply
  70. From Susan/Miranda:
    I’m coming in late here on the corsts/stays discussion, but I’ll toss in my two bits about 18th century stays.
    While stays were reinforced with whalebone and laced like their 19th century descendants, the purpose of mid-18th century stays was much different. The narrow waist wasn’t so much an issue as “improving” posture, which is why they were inflicted on little boys as well as girls. (There are even a few examples in existance of tiny, tiny stays worn by infants!)
    The idealized posture for a lady was a wide, flat front and a very narrow back. Just as girls today aspire to jutting hipbones above their low-rise jeans, their 18th century counterparts longed for their shoulderblades to come as close to touching as was possible.
    The front of the stays were often reinforced with an additional long, wide, stiff piece of whalebone or wood called a busk, that was slipped into a pocket in the front of the stays. While plenty of breasts were revealed by the low-cut necklines, there was almost no cleavage; that straight, narrow back drew the breast apart rather than together. The desired silhouette from shoulder to waist was a flattened, curve-free cone.
    I was interested to read the discussion about how high a lady could raise her arms in Regency corsets, because it’s HARD in to do in the earlier stays, compounded by the extremely tight sleeves of the time. Everything in a fashionable lady’s dress was designed to help her achieve the proper posture. Not only would she stand very straight because of the busk in her stays, but “ungainly” bending was restricted. To pick anything up, she needed to bend her knees and dip, as in a curtsey. The tight sleeves kept her arms always below shoulder level, and the little horizontal tucks in the bend of the elbow of the sleeves kept her forearms curved gracefully forward. If you look at any mid-century portrait of a lady, you’ll see how she’s been molded by her clothes in this way.

    Reply
  71. From Susan/Miranda:
    I’m coming in late here on the corsts/stays discussion, but I’ll toss in my two bits about 18th century stays.
    While stays were reinforced with whalebone and laced like their 19th century descendants, the purpose of mid-18th century stays was much different. The narrow waist wasn’t so much an issue as “improving” posture, which is why they were inflicted on little boys as well as girls. (There are even a few examples in existance of tiny, tiny stays worn by infants!)
    The idealized posture for a lady was a wide, flat front and a very narrow back. Just as girls today aspire to jutting hipbones above their low-rise jeans, their 18th century counterparts longed for their shoulderblades to come as close to touching as was possible.
    The front of the stays were often reinforced with an additional long, wide, stiff piece of whalebone or wood called a busk, that was slipped into a pocket in the front of the stays. While plenty of breasts were revealed by the low-cut necklines, there was almost no cleavage; that straight, narrow back drew the breast apart rather than together. The desired silhouette from shoulder to waist was a flattened, curve-free cone.
    I was interested to read the discussion about how high a lady could raise her arms in Regency corsets, because it’s HARD in to do in the earlier stays, compounded by the extremely tight sleeves of the time. Everything in a fashionable lady’s dress was designed to help her achieve the proper posture. Not only would she stand very straight because of the busk in her stays, but “ungainly” bending was restricted. To pick anything up, she needed to bend her knees and dip, as in a curtsey. The tight sleeves kept her arms always below shoulder level, and the little horizontal tucks in the bend of the elbow of the sleeves kept her forearms curved gracefully forward. If you look at any mid-century portrait of a lady, you’ll see how she’s been molded by her clothes in this way.

    Reply
  72. From Susan/Miranda:
    I’m coming in late here on the corsts/stays discussion, but I’ll toss in my two bits about 18th century stays.
    While stays were reinforced with whalebone and laced like their 19th century descendants, the purpose of mid-18th century stays was much different. The narrow waist wasn’t so much an issue as “improving” posture, which is why they were inflicted on little boys as well as girls. (There are even a few examples in existance of tiny, tiny stays worn by infants!)
    The idealized posture for a lady was a wide, flat front and a very narrow back. Just as girls today aspire to jutting hipbones above their low-rise jeans, their 18th century counterparts longed for their shoulderblades to come as close to touching as was possible.
    The front of the stays were often reinforced with an additional long, wide, stiff piece of whalebone or wood called a busk, that was slipped into a pocket in the front of the stays. While plenty of breasts were revealed by the low-cut necklines, there was almost no cleavage; that straight, narrow back drew the breast apart rather than together. The desired silhouette from shoulder to waist was a flattened, curve-free cone.
    I was interested to read the discussion about how high a lady could raise her arms in Regency corsets, because it’s HARD in to do in the earlier stays, compounded by the extremely tight sleeves of the time. Everything in a fashionable lady’s dress was designed to help her achieve the proper posture. Not only would she stand very straight because of the busk in her stays, but “ungainly” bending was restricted. To pick anything up, she needed to bend her knees and dip, as in a curtsey. The tight sleeves kept her arms always below shoulder level, and the little horizontal tucks in the bend of the elbow of the sleeves kept her forearms curved gracefully forward. If you look at any mid-century portrait of a lady, you’ll see how she’s been molded by her clothes in this way.

    Reply
  73. Now, I don’t cut off every label. It definitely depends on how comfortable it is. And you’re right, Loretta, those stupid nylon threads are the worst thing they’ve come up with.
    I also have a dorky sun-visor made worse by a huge bow at the back. I like the fact that it’s a big visor because it does shade most of my face…but the bow?!? I’d love to take it off but then, as you mentioned, I’d have to undo all the stitching at the back and then redo the stitching necessary to keep the visor as a visor and not a useless hunk of cloth. And I can hardly hold a needle let alone try to sew a seam like that through several layers of cloth.

    Reply
  74. Now, I don’t cut off every label. It definitely depends on how comfortable it is. And you’re right, Loretta, those stupid nylon threads are the worst thing they’ve come up with.
    I also have a dorky sun-visor made worse by a huge bow at the back. I like the fact that it’s a big visor because it does shade most of my face…but the bow?!? I’d love to take it off but then, as you mentioned, I’d have to undo all the stitching at the back and then redo the stitching necessary to keep the visor as a visor and not a useless hunk of cloth. And I can hardly hold a needle let alone try to sew a seam like that through several layers of cloth.

    Reply
  75. Now, I don’t cut off every label. It definitely depends on how comfortable it is. And you’re right, Loretta, those stupid nylon threads are the worst thing they’ve come up with.
    I also have a dorky sun-visor made worse by a huge bow at the back. I like the fact that it’s a big visor because it does shade most of my face…but the bow?!? I’d love to take it off but then, as you mentioned, I’d have to undo all the stitching at the back and then redo the stitching necessary to keep the visor as a visor and not a useless hunk of cloth. And I can hardly hold a needle let alone try to sew a seam like that through several layers of cloth.

    Reply
  76. Oh, yeah, I do wish I could find something that would help with my posture. I have a little “strait-jacket” that does help but it’s awkward to put on. One masseur told me that being top-heavy is not good for your back or your posture and I can believe that. So maybe Regency corsets did have their advantages as long as there was no steel rod in the back.

    Reply
  77. Oh, yeah, I do wish I could find something that would help with my posture. I have a little “strait-jacket” that does help but it’s awkward to put on. One masseur told me that being top-heavy is not good for your back or your posture and I can believe that. So maybe Regency corsets did have their advantages as long as there was no steel rod in the back.

    Reply
  78. Oh, yeah, I do wish I could find something that would help with my posture. I have a little “strait-jacket” that does help but it’s awkward to put on. One masseur told me that being top-heavy is not good for your back or your posture and I can believe that. So maybe Regency corsets did have their advantages as long as there was no steel rod in the back.

    Reply
  79. From Loretta:
    Susan/Miranda,
    What fascinating stuff! Or should
    I say “fascinatin'” a la Lord Peter Wimsey. But you’re right about cleavage. I should have used the term “decolletage” because the Regency ladies kept ’em separated, too. In fact, that’s the meaning of the divorce corset: nothing to do with an ex-spouse; it prevented cleavage. Do I correctly recall reading somewhere that cleavage came into fashion post WWII?
    But I am really curious about the ladies not raising their arms. Someone mentioned the difficulty of dancing. How did the ladies do it? Or do we have the wrong idea about the dances?

    Reply
  80. From Loretta:
    Susan/Miranda,
    What fascinating stuff! Or should
    I say “fascinatin'” a la Lord Peter Wimsey. But you’re right about cleavage. I should have used the term “decolletage” because the Regency ladies kept ’em separated, too. In fact, that’s the meaning of the divorce corset: nothing to do with an ex-spouse; it prevented cleavage. Do I correctly recall reading somewhere that cleavage came into fashion post WWII?
    But I am really curious about the ladies not raising their arms. Someone mentioned the difficulty of dancing. How did the ladies do it? Or do we have the wrong idea about the dances?

    Reply
  81. From Loretta:
    Susan/Miranda,
    What fascinating stuff! Or should
    I say “fascinatin'” a la Lord Peter Wimsey. But you’re right about cleavage. I should have used the term “decolletage” because the Regency ladies kept ’em separated, too. In fact, that’s the meaning of the divorce corset: nothing to do with an ex-spouse; it prevented cleavage. Do I correctly recall reading somewhere that cleavage came into fashion post WWII?
    But I am really curious about the ladies not raising their arms. Someone mentioned the difficulty of dancing. How did the ladies do it? Or do we have the wrong idea about the dances?

    Reply
  82. I’m fascinated by the comments on corsets. Please tell me, if you had worn corsets since a child would it change your opinions?
    ….still reading…Annie

    Reply
  83. I’m fascinated by the comments on corsets. Please tell me, if you had worn corsets since a child would it change your opinions?
    ….still reading…Annie

    Reply
  84. I’m fascinated by the comments on corsets. Please tell me, if you had worn corsets since a child would it change your opinions?
    ….still reading…Annie

    Reply
  85. Hi, Annie. Good question. If we’re talking about the gentler corsets of the Regency era, and a common-sensical approach to lacing, I see definite benefits–at least for me, in terms of posture. Not that I was advocating for corsets generally, but primarily wanting to clear up some misconceptions. But we tend to be the products of our times. I surmise that Victorian women were so used to being dangerously squashed (in more ways than one) that most of them didn’t know any better, but I don’t think that makes their corsets a healthy option. Meanwhile, I know that there’s a generation of women still alive who started wearing girdles at age 13 or 14 and still wear them and would feel uncomfortable without them. When many in my generation discovered the comforts of going braless, we couldn’t understand how our mothers could stand all those stiff undergarments–and they couldn’t understand how we could go around practically naked (note the similar reaction of the elders of many of our Regency ladies). One of the beautiful things about studying history, including costume, is the interesting perspective it gives us on our own times.

    Reply
  86. Hi, Annie. Good question. If we’re talking about the gentler corsets of the Regency era, and a common-sensical approach to lacing, I see definite benefits–at least for me, in terms of posture. Not that I was advocating for corsets generally, but primarily wanting to clear up some misconceptions. But we tend to be the products of our times. I surmise that Victorian women were so used to being dangerously squashed (in more ways than one) that most of them didn’t know any better, but I don’t think that makes their corsets a healthy option. Meanwhile, I know that there’s a generation of women still alive who started wearing girdles at age 13 or 14 and still wear them and would feel uncomfortable without them. When many in my generation discovered the comforts of going braless, we couldn’t understand how our mothers could stand all those stiff undergarments–and they couldn’t understand how we could go around practically naked (note the similar reaction of the elders of many of our Regency ladies). One of the beautiful things about studying history, including costume, is the interesting perspective it gives us on our own times.

    Reply
  87. Hi, Annie. Good question. If we’re talking about the gentler corsets of the Regency era, and a common-sensical approach to lacing, I see definite benefits–at least for me, in terms of posture. Not that I was advocating for corsets generally, but primarily wanting to clear up some misconceptions. But we tend to be the products of our times. I surmise that Victorian women were so used to being dangerously squashed (in more ways than one) that most of them didn’t know any better, but I don’t think that makes their corsets a healthy option. Meanwhile, I know that there’s a generation of women still alive who started wearing girdles at age 13 or 14 and still wear them and would feel uncomfortable without them. When many in my generation discovered the comforts of going braless, we couldn’t understand how our mothers could stand all those stiff undergarments–and they couldn’t understand how we could go around practically naked (note the similar reaction of the elders of many of our Regency ladies). One of the beautiful things about studying history, including costume, is the interesting perspective it gives us on our own times.

    Reply
  88. 18 century young girls in stays….I’ve seen some comments that it was cruel to put children into stiff stays. At the time (not now!) it was the right thing to do. All well meaning mothers wanted their daughters to be straight and well made. In the 18c the only way you got the proper shape was by stays from an early age.
    Mary

    Reply
  89. 18 century young girls in stays….I’ve seen some comments that it was cruel to put children into stiff stays. At the time (not now!) it was the right thing to do. All well meaning mothers wanted their daughters to be straight and well made. In the 18c the only way you got the proper shape was by stays from an early age.
    Mary

    Reply
  90. 18 century young girls in stays….I’ve seen some comments that it was cruel to put children into stiff stays. At the time (not now!) it was the right thing to do. All well meaning mothers wanted their daughters to be straight and well made. In the 18c the only way you got the proper shape was by stays from an early age.
    Mary

    Reply
  91. Mary, you are absolutely right. It’s important to look at these things from the perspective of the time and try not to impose our standards on our ancestors. This is one of the tricky areas in writing historical romances: trying to find a balance between being true to the times while taking modern sensibilities into account. For instance, most of us have our heroes and heroines bathe rather more frequently than was the general custom.

    Reply
  92. Mary, you are absolutely right. It’s important to look at these things from the perspective of the time and try not to impose our standards on our ancestors. This is one of the tricky areas in writing historical romances: trying to find a balance between being true to the times while taking modern sensibilities into account. For instance, most of us have our heroes and heroines bathe rather more frequently than was the general custom.

    Reply
  93. Mary, you are absolutely right. It’s important to look at these things from the perspective of the time and try not to impose our standards on our ancestors. This is one of the tricky areas in writing historical romances: trying to find a balance between being true to the times while taking modern sensibilities into account. For instance, most of us have our heroes and heroines bathe rather more frequently than was the general custom.

    Reply
  94. Dora, who is having Internet problems, asked me to post this for her. An interesting perspective on modern woman in a corset.
    ****
    I’ve worked in theater costume and I have squeezed modern actresses into 18 and 19 century corsets. I have noticed that despite protests, “I’ll die in that torture device” etc, some, but not all actresses get used to them over a week or so. I’m not sure if this is the body getting used to it, or a change of attitude. The Victorians were right about a corset being essential for a lady; with no corset it is difficult to have that superior upright poise.
    But, I am not sure you get the authentic look with a modern woman in a tight rigid corset, I think you need to start with a rigid busk fairly young in order to get really at home with it. What do others here think?
    Regarding 18-century youngsters in stays, the idea was still around less than 100 years ago. I’ve read an autobiography of a woman who was born in 1900. At age 10 she did not wear stays, but her party dress had a wide sash that was hooked and eyed so tight that she asked her mother to undo it on the bus journey home. That must have been very tight for a poor little 10 year old?
    Dora

    Reply
  95. Dora, who is having Internet problems, asked me to post this for her. An interesting perspective on modern woman in a corset.
    ****
    I’ve worked in theater costume and I have squeezed modern actresses into 18 and 19 century corsets. I have noticed that despite protests, “I’ll die in that torture device” etc, some, but not all actresses get used to them over a week or so. I’m not sure if this is the body getting used to it, or a change of attitude. The Victorians were right about a corset being essential for a lady; with no corset it is difficult to have that superior upright poise.
    But, I am not sure you get the authentic look with a modern woman in a tight rigid corset, I think you need to start with a rigid busk fairly young in order to get really at home with it. What do others here think?
    Regarding 18-century youngsters in stays, the idea was still around less than 100 years ago. I’ve read an autobiography of a woman who was born in 1900. At age 10 she did not wear stays, but her party dress had a wide sash that was hooked and eyed so tight that she asked her mother to undo it on the bus journey home. That must have been very tight for a poor little 10 year old?
    Dora

    Reply
  96. Dora, who is having Internet problems, asked me to post this for her. An interesting perspective on modern woman in a corset.
    ****
    I’ve worked in theater costume and I have squeezed modern actresses into 18 and 19 century corsets. I have noticed that despite protests, “I’ll die in that torture device” etc, some, but not all actresses get used to them over a week or so. I’m not sure if this is the body getting used to it, or a change of attitude. The Victorians were right about a corset being essential for a lady; with no corset it is difficult to have that superior upright poise.
    But, I am not sure you get the authentic look with a modern woman in a tight rigid corset, I think you need to start with a rigid busk fairly young in order to get really at home with it. What do others here think?
    Regarding 18-century youngsters in stays, the idea was still around less than 100 years ago. I’ve read an autobiography of a woman who was born in 1900. At age 10 she did not wear stays, but her party dress had a wide sash that was hooked and eyed so tight that she asked her mother to undo it on the bus journey home. That must have been very tight for a poor little 10 year old?
    Dora

    Reply
  97. I’ve only just discovered this blog and was reading back. I can’t resist making a very late comment, even though no one will read it.
    I just wanted to say that it’s perfectly possible to raise your arms above your head without lifting your shoulders, you just can’t have your arms skimming your ears. The method is taught all over the world in ballet classes. Just look at a photograph of a ballet dancer (male or female) with one or two arms above his or her head, the shoulders are never raised. Ballet teachers also like to explain posture by telling pupils to imagine themselves wearing a corset. One aspect of this is bringing your breastbone forward and up, and your shoulder blades together, which is exactly what the 18th-century corset does.

    Reply
  98. I’ve only just discovered this blog and was reading back. I can’t resist making a very late comment, even though no one will read it.
    I just wanted to say that it’s perfectly possible to raise your arms above your head without lifting your shoulders, you just can’t have your arms skimming your ears. The method is taught all over the world in ballet classes. Just look at a photograph of a ballet dancer (male or female) with one or two arms above his or her head, the shoulders are never raised. Ballet teachers also like to explain posture by telling pupils to imagine themselves wearing a corset. One aspect of this is bringing your breastbone forward and up, and your shoulder blades together, which is exactly what the 18th-century corset does.

    Reply
  99. I’ve only just discovered this blog and was reading back. I can’t resist making a very late comment, even though no one will read it.
    I just wanted to say that it’s perfectly possible to raise your arms above your head without lifting your shoulders, you just can’t have your arms skimming your ears. The method is taught all over the world in ballet classes. Just look at a photograph of a ballet dancer (male or female) with one or two arms above his or her head, the shoulders are never raised. Ballet teachers also like to explain posture by telling pupils to imagine themselves wearing a corset. One aspect of this is bringing your breastbone forward and up, and your shoulder blades together, which is exactly what the 18th-century corset does.

    Reply
  100. Hello
    several posts here mention that you “correct” posture in the past meant you had your shoulder blades touching. I’ve just tried it…ouch! PLease post here if you can do it, do you need really strong stays to do it?
    Annie

    Reply
  101. Hello
    several posts here mention that you “correct” posture in the past meant you had your shoulder blades touching. I’ve just tried it…ouch! PLease post here if you can do it, do you need really strong stays to do it?
    Annie

    Reply
  102. Hello
    several posts here mention that you “correct” posture in the past meant you had your shoulder blades touching. I’ve just tried it…ouch! PLease post here if you can do it, do you need really strong stays to do it?
    Annie

    Reply
  103. In regard to those touching-shoulder-blades:
    I’m not sure if it IS humanly possible, or at least not by non-contortionist humans. But that was the 18th century goal, just like Victorian ladies laced their corsets so tightly, trying to achieve a waist measurement equal to their age, or small enough that a man’s hands could surround it.
    The other thing to keep in mind is that those 18th century ladies were put into stays as infants, their bodies “trained” to conform to this standard of beauty. It may not be quite so bad as an Asian lady’s bound foot, but it was definitely Fashion over Nature. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  104. In regard to those touching-shoulder-blades:
    I’m not sure if it IS humanly possible, or at least not by non-contortionist humans. But that was the 18th century goal, just like Victorian ladies laced their corsets so tightly, trying to achieve a waist measurement equal to their age, or small enough that a man’s hands could surround it.
    The other thing to keep in mind is that those 18th century ladies were put into stays as infants, their bodies “trained” to conform to this standard of beauty. It may not be quite so bad as an Asian lady’s bound foot, but it was definitely Fashion over Nature. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply
  105. In regard to those touching-shoulder-blades:
    I’m not sure if it IS humanly possible, or at least not by non-contortionist humans. But that was the 18th century goal, just like Victorian ladies laced their corsets so tightly, trying to achieve a waist measurement equal to their age, or small enough that a man’s hands could surround it.
    The other thing to keep in mind is that those 18th century ladies were put into stays as infants, their bodies “trained” to conform to this standard of beauty. It may not be quite so bad as an Asian lady’s bound foot, but it was definitely Fashion over Nature. 🙂
    Susan/Miranda

    Reply

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