Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

dandies

European dandies are adopting women’s wear. Corsets are a case in point. There have been little paragraphs in the London paper every now and then for the last few months touching upon the increasing demand for men’s corsets. During a trial in Paris between the partners of a corset firm the defense revealed that one of the branches of their manufacture were men’s corsets. The judge having demanded an explanation it was shown that more than 18,000 corsets were made yearly for Frenchmen and 3,000 were shipped to England, principally for army officers. German officers also created quite a demand till a rival Berlin firm offered a cheaper article.

Any Bond Street dealer will tell you, without the slightest hesitation, that he employs dozens of workwomen to embroider dainty garments for his male clients. One shop never sends out a garment without embroidering initials and feather stitching on it, and another devotes its energy to decorating the legs of man’s socks with silk initials and other needlework.

The illustration [above] for this article is by F.G. Long, the American cartoonist, in London. The corset on the chair, the nightie on the wall, the stock, the embroidery, and the make-up appliances are all drawn in exact detail. Lincoln County Leader [Toledo, OR] 30 January 1903: p. 3

man corset

MEN WHO WEAR CORSETS

VERY PRETTY ONES, TOO, AND THEY COST $10 OR MORE

How to Tell When a Man Has One On.

Is a Man More Proud of his Shape Than Woman?

It is Difficult to Find Where the Expensive Shapers Are Made.

There is in one of the corset manufactories of New York a little blonde haired woman who has for many years made a specialty of men’s corsets, and has established an extensive business in a western city. She had a man trained to take the measures and fit the corsets, and frequently she or her forewoman never saw the customers for whom they made corsets regularly. It is a very paying business, for men rarely question the price of an article they wish to purchase, and men’s corsets are always made to order and never kept in stock. A woman the shape of a tub and a woman the shape of a broomstick will buy the same make of corsets in different sizes, and somehow fit herself into them; but if a man wants a corset at all he wants it to fit, and the cheapest ones made to order cost $10.

They do not differ materially from a woman’s corset in construction, being made of the same material, only with heavier bones and stronger steels. They differ very materially in shape, however, being shorter and nearly straight up and down, though the constant wearing of the corsets conduces to add fullness of chest, which compensates for the pretty bust curve and slope to a woman’s waist. They are usually made of gray sateen or coutil, but occasionally a very fastidious customer is found who orders the daintiest of materials and decorations.

REGULAR BEAUTIES

One of the lady’s customers always wore satin corsets of a delicate color, flossed, and laced with silk. He was very stout, and broke a great many of the silk laces, which a woman will wear almost a year without breaking. One of his latest orders is a Nile green satin corset flossed and laced with cardinal silk and trimmed at the top and bottom with fine white lace, for which he paid $25 with no demur.

Another customer was so extremely modest that he never went into the store, but his wife took his measure and ordered the corsets, fitting them on herself when they were finished. It requires three visits to insure a perfect fitting corset—one for the measure, which is taken very carefully; one for the fitting, when only half the bones are in and the steels basted in place, and one for the final examination, when everything is finished. After one perfectly fitting corset has been made, however, only one fitting is required.

Corsets are worn mostly by actors, the fit of whose garments furnishes at present a large proportion of their stock in trade. Then there are clerks who sit bending over desks all day and half the night, to whom corsets are frequently recommended by their physicians as a help toward straightening their curved spines, men who from some injury or physical imperfections are obliged to wear them, and a fair percentage of dudes who rejoice in a small waist and a smoothly fitting coat. An ambitious cutter in one of the swell establishments, where a suit of clothes may be purchased for the price of a brown stone block, has an idea of winning an heiress for his wife at some popular summer resort where he spends his vacations, and accordingly arrays himself in all the elegance the establishment affords, hooks himself into a double boned corset, and lays siege to the hearts of the fair ones. Before he adopted the corset he buckled a broad belt of heavy leather about his body at the waist, but as he grew stout this expedient lost its efficacy.

A man’s corsets are as readily detected by his fellow men as the faintest touch of rouge on a woman’s face is always discovered by her sister woman. Gentlemen says that a man in corsets goes upstairs like a woman and walks differently, and that if you observe him closely for a few minutes he will give a  little peculiar hitch to his shoulder , as if he were endeavoring to pull himself up out of the corsets. It was by watching Berry Wall mount a flight of stairs that it was fully determined that he was laced into a snugly fitting corset. His wife accompanied him and they made the same motions in the ascent. Both the King Dude and his roly poly little chum wore corsets regularly on important occasions. It was at Mme. Griswald’s on Broadway that the pink haired dude returned a pair of baby blue satin corsets trimmed with lace, after they had been fitted three times, to have them made a half an inch smaller, and his anxious perplexity was very amusing to the mischievous merry maiden who fitted them on.

THE PRINCE WEARS THEM

It is no secret that Osmond Tearle wore corsets, and that Kyrle Bellew wears them still. The noble Antony has them made in London in a little shop in Conduit Street. They are not trimmed with pink lace or embellished with embroidery, which is the only surprising thing about them, but they are deliciously small and very short, not more than six or eight inches up and down.

In the same shop the Duke of Beaufort has the pink satin, lace edged corsets, which he makes no secret of wearing, manufactured and embroidered with his monogram surmounted by a ducal coronet. He is an old, decrepit man, with a wrinkled yellow face and a fringe of white whiskers, and so bent over with age that the line of his corsets is plainly discernible through his dress coat. It is said that the Prince of Wales affects them too, and that that is why he has abandoned horseback riding. Corsets are worn quite extensively by men in Paris, and all the handsome officers in the German army wear corsets under their uniforms.

Thought corsets are worn by men in New York, it is extremely difficult to find out where they are made. There is no special manufactory for them, and though most of the first class corset places receive orders for them occasionally, they are very reticent on the subject, for any publicity given to the fact would destroy the business altogether. There is one bright woman corset maker on Fourteenth Street who advertises to make a specialty of men’s corsets and receives a great many orders, which she fills simply by taking women’s corsets of large size and removing the gores in the bust and taking out some of the fullness at the hips. Merchant tailors would hail with delight the general use of corsets, as they would render the fitting of garments much easier, and enable them to keep smooth and in shape much longer.

It is the stout men who take to them most kindly and who suffer most in wearing them, and it is hinted that two of the handsomest “dress coat actors” in New York resort to their use on the stage. Watch the man who never leans back comfortably in his chair, whose coat does not pull in lines at every button or gradually work up toward his shoulders, and whose chest is unusually round and full, and if he seems at intervals to be pulling himself up out of his garments by the shoulders and goes upstairs with an inflexible back, you may safely infer that he is laced into a pair of $10 stays, though he wouldn’t admit it any sooner than a woman would own her shoes were too tight. Wichita [KS] Eagle 15 August 1889: p. 7

 Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Men wearing ladies’ clothing is an old and cherished tradition in Britain, both on the stage and in aristocratic circles. In fact, the best-dressed lady Mrs Daffodil has ever known was a footman to a ducal house. His delicate colouring, drenched-violet eyes, and exquisite wardrobe made him popular with gentlemen in need of a feminine escort when it was really not in their nature.  He was taken up in a raid on an establishment in Cleveland Street, but thanks to his intimate connections with some of the noblest families in England, he was allowed to emigrate and became a fashionable designer of lady’s underclothing under the name Sissi et Cie.  On the other hand, Mrs Daffodil dislikes intensely the rigidly corseted Hun officers with their revolting dueling scars, monocles, and fund of smoking room stories about the Rape of Belgium. Mrs Daffodil feels they do protest too much.

Mrs. Desmond Humphreys, the London novelist and keen satirist, who wrote under the name of “Rita,” has nothing good to say about gentlemen in corsets: “What of the effete boudoir boys who give smoking parties to each other in order to display the latest thing in satin corsets and lace-frilled tea coats?” adding that such fads “might make the angels weep.” She blames the sensation-mad Americans.

The “King Dude” was E. Berry Wall, a rich New York socialite and clotheshorse. Wall was proclaimed “King of the Dudes” in 1888 by a New York newspaper. He was known to make ludicrously large numbers of costume changes in a single day. He dressed his chow dogs in evening attire made by his own tailor. His followers were shocked to their core when he was married in a cutaway coat and brown trousers, sans gardenia.

George Osmond Tearle and Kyrle Bellew were both English actors: Tearle was primarily a leading man; Bellew was a stage and silent screen actor with a sensational profile. The Duke of Beaufort [1824-1899], was a soldier and Conservative politician. He served as Master of the Horse and was the creator and editor of the Badminton Library of sporting books.  

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

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