A SYMPOSIUM ON CORSETS
The Theories and Practices of Some Noted Singers and Actresses.
A cablegram printed in the Tribune a few days ago said that Mrs. James Brown Potter had abandoned the corset.
A murmur was heard in certain quarters. What had Mme. Patti to say on the subject? A Tribune reporter found the diva in a room filled with the odor of roses. The reporter went at the subject without having been compelled to do so strategically. Madame motioned Nicolini [her second husband] to a far corner in the room. Then she said in her own peculiar way:
“I think corsets are the correct thing. Some absolutely perfect figures may dispense with them, of course, but the average woman, and especially the stout ones, can not afford to eschew stays. I myself invariably wear them.” “And do you find them injurious?” “Not in the slightest. But, then, my stays are always extraordinarily loose. Interfere with singing? Why, people don’t sing with their stomachs, do they? It must be an oddly formed person who would. As long as one doesn’t wear stays about one’s throat there can be no interference. Now, I can not sing with as much as a ribbon confining my throat.”
Mme. Emma La Jennesse-Albani-Gye’s apartments at the Grand Pacific were as bright as a glowing fire when the reporter called. When “corsets” were mentioned a slight frown deepened in the clear gray eyes, but it passed as quickly as it came, and in her musical voice Mme. Albani gave her views.
“I believe in stays because I have always worn them. I shouldn’t like at all to go without and I’m sure the public wouldn’t like it. Imagine me, for I am a little stout, you know.”
“Plump, Madame, only plump.” “Ah! That is kind of you. Nevertheless you know I shouldn’t look well without a corset. I do not think I could keep up even. I believe the support to be essential absolutely.”
“And not detrimental?”
“Not unless so tight as to interfere with breathing, for breathing is singing. You have seen ‘The Huguenots,’ haven’t you? Yes, well, you remember we all have to wear long pointed bodices there—it was the style of the times—now how could we possibly do so without stays? I don’t know, do you?”
There was an all-pervading odor of roses and white hyacinths through Mme. Nordica’s apartments at the Richelieu. The songstress lay wearied and nervous beneath the eiderdown while her devoted sister tenderly bathed her throbbing brow. The dainty little lady mother sat amid the ruins of Madame’s floral offerings and chatted.
No, Lillian never wears corsets. That is, she never does now—not even for the street or salon. There was a time years ago when she wore them, but they were soon discarded. It was simply a matter of comfort with her. After a while she concluded to try them again. She had several pairs manufactured—little loves of stays, all in delicate satins
“How long did she wear them then?”
“Scarcely at all. One day she said to me: ‘Mamma dear, I am not as comfortable as I used to be; I shall return to the old ways.’ Since then she has never put a corset on.”
“Does she substitute a stiff waist?” “No; she simply wears a thin silk waist, without a suspicion of whalebone in the back and the merest hint of it at the front and sides. We make them all ourselves, so you may be sure they are simplicity personified.
“Cecil, dear, please put your head out of the window; we are having a costume talk and you really must not listen.”
Considering that a fierce rainstorm was raging without, Miss Rosina Vokes was making a cool request of her notably loving hubby.
Mr. Clay merely grinned quietly and sank back further into the recesses of the carriage, shutting his eyes as an indication that his ears were closed.
“My dear child, I couldn’t dream of not wearing corsets. I should not be able to dance or sing or anything. I should be tired to death in no time. Injurious! Fudge! Don’t you pin your faith to loose-seeming dresses. I know a lot of these Greek-draped actresses who lace tight-tight underneath the flowing draperies. Forgive me if I’m positive—that is my way—but I believe in corsets, pure and simple. I believe corsets are just as essential for a woman as suspenders are for a man, and one must wear them if one doesn’t want one’s things all slipping around and off. And then the support. Every decently formed woman needs support, of course. O! women who are excessively thin could go without stays, I fancy; but then they look all up and down, you know. When to put on corsets? As soon as the figure gives the merest hint of development. It is on the same principle as pinning a band tightly round a baby’s dear little body so that its precious back will not get broken. Every woman needs the support of corsets.”
Just then Mr. Clay opened the eye and directed an aside to his wife.
“Tight? Gracious, no. I should not want you to suppose I advocated such a thing for a moment. I honestly don’t believe in that. Don’t tell, though, but I used to be horribly vain. I once wore seventeens—just fancy! Seventeen corset—laced tight. I was off the stage then, and one day was at the Newmarket races. I was fancying myself, I assure you, when I heard an old English lord remark, apropos of me: ‘Good Gawd! She’ll come in half.’ It wasn’t pleasant, so now I wear my stays loose—quite.”
When Mary Anderson was here a Tribune reporter called on her in reference to this all-round question of corsets. Miss Anderson, in her artistic house gown, looked as innocent of stays as Perdita.
“Corsets?” with a cold, pale smile. “No, I don’t wear them. I see Mrs. Croly (Jennie June) has been telling tales out of school, so I may as well confess. I don’t wear stays.” “How did you come to discard them?” “It was after I went to England. My health was poor, and the doctor ordered out door exercise. I took off corsets then, and never put them on again. But then I have no superfluous flesh and am rather too slender. They did not interfere with my posing, but I feel better without them. It’s all ‘as you like it.’ I like it better without.”
“You wear a corset with conventional dress?”
“Never under any circumstances! And the ladies of my company do not wear them on the stage. Stage dressing is nearly always unconventional, except in society plays, the draperies being from the shoulder and armpit, and stays are manifestly out of place from artistic reasons alone.”
“Corsets? Of course I wear them. Who does not? Think of me as ‘Nadjy’ with nothing to tie those black spangles to. I’d drop to pieces,” said Miss Janson. [Miss Marie Jansen] “Then the Tribune might ask its readers to listen to the ‘Tale of Woe’ in earnest. Are they an inconvenience? Look!” She got behind a door in the parlor of the Grand Pacific hotel, and after a furtive glance down the corridor, daintily kicked the palm of her outstretched hand, executing a pirouette after it.
“I’m all right and my stays are as taut as a sail in high wind. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if the strings should break. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe,’” she hummed, casting her eyes meditatively on the chandelier.
“Pauline Hallo wears them, too, and all the chorus girls. Some of them would be sad figures if they didn’t. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe.’ Of course, anyone who sings must wear them loose. I have one now, but look.” She took a deep breath which distended the region just above her fluttering heart that is nightly clasped in a jet black vise, and trilled airily “Listen to the Tale of Woe,” and had plenty of breath to spare after the effort.
Kansas City [MO] Times 19 January 1890: p. 14
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Operatic ladies, were, of course, known for their famously opulent figures; some even said that slimming cost them their voice. It is rather fascinating that four out of the six ladies who weighed in, insisted on the benefits of corsets. Reform Dress did not make much headway among denizens of the stage.
Adelina Patti was, of course, the prima donna assoluta of nineteenth-century opera. She was one of the financially shrewdest theatrical ladies of her day and, as we see from the advertising card at the head of this post, she endorsed the California Corset Company.
Madame Nordica was the so-called “Yankee Diva,” Maine-born Lillian Nordica, another opera star, famous for her collection of husbands and jewels.
“Listen to the Tale of Woe” was the signature tune of the once wildly-popular opera Nadjy.
Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on gentlemen, including actors, who wear corsets as well as the controversy over tight-lacing, The Flapper and Her Corset, and “The Autobiography of a Corset,” as well as several other posts on this absorbing subject, which may be found by looking under the “corset” filing tab.
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.