Padding Ballet Dancers: 1881

ballet girl Vincente Palmaroli

Ballet Girl, Vincente Palmaroli

A writer in the New York Sun, who is beyond question a woman, thus lets us into the secret of pads and tights: In spite of her seeming scantiness of clothing a ballet dancer does not suffer from cold. Under her silk or cotton hosiery every ballet dancer, without exception, wears padding. The padded tights are heelless. A strap of the stockinet of which they are woven extends under the hollow of the foot. The webbing is finely ribbed around the ankle, and not padded below the swell of the calf, or where the calf ought to swell. The padding is of fine lamb’s wool fleece thrown up, like plush, on the under side into the web, which is of cotton, strong, and not too elastic. There is no padding around the knee, and none around the hips. The thighs are well padded. Few men or women have small, well-proportioned knee-joints, and even when they have sufficient flesh it is not so distributed as to produce perfect symmetry of form. These padded goods are, therefore, generally made to order.

This is necessary, for no two persons have the same proportionate length of thigh and leg. Again, many have good calves and the rest of the leg very poor and thin. Others have thighs and not calves; others have both thighs and calves, with sufficient flesh thereon, but it is not in the right places. How is all this remedied? Why, in the directest, shortest manner possible. The lady or gentleman who orders a pair of padded tights is waited on by a salesman or saleswoman, who understands his or her business. To the customer a pair of unpadded tights of perfect shape is first given to put on. Then he is measured, first around the waist, then around the hips, then around the calf, and then around the ankle; next along the inside of the leg. The measurer then carefully notes and jots down for the manufacturer’s guidance the deficiencies in the person’s figure. In about a week the garment ordered is finished. If there is too much padding at any point it can be seen at a glance and clipped off. Padded shirts or bodies for both men and women are also measured for when ordered in a similar manner. When the entire tights extending to the waist are not needed, calf-padded tights, extending only a little over the knee, can be ordered. These are worn with trunks.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 1 January 1881

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is relieved to hear that ballet dancers do not suffer from the cold. Too many accusations are wantonly hurled at that class of entertainer about the perils of cosy little suppers in the close atmosphere of private dining rooms and of romping in over-heated ball-rooms.

Such innocent appendages might prove a life-saver, as in this story:

Saved by Her Calves

The utility of a pair of patent saw-dust calves was strikingly illustrated last Saturday in Philadelphia. Shortly after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a mad cur, pursued by two perspiring policemen, dashed into Eighth street from Walnut and caused such a flutter among the petticoats as that locality has seldom witnessed. Among the femininity that was flouncing along was a nymph who flings her shapely legs before the footlights of the Grand Central theatre. This female could not face a rabid canine, so she bundled up her petticoats and made a dash with the others for safety. Her legs, which had served her so well before, did not go back on her this time, for the mad dog, probably attracted by the development below the knee, drove his poisonous fangs into her stocking and went howling on. The ballet-dancer, more dead than alive, was dragged into a drug store, where an eager and anxious crowd of men carefully examined her legs. Their fears were allayed, however, when the discovery was made that the canine had only destroyed the saw-dust padding which the young woman had tied to a lean shank to give it roundness and attractiveness. The eager, anxious, and solicitous men departed much sadder and a heap wiser.

The Southern Standard [Arkadelphia AR] 4 June 1881: p. 4

A similar imposture in a cooler atmosphere is revealed in A Swell Party on Ice.

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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