Category Archives: Corsetry

Noted Ladies of the Stage on Corsets: 1890

Adelina Patti endorses the Chicago Corset Company, c. 1880s https://www.rubylane.com/item/398016-4878/Chicago-Corset-Adelina-Patti-Advertising-Trade

A SYMPOSIUM ON CORSETS

The Theories and Practices of Some Noted Singers and Actresses.

[Chicago Tribune.]

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.

 

How a Shakespearean Fairy Flew: 1906

Miss Annie Russell as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. https://shakespeare.emory.edu/a-midsummer-nights-dream/msnd_russell_a_02_front/

MISS RUSSELL AS PUCK

In Every Way the Most Notable Shakespearean Offering That Has Ever Been Witnessed in Jackson

A Crowning Success.

[Miss Annie Russell’s] conception of “Puck,” is the most exquisite treat that has been given the American public in years. The loving mockery and elfish tricks of this household fairy present unique possibilities, and the charming little actress has taken advantage of each and every one of them. Her characterization of the role is the very embodiment of grace, delicacy and daintiness. There is something mysteriously and indescribably elfish about her “Puck,” that warms the cockles of the hart and makes the old young again. The witchery of her personal charm, the glint of her roguish eyes, the grace of her movement, the contagion of her laugh, form a perfect embodiment of what Shakespeare must have intended “Puck” to be, and if the great Bard and Avon could come to earth again and witness Miss Russell’s portrayal of his fanciful role, he would pronounce it thoroughly satisfying….

Never in the memory of the present generations of playgoers has there been such a production of Shakespeare’s fanciful comedy on such a vast scale. The offering Is embellished with mechanical perfection and the staging Is surrounded by artistic excellence never before approached…The flowers glow mysteriously when “Puck” touches them, owls blink solemnly on the tree boughs, fairies flit to and fro through the air with startling naturalness and precision, and every embellishment is wonderful in its originality and perfection. When Miss Russell makes her entrance in the third scene of the first act from aloft, lights on the branch of a tree, flits across to a mossy bank and settles down so softly that the tips of her dainty toes barely dint the downy landing, it looks like a defiance of the laws of gravitation, and forces the conclusion that the climax of fairyland realism has been attained in stage mechanics….

The audience last night marveled greatly over Miss Russell’s flights across the stage, and perhaps few realized the work that was behind that graceful act. Her entrance involves a secret of stage mechanism that is guarded like a jewel of rare price, and requires the alert work of six strong men.

It will perhaps be especially interesting to the ladies of Jackson to know what Miss Russell thinks of this flight. In chatting with the writer on this subject last night she said:

“If I were not an expert horse-woman I never could make that flight. Sounds strange doesn’t it? In the first place I want my friends to understand that I like flying through the air. It is a most exhilarating feeling to stand one instant firmly on the ground and the next to be switched off into space.

“The story of how it is done is most interesting. The apparatus used is in man of its details a secret—a series of wires weighted with bags of shot, worked through a clock-like arrangement, fitted with gear wheels, springs and bolts. It is this clock-like affair that holds the secret, and the owner guards it by removing it from the fly gallery each night and taking it home under his arm. All I know is that it can be so accurately adjusted that the wire will sustain a weight of 1,000 pounds or work just as well as if the weight is only one pound.

“The ticklish part of my flight is this. The machine must be adjusted to carry me between two fixed points. Now this is simple enough in the case of the flying fairies, because they start from one side of the stage and alight at a fixed point at the other side. In my case, I fly to a tree. Now this tree is set on the stage and it is a most difficult matter to set it in exactly the same spot each time. To be sure the stage is marked where the tree is to go, but the variation of a fraction of an inch makes all the difference in the world. That little difference would hurl me against the set piece and do no end of damage to some part of me. It is for this reason that each night, an hour before my flight is to be made, a bag of meal, of my exact weight, takes my place. Then the six men who work the apparatus yank the meal bag across the stage and into the set tree. As I watch that yank I am glad they do not rehearse with me. But once it is adjusted, my flight is as safe, and as sure, and as scientifically perfect as though I were walking across my own drawing room.

“But still there is considerable for me to do. When I land in the tree, I must steady myself in an instant, otherwise I would look like the bag of meal instead of like a bird. That’s where my expert horse-womanship comes in. When I fly from the tree to the stage, the most perfect workmanship is necessary on the part of the wire-workers, because if they did not give me slack the very instant my feet touch the stage I’d topple over like a nine pin.

Even when I do land, you must understand that I am girdled in a steel corset to which the wire is fitted. I land breathless, with this corset gripping me like the iron clad maiden of old. And if you think it is a simple matter to be gay and sprightly with this grip of steel about my heart and no breath—if you think it is easy, well, just try it.

“But for all the difficulties—or possibly because of all these difficulties—I like it. It is such a relief not to be the duffering heroine that I have been most of my stage life.”

Jackson [MS] Daily News 17 November 1906: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Those “duffering” heroines Miss Russell speaks of were sentimental stock roles of Sweet Young Things named variously Sylvia, Esmerelda, Elaine, Hazel, Ada, Maggie, Edith, Ruth, or Sue, of which she heartily tired during her years in the theatre. She was, one fears, typecast, hence her delight in the role of Puck. However, this critic was less complimentary about the Jackson production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than the Daily News:  

The opening of the Astor Theatre, New York, September 21, 1906, was signalized by a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” made by the managers of that theatre, Messrs. Wagenhals & Kemper. Miss Annie Russell, an actress of English origin but exclusively American training, acted Puck, and was gay, agile, and frisky…. Puck, though a busy part, is subsidiary in the play, and, except that it provides opportunity for the manifestation of a sprightly, mischievous, frolicsome spirit, possesses no charm that should attract an actor of fine ability to undertake its representation. There is no obvious reason why a female should play it, and probably the only reason why a female ever elected, or was assigned, to play it is that Puck is most effective when assumed by a person whose figure is slight and handsome and whose temperament is volatile—as commonly happens with young women. The most that any player can accomplish with the part is an exhibition of physical agility and vital, elfish, exuberant delight in the mischievous activities of a droll deviltry. Miss Russell’s acting had usually manifested a sentimental temperament and a finical style, but as Puck she was moderately vivacious and pleasing.

Shakespeare on the Stage; Third Series, Volume 3, William Winter, 1916

An acrobatic flying corset used by the “Flying Dancer” Azella in 1865. Perhaps Miss Russell’s flying apparatus was similar. http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-76193&start=10&rows=1

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.

 

Miss Fannie Harley’s Trousers: 1919

Miss Fannie Harley, magazine writer and traveler, in her chic walking costume. It was in this costume that Miss Harley recently appeared in a New York street and attracted considerable attention. Miss Harley in her house costume of blue and white plaid gingham. The suit is trimmed with plain blue gingham bands and with white cords and tassels. Street costume of which yachting serge with a girdle of cerise taffeta and cuffs trimmed with cerise buttons. Marabou around the neck and the skirt. The French parasol is of cerise.

‘Harleys’ for Housewives and Business Girls

Wear ‘Em to Work, Walk Instead of Hobble, Get Around Better, Have Comfort and Ease and Health—And Put Skirts on Bow-Legged, Knock-Kneed and Pigeon-Toed Men.

By Fay Stevenson.

New York, Oct. 8 Young ladies of the business brigade, stop wearing décolleté blouses and tight skirts. Be modest and wear trousers! Now, don’t all blush and gasp until you finish reading what sort of trousers they are.

Miss Fannie Harley 1910-1915 in the street costume that caused a sensation in New York. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ggbain.19904/

Dr. Mary Walker wore men’s clothes several years ago, but they were so very, very masculine that no typically feminine woman wanted to don them. Now we have Miss Fannie Harley, who has come on from the West and dazzles us all by walking down Fifth avenue in a costume of white serge trousers, or harleys, as she prefers to call them, spelled with a small “h.” But call them what you please, there is absolutely nothing masculine about them, for they are made of silks, cretonnes and challis, and trimmed with marabout, chiffons, buttons and roses.

“I don’t advocate trousers for all other women,” Miss Harley told me, as we sat in her room at the McAlpin, surrounded by the most feminine materials you can imagine, even if they were cut in two pieces instead of one at the base. “I can see how the woman who has worn skirts all her life would find it very embarrassing to jump into a pair of harleys and walk right out before the public. But at the same time I think my harleys twice as modest with their round-necked smocks and coatees as the décolleté blouses and ridiculously tight skirts I see. For instance, if I were a business girl, say a stenographer in an officer where there were a number of men, I would much rather appear in a pair of harleys and one of my smocks than in the sleeveless, backless, ankle-binding dresses so many young women wear. Is there any immodest about me?”

Keeps Touch of Feminine.

Miss Harley stood up and let me survey her form head to foot. She is tall and slender, with the firm and supple form of one who has lived much in the open. She wore what she termed her “utility” harleys, which are made of khaki soutache and reach clear to her ankles.

While not the Utility Suit mention in the article, this is the walking suit pictured at the head of the post, with matching hat, 1919 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/173563?sortBy=Relevance&ft=fannie+harley&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

A little white linen smock very similar to our middies came just over her hips and over this she slipped a khaki jacket with a belted effect. Her feet were clad in tan, round toed shoes with a military heel. But Miss Harley’s love of the feminine, despite her preference for trousers, displayed itself in a touch of blue. The harleys were bound with blue braid and trimmed with big blue bone buttons. All of Miss Harley’s clothes match in color schemes. Her smock also bore traces of the same shade of blue in embroidered initials.

I was forced to admit her harleys do not display her figure as much as the present-day tight skirts would. They are loose over the hips and shirred along the outer seam. At the base they measure sixteen inches.

 

“Your modern skirts are one-legged trousers, mine are two,” she laughed as she strutted about the room in a free and lively manner unhampered by swaddling clothes. “Now see how much better a business girl could get on and off cars and elevators and go back and forth from desk to desk and corridor to corridor.

And the housewife could be so much more efficient about her work if she could walk instead of having to hobble. Nurses and waitresses, all women who work, could get about their work so much better in harleys. Oh, how I hate skirts!

Not Limited to Khaki.

“Of course this would be a perfectly appropriate rig for the business girl,” she continued, walking about the room, “but I know right well it is not dressy enough for her. However, she need not choose khaki for her materials; she may have serge or broadcloth, satin or silk, or any of the new fabrics. And as to blouses she may have cerise or any color she loves. I believe in every woman keeping her feminine love of color and frills and furbelows, but I hate to see her incase her limbs in skirts as the Chinese used to bind their feet.

“Now when a woman wants to go to the matinee or to an afternoon reception or just to take a stroll down Fifth avenue, what prettier gown can she desire than this?” asked Miss Harley, making a lightning change from her khaki harleys to a pair of peacock blue silk ones. These harleys are shirred in even more artistic designs than the others. And they are trimmed in fancy silver-toned buttons which are heirlooms of Miss Harley’s. Her blouse is of crepe meteor with a band of Venise reaching to the hips and a dainty ruche of maline at the rather high V-shaped neck. Over this Miss Harley slipped a charming little coatee all shirrs and ruffles with a delightfully long cape collar. It, too, is trimmed with the heirloom buttons. A dainty pair of black velvet pumps and a walking stick complete this frock, giving it a decidedly Parisian touch.

Hats to Match.

If you are wondering about Miss Harley’s hats, they are all the same shape, and she has a different one for each pair of harleys. She is her own milliner as well as her own designer and dressmaker. And the reason she always wears her hats and gowns made from the same model is because she insists that when a woman finds that she looks well in a certain style of hat or suit she should always keep that standardized style for herself. She may change in material and color scheme as much as her nature demands, but she should appreciate what lines and angles belong to her.

One time I met a lady whom I thought was perfectly beautiful,” said Miss Harley, “but the next time I met her I wondered why my first impressions were that she was so beautiful, for this time she was positively ugly, and then it dawned upon me, ‘she is wearing a different hat and gown.’ The first time it was in the spring and she wore a chic little mushroom shape which hid an enormously large nose and brought out her best lines, the next time it was in midsummer and she had changed to a large flat hat which openly displayed all her worst points, especially the large nose. Now, if that woman had only clung to that little mushroom shape, no matter whether she changed it to felt or straw or what shades she selected, she would have always passed for a beautiful woman. Personally I prefer the tam style, only I look well with my tam slightly trimmed. I know that is my style of hat and I shall always cling to it.

“And now if I want to be a real dandy and go to a dance or a social affair I have this.” Another lightning change and Miss Harley stood before me in a pink chiffon over pink satin.

The harleys were not only shirred but slit just the tiniest bit and lace inserted. The smock was trimmed with cabochon and strands of pearls in motifs: in fact, there were fifty feet of pearls and seventeen of cabochon. So you see harleys, or trousers, can be worn and one still retain an enormous portion of femininity.

“But what about coats for cold weather?” I asked. “Those little coatees to your khaki and peacock blue silk suits would not be warm enough.”

“A large cape or a big overcoat with an artistic cape collar is what I always wear,” was Miss Harley’s immediate reply. “I think the dolman and cape about the only graceful garment that women of today wear.

“If I had my way from an artistic point of view I would put all slender willowy women in harleys and many men in skirts!”

“But why in skirts?” “Well,” continued Miss Harley between her giggles, “once I stood on a public corner and watched the men file by and of all the knock knees, bow legs and pigeon toes that were displayed I decided that they ought to hid under petticoats and give us a chance to don trousers.

“But there is one thing I don’t like about the woman who slips into a pair of trousers,” added Miss Harley, “And that is she must avoid all masculine attitude, keep her hands out of her pockets and not smoke cigarettes. My idea of harleys is for comfort and ease and health, but I think every woman ought to be as feminine as she can always.

The Weekly News [Denver CO] 9 October 1919: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Miss Fannie Harley (and Mrs Daffodil assumes that small boys and young men snickered privately at her Christian name in this sartorial context) was well-known as a travel writer, and although she disliked the term “lecturer,” she did the circuit, speaking on dress reform and “The Irony of Fashion,” as well as  “Mexico, Anti-capital Punishment, Prison Betterment, Bird Protection, Anti-vivisection, Muzzling Hat Pins, etc.”

She was much in the news between 1915 and 1919, and, possibly due to her youth and beauty, was treated with less mockery than most dress reformers. She also repudiated that name:

“Do not say I am a reformer for I am simply trying to give the fruits of my labors to the world that all may profit by my efforts.”

“My costume consists of two pieces, an upper garment and a bifurcated lower garment which I always designate by the name of harleys. The upper garment is always worn over the harleys and fitted at the shoulders, falls in graceful and natural lines to a point between the hips and knees and does not define a waistline. The harleys fitting easy around the waist and about the hips, slightly taper to the ankles, and cover each leg separately. The corset is absolutely eliminated. Ridges and rigidity would spoil the whole thing.”

Miss Harley survived into the 1950s, seeing her bifurcated costumes vindicated as working women adopted them during the Second World War.

One of Miss Harley’s house costumes

A gentleman makes the case for short skirts for both sexes in this previous post.

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.

 

 

“The Tightest-Lacing Customers in London:” 1893

 

cdeath-tightlacing-actress-death-by

IMPORTANT OMISSION

An exchange says a Chicago girl has just died of tight lacing—it does not say whether of corset or shoes. Wilmington Messenger.

Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 9 November 1904: p. 4

Recently a crusade has been started in England against tight lacing, led by the Gentlewoman, one of the most valuable of English journals for women. A representative was sent to interview the most prominent stay-makers. One of these is thus reported:

“I am reputed,” she said, “to have the tightest-lacing customers in London; and I think that some of the waists my stays encircle would be hard to beat. I think that some of my customers positively like the sensations produced by tight lacing, or they would never take all the pains they do to get thin, such as dieting and sleeping in corsets, as some of them do.”

“Sleeping in corsets!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, yes; a good many, especially young ladies, do; an opera stay or riding one is a favorite make for the purpose. Let me think. Yes. The largest pair of corsets I have made had a waist measurement of thirty-five inches. The smallest — well, you won’t believe me, perhaps, but twelve and one-half inches was the size. No, I don’t think she’ll be able to get them closed. Every inch under fifteen, with most ladies, means a tremendous lot of lacing in. I’ve known a young lady break five or six silk laces, as strong ones as are made, in getting a pair of new stays close.”

“How small is your pretty assistant’s waist?” I asked.

“Generally about fourteen to fourteen and one-half inches. I find it best for all my assistants to have trim figures; but she has tight-laced to that extent entirely of her own free will. Many of my customers lace to seventeen, sixteen, and even fifteen inches. I suppose you haven’t seen a smaller waist than Miss Blank’s?”

“No.”

“Would you like to?”

“Yes,” I replied, “if such a thing is practicable.”

Mrs. Smith rang. In a few minutes the young lady appeared, and Mrs. Smith and she went into the alcove. Another assistant was summoned, and then a whispered consultation took place. After a minute or two, we heard Mrs. Smith ask: “Can you bear it?” and the answer, “Quite, madam.” Mrs. Smith’s voice again: “There, Miss Jones, I think the laces are close; tie them tightly.” Two or three minutes later Mrs. Smith and Miss Jones came out from the alcove, the latter incased in a long-waisted, black satin corset, which made her waist look scarcely larger than her throat. It seemed incredible that any girl — for she was little more — could breathe and move, let alone move about, without much apparent discomfort, when tight-laced to such an extent.

“Now I suppose,” said Mrs. Smith, smiling at my look of astonishment,” that you will now believe what I told you before — namely, that a well-cut corset and strong arms will make a woman’s waist almost any size she may wish. See!” she exclaimed, taking up a measuring tape off a chair, “Miss Jones’s waist is just thirteen — thirteen and one-quarter inches.”

“How long could you bear being laced up like that?” I asked.

Miss Jones smiled. “Not very long — it is rather painful — half an hour; perhaps an hour.”

Mrs. Smith said, just as we were leaving: “You know, I think tight lacing becomes a positive mania with some women. There are two of my customers, for instance — theatrical people — who usually wear their waists about nineteen inches. Well, when at home they both lace themselves as tightly as their maids can do it.” Another states that at some schools the girls are not only encouraged, but forced to lace. Five different women said that they made corsets for girls of sixteen and under with waist measurements of fifteen inches, and all agreed that girls are put into corsets much earlier than formerly.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 30 January 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the reporter, who perhaps fell short of a “positive mania,” was still titillated by the subject. Debate over tight-lacing began in the Elizabethan period and goes on even unto the present day. Mrs Daffodil has seen articles about how sleeping in corsets is supposed to promote a slender figure. “Waist-training,” is the term used—as if one’s waist was a sporting dog to be taught to “heel” and “fetch.” The anti-tight-lacers, who were often seen as cranks and, worse, dress reformers, warned of tragic outcomes such as this one:

An actress in a London theatre has just died of tight lacing. The victim of this reprehensible custom had just finished a song and danced off the wings, when she collapsed, calling on her husband in agonized tones to unlace her gown. Before a doctor could reach her dressing room she was dead. Every vital function had been paralyzed by the lacing, and a weakness of the heart was aggravated by the exertion of her performance. It can, however, be said of the generality of woman on the stage that “tight lacing” is obsolete with them. Waists of whatever fashion fit the figure better than they did in years gone by, and there is a generous roominess of bust measure which admits of healthful expansion of the lungs every time the breath is drawn. No lesson will be learned by the fate of this London actress. She represents a bad style of corset, and some natural disarrangement which might have proved fatal had she run for the train or skipped upstairs in a hurry.

Boston [MA] Herald 17 January 1895: p. 6

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.

 

The Bathing Corset: 1887-1897

 

 BATH CORSETS

New York, Aug. 21. Seashore millinery art has so far advanced that not only do bathing dresses cost as much as many a woman’s whole outfit, but special water-proof corsets are made and sold at such prices that it would take a sewing girl’s week’s wages to buy a single pair. The old loose flannel bathing dress was so awkward and hideous that no one thought of wearing of a corset with it. It was beyond beautifying. With the coming of pretty and neat bathing dresses that fitted the figure like a tailor made jacket, women began to see the need of something to make their waists and busts as shapely in the water as on shore. Modern bathing does not consist so much of actual contact with and immersion in the water as posing and fascinating on the sands. To do this well the figure must be trim and not floppy or bulgy….

It is hard to say what proportion of women wear corsets in the water—as they don’t tell, and the men who work around the bath-houses and the beaches are not exact guessers on such subjects. The average varies from Long Branch and Newport where more than half the fashionable female bathers wear some form or other of corset to preserve the figure, to Asbury Park and Coney Island, where a corset is hardly known in the water. At Asbury Park the excellent James Bradley, who runs the place, might even add one to his numerous rules posted along the beach that “ladies who are ladies will use no adventitious aids to beauty when in the water, such being in accord neither with decorum nor piety.” [Mr Bradley named his resort for the first Methodist bishop ordained in the United States and the resort was run on Temperance lines.]

It would seem as if the coming bathing corset would be made to rubber-covered wire. The next thing to form improvers for the bath will be to wear waterproof wigs and pads. A waterproof complexion has already been invented.

Kansas City [MO] Times 1 September 1887: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There was much debate about how to create a sea-water-proof corset: the usual steels and eyelets were quick to rust and silk and wool stretched with exposure to water and sun. Cork offered one solution:

Bathing corsets to keep fleshy figures from wobbling in the undress of a flannel suit have cork busks and buckled straps instead of steels to rust in salt water and are comfortable for other wear. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 19 June 1889: p. 4

Rubber offered another:

Very simple, but hygienic, are the lines of a bathing corset made of rubber sheeting. This material is not stiff but sheds water like a duck, and proved itself a comfort last season to many a plump mermaid who “did not feel comfortable without a corset.”… Oregonian [Portland, OR] 18 June 1916: p. 6

Of course, there were unexpected pros and cons to the wearing of bathing corsets at all, as we read in this anecdote.

As the story begins, two slender young women, one blonde, one brunette, have gone to a corset-maker to purchase corsets and have received some good advice from the young man at the shop:

“Now about the bathing corset,” reminded the straight-up-and-down girl. “I am the queerest looking duck in the water you ever saw. You see, we can’t fill out with fluffs and frills there, for bathing suits aren’t built that way. When I get on a bathing suit I look about three inches through.”
“I, too,” said the blonde, and the two looked at each other sympathetically.

“Now, here is the bathing corset for figures such as yours,” said the man, taking one from the case. “You see it is very, very short over the hips. In fact, it almost ends at the waist on the sides, which shows off what hip there is to the very best advantage. The bust is quite high, and has a good-sized spring in it, giving a beautiful full figure. There is nothing about the corset that water can rust.”

“But I don’t swim,” said the straight-up-and-down girl in a horrified tone, “and therefore it would be impossible for me to wear that corset in the water. It is grand for those bony, slim ladies who can swim—perfectly grand.”

“What has swimming or not swimming to do with wearing a corset which will give you a lovely figure?” asked the puzzled manufacturer.

The Brunette’s eyes began to twinkle and the dimples came and went about her mouth.

“Well, you see,” explained the complainant, with some hesitation, “when a lady can’t swim one of her gentlemen friends stays around to take care of her, and she simply could not let him when she had on one of those corsets with false hips and bust. Why, imagine her feelings when he picked her up to throw her on a breaker.”

“Imagine his,” ejaculated the blonde, with great feeling. “Hers would be mild compared to his. No, indeed, I’d advise a girl who does not swim to beware of that corset as she would of the plague. Now, as for me, I can swim like a killie fish, and I’m going to be measured for one right now.

“I half wish I had learned to swim,” mused the other. “A corset like that must make a lady look stunning. I was taking lessons, but a girl who is a fine swimmer advised me not to learn, for she said you could have ten times more fun in the water than if you could swim.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 26 July 1897: p. 5 

A shockingly candid point of view about what goes on at the sea-side. Youth now-a-days…

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.

 

Week-end Compendium: 23 January 2016

"The Snow Queen"

“The Snow Queen”

Mrs Daffodil  hopes that all of you are warm and safe from the impending snow-storms, or, if house-bound, have sufficient bread, milk, and brandy laid on.

This week’s links for Mrs Daffodil:

Sixteen-button Bouffants: A Chat with the Fashion Gazette Editor: 1888, in which an innocent young girl is given some quixotic fashion advice by a well-meaning male editor.

The Flapper and Her Corset: 1921 offers dire warnings to all flappers who wish to leave off their under-pinnings. An early example of “fat-shaming.”

The sad story of Old Lisbeth and her ghostly visit to a former master who had treated her kindly.

See Mrs Daffodil on Sunday for how to make a sandstorm on stage.

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog we find the following:

“Uncanny Meteors:” Spook Lights in New Zealand, in which a naturalist relates his very close encounter with apparently sentient glowing orbs.

The Ghost of Mary Seneff, who haunted the site of her watery grave, after she was hacked to death and thrown into a local creek.

From the Archives: Enough Rope: The Hangman’s Rope in the Press, a light-hearted look at specifications for hangmen’s ropes and the superstitions surrounding them.

Favourite posts of the week: Cellphones and the Paranormal. And The Awful Greatness of the Cherry Sisters.

A "Snowflake" costume by "Zig," c. 1925. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1222891/costume-design-zig/

A “Snowflake” costume by “Zig,” c. 1925. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1222891/costume-design-zig/

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Flapper and Her Corset: 1921

Rengo belt corset

THE FLAPPER AND HER CORSET

American Women Will Not Be Tricked Into

Discarding Their Best Beauty Secret.

From the Autumn issue of The Gossard Corsetiere we publish the following paragraphs which will interest corset buyers and saleswomen generally. They contain a fund of information and a wealth of common sense, phrased in The Corsetiere’s inimitable style. That will go far toward neutralizing the superficial half thoughts that are floating so loosely about corset circles just now.

“And if you are careful to get the right corset and take the bit of trouble to put it on the way it should be put on every day—you’ll find Father Time a delightful artist with the most graceful and delicate touch. But if you neglect your figure Father Time can sketch a caricature with a refined cruelty that would be the despair of our best cartoonists. Just see what he has done to the middle-aged lady who left off her corsets to wear the style! And she is the image in the crystal to warn the young flapper of today who pats her already sagging figure and confides that ‘she doesn’t need corsets. Where are her mirrors and her friends?

“But Paris says you should not wear corsets! The Rue de la Paix was ever a faithless jade who makes sport of her blind devotees. She says one thing and does another. Only the other day the L’Illustracion published a list of leading Paris style creators who had put their manikins back into corsets. And why? Well, have you by any chance seen those chic new suits that everybody is wearing in Paris—those little highwaist-line coats flounced about the bottom and fitted like the tango suits of the men? For the first time in years Paris is making suits—the men’s tailors are—and Paris likes it. New York and Chicago haven’t quite decided yet but the same Rue de la Paix whose false lips whisper to the world to discard corsets and run the most certain chance of ruining the possibility of wearing any kind of clothes becomingly—slyly slips into clever stays so she may wear the trim smoothness of the fitted suit.

“But of course it is not enough corset to show—for corsets ought to be the most retiring adjuncts to beauty that you are called upon to buy. Rouge, powder, lip stick—they’re all permitted out in the open in these days when we make French posters of our long-suffering faces. But the woman who looks corseted, whether the fatal defect shows in constriction and bad proportion or in an ugly line so easily seen through that revealing wisp of unfeeling organdy that woman just isn’t smart.

“American women are far too clever to be tricked into discarding their best beauty secret, and they will wear corsets today and tomorrow and for a long, long time to come. But they will be the right kind, and if we may look for any good results from these Parisian conversational hors d’ouvres about discarding corsets, I venture the opinion that it will be found in more clever corset artistry and in a more intelligent selling of this important garment in the corset departments of our stores.”

The opinion of the Gossard Corset Co., on the subject of the necessity of corsets, was substantiated by their chief designer, Ethel Lloyd Minifee, who has just returned from Paris. The Corset and Underwear Review, Volume 18, 1921

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This was, of course, not just a matter of business for the writers at The Corset and Underwear Review, but a subject of the highest aesthetic importance to Society. Mrs Daffodil is reminded by the following poem of the odious “fat-shaming movement,” so popular among the lithe and genetically-blessed. The verse is a parody of the dialect poem “Little Orphan Annie,” by James Whitcomb Riley, in which the chorus goes “‘an the Gobble-uns ‘ull git you/Ef you/Don’t/Watch/Out!”  “Nemo” corsets and “Rengo Belts” were brands of “reducing corsets.”

The Flapper’s Warning

Eve G. Swift

You’ve observed the little Flapper, with her lines both slim and dapper,

As so daintily along the street she trips.

With no corset on her figure; still it seems to you she’s bigger

Just a bit above her ankles than her hips.

This maid is in her glory—but there’ll be another story

When she finds, alas, that she is going stout!

That her figure unprotected looks untidy and neglected

So the “Nemos” they will get her

If She Don’t Watch Out!

 

She goes about her dancing in a manner quite entrancing.

Now her corset she will naturally park.

When with body quite unhampered, through each Jazz dance she has scampered.

Sh feels as if it’s been a jolly lark.

But this maid, a wee bit naughty, will find out before she’s forty

That she’s fat! Perhaps we’d better call it “stout”

That a Flapper turns a Flopper with no corset there to stop her,

So the “Rengo Belts” will get her

If She Don’t Watch Out!

 

Now you Flappers all take warning or you’ll realize some morning

That un-noticed all your slender lines have fled—

That your form without protection has swelled out in each direction

And you’re in the “Extra Size” class now, instead.

You may think the gowns you’re sporting need no corset’s firm supporting.

You may think you’ll keep your shape, without a doubt—

But some day you’ll find it’s slipping and you’ll notice you are hipping!

So the “Stylish Stouts” will get you

If You Don’t Watch Out!

The Corset and Underwear Review, Volume 18, 1921

rengo belt2

Mrs Daffodil has frequently written on the subject of corsetry; please look at the other posts under that heading.

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.