Category Archives: Corsetry

A Plea for the Corset: 1894

A PLEA FOR THE CORSET.

It is the Root of Morality, Self-Respect and Health.

London Pall Mall Gazette.

A lady possessed of a more than usually trying husband, given to being pompous and overbearing, confessed that when her lord was more than her patience could stand she retired to her room and took off her corsets. It was equivalent to throwing up the sponge; she felt incapable of holding her own any longer, and gave way bodily and mentally to a stayless woe that filled those of her acquaintances to whom she imparted this characteristic habit with silent contempt, tempered with the pity one gives as an alms to all weak things. It is probable that if this poor lady had held on to her corset her pluck would not have deserted her, and the pompous husband would have learned better manners.

The corset (may its shadow never be less) is the root of morality, self-respect and health. It braces up the moral energies as much as it does the physical; and many a slatternly Blowsabella that we see lurching along the pavement in a slum would take an entirely different view of life and Its responsibilities if she were put into a properly built corset. All the diatribes that have been flung at woman’s best friend are each more absurd than the other; and it is pleasant to find that of late doctors are becoming enlightened enough at last to own that civilized woman’s body requires stays just as much as she requires a house to live in and a varied regime that would simply have horrified her primeval ancestors. Of course, if women choose to abuse the benefits of the corset, and, instead of reveling in the support and gentle firmness of outline which prevents petticoat strings, buttons or other details of underclothes from hurting the tender flesh, strive to attain the wasp-like abomination of a sixteen-inch waist, they are to blame, but not the innocent corset.

Abuse of anything, whether it be tea. tobacco or tubbing, beef or bicycling, rest or exercise, is always an inartistic mistake. Like Mr. F.’s aunt, we “hate a fool,” and the woman who squeezes all the lissomness out of her shape and becomes as stiff as a broom handle or a wooden image from the South Sea islands merits no other title. To those who seek to get the best out of every thing–what charms  there are in a well-made corset!  A woman in her corset and petticoat is a subject for a poet, as De Musset knew well when he immortalized “La Marchese l’Amegui.” But much depends on the corset, which may be as beautiful as the calyx of a flower, when it is created by such artists as Festa, of London, or Weiss, of Vienna, but also may be simply a box-shaped receptacle, when fashioned by indifferent hands. The chief matter is to see that the lines are kept as long as possible. The corsets that spread out suddenly above and below the waist convert a woman into something resembling a pilgrim’s gourd, and are of the kind which have given rise to the grewsome tales of livers being cut in two by tight lacing. With the long lines opening out gradually as the shape expands, the pressure is equally distributed, and everything kept in its proper and natural place, while the figure preserves that swaying, flower-like suppleness which is by far its greatest beauty and charm.

Corsets should never be worn of anything but satin or brocade. Of course, we are writing for the artist in such matters, the woman who wisely looks upon the inner mysteries of clothes as being of far more importance than the outer garb, which undergoes contact with the world at large, and, therefore, can, in no way, be considered as a sacred part of her personality. An outcry will, perhaps, be made as regards expense, but there is no need, for it is easy to buy in the bi-annual sales remnants of thick brocade (a yard and a half is sufficient) for a few shillings, and equally easy to get these remnants converted into the loveliest of corsets by a professional corsetiere. Besides, satin and brocade corsets not only last longer and keep their shape far better than the humble and un-ornamental ones in coutil, but the fit of a bodice is entirely different over a silken corset. The silken “friend” is lighter, softer, more pliable and everything slips over it as if over a skin. But let those of our feminine readers who respect their appearance avoid the corset of the middle class French novel; the corset of black satin which helped to cover Bourget with ridicule in the eyes of Parisian mondaines when he described, as part and proof of the riotous luxury of the heroine of “Mensonges,” a corset de satin noir. It is the only ugly corset; ugly in its economic suggestiveness. and uglier in the way it seems to the eye to cut a woman in two.

 

For daily winter wear the rich shades of warm color–orange, mazarine blue, cardinal, myrtle and many other similar ones answer admirably, especially if the silk petticoats are made to match, as they ought to be. Of course, for evening wear, or now that spring is merging into summer, lighter colors appeal irresistibly, and nothing is more lovely for corsets than “shot” brocades of tenderest green and pink, with a design of pink rosebuds in Watteau baskets, of pale blue and white covered with lines like fish scales in silver, of brilliant orchid color overlaid with sprigs of heather. A yard and a half of any of these brocades is not a ruinous expense, nor is the subsequent making, if once the right artist has been found who will cut the material so as to make the design meet and repeat itself with mathematical accuracy, for haphazard arrangement of the design means inartistic cutting.

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 10 June 1894: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is striking that this plea for the corset should be written during the heyday of the aesthetic and dress reform movements. We have read before the testimonials for the corset by luminaries of the stage and the stars of the circus ring.  Although dress reform advocates railed against tight-lacing, many medical authorities felt, that while excess is to be deplored in all things, there was no harm and much good in a properly-fitted corset–not to mention the “charms” of a well-made corset. The author of the piece above was obviously a partisan enthusiast.

The corset de satin noir was a controversial subject. Some felt that it had its place in the widow’s wardrobe; others denounced it as vulgar, even in the context of mourning. Mrs Daffodil will say nothing of its other possible usages, particularly in Vienna. But the author’s idea of purchasing brocade remnants to give to one’s corsetiere is an inspired one and would help to cut costs and encourage bespoke corsetry.

Mrs Daffodil fields many comments on her “Facebook” page about how uncomfortable corsets must be and how difficult it would be to fit into that corset, etc., etc., etc.  What Mrs Daffodil endeavours to convey is that any ill-fitting corset will be uncomfortable. The corset should be made to fit the woman, rather than the other way round. And corsetry is not necessarily about a tiny waist, but about the entire fashionable silhouette and stance. Mrs Daffodil will recommend this instructive video from the Museum of London, which gives some common-sense historical information on the subject.

Morality, self-respect, and health aside, a corset might not only be a morale booster, but a literal life-saver:

HER CORSET

Saved Miss Ellen Stephens from a Violent Death.

St. Joseph, Mo., April. 1 Corset steel and wire in a bustle turned several bullets fired by George Meisner, a Burlington railroad clerk, at Miss Ellen Stephens, his sweetheart, last night at her home. Meisner had been jealous of the girl and shot at her because she permitted a rival to call at her home. Dayton [OH] Daily News 1 April 1901: p. 5

A CORSET STEEL SAVED THIS WOMAN FROM DEATH

Franklin, Pa., Oct. 13. Mrs. Elia Zone of Woodcock owes her life to her corset steel. She was on her way to Meadville and passed a man carrying a rifle. After he had gone some distance the man attempted to load his gun, with the result that a cartridge was accidentally discharged.

The ball struck Mrs. Zone in the side; she gave a scream and the man ran toward her. An examination disclosed the fact that the bullet had been deflected by the steel in her corset. But for that she would undoubtedly have received a fatal wound. Boston [MA] Journal 14 October 1900: p. 2

Now, if only the lady possessed of a more than usually trying husband, mentioned at the beginning, had had the pluck to stay the course(t)….

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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A Fashionable Tragedy: 1883

“Oh, Leave Me, Leave Me, and Ask Me Not Why.”

Evansville Argus

They were lovers. He, tall and stately, with eyes which could blaze with the fire of manly courage or soften till they beamed with liquid lustre when touched by the torch of love.

She, a timid, trusting girl, with the face of a Peri, with a lithe and graceful figure that seemed but too frail to battle with the cares of life.

They had been walking together down a shady lane whose sides seemed a bower fit for such a queen as she, and while the wild roses made the air heavy with their intoxicating fragrance they had talked of love, love which was now their only dream of happiness.

At the rustic stile he had crossed, and holding his arms outstretched he had lifted her down, she springing like a frightened fawn, and then as he started on, he simply said, “Come, Amphridite.”

No answer; no hand in his; no velvet step by his side, and in wonder he turned.

There she stood, close to the stile, and on her face, instead of the trusting look of love, was a look of wild terror.

“What! Darling, what is this? Will you not come to the one who loves you? cried Percy, a cold chill, as of some undefined horror, surging up in his heart.

“Oh, leave me! Leave me!” she cried, sinking down and clinging still more closely to the fence.

“Leave you, darling?” Oh, no, I cannot. I will not. What means this sudden change? But a moment ago you loved me, and now you bid me go, and without one word of explanation..”

“Oh, Percy. I cannot explain. Oh. Leave me, and ask me not why,” and sobs convulsed the fair young form.

“And am I thus to be driven from you; thus cast aside as the child casts aside a toy? Have you nothing to say in extenuation of this conduct?”

“Nothing. Oh, leave me. At some future…”

“No, false girl. Now or never!” And the dark eyes flashed with intense passion.

“Then go,” was all she said.

Percy stood but a moment with his arms folded across the broad chest that heaved with passion. “I could not have thought it of one so guiltless. Oh, woman, woman, you have much to answer for,” and then turning scornfully on his heel he strode away in the gathering twilight.

“Oh, if I could only have explained,” moaned Amphridite, as the bitter tears flowed fast through her clenched fingers, “but I could not!” And she fell with a dull thud, fainting to the earth.

You see, she struck the ground too hard when he jumped over the tile, and she split her Jersey from the armpit clear to the waist. And she didn’t want Percy to see that she had on her week-day corset.

MORAL  Always examine the seams in a ready-made Jersey before you put it on.

Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield IL] 9 October 1883: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Words we all can live by in these darkening days of winter.

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 Fashion Demonstrator: 1898

worth eau de nil 2

SPRY MODELS NOWADAYS

Supple, Shapely Forms Assisted by Nimble Wits in Setting Off the Good Points of Wares

Variety of the Goods Sold by Women

Elaborate Procedure of Foreign Dressmakers.

The demonstrator is to the front now. There are demonstrators of household appliances, demonstrators of food products and medical appurtenances, demonstrators of wearing apparel, demonstrators of everything under the sun except matrimony, and the tenantable qualities of flats and apartments to let. You may notice a bustling, wide-awake-looking woman rustling about almost any boarding house nowadays, and you are told, on making inquiry as to her calling or occupation, that she is a demonstrator. Whether it is some newly invented contraption for light housekeeping, or a new face mask, or complexion wash, demonstrated on one side of her own face and the back of one hand, whether it is a corset, or a combination garment, or a glove fastener that engages her efforts, she is certain to be busy.

In the world of wearing apparel it used to be the model upon whom much depended; the model with so many inches of bust measure to her credit, so many inches of waist measure, so much length of limb. The model stood like an inanimate statue and allowed capes, coats, street suits, and reception gowns to be placed upon her at the will of the saleswoman, taking really very little interest in the proceeding. Occasionally she submitted to having a hat perched on her head to see how it went with the suit. The demonstrator is of a different pattern. She is all alive, all pliancy. A certain grace of bearing and movement is as essential to her calling as a well-developed figure.

wedding corset 1898

Manufacturers with a new make of corsets to put on the market, for instance, begin by engaging a demonstrator to show its advantages to the woman buyer of a big store, and having won approval, gets the firm to give a special view of the corset. Cards are sent out to selected customers announcing this special view. The new corsets and the agile demonstrator have a room to themselves, a room gas lit, warmed, and properly decorated, where Miss B., the shapely demonstrator, may shine out as a central figure. None of those who attend this opening (men are excluded of course) is left in the slightest doubt as to how far the bones in the corsets will bend without breaking; how strong and durable they are; their weight, length, and their special advantages. Miss B., has three or four other makes of corsets at hand and tries them all on in turn in order the better to demonstrate the superiority of her own goods. The demonstrator’s business is not all in one direction. She must be as quick to show the weak points in rival wares as to exhibit the rare qualifications of her own.

The guests at the special view are not alone the customers of the retail house. Cards have been sent to representative trade journals in the manufacturer’s interests, and these papers send women to report upon the merits of the corsets. Representatives of retail houses in other cities are also on hand. Miss B. has enough spectators to give her inspiration in her task.

As with corsets, so with everything new in the way of women’s wear, whether outer or under garments. No longer though is the model or the demonstrator a mere lay figure. The new-style demonstrator who tries on a gown or a coat, must walk well and enter into the spirit of her business, displaying to the best advantage certain ins and outs of the garment that otherwise might pass unnoticed.

“A good demonstrator can sell any amount of goods that otherwise might be passed over as unattractive, or of little worth,” said the head saleswoman in one store. “Say a woman comes in here looking for a gown and does not know exactly what she wants. All our gowns valued at $100 or more are shown on the demonstrators. In looking over the assortment, the shopper may find a costume that suits her in every respect, but for a certain arrangement of the trimming. Perhaps the effect that she objects to may be new in style, and for that reason may strike her as odd, when in reality it is a great addition to the costume. The demonstrator puts on the gown and walks about in it for inspection. She lifts her arms to her head and puts her figure in graceful poses; she gives the gown a style that never would have been made apparent, had it been put on a wired frame or an inert model. The idea that the modiste had in view when she designed the gown is made really chic and original, and will suit her perfectly.”

The demonstrators in the big wholesale Broadway houses are kept busy in winter trying on thin, unlined summer gowns for the next season’s wear. They try these on over tight-fitting jerseys. The out-of-town merchant who comes in to see the effect of the new styles may be wearing a heavy overcoat at the time, but the demonstrators are usually hearty, healthy young women who do not suffer from fluctuations of temperature.

irish crochet summer dress

“Trying on these flimsy, thin things in winter isn’t near as bad as bundling up in furs and heavy jackets for the trade in the summer time,” said a demonstrator, and then she went on to say how well she liked the business and what excellent opportunities she and her mates had for getting really first-class gowns and coats for much less than actual cost.

“A demonstrator has a much better time than a salesgirl,” she said. “Our hours are shorter, and we generally get off at half past 5 the year round. Of course a demonstrator in a wholesale house is in much better luck and has less to do than one employed in a retail house. In the months when we are busy we are rushed to death, but for a good deal of the time there is very little to do and our wages go on all the same. August and September are busy months for us, and from the middle of January to March is the rush season.”

It seems that the animation and power of expression demanded of the present-day demonstrator on this side of the water are qualities that have long been required abroad.

“At the famous outfitters in Paris and London,” said a business woman, “there are demonstrators not only of one style of beauty, but of all the varying types—blond, brunette, and intermediate colorings. One demonstrator will be tall, slender and willowy in form; another will be plump and small; another tall and of Juno-like proportions. The visitor is shown into a room that gives no indications of the nature of the business to be transacted. A few good pictures and some flowers may be about, but the furnishings and appointments are very plain, so as not to detract from the gown that is to be the main object of interest.

“‘What style of gown does madame require?’ has been asked at the door; and according to the kind of gown desired is the special room into which the customer is shown. One apartment is devoted to ball and reception toilets, another to street suits, yet another to outing costumes or gowns for house wear. Madame waits in the empty room and soon a demonstrator comes in and walks quietly about as if looking at the different objects in the room, so that the customer may see to advantage the gown she has put on for her benefit. The demonstrator is as near in appearance to madame’s physical type and coloring as the assortment of demonstrators permitted. Every aspect of the gown—sideways, back, front, three-quarters view—is shown. Then the demonstrator withdraws, and another of the same type, but wearing a different gown, comes in to take her place. So the different toilets are show until one is chosen. Of course this is in one of those establishments where the artist will not make a gown or a garment for a woman which he thinks unsuitable for her, even if she orders it. The demonstrators both here and abroad are often pressed into service to sit for pictures to be used as advertisements for the house. The demonstrators in the high-priced establishments are courteously reticent, and seldom have a word to say, throwing all their force of expression into poses and gestures. Demonstrators like Miss B., who shows corsets or some new-fangled stocking supporter or combination garment, are glib of tongue, and emphasize every motion with a flow of words. They are energetic and pushing, and to a certain degree, modifications of the woman drummer.”

The Sun [New York, NY] 9 January 1898: p. 26

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As this article observes, the work of the fashion demonstrator is much more akin to that of a woman drummer than that of, say, the French mannequin.  The vendors of the ever-changing world of fashion were constantly in search of the latest line of patter or display. This novel tactic for showing gowns was adopted by a London dressmaker:

Some clever dressmaker in London has chosen to be original, as though we would not all choose if we could. Each one of her young women attendants is dressed in some costume that the firm wishes to advertise. One glides about in a soft clinging dress of the first Empire. Another is jaunty in one belonging to the Directoire period. One with rosy cheeks, that the fogs of London and long hours of standing have not paled, stands blushing in the dress of a debutante. Leaning in pensive attitude with sad looks, here is one in long, sweeping robes of mourning and dainty and exquisite in lace and soft silks sits someone by a tea table handing steaming cups to ladies worn out with the task of choosing gowns to outrival those of their rivals. Otago Witness 20 June 1889: p. 34

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.

 

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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.

Circus Girls Wear Corsets: 1895

circus world poster with ladies

ALL OF THEM WEAR CORSETS.

Women Circus Performers Encased in Steels.

A Poser for the Dress Reformers—Female Acrobats and Trapeze Stars Do Their Most Daring Acts in Corsets, and Declare Them Safe, Comfortable and Indispensable.

The first request made of all girls who go into a gymnasium is the surrender of corsets. This request is backed up by physicians, who declare it utterly impossible to do good “gym” work in corsets.

Dress reformers tell how injurious to health the corset is; how the action of the intercostal muscles is prevented; how the floating ribs are crushed, how the lower portion of the lungs is paralyzed, but here is a fact that they will find some trouble in explaining satisfactorily. The champion women acrobats, equestriennes, trick and bareback riders, equilibrists, aerial specialists and trapeze performers wear corsets. They do their most wonderful acts in corsets. Contortionists are the only class who habitually work without them.

These women are the most energetic of their sex, noted for their endurance, activity, fine physical development, and especially for length of wind. Now if corsets are such deadly articles, why don’t they take effect on the queens of the sawdust rings?

Imagine being introduced suddenly into the dressing room of Barnum & Bailey’s circus, where 15 stellar performers of whom you had intended to ask, “Do you wear corsets?” had just reached the corset stage in their toilets. Every one of the 15 had either just clasped on a pair or was about to do so. The sight was convincing. No questions were necessary.

“Oh, you do, don’t you?” was the natural exclamation.

“Do what?” asked a young woman in lavender tights.

The wardrobe woman, who was the intruder’s chaperone, made a speech.

“Ladies, this newspaper woman wants to know how many of you wear corsets when in the ring, and if the most difficult feats can be performed in them.”

Linda Jeal 1879

Miss Linda Jeal in her “jockey” costume. designed to help her avoid catching her hair and skirts on fire during her act. http://www.bulibstats.net/illinoiswomen/files/is/htm1/jeal.htm

Then Lavender Tights, who was recognized as Linda Jeal, who flies through paper hoops and does daring bareback hurdle acts, said:

“Everybody that I know wears them. I’d have a broken back if I didn’t, and I guess all the others would. There’s nothing the matter with corsets if they aren’t laced to death. If I left them off I’d never be able to do a thing.

Don’t they disturb the action of your heart? Can you use your intercostal muscles?”

“Well, I’ve been in the business over 20 years, and I guess I’d have been dead before now if corsets affected the heart, and I’ve got the use of about every muscle there is in my body,” and the girls all joined in Miss Jeal’s merry laugh as she turned to them for confirmation.

“Of course, you can’t use the lower part of your lungs in breathing. No anti-corset preacher would allow you that privilege.”

“That’s just what a doctor said to me when I went to be examined to get my life insured. He said I looked ‘delicate.” So I let out my breath and then, while he held a measure, I inflated my lungs. The doctor said I was ‘very deceiving.’ In this business a woman has got to have as much wind as she can get. If she don’t she can’t work. I can do anything in corsets I can without, and for that matter, I can’t do some things at all without the corsets.”

The insurance company accepted Miss Jeal at a very moderate premium, because they decided she was an exceptionally good physical risk.

“Doesn’t corset reform ever get into the circus?”

Sometimes, but not much. My niece has been riding for six years and she got an idea she couldn’t perform with corsets on. Her mother and I had always worn them, but she had her own way. I saw she was getting a stoop in her back, and last fall I told her she must come out in corset. She did, but she was sure she never could bend this way nor that” (drifting backward and forward). “But she did. One day when the corsets burst she insisted on stopping practice to take them off. I said ‘Go ahead.’ When she came back she found she couldn’t get along without them, and now she’s converted to corsets. I read everything I see in the papers about dress reform and the evils of corsets, but it is only necessary to see what acrobatic feats women performers do in corsets to see the holes in anti-corset arguments. There’s Mary Wentworth. Ask her.”

Miss Wentworth came over from her dressing trunk.

“I’m dressed now for a contortion act and haven’t any corsets on. I don’t know any contortionist of first rank who does wear them. But in everything else I do I wouldn’t think of going without them. Yes, I practice in them, as well as perform. I always wear them in trapeze acts.”

Miss Wentworth is one of the all-around performers, who is considered to have a long career ahead of her, and she expects to wear corsets to the end of her days.

miss lonny contortionist elastic lady acrobat 1900

Miss Lonny, “Elastic Lady Acrobat” or contortionist, c. 1900-1909 http://cdm15847.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15847coll3/id/78662/rec/5

Just then along came a little woman in pink, simply one bunch of exquisite muscle from neck to heels. “Come here, Miss Julietta. You always wear corsets, don’t you?” called Miss Wentworth.

“I never go without them. But what’s all this about?”

“Why, you know there are folks who are trying to get women to stop wearing corsets, because it injures their health,” explained Miss Wentworth.

“Injures the health? Look at me. How could I do my tricks if I wasn’t healthy? I’ve been training since I was 3 years old, and have worn corsets ever since I can remember. Do I look as if they hurt me? See that,” and Miss Julietta threw up a muscle on her arms like rock, and took a couple of deep breaths that were like filling a balloon. “Why, I can do anything in corsets,” and the muscular little woman hurried to her corner to change her dress, and in a few moments was saying good-day.

circus performers in corsets dance on the slack rope

Miss Julietta is a gymnast, an acrobat and about everything else except a contortionist. She does a wonderful high-rope act now, where she jumps up and down on the rope, changes her costume, and keeps the audience breathless, wondering why she doesn’t shake herself to pieces.

circus performers weara corsets swinging from the rings

Two aerial performers are Josie Ashton and Miss Potter. One works with a partner on a double flying trapeze, and Miss Ashton in pendulating rings. Both are devotees of corsets. It has become the fad now among dancers on the stage to scorn corsets. Miss Girdelles performs some eccentric dancing feats and high kicking, which has been considered feasible only sans corsets. Grotesque acrobatic tricks are combined with the dancing. “All in corsets,” she says, “and couldn’t be done without them.”

Josie Ashton circus bareback rider

Miss Josie Ashton was also an equestrienne.

At this point a little woman in street clothes came in. An English sailor hat was perched on an elaborate coiffure, and as she appeared Miss Jeal called out:

“How do you do, Miss Pink Cheeks? Do you wear corsets?”

“Miss Pink Cheeks,” who is one of the flying Dillons, looked surprised at such a question, and dropped into her dressing chair.

“Do you wear corsets in your act?”

“No, I don’t.”

The girls looked surprised as she went on. “I never have worn them while performing.”

“Why, you look just as if you did when you walk into the ring.”

“I know it; that is because every muscle in my body has been developed, and the body has got its natural shape.”

Miss Dillon has an idea that will delight women who are tired of having the Venus de Milo and the Medici lady’s waist held up to them as models. When asked to account for the discrepancy between her idea of the shape of a woman’s waist and that the Venus exploits, she said:

“Why, Venus didn’t take any exercise. If she had used her muscles as she ought, she would have lost that lumpy look about her waist, worked off some extra flesh and had a respectable shape instead of looking like a dowdy.”

flying dillons circus

Miss Dillon at one time was part of “The Flying Dillons.” trapeze act.

Miss Dillon’s act is exceedingly daring. She works on a high trapeze, and after exploits that make timid women wish she wouldn’t do so any more she takes a dive from the top into a net below.

Mme. Catroni, who had been listening to her side partner, Miss Dillon, said: “I didn’t take to wearing corsets until I was 20 years old, but I think you’ll find that most women performers, unless they are contortionists, wear corsets into the ring. There may be a little fondness for making a good appearance, and nobody would want to see a woman without them unless she was very slim and compactly built. I never heard of a woman’s being injured by a broken corset steel. I got my head smashed and a rib broken in a four-horse tandem hurdle race a year ago, but the corset steels didn’t even scratch me. Even the lady clown wears corsets, and she can turn somersaults, backward flips and handsprings. She doubles herself up and rolls around the ring, and all those things that dress reformers would say were impossible.”

the meers sisters circus

The Meers Sisters performed an equestrienne act.

The Meers Sisters, who perform four times within eight hours what would seem to be most exhausting bareback acts, and at the end of each number still are able to go into the dressing room smiling and joking, looked scornful and the mere idea of not wearing corsets.

“What a silly notion,” one said.

“We never could do without them,” exclaimed another. “Corsets give the back support. Sometimes a steel smashes, but that never stops us.”

“Which all goes to bear out the speech of Dr. Mary Green of Detroit sprung on the dress-reform session of the National Woman’s Council in Washington when she declared that corsets, when properly worn, were not injurious in any way, and that she had even prescribed them. If Dr. Green wants any arguments, get the records of these champion women performers, who all wear corsets.

Boston [MA] Herald 28 April 1895: p. 29

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have seen a debate about the use and utility of corsets before–by ladies of the stage.  It continues to-day among historical re-enactors and tight-lacing enthusiasts, some of whom are known as “waist-trainers.” The dress-reformers of the age were, of course, ever-ready with statistics of consumption caused by corsetry and often advocated less stringent “waists” or “bodices.”

Circus performers often used different names in the course of their careers so accurate biographical data is sometimes hard to find.  Linda Jeal was known as a “hurricane rider” and “The Queen of the Flaming Zone” for her fiery equestrienne act.   Mme. Girdelle was one of The Three Girdelles, described as “grotesques.”  Mme. “Catroni” was Mattie Robinson Castroni, a “mounted broadsword fencer” who fenced on horseback in velvet Renaissance costumes and armour with her husband, Prof. G.M. Castroni. Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was not able to find an image of this diverting act.

 

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 Lost Property Department: 1883

lost property office Waterlood Station 1936 lost umbrellas

Hundreds of umbrellas in the Lost Property Office of Waterloo Station, 1936

ABODE OF THE LOST

SOME OF THE ARTICLES THAT ARE FOUND ON THE TRAINS.

Several days ago the following advertisement appeared in one of the morning papers.

FOUND-TWENTY-THIRD STREET ELEVATED station, a roll of money. Owner can receive it by proving the number of bills, at No. 17 West 120th street.

“There is an immense number of miscellaneous articles of every description left or dropped in the cars of the company,” said General Manager Hain, of the “L” roads, when his attention was called to this advertisement. “When found by the conductor, or handed to them, the rules of the company direct that they shall be handed to the ‘Despatchers,’ as the men who send out the trains are called. If the loss occurs on an uptown train the despatcher at 155th street is given the article, and if it is on a downtown trip the dispatcher at the Battery receives it. They in turn deliver the article to the property clerk, who gives them a descriptive receipt for it, which ends the despatcher’s obligation in the matter. All persons are obliged to go there and give a full description of their lost property before the money, article, or whatever it is is returned to them.”

The room for lost property is located at No. 4 Front street. A dingy sign, on which is inscribed, “Lost property,” is tacked to the wall on the lower floor, and a hand points the way to a narrow staircase, which winds up to the third floor, where the property clerk holds high court. In a room adjoining his office the lost property is stored, and this apartment looks like a cross between a pawnbroker’s vault and a West street junk shop. In it every manner of article is heaped.

The property clerk was found at the desk, polite to the last degree. In answer to one of the first inquiries as to the amount of property lost, he said that since January 4, 1882, to January 9, 1883, 4,500 articles had been turned over to his care, a surprisingly small number considering that nearly ninety millions of people travel over the road during the same period of time, even after admitting that a large number of articles are picked up by dishonest persons in the cars and never turned over to the company.”

“Is there much money found on the road?” was asked.

“Yes,” considerable,” answered the P.DE., “but the amounts are usually small and seldom exceed $100. Once 200 silver dollars were found in a package, which were at once returned to the owner. The money is brought in sometimes in a loose roll of bills or in bags or pocketbooks. Then, besides, we find bankbooks, checks and drafts.”

“Are you troubled by many bogus claimants?”

“No; that class of persons seldom call, and if they do we can easily detect hem after a few minutes’ conversation.”

“What percentage of all the articles found are redeemed?” “I should say about 50 percent. All the valuable articles are generally reclaimed at once. We have now on hand over one thousand articles, but not one of them is worth over $5.”

“What disposition is made of the articles that are left unclaimed?” the reported then asked.

“After keeping them for about twelve months they are sold at private sale. Many articles are so worthless that even the owners do not care to call for them, and few persons care to buy them.”

“Articles of every imaginable kind are found, of course?” “Yes, I should say so. Ladies leave their furs, muff, circulars, dolmans, cloaks and shawls. Gentlemen, forget their coats. We find pantaloons now and then, but they are always the contents of bundles. Boys and girls leave their lunch boxes and school books. We found a statuette of Christopher Columbus the other day. Some time ago some one left a small sole leather trunk. Imagine a man forgetting his luggage. Bundles have been brought in as large as myself. (The property clerk stands about five feet nine inches and weighs over one hundred and forty pounds.). Clothing of every description is left in the cars. Umbrellas, however, have the call; there are more umbrellas picked up than any other one article. We have epidemics of certain things—umbrellas and overshoes in wet weather, vails and green spectacles in dry; fans and parasols in the summer season, skates and gloves in the winter; fruit and vegetables in the autumn, flower and garden seeds in the spring.”

“Yes, and—“

“Letters are found—many of them touchingly sweet. I never knew how much ‘taffy’ could be laid out in black and white until I occupied this position. We find poetry, too, from young ladies to their beaux, but as a general thing the spelling is fearfully wild,” said the P.C., “and the verses don’t go to any tune I ever heard.”

“Every class and trade, then, contributes its mite?”

“Certainly. A plumber left a cast ion sink frame; it was certainly too large to lose, but he forgot it. Sportsmen leave their guns, doctors their surgical instruments, invalids their bottles of medicine, and, would you believe it, one lame man skipped off without his crutch. Old gentlemen sometimes get off and leave their wives behind, but none are ever turned in.”

While this conversation was progressing, several persons called to inquire about their lost property. As a rule they were an anxious lot, and many seemed to have just awakened after a long nap. At last a very pretty young lady tripped into the office, with a face radiant with smiles and blushes. She said:

“I have lost a package.” “Indeed,” said the P.C. “Of what?”

“Must I tell?”

“We must get some idea of what is lost, you know.” “Well, it was underwear—ladies’ underwear,” said the pretty one, looking blushingly down.

“Describe, Miss, if you please,” said the P.C., beginning to look a little weary.

“There were six handkerchiefs and__”

“Yes.”

“And six pair—pair—of—stockings—new ones,” she added. “Ah@” said the P.C., with a start, as if he had never heard of such things before.

“And a—oh, dear, must I tell! Oh, a pair –a pair of—cor—cors-e-t-s,” breathed the fair one in a voice so low and sweet that even the reported began to feel as though he had better leave the office, while the P.C. wriggled in wretched silence and suddenly became interested in the mucilage bottle on the desk. At last he muttered, because it was his duty to:

“Was that all?”

“Oh!” was the reply, “oh, there was,” and she blushed the color of a Marshal Ney rose, but she did not bloom alone, for the P.C.’s face was a red as a boiled lobster, “there was—a—pa—oh! I think I’ll go—n-e-v-e-r mind the things—there was a pa—pa—ir—a pair of—“

“Oh, take the bundle,” exclaimed the P.C., as he handed out a neatly tied package.

There was a rustle of a silk dress and the door banged behind the beauty—she was gone.

“Oh, Lord! Wasn’t that dreadful?” said the P.C. N.Y. Herald

Jersey Journal [Jersey City, NJ] 17 January 1883: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The P.C. protested too much, in Mrs Daffodil’s severe opinion. The handkerchiefs and stockings alone should have been enough to identify the parcel, but this Fiend in Human Shape was obviously enjoying the spectacle of a modest young woman exposing her innermost wardrobe secrets. Mrs Daffodil, whose mind naturally runs to plots, suggests that the P.C. hoped to embarrass the young woman into abandoning the parcel, whereupon he could purchase it at the unclaimed property auction and take it home to his wife. If such an excrescence has a wife…

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.

 

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.