Tag Archives: Victorian corsets

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.

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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.

 

“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.

 

Bicycle Lingerie: 1896

Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the grammar.

Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over the grammar.

BICYCLE LINGERIE

The woman who desires to appear well dressed, should give attention to the selection of underwear. A recent bride paid $500 for her wedding veil, which came from Worth’s, and her trousseau contained many imported gowns, but her lingerie was little better than that worn by a woman in a tenement house, the garments being made severely plain, many of them of unbleached muslin, and unadorned with trimming of any kind.

It is useless to wear a stylish tailor-made gown over a last year’s out-of-date pair of corsets. Then, too, different styles of lingerie should be worn with décolleté gowns, with promenade gowns, &c.

When attired for athletic pastimes, for example, a young lady should by all means discard the corset, and wear a corset waist instead. For bicycling she should wear an entirely distinct set of undergarments, which may at the same time be dainty and pretty. The silk undervest should be a size larger than the one worn upon other occasions, to permit of freer action of the arms. The approved bicycle corset should be worn by all means. It costs but $1, is very narrow, almost like a belt, yet very close fitting. It is not heavily boned, and is cut very short on the hips, elastic being inserted so as to permit of freedom of motion. Some bicyclists prefer the silk lacing, others the elastic.

A combination of short petticoat, and drawers, fastened together at the waist, is in vogue for bicycling. The skirt falls several inches below the drawers, and may be finished with lace. The two garments have one drawstring, thus doing away with the discomfort of a band at the waist.

The "hipless" bicycle corset

The “hipless” bicycle corset

The majority of lady cyclists consider the above-mentioned lingerie sufficient for warm weather. Many wear an additional skirt, slightly longer than the first. Others prefer the new combination called the chemise skirt, which may be of silk or linen, the first being very pretty and effective, the latter cooler. The chemise portion of the garment is short-waisted and trimmed elaborately with lace, little flounces passing over the shoulders. It may be worn over the corset, serving as a corset cover, and the lower part forms an under petticoat.

Bicycle stockings of silk are popular, many, however, preferring those of fine lisle thread for ordinary wear.

There are many novelties in bicycle stockings. They should harmonize with the suit as its groundwork, and may be clocked or striped with white. If tan shoes are worn, they should match the hose. No garters should be used by bicyclists.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 June 1896: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The question of cycling costume was a matter of highly public debate, arousing feverish passions on all sides. One of the most vital issues was the “corset or no corset” controversy. This advocate was adamantly anti-corset:

The fundamental principal of comfort for a wheelwoman lies in the underwear. Corsets should never be worn under any circumstances. Neither is it desirable to ride without any support for the body, especially if the rider is inclined to stoutness. An equipoise waist from which the bones have been removed is the best substitute for the corset, as then the muscles are allowed to have full play   and are not constricted in any way. Union underwear is now so universally worn that it would seem almost unnecessary to recommend it, but upon the wheel it becomes almost a necessity, doing away with much unpleasant thickness around the hips.

A pair of full Turkish trousers, made of black India silk, will be found an admirable substitute for the petticoat.

If preferred, equestrian tights are also extremely comfortable. Leggings are stiff and uncomfortable adjuncts, and are not necessary. They interfere with the “ankle motion,” which should be cultivated by every woman who wishes to ride gracefully. Bay City [MI] Times 3 June 1894: p. 9

While this author offers a sensible opposing viewpoint:  (Mrs Daffodil would challenge the notion that “golf hose” are “extremely English.”)

The discreet wheelwoman knows that gauze wool underwear is the safest choice, as there is always danger in cooling off too suddenly, says Godey’s Magazine. The union suit or the two-piece wool suit is best, as it causes the costume to fit snugly and neatly to the figure, and does away with all unnecessary weight.

Corsets for the wheel should give freedom to the hips; the short empire corset is a good choice, as while it supports the bust it is sufficiently short to be comfortable. Another excellent corset has several elastic gores let in on the hips, which give when mounting, and yet hold the figure firmly. Another corset, designed for summer wear is of coarse substantial net. The corset should never be tightly laced, as it renders the breathing difficult and causes fatigue.

Side-view of the elastic gores of the corset above.

Side-view of the elastic gores of the corset seen at the head of this post.

Stockings are of many kinds, but the woman who wants to be extremely English affects golf hose; the clumsiness which has already been so objectionable has been eliminated by making the feet of four-ply wool, which is almost as thin as lisle thread. Checked wool hosiery is also used, and cotton and lisle. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 23 April 1897: p. 11

Knickers to be worn under a cycling skirt. Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 28 May 1899: p. 17

Knickers to be worn under a cycling skirt. Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 28 May 1899: p. 17

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.

 

 

Selling Corsets Door to Door: 1890

A MAN IN WOMAN’S CLOTHING
He Arouses Intense Indignation Among the People in the Lower Part of the County.

Intense indignation has been caused of late among the people of Newport, Sayre’s Neck and neighboring localities, by the fact that a certain tall individual who has been selling corsets, &c., to the ladies and was supposed to be a woman has been found to be none other than a man in female attire.

He canvassed only the outskirts of the towns and in the course of his work gained access to the apartments of the ladies without difficulty, where with modesty skillfully assumed and with gentle touch skillfully acquired he adjusted to their forms the various articles of dress desired by them.

At the residence of Mr. John Fisher, near Newport, Mrs. Fisher had her suspicions awakened in regard to the supposed woman and hurriedly returned to her husband and paid for the article. After the canvasser had gone she told her husband of her belief. At another house a woman saw, as the “saleslady” stopped to fasten a shoe string, the bottom of his pantaloons. The various purchasers in that locality, having their attention called to it, are certain that the supposed woman was a man, and should the scoundrel make his appearance there again he will meet with a “warm reception.” Among other things a shower of scalding hot water is promised him by the indignant housewives.  

Bridgeton [NJ] Evening News 5 May 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Ladies in the cities could apply to their corsetière to be fitted for intimate articles of apparel. Persons in the rural districts were forced to take “pot-luck” at the local dry-goods store or, in the hope of a better fit, submit to the gentle ministrations of a door-to-door canvasser.  To judge by the many reports of disguised corset “salesladies,” this was a startlingly nationwide problem.

The ladies of Cedar Falls, Iowa, are indignant over a report that a peddler who recently visited that town, selling corsets and fitting them on the bodies of customers, etc., has since turned out to be a man dressed in feminine apparel. The young ladies out there don’t like to have a young man give them fits.

Daily National Republican [Washington DC] 19 July 1866: p. 2

For more tales of 19th century corsetry, please look under the “Corsetry” subject 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.

 

 

 

 

The Autobiography of a Corset: 1883

The Autobiography of a Corset.

Chapter I.

The history of my birth and the first days of my life possess but little interest. At an early age I was carried off from my birthplace with several of my companions and placed in a large store on a street which I soon learned was called Broadway. While my fellows remained packed away in boxes, I, on account of my superior beauty, I suppose, was hung up in full view of the public. At first I felt proud of the honor and made much over myself, but I soon perceived that my fancied elevation was in fact the greatest obstacle to my success in life, for while my companions rapidly followed one another out into the world, to fulfill their destiny, I remained solitary and unsought for. It was not because I was not admired. When any one asked for a corset, I was invariably taken down, my beauty and sterling qualities lauded and everything done to tickle my vanity, but somehow or other when I pleased, which was generally the case, I was always hung up again, and one of my companions handed out in my stead. It was useless to protest against this gross injustice, and, moreover, I soon learned my true nature—I was a sample. My lofty position cut me off from all companionship with my fellows, and very soon I heartily wished that I, too, had remained humbly packed away in a box—a warning, let me tell you, to those people who fancy that elevated rank always brings happiness.

Gradually I became morose and melancholy and I know not what dark crime I might have committed had I not been timely rescued.

One bleak December morning—ah, how well I remember it!—while I was brooding over my present miseries and looking forward gloomily to the future, the door opened and there entered, gentle reader, the most entrancing vision of petite black-eyed female loveliness I had ever seen, and I assure you I had seen many pretty women. I fell in love with her at first sight, if a corset may be properly said to fall in love, and awaited with breathless interest to hear what she would ask for.

A corset! O joy of joys! And number 16! My number! Oh my ribs keep still!

I was at once handed down, and O the joy, the complete ecstasy of being fondled by those soft white fingers! It was but for a moment, alas! For although I pleased her, I was as usual put up again by the heartless clerk, who went to seek out one of my companions. I was in the darkest despair when he returned and told the lady that he had no more of that number.

“Great heavens! Haven’t you got me?” I tried to shout, but, being mouthless, failed.

Imagine the thrill of delight which vibrated through every part of me when the sweet creature said she would like to have me if the clerk would part with his sample.

The wretch softened, wrapped me up, and in another moment I reposed on the breast of my loved one, and we were whirling up Fifth avenue.

We soon arrived at a handsome brown-stone mansion and, still clasped in her arms, we ascended to the prettiest little boudoir imaginable. Shall I confess that I blushed when I saw the preparations for my embrace?

Yes, gentle reader, I blushed—I, a dignified, modest corset, blushed. My modesty was soon to be even more sorely tried, for she took me up and—O, gentle reader, may such a moment of ecstasy one day fall to your lot—clasped me tightly around her waist.

Terrified and trembling, I first made a faint show of resistance, but she pulled me only the closer, and, to prevent my escape, tied me. Yielding at last, I gave myself up entirely to the delights of my situation, and clasping her in a long, close embrace, swooned away with joy.

Yes, gentle reader, I swooned, and when I returned to consciousness and found all things changed, I was in a brilliantly lighted ball room, sweet music was floating through the air, and—yes—some villain was waltzing with my lady and had his arm around her waist.

How I longed to spurn the wretch from me and from that waist which had been placed under my protection. I had the inside track on him, however, and I longed to tell him so too. My indignation had reached a high pitch, and I was panting for revenge when the waltz ended, and my lady and her companion went to the conservatory.

They took seats in a secluded spot, but what they said shall never be known to the world through me. A corset is nothing if not honorable. In a few minutes his arm stole around her waist, and the pressure soon became so great that I thought I would surely expire. I could do nothing to defend myself, but I had one consolation, which was, as I said before, that he could not cut me out.

Lest I become tiresome, I will only say that my unmarried life, or rather the unmarried life of my lady, was to him a crystal streamlet of bliss, but alas, flowing, as I was soon to discover, into the dark pool of misery! One day I heard that my lady was to be married.

At the time I was glad, for I will confess that I was beginning to become surfeited with my delights and longed for novelty. What that novelty was to be, I soon discovered. Ah, that I had remained forever in solitary misery at my old store home, or perished before that fatal wedding day!

Chapter II.

What! Is this really myself—the happy, petted corset who experienced the joys recorded in the above chapter? How is it that I am away up here in the garret, amidst old rags and papers—my ribs broken, all soiled and covered with dust, my life fast ebbing away? Why am I thus pitched aside and forsaken?

My lady has now been wedded nearly a year.

I have grown too small for her!

P.S. Since writing the above, I have been consoled by a visit from one of my companions who had fallen to the lot of a dude. The relation of the horrors he went through will give me strength to bear up during the few remaining days of my life.

P.P.S. Horrors! I have fallen into a terrible place, and am being torn limb from limb. Surely, this must be the end of all things—the paper millennium.

Truth [New York, NY] 20 May 1883: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Who would have thought that an inanimate object was such a maelstrom of emotions?  One blushes for the almost erotic frankness of the garment’s recollections! One might almost call the narrative “50 Shades of Stay.” From the 1850s onward whimsical “autobiographies” of the normally insentient were a popular literary genre. One finds autobiographies of hackney coaches, cats, pigs, rubber bands, oranges, sheep, shin-plasters, race horses, flies, dolls, bureaus, &c, &c, &c  Mrs Daffodil has previously printed a “Reminiscence of an old Needlebook” and the “Diary of a Young Dog,” in a similar vein.

The sad fate of the once-beloved corset was common to many house-hold articles: sold to the “old-clothes man” and sent to the rag factory to be pulped for paper. As a corset was often made of sturdy linen and cotton, found in the best papers, it might expect to be resurrected as wedding invitations.

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.

 

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

dandies

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

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

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

man corset

MEN WHO WEAR CORSETS

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

How to Tell When a Man Has One On.

Is a Man More Proud of his Shape Than Woman?

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

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

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

REGULAR BEAUTIES

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

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

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

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

THE PRINCE WEARS THEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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