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Sound Advice to Mothers and Governesses - Part Two

The best means to anchor the corset at the bottom, firmly
and securely, is by means of boot straps. Six strong leather
straps should be sewn and riveted to the bottom of corset
two in front, two on the sides and two in back. These straps
should be drawn through buckles sewn and riveted to
thigh-length kid corset-boots. The buckles should be attached
to the boots about six inches above the knees. The boot
straps should be drawn up tightly enough to prevent upwards
movement of the corset on the figure
The corset-boots which must be most carefully fitted,
should be lightly boned to prevent wrinkling. Five light flexible
bones reaching from the shoe part of the boot to the boot top
are sufficient for this purpose. The boots should be very long,
fitted up to the line where the upper thigh joins the torso. The
shoe of the boot should be designed with a short vamp, high
arch, and high heel, a two-inch Louis heel is high enough for
the beginner. The interior of the shoe should be carefully
padded to prevent foot irritations and should fit the foot very
closely. Such a fitting will tend to inhibit growth of the feet.
When the shoe portion of the boot is properly fitted and
laced, the wearer should not be able to move her toes or any
part of her foot within the shoe. The boot above the shoe
must be closely laced to shape and confine the ankle calf,
knee and thigh. The midpoint of the thigh between knee and
torso should measure one inch smaller with a tight tape over
the laced boots than without them.

(Sound Advice continues in the Forbidden Library, for adults only)

The chopine,

or champigny, as it's sometimes called, was a popular shoe fashion that first originated in Spain in the 15th century and later became popular in Italy and France in the 16th century. A more extreme example of today's platform shoe, these chopines were shoes with platform soles up to three feet high! They were so high, in fact, that the women who wore them often required the assistance of others to prevent them from falling. The wife of Philip V of Spain required the assistance of two courtiers when she donned her chopines! Of course, only the wealthy could afford the luxury of hobbling themselves to the point of requiring ambulatory assistance.


were worn by both sexes as tight as they could be borne. Humorous references to the tight gloves of fashionable or would-be fashionable young men may be found in many novels.

Th practice of keeping the hands almost constantly covered, either by gloves or mittens, served not only to make their real size less evident, but also to render them soft and white, an essential refinement. The shades of kid used, even by men, were very pale, principally lemon, lavendar, and dove-grey - a fashion so deliberately and unmistakably opposed to utility that no one could doubt its origins in a desire to maintain social distinction.

16-button: 22 to 23 inches long - this is the classic OPERA length.

21-button: 27 to 29 inches long, this glove generally reaches all the way to the wearer's armpits. This is possibly the most dramatic length of glove, and is generally worn only with strapless or sleeveless evening outfits.

Traditionally, opera gloves should not be put on in public, but should be donned in the privacy of one's home before going out.  This tradition arose from necessity as the 19th century glove was always one size too small for the wearer and the trying task of getting a large hand  into a small glove took skill. Fashionably attired women often took hours to work their hand into a glove, aided by the use of powdered alum and a buttonhook. It was desirable for a lady's hand to appear half cupped, so that when she presented it to a gentleman there was a half moon shaped pink mound of flesh in the center of her palm. This debilitated ladies from shaking hands, or gasp! presenting a fist to be kissed.

According to Madame de la Maitresse:

"When putting on her gloves, a lady always works in the hand from the wrist, then gradually smoothes the glove up her arm, rather than pulling from the top. Gloves are worn during the cocktail hour, and at least the right glove is removed entirely while dining, then worn again for the remainder of the evening.  A lady does not remove her glove when shaking hands or when presenting her hand to be kissed. It is also now very permissible to wear rings and/or a bracelet over one's glove."

One morning, when Patricia had been laced

to fifteen and three-quarters inches and was getting used to the six-foot train of the elaborate black silk evening gown her aunt had had her dressed in, a maid suddenly popped into the ballroom to announce that Miss de la Coudière required her ward’s attendance in her bedroom, and would Patricia like to come up directly. Patricia knew better than to refuse: she hoisted up the front of her skirt a few inches—and no more: enough to show her feet but not her ankles—and with Braithwaite behind her made her slow and elegant way up the stairs to Aunt Polly’s rooms.
Her aunt was there in the dressing-room, sitting stiffly upright as ever in her tight dress, with a small folding table next to her. Standing on the table were several wooden instruments about a foot long, something like a clothes-peg and something like a pair of scissors, along with a pair of long white kid evening gloves.
"You wanted to see me, Aunt Polly?"
"Yes, Patricia. Your progress has improved markedly in the past few weeks, and now I think it’s time to teach you the final details of being a lady of beauty. You are here to learn how to manage evening gloves."
"Pardon me for asking, Aunt Polly, but what’s to learn? Surely I just put them on and then wear them?"
"There is a great deal to learn, Patricia. The first thing is that you can’t ‘just put them on’. A real lady of beauty, Patricia, always wears tight gloves; and the more beautiful and ladylike you want to look, the tighter your gloves must be." She picked up one of the strange wooden objects and opened and shut its jaws. "This instrument is called a glove-stretcher. You can see that there is a spring inside it which resists closing the two pieces of wood together. I take an evening glove, like so, squeeze the glove-stretcher shut, and slip it into one of the fingers. The glove-stretcher expands inside the finger and I leave it there to put stretchers in the other fingers. Then I put the glove away for a few hours. These gloves are made of the finest kid leather and hand-made especially to fit you: the stitches are small and delicate but they are very strong. The spring in the glove-stretcher pushes it open hard enough to actually stretch the leather, and after a few hours the glove is bigger than it was when it was made. Then we take the stretchers out and put it onto your arm. It won’t be easy, it’ll still be tight, but at least it will be possible. Then with the stretchers removed the glove contracts again, and gradually grows tighter and tighter on your hand, so that by the time you arrive at the ball you have the tightest possible fit. If we didn’t use the glove-stretchers, you’d never get into gloves this size."
"And how do I get out of the gloves again after the ball?"
"Very carefully. It’s quite possible, though, that you won’t be able to get them off. That’s not a bad thing—I believe it preserves the quality of the skin to wear very tight gloves as often and as long as you can—but in an emergency you may ask my permission for your maid to use scissors. Many’s the time I’ve had to be cut out of my gloves after a ball."
Patricia looked at the glove, with the padded wood of the glove-stretchers bulging out of it. Obviously here was yet another burden on her, yet another problem: and she would have to put up with it, or else. The best thing to do was pretend to be willing, even though the whole idea dismayed her. "May I try it, Aunt Polly?"
Her aunt smiled. "There’s a good girl! Not with these gloves, of course, as I’ve only just put the glove-stretchers in and you wouldn’t be able to get into them. I hoped you might be interested, though, and I had Braithwaite prepare some gloves last night to match your dress. Braithwaite, would you get them out, please?"
"Certainly, ma’am." Braithwaite went over to one of the innumerable chests of drawers that ringed Aunt Polly’s dressing-room, and produced a pair of very long black kid gloves whose outline showed that throughout their length they had been packed with ingenious contrivances to stretch them evenly and firmly without tearing the seams. She carried them over carefully and put them down on the table next to the gloves Aunt Polly had been using as a demonstration.
"Now, Patricia," her aunt said didactically, "you must remember to be quick. To get the most benefit from the glove-stretchers, you must let Braithwaite put the gloves on you as soon as possible after she takes the stretchers out. Otherwise the glove will contract and you won’t be able to get into it. Braithwaite, which hand is that you’ve got?"
"The left hand, ma’am."
"Very good. Patricia, put your left hand out."
Patricia did as she was told, stretching out her bare arm as it extended from the sleeveless evening dress. Braithwaite brought the glove and all its internal contraptions up to her, very carefully; then working with obviously well-practised skill, she reached inside the long arm of the glove and began whipping out the numerous stretchers. It took her not quite half a minute. When the glove was empty she rolled up the arm and said to Patricia "Curl your fingers in and push them into the glove."
Patricia did as she was told. Despite the stretchers the glove was an extremely tight fit, and she could not get her hand inside it. "It’s too small!" she said. "Aunt Polly, are you sure they measured my hands properly?"
"Of course they did, you fool," her aunt said. "Here, Braithwaite, I’ll hold her arm and shoulder and you push back on her hand."
Aunt Polly rustled forward and took hold of Patricia: her right hand gripping her niece’s shoulder, her left hand on Patricia’s elbow. Braithwaite took the tight kid glove in both hands and forced it back as hard as she could. It felt to Patricia as if it was taking a layer of skin with it, but it was moving. She knew the other two women were making tremendous efforts—Braithwaite was grunting in rhythm to her jerks, and both of their corsets were creaking in a manner that indicated they were bracing themselves—but they were making little progress. Surely this couldn’t be right? Yet the glove had not stuck altogether; and finally it began to move a little more freely, and to slide very slowly down the back of her hand. Braithwaite varied her work, tugging on the arm of the glove, putting her fingers between Patricia’s and ramming the glove down from the end, until finally it was in position. Then she went to work, picking at it, minutely rearranging the slight creases and wrinkles, until finally the straining black kid formed a perfectly smooth second skin from Patricia’s fingertips almost to her shoulder.
Braithwaite gave a shallow, corseted sigh, and stood back looking at her work with satisfaction. "There!" she said. "Isn’t that nice?"
Patricia didn’t like it much. The gloves were so tight that they made it hard to move her fingers, or her wrist, or her elbow. She tried, and her aunt cried "Don’t! You might burst a seam. Be very, very careful with evening gloves."
Patricia obeyed, holding her hands absolutely still with the fingers together and slightly curved.

from Aunt Polly's Ward by Stephen

While some of the correspondents mention how they were laced so tightly in school and that the teachers were also tight laced.  And as in those days I had the misfortune to be an instructress in a fashionable school, where, as some of the letters state, figure training was more important than any other forms of studies prescribed. 

When I made application at this school the head mistress who herself had a wonderful figure asked me if I minded wearing stays, and then explained that the requirements of the school made it necessary for the teachers to set the examples to the students. When I told her I was in the habit of wearing corsets, she asked me if I minded tightening in more. Because, she said, "I expect my teachers to have a waist of fourteen inches anyway, and I give premiums for anything less than that."

I thought I had a presentable figure, but I had a large and prominent waist of twenty inches at that time, but as it looked like a really good place to seek employment, I told her I would willingly be reduced to the required smallness. This, of course, was before so many athletic contests were introduced into the schools, and there was little or no exercising. 

The school was to pay for the stays I wore, however, so I commenced on my work of teaching and reducing at the same time.  The Head Mistress believed in quick reduction, and contrived as soon as possible with the aid of the screw to get us beginners down to the required smallness. Then we could work out our own salvation. The stays were very heavily boned and reached from the armpits down barely over the hips. She did not believe in the straight front novelty that was just coming in, but put everyone in the old-fashioned article.

Of course, we wore them all the time, as one could not lace in at will to that small size as in the morning. Then as a further example, we must wear shoes with four-inch heals, to show the scholars how it is done. We also had to wear high-boned collars, and these were an added touch of discomfort.

We rarely had much trouble with the pupils, as they were enjoying the same constriction as us. We were laced so tightly that we moved slowly and carefully, and could eat but little at a time. 

The Head Mistress was always gloved to the shoulders in gloves so tight she could barely close her hands to grasp anything.  So stiffly were we corsetted and gloved, that if we let anything drop it was impossible to pick it up again. If we did we had to grasp hold of a chair or table and lower ourselves very slowly, holding on with both hands.

London Life

"One must suffer to be beautiful"

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