The fashions of the 1870s are extremely body-revealing, featuring an increasingly long sheath-like cuirasse-bodice, and a skirt that was tied back with concealed tapes, to give a straighter and noticeably tighter fit in front.
''Ladies... must be encased in a sheath. ... The cuirasse-corsage now moulds not only the waist, but encloses the whole figure''. Or as another journalist wrote, ''Bodies are made to fit like wax''.
"The ideal at present is the greatest possible flatness and straightness; a woman is a pencil covered with raiment" (October 23 1875).
It was, however, several years before the bustle was completely abandoned. When this ideal was achieved, to maintain flatness and straightness and to provide variety in the "raiment" asymmetry was introduced.
The slenderizing of the body continued downward, and by 1881 the knees had become so constricted by inner ties and construction that walking was reduced to small, mincing steps.
Harpers Bazar 1867-1898
|During the crinoline era and the later 1860s the fetishistic emphasis in La Vie Parisienne was decidedly on the feet. By the mid -'70s it moved with even greater decisiveness to the corset, this time in a new and powerful form known as the "corset-cuirasse". It became necessary to defend this article against accusations of resemblance to "medieval" and "romantic" instruments of sartorial torture, especially since its effects were exhibited as never before. As the shirt shrank, the waist lengthened, and for the first time in living memory - arguably in Western history - the natural hip-contour was clearly and systematically defined and exposed. New techniques in cutting and seaming ensured absolute precision of fit, and the new anatomically compressed outline was heightened by the use of artificial dyes and glaring color contrasts, with excessively complicated ornamentation on the swaths wound tightly round the legs. Having touted the corsetière as sculptor, La Vie Parisienne was able to hail the emergence of the Femme Statue: "After 12 years of struggle against bad taste, we have at last attained the supreme goal - the statue woman of serpentine slenderness, molded in her dress like warriors in their cuirasse...sculpted in an armor revealing a hip contour which, they say, cost our ancestor Paradise." The constriction and immobilization is accompanied by expansion: "under the tight gussets, the breast swells, opens out...aloft! For some, it is like a stall-ledge. Women push and press into their kidskin sheath as if it were a pair of gloves. The legs are clasped the full length, the skirt is tight, woman is impeded in her movements, one can feel the ribbon fettering all from behind.
...Knees touch, visibly...woman sits down sideways, she cannot do otherwise and this uncomfortable attitude is not ungracious...Beneath this sheath, undulations must be soft and slow, almost imperceptible...Now, one can see the whole body breathing; previously they eyes judged the movements of the heart by the breasts alone."
For the first time in hundreds of years the form of the belly was exposed to such a degree that it registered small respiratory movements...One writer ends on the curious insight that, immobilized, "woman is obliged to observe herself."
David Kunzle, "The Corset as Erotic Alchemy" in "Woman as Sex Object"
Sound Advice to Mothers and Governesses
Regarding Corset Discipline for the Beginner
EVERY CAREFUL MOTHER OR GOVERNESS should take her
child or charge to one of the well known corsetières who
makes a speciality of designing corsets for training the
youthful figure. Any one of them will be able to advise you
and to carry out the latest, most scientific ideas in designing
the best type of constrictive wear for the youthful trainee.
Some mothers and governesses in an excess of zeal make
the mistake of strapping up their young hopefuls into a
veritable suit of armor, and lace them into a degree far
beyond the fundamental requisite tightness necessary for the
first corset. By forcing the girl of 12 or 13 into a training
apparatus much more severe than required, she is prejudiced
against the whole process of shaping and disciplining her
figure and may never get over this first impression.
Furthermore, if the first corset is too heavy, too rigid, too
severely shaped and too tightly laced to start with, the health
of the trainee may well be adversely affected.
So, generally, the careful mother or governess should abide
by the advice of the trained corsetière. She will design for
your charge a corset as easy and comfortable as it is possible
to make and still fulfil the requisites of confining, directing and
shaping the growing figure. This first corset should be long
enough to restrict and control all bodily movement from the
shoulders to the knees. It should be rigid enough to compel
an erect, proper posture, sitting, standing, walking, or
The corset should be made with two heavy, preformed
shaping steels on either side of the back lacing. These shaping
steels formed and tempered into a S-curve are designed to
enforce the proudly arched back line and, in conjunction with
the broad, rigid, busk in front , help to enforce proper
carriage of the whole body, with the hips well back, the torso
inclined forward from the hips, bust and chest held up high
and shoulders, neck and head, back. The boning
supplementary to the busk and shaping steels should be heavy
enough to insure proper fitting of the corset when it is laced
close. Normally, ten bones or steels on each side are
sufficient if properly placed.
The best material for facing and lining the corset is strong,
high-quality kid leather. It does not stretch and is gentle to
tender young skin, preventing rubbing, gouging and other
common skin irritations. It does not slip or slide readily on the
skin. It imparts its own supplementary rigidity to the corset
and may be quickly and easily cleaned by using a damp
According to all authorities the corset should be firmly
anchored at top and bottom so that it cannot move up and
down on the figure so that the corseted girl cannot move
independently of her corset. At the top this may be best
accomplished with the use of wide, padded leather shoulder
straps sewn in at the fixed ends to the back of the corset The
straps should be crossed behind the wearers back and go
over the opposite shoulder, with the strap attached to the
right side of the corset being drawn over the left shoulder and
the one on the left side over the right shoulder. The straps are
then drawn under the armpits through a leather loop and
attached to each other by a regular buckle and strap-hole
arrangement. When the straps are properly adjusted and
buckled they anchor the top of the corset and prevent
downward movement of the garment on the wearers body.
They enforce proper carriage of the shoulders, preventing
slumping or rounding and at the same time force the shoulders
down and back. They draw the wearers back into the back
of the corset raising the rib cage, lengthening the waist and
further arching the back in the process.
When Swooning Was Fashionable.
You need not be unduly alarmed when your daughter faints while being laced. Young ladies of 15 to 20 frequently swoon. Indeed, I read that many ultra-fashionable French ladies do not now consider themselves properly laced until they have swooned. Moreover, fashionable young ladies are secretly not a little proud of the number of times they faint, so that your friend who regularly laces her daughter until she faints need not be deemed too strict.
Insist on your daughter being always correctly veiled outdoors. The tendency of some young ladies I know to discard this important item of feminine dress is much to be deplored. Wrist-length black kid gloves should certainly be worn at breakfast, and, of course, your daughter's morning suit will have the modish tight sleeves and the becoming high collar.
Your policy of training for an hour daily before a mirror, to walk and sit gracefully, and prettily hold her hands in repose, is excellent and might well be followed by the mothers of many young ladies I have seen. Also the graceful play of the hands at afternoon tea is very charming. and should be encouraged.
Yours truly, MODERN GIRL.
Dear Sir. - I have been very interested in the recent letters published in your topping paper about very tight lacing, and I would like to add my experiences, to those others who are interested in the most fascinating subject in the world.
I was first attracted to tiny waists when I came to live with my aunt, about twelve months ago. She had been subjected to drastic lacing during the period of wasp-waists, and her description of the wonderful feeling of being very tightly laced excited me so much that I begged her to train my figure, and she willingly agreed.
The first ceremony was not gradual, and this was the procedure. The corset, which had four lacings - back, front and both sides, was just over 6 in. deep, and was quite rigid, was placed in position and laced up till I measured 17 in. and the openings were all even. I was next prepared for the serious lacing a soft leather belt being strapped round me under my arms and attached to hooks hanging from the ceiling; and round my legs, above the knees, another leather band was tightly strapped, and by means of ropes attached to this belt and running through a pulley on the floor, my aunt and her helpers were able to stretch me till I felt I should pull in two.
My wrists were then tied together to be out of the way, and the lacing commenced. First back and front were reduced a little, and then both sides till my aunt and her friend could pull in no more. When I was released, I could not stand. My body felt as if it had no connection with my legs, and until a long supporting corset was laced on and I was dressed, I was quite helpless. The possession of a really tiny waist is wonderful fascinating.
Yours truly, Rose
(London Life August 18, 1928)
Queen Alexandra - tight laced, gloved and bejewelled