CHAPTER X. The claims of Nature and Art considered. The Corset and the Crinoline.
Remarks on front-fastening stays – Thomson’s glove-fitting Corsets – Plan for adding stability to the front-fastening Corset – De la Garde’s French Corset – System of self measurement – The Redresseur Corset of Vienna and its influence on the figures of young persons – Remarks on the flimsy materials used in the manufacture of Corsets – Hints as to proper materials – The “Minet Back” Corset described – Elastic Corsets condemned – The narrow bands used as substitutes for Corsets injurious to the figure – Remarks on the proper application of the Corset with the view to the production of a graceful figure – Thomson’s Zephyrina Crinoline – Costume of the present season – The claims of Nature and Art considered – The belle of Damara Land (1).
Remarks on front-fastening stays.
It would be difficult to find a much more marked contrast to the style of bodice referred to in our last chapter than is to be found in the ordinary cheap front-fastening corset commonly sold by drapers.
The accompanying illustrations accurately represent it, and those who have written on the subject have much reason on their side when they insist that it neither aids in the formation of a good figure nor helps to maintain the proportions of one when formed. Corsets such as these have neither beauty of contour nor compactness of construction. The two narrow busks through which the holes are drilled for the reception of the studs or catches are too often formed of steel so low in quality that fracture at these weak points is a common occurrence, when some danger
of injury from the broken ends is to be apprehended. It will also be found that when these bars or plates are deficient in width and insufficient in stiffness the corset will no longer support the figure, or form a foundation for the dress to be neatly adjusted over. On the introduction of the front-fastening system it was at once seen that much saving of time and trouble was gained by the great facility with which corsets constructed according to it could be put on and off, but the objections before referred to were soon manifest, and the ingenuity of inventors was called into action to remedy and overcome them, and it was during this transition stage in the history of the corset that the front fastening principle met with much condemnation at the hands of those who made the formation of the figure a study.
Thomson’s glove-fitting Corsets.
From Thomson and Co., of New York, we have received a pattern of their “glove-fitting corset”, the subject of the accompanying illustration, in the formation of which the old evils have been most successfully dealt with. The steels are of the highest class of quality and of the requisite degree of
substance to insure both safety and sustaining power. Accidental unfastening of the front, so common, and, to say the least of it, inconvenient, in the old form of attachment, is rendered impossible by the introduction of a very ingenious but simple spring latch, which is opened or closed in an instant at the pleasure of the wearer. This corset is decidedly the best form on the front-fastening plan we have seen. Its mode of construction is excellent; it is so cut as to admit of its adapting itself to every undulation of the figure with extraordinary facility. We have suggested to the firm the advisability of furnishing to the public corsets
combining their excellent method of cutting, great strength of material, and admirable finish, with the single steel busk and hind-lacing arrangement of the ordinary stay. The requirements of all would be then met, for although numbers of ladies prefer the front-fastening corset, it will be observed that a great number of those who have written on the subject, and make the formation and maintenance of the figure a study, positively declare from experience that the waist never looks so small or neatly proportioned as when evenly and well laced in the hind lacing and close-fronted form of corset. It has of late become the custom to remedy the want of firmness and stability found to exist in many of the common front-fastening corsets by sewing a kind of sheath or case on the inside of the front immediately behind the two steels on which the studs and slots are fixed; into this a rather wide steel busk is passed, so that the division or opening has the centre line of the extra busk immediately behind it. That this plan answers in some measure the desired end there is no doubt, but in such a corset as that of Thomson and Co. no such expedient is needed.
De la Garde’s French Corset.
The accompanying illustrations are from sketches made expressly for this work from a corset made by De La Garde and Co., of Paris, and our readers will form their own opinion as to the contour of the figure from which these drawings were made, which is that of a lady who has for many years worn corsets made by the above-mentioned firm. The waist-measure is eighteen inches. The remarks as to the advisability of having corsets made to measure are scarcely borne out by her experiences. She informs us that it has always been her custom to forward to Messrs. De La Garde and Co.’s agent the measure taken round the chest below the arms, from beneath the arm to the hip, the circumference of the hips, and the waist-measure, when the fit is a matter of certainty. By adopting this system ladies residing in the country can, she assures us, always provide themselves with corsets made by the first manufacturers in Europe without the trouble and inconvenience of being attended for the purpose of measurement. In ordering the “glove-fitting corset”, the waist measure only need be given.
The Redresseur Corset of Vienna.
From M. Weiss, of Vienna, we have received a pattern and photographs from which our other illustrations are taken. Here we have represented the so-called “redresseur” corset, devised mainly with a view to the formation of the figure in young persons, or where careless and awkward habits of posture have been contracted. It will be seen on examination that the front of the chest is left entirely free for expansion, the waist only being confined at the point where restraint is most called for.
The back is supported and kept upright by the system of boning adopted with that view, and the shoulder-straps, after passing completely round the point of the shoulder, are hooked together behind, thus bringing the shoulders in their proper position and keeping them there. As a corrective and improver to the figure there can be no doubt that the redresseur corset is a safe and most efficient contrivance. We have had an opportunity of seeing it worn, and can testify to the marked and obvious improvement which was at once brought about by its application.
Remarks on the flimsy materials used in the manufacture of Corsets.
We have heard many complaints lately of the flimsy manner in which corsets of comparatively high price are turned out by their makers, the stitching being so weak that re-sewing is not unfrequently needed after a few days’ wear. The edges of the whalebones, too, instead of being rounded off and rendered smooth, are often, we find, left as sharp as a knife, causing the coutil or other material to be cut through in a very few days. The eyelet-holes are also made so small and narrow at the flanges that no hold on the material is afforded, and even the most moderate kind of lacing causes them to break from their hold, fall out, and leave a hole in the material of which the corset is made, which if not immediately repaired by working round in the old-fashioned way rapidly enlarges, frays out, and runs into an unsightly hole. Corset-makers should see that the circle of metal beyond the orifice through which the lace passes is sufficiently wide to close down perfectly on the fabric, and retain a firm hold of it; if they do not do so, the old worked eyelet-hole is preferable to the stud, notwithstanding the neat appearance of the stud and the apparent advantage it has over the old plan.
The “Minet Back” Corset described.
A form of corset made without lacing-holes, known as the **“*Minet Back,” with which many of our readers will no doubt be familiar, and which was extensively worn in France some few years ago, is still to be obtained of some few makers in England. This has a row of short strong loops sewn just beyond each back whalebone. Through these pass from top to bottom, on each side of the back, a long round bar of strong whalebone, which is secured in its place by a string passing through a hole made in its top to the upper loop of each row. The lace (a flat silk one) was passed through the spaces between the loops, and was tightened over the smooth round whalebone, thus enabling the wearer not only to lace with extreme tightness without danger to the corset, but admitting of its almost instant removal by slightly slackening the lace and then drawing out one of the bars, which immediately sets the interlacing free from end to end. We are rather surprised that more of these corsets are not worn, as there are numerous advantages attendant on them. Our space will not admit of our more than glancing en passant at the various inventions which have from time to time been brought to the notice of the public.
Elastic Corsets condemned.
By some inventors the use of elastic webbing or woven indiarubber cloth was taken advantage of, and great stress was laid on the resilient qualities of the corsets to which it was applied. But it must never be lost sight of that all materials of an elastic nature, when fitted tightly to the figure, not only have the power of expanding on the application of force, but are unceasingly exercising their own extensive powers of contraction. Thus, no amount of custom could ever adapt the waist to the space allotted to it, as with the elastic corset it is changing every second, and always exercising constriction even when loosely laced. The narrow bands hollowed out over the hips may be, as some writers on the subject have stated, adapted for the possessors of very slight figures who ride much on horseback; but many ladies of great experience in the matter strongly condemn them as being inefficient and calculated to lead to much detriment to the figure. Thus writes a correspondent to the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine:-
“As one of your correspondents recommends the waistbands in lieu of corsets, I have during the last three weeks made a trial of them, and shall be glad if you will allow me to express my opinion that they are not only disadvantageous but positively dangerous to the figure. Your correspondent says that ordinary corsets, if drawn in well at the waist, hurt a woman cruelly all the way up. I can only say that if she finds such to be the case the remedy is in her own hands. If ladies would only take the trouble to have their stays made to measure for them, and have plenty of room allowed round the chest, not only would the waist look smaller, but no discomfort would be felt such as H. W. describes. Young girls should always be accurately fitted, but it is, I have found, a mistake to have their corsets too flimsy or elastic. I quite agree that they should be commenced early – indeed, they usually are so, and thus extreme compression being unnecessary, the instances brought forward by the lady who commenced the discussion and by Nora must, I think, be looked upon as exceptional cases.
Another lady writing in the same journal says – “No one will grudge ‘The Young Lady Herself’ any sympathy she may claim for the torture she has submitted to, but so far from her case being condemnatory of stays it is the reverse, for she candidly admits that she does not suffer ill-health. Now such a case as hers is an exception, and the stout young lady spoken of by Nora is also an exception, for it is seldom that girls are allowed to attain the age of fourteen or fifteen before commencing stays. The great secret is to begin their use as early as possible, and no such severe compression will be requisite. It seems absurd to allow the waist to grow large and clumsy, and then to reduce it again to more elegant proportions by means which must at first be more or less productive of inconvenience. There is no article of civilised dress which, when first begun to be worn, does not feel uncomfortable for a time to those who have never worn it before. The barefooted Highland lassie carries her shoes to the town, puts them on on her arrival, and discards them again directly she leaves the centre of civilisation. A hat or a coat would be at first insupportable to the men of many nations, and we all know how soon the African belle threw aside the crinoline she had been induced to purchase. But surely no one would argue against these necessary articles of dress merely on the ground of inconvenience to the wearer, for, however uncomfortable they may be at first, it is astonishing how soon that feeling goes off and how indispensable they become. My opinion is that stays should always be made to order, and not be of too flimsy a construction. I think H. W.’s suggestions regarding the waistbands only applicable to middle-aged ladies or invalids, as they do not give sufficient support to growing girls, and are likely to make the figure look too much like a sack tied round the middle instead of gradually tapering to the waist. Brisbane’s letter shows how those who have never tried tight-lacing are prejudiced against it, and that merely from being shown a print in an old medical work, while Nora’s letter is infinitely more valuable, as showing how even the most extreme lacing can be employed without injury to health.
Such a work as this would be incomplete without some remarks touching the best means to be applied for the achievement of the desired end, and hence a letter from a lady of great experience, who has paid much attention to the subject, contributed to the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, enables us to give the very best possible kind of information viz., that gathered by personal observation. Thus she writes:-
“In the numerous communications on the subject of tight-lacing which have appeared in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, but little has been said on the best mode of applying the corset in order to produce elegance of figure. It seems to me that nearly all those who suffer from tight-lacing do so from an injudicious use of the corset, and in such cases the unfortunate corset generally gets all the blame, and not the wearer who makes an improper use of it. I can easily understand that a girl who is full grown, or nearly so, and who has been unaccustomed to wear tight stays, should find it difficult and painful to lace in her waist to a fashionable size; but if the corset be worn at an early age and the figure gradually moulded by it, I know of no terrible consequences that need be apprehended. I would therefore recommend the early use of a corset that fits the figure nicely and no more. Now, simply wearing stays that only fit, will, when a girl is growing, in a great measure prevent the waist from becoming clumsy. If, however, on her reaching the age of fourteen or fifteen, her waist be still considered too large, a smaller corset may be worn with advantage, which should be gradually tightened till the requisite slimness is achieved. I know of so many instances in which, under this system, girls have, when full grown, possessed both a good figure and good health, that I can recommend it with confidence to those parents who wish their children to grow up into elegant and healthy women. As to whether compression of the waist by symmetrical corsets injures the health in any way, opinion seems to be divided. The personal experiences of tight-lacers, as your correspondent Belle has observed, will do more to solve this knotty question than any amount of theory. But whatever conclusion we may come to on this point, there is no denying the fact that very many of the strongest and healthiest women one sees in society habitually practise tight-lacing, and apparently do so with impunity.
“AN OLD SUBSCRIBER.”