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Of corset isn’t

Stays and Springs:


Pull, Mary pull. It is not half tight enough yet. I still look like a sofa cushion, and I must get into decent shape to see people to-day. So Mary pulls and tugs until her finger tips are pink and her breath is gone. Can’t pull ’em up another inch, ma’am. Isn’t that tight enough?

‘ r ‘ I suppose it will have to do.

Then there is a sigh— not too heavy a sigh, for the corsets will not stand that— and the mistress of the house seats herself in an easy chair, with furrowed brow and tightly closed teeth.

That man Ugglesmith can’t make corsets any more. I’ll have to go to some other shop. The thing I’ve got on is so horrid that I’m afraid to look in the glass.

And this is the wail of the woman of 45, the rotund, angelic creature, of which the latter half of the 19th century has produced so many specimens. Do corsets help their appearance any? They all claim that they do.

We couldn’t wear anything but a Mother Hubbard ; we’d have to put aside all our nice dresses, they declare,  were it not for the aid of the corset.

These women never, never, never, will join the anti-corset crusade. The movement that was begun in Boston the other day and was signalised by a score of young women throwing away their waist compressors, will never have them in its vanguard or train.

But that the corset is soon, to be cast aside by all shapely women there can be no doubt San Francisco already boasts of hundreds of fair creatures who are absolutely corsetless.  

When you come to realise the freedom of having no stiff, hard, tight-squeezing affair, holding you, as it seems sometimes as though you were in a vice, said one of the corsetless to me, you begin to get a little real enjoyment from life. At first there is a feeling as if a strong- support were taken away from you— as if you could not sit up straight alone, and I confess, too, to having had a feeling of weakness in the sides and back. When you come to think of it that was natural enough, and there is no doubt that had I laced tighter than I did I would have felt still weaker and still more in need of support.

She did not look as though she were in need of anything to brace her up just then, as she sat in a straight-backed chair, and her shoulders, which were well thrown back, looked shapely enough, as, indeed, did her whole form. She was, to be sure, much less of the hour-glass style of beauty, as to the waist, but no artist would have selected a corseted woman in preference to her had there been a question of choice of subjects for his brush. She had the easy, willowy movements of form that are impossible to the corseted woman, and there was less of the suggestion of hardness and unbendedness than in her tortured sister. 

Nothing in the world would tempt me to wear a corset again, now that I can feel the delicious comfort of being stayless and stringless about the waist, she said nothing but obesity. Were I to get fat, of course I would have to wear the hateful old things, A fat woman without a corset looks like a stall-fed cow.

A physician with whom I talked (says a correspondent of the San Francisco Chronical an hour on the subject of corsets said:

In order to convince a young woman of the unnaturalness and the incursion of lacing up the waist all that it is necessary to do is to take an old corset and show how nature, in her struggles to free herself has taken the shape out of it. At every point where the stays have become badly bent or broken it was essential, in the way of nature, that there should be a loosening of the compression that contracted the lungs and displaced the other organs.

Yes, an old corset — one that has been thoroughly used and discarded for a new instrument of torture from the shop is a veritable object lesson in the effect of stays and laces. It breaks down at the top because the bust is unnaturally drawn up and must have room to expand. With some women, I am told, the main object of wearing a corset is that they shall have fine busts, but, as a matter of fact, corset wearing is accountable for the lack of development that one sees in many young women of the day. Were they to throw away their corsets they would find that in a short time the longed-for development would come, and unless they were uncommonly lean or in poor health they would not have so very long to wait either. In all the photographs of wild women that one sees, whether they are Sioux, Sumatrans or South Sea Islanders, one observes that a lack of bust development is the exception and not the rule. Nature is nature every time, and natural woman is healthy woman under ordinary circumstances and conditions. Of course, this is a subject that has been gone into by doctors for years past, but all their discussion of it never seemed to do much good. It was not until young women themselves began to investigate the matter that they discovered what were the evils of the custom. I think that the graduation of several young ladies from the Eastern medical colleges a few years ago and their close examination of the subject as exampled by some of their patients led to the reform that has begun, and which will, I feel convinced, sweep all over the land until we are a corsetless nation. It was not so very long ago that physicians were afraid to advise their lady patients not to wear the waist squeezing affairs, but nowadays there are no conscientious doctors who will not give this advice, though here I may state that it is not always well to be too precipitate in this matter of throwing aside the corset. Why? Well, for very good reasons. Suppose that the trunk of a young tree had been encased in a tight-fitting piece of boiler iron and permitted to grow as it could until it was four or five years of age, and was then suddenly stripped of its metal covering, would it not be in danger of dying? The abolition of the corset must be undertaken gradually in many cases, or bad results may follow. You see, the bones and muscles of the back and sides become so dependent, as it were, upon the corsets that when suddenly taken away they are made to bear an unusual strain, and the reformed woman gets little benefit from her new freedom. She complains of pains in her back and general weakness of the waist muscles. Of course, this is the result of the sudden withdrawal of the support which the corset has given her frame, but, as you can readily see, that support was unnatural. The development of strength in the back and sides had been retarded by the uncouth appendage which the woman had strung to herself and clamped closely down until there was no opportunity for her muscles to work naturally and grow in due proportion with those of the rest of her body.

The best way for a woman to rid herself of corsets is to first loosen them up and wear them that way for a few weeks. This will in itself give her greater freedom and will prepare her for the greater comfort which she is sure to enjoy later when she shall have finally cast off her tightly-buckled shield and made of herself a wholly free woman. Then let the strings be let out still farther and farther, until the ribs of the corset give actually no support to the back, when they may be discarded. In this particular, you will see, there is no exception to the rule that radical and extreme measures suddenly applied often result disastrously. It is better to take the reform in hand with a determination not to pursue it too hastily. Yes, I have no objection to what are known, as  ‘waists’. They are all well enough if the women must wear something to keep them in shape, as they call it. There is a great deal of difference between the reeds and bamboos in the ‘waists’ and the steel and whalebone of the corsets. Compared with the corsets they are indeed quite harmless. The physician quoted has made quite a study of the corset question. He has made investigations covering the effect upon the human frame of the tight compression of the stays and laces and he feels convinced that the further the matter is discussed by medical men and the more the dangers of corset wearing are brought to the attention of women the greater will be the cry for reform.

Other physicians think, however, that the evil is greatly exaggerated, and they say that among sensible women there is really no danger if the corset be worn rightly. No sensible woman will risk her health for the sake of getting a few inches the better of the corset string, and to make her waist appear a trifle more slender. The danger is chiefly with young girls, who want to present an appearance of fragility when they ought to know that to be plump is no mar to beauty, but the reverse, and that it is an appearance of wasp-waistedness that should be avoided more than a natural fullness and completeness of figure.

Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Saturday 28 May 1892, page 1


Professor Roy (Professor of Pathology, Cambridge) and Mr. J. G. Adami (Demonstrator in Pathology in the same University) are bold men. They read a paper (says a London exchange) before the British Association in defence of stays, and naturally attracted more attention than lecturers on subjects more strictly scientific. They maintain that the desire for waist-belts is instinctive, and has been displaced by all athletes and persons of whom exertion is required since the beginning of history, the “girded loins” mentioned in the Bible being, according to Professor Robertson Smith, “tightly constricted” loins. Such constriction, moreover, if not too severe, tends to drive the blood, which is apt to collect too much in the abdominal veins, back to supply the heart, lungs, and brain, where it is more required. Mankind, as it passes the stage of barbarism, meets this demand by belts, stays, and the like, which are rather healthy than the reverse. It will be observed that this argument—which is certainly true so far as the practice of all runners, Asiatic or European, is concerned—applies to men equally with women, though men gird themselves only to meet special calls upon their strength. The writers pressed, however, for elasticity in stays. The paper seems to have provoked some irritation, abhorrence of stays being an article of faith with advanced women, who, however, will not find that Hindoo ladies are healthier than English or can walk one-half so far.

Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912), Saturday 24 November 1888, page 3

The Anti-Corset League, whose motto is “Fashion Without Folly and Elegance Without Extravagance,” has been promoting dress reform by an exhibition in London of clothing conforming to the suggestions of the league. The exhibition was continued at the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, addresses being delivered at intervals. Dr. Herbert Snow, in addressing the assembly on the abuses of the corset, stated that cancer was far less shrouded in mystery than many imagined, as it very seldom attacked the young and healthy, and corsets in a larger number of cases were the cause of cancer. The use of the corset was only among civilised nations, and in such nations, cancer was increasing. If ladies only knew how ridiculous they made themselves appear in the eyes of the baser animal man by wearing corsets he felt sure they would soon abandon the absolutely sickening features they now presented.

Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Saturday 26 January 1895, page 3

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