An unnamed Dress Reformer, utterly against “tight lacing” (corsets), uses the art of poetry to explain that everything that ills a woman–from her attitude to her nature, from length of life to a red-tipped nose–is all a result of the ill-fated habit of tightly cinched corsets. This vintage newspaper publication is an example of the American Victorian’s use of humor to blame fashion on craziness with a price too steep to pay.
Despite the voice of reason from scientists of the day, medical doctors, dress reformers, nineteenth century women continued to cling to advertisements claiming health depended upon corsets and laced tightly to achieve the beautiful figure they desired. Advertisements didn’t promote mere beauty–they went so far as to claim health. A newspaper article published in Chicago Daily Tribune of Chicago, Illinois, on April 24, 1897 spoke of Roentgen’s Light–X-rays–and the malformation caused by lacing. Today, the argument seems sound, prudent, and almost laughable that anyone fell for corsets.
Victorian Americans wore ingenious devices beneath their clothing to hold their stockings (hose) up. Because garters / hose supporters aren’t as romantic and enticing as corsets or even Union Suits, I’ve yet to see a fictional piece of the era that so much as mentions them. This article contains images of items offered for sale in the 1895 and 1897 editions of the Sears Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogs, as well as price comparisons from then to now. Such contraptions were worn by men, women, children, and even babies. Who knew?
Judge John H. Arbuckle promised divorces to unsuspecting men duped by mail-order brides from the East who padded their limbs, hips, bosoms or employed false hair or used cosmetic paints. Such elements of beauty were common in the Victorian American Era, at least among the wealthy. It must have been common enough among disillusioned bridegrooms for the Judge to rule (April 3, 1873) that “marriages into which a man is seduced by the use of (his list of offenses like makeup and padded breasts) without the man’s knowledge, shall stand null and void if he so desires”. Victorian ladies were guilty of nothing today’s generation hasn’t done. But just what padding devices and cosmetics were readily available in the early 1870’s?
Corsets are synonymous with the Victorian Era and well-dressed ladies. Corsets were worn by women… and men, adolescent girls, and even children. Maternity corsets existed as did nursing corsets. Unbelievable!