Sunday, June 30, 2013

Small waists and corsets

Recently I was online reading one of my many historical blogging sites and I happened across a comment on the very picture I used for my header.

The lovely Princess Mathilde of Bavaria
They said: 'Her waist! Unreal what women used to do to themselves. No wonder she looks ill.' Wow. Really? It made me stop and think about how the general public thinks of corsets. 

First off, a few definitions. Tight lacing is when you wear your corset tighter and tighter very gradually (months or years, not days) until you get a smaller waist.

Corset training is when you wear a corset to get a smaller waist. It is not as extreme as tight-lacing.

Coutil (or coutille) is the fabric commonly used for corsets. It's woven in a herringbone weave, which makes it very strong and unlikely to stretch.

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I'm sure the one of the first things people think of when they think of corsets is the scene from Gone With the Wind where Scarlett is holding on to the bedpost while Mammy pulls her corset tight.

"Just hold on and suck in!"
Most people who wore corsets corset-trained from a young age. I am not one hundred percent sure at what age they would start. I have seen corsets for children as young as 8-10. I think it would depend on the family as well. A farm girl would not be as concerned with wearing a corset at a young age and tightening it down as a southern belle (read Scarlett O'Hara) would be.

Scarlett, being a pampered young girl would have started wearing stays when she was young, training her waist for years until she could squeeze into a 20 inch-waisted dress. Laura Ingalls, on the other hand, a farm girl through and through, refused to wear her corset when she was growing up, preferring to run around unrestrained, much to the dismay of Ma, who had an 18 inch waist herself before she was married.

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One of the common arguments against corsets is that they distort your internal organs. Yes, they do move them around, but you can take your corset off any time you like. Child birth also distorts your internal organs and that lasts for nine months!

Corsets are also recommended today by doctors to help correct scoliosis. 

Not to mention recommended by me to correct bad posture. ;) Young ladies and also young men would wear corsets to give them good posture and poise. Yes, you read that right.

Also, corsets give a strong base on which to wear your petticoats. A drawstring cutting into your waist gets old after a while, trust me.

"But wait a minute, Veronica," you say "Aren't corsets uncomfortable to wear?"

No, not really. Corsets are skin-tight, so naturally if you are not a perfect size 10 or 14 or whatever,  and you buy one off the shelf, it won't fit right and it won't be comfortable. You have to make one or have one custom-made to your dimensions for them to work. Just like a pair of shoes - if they don't fit right, you'll be miserable in them.

There were people like Camille Clifford who laced themselves down to an 18 inch wasp waist, but the majority of people didn't. Women used a variety of ways to make their waists appear smaller. 

One of the ways women enhanced their figure and made their waist look even smaller was with bust and hip pads. I will not go into that and will instead point you to a blog post by American Duchess.  

Illusion was another way women appeared to have small waists. Common sense says that if you put something excessively big next to something of normal size, the normal-sized object will appear smaller. Big sleeves and full skirts were two ways to make your waist look smaller.

1830's dress
So next time you see someone wearing a corset or read an article about them, keep an open mind. Don't dis corsets before you've had a chance to try them. Also, take a second look at that waist. It might not be as small as you think.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Big hats!

Recently, I have been looking for a hat to trim with silk flowers and ribbon to wear with my 1910's blouse and skirt. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find one I like. However, I have found lots of lovely hat pictures! :) I wish people wore more hats these days. It really completes your outfit. The following are some of my favorite pictures. (In the captions are comments or all the information I know about the picture.)

This is my ideal hat. (And that dress isn't bad either!)

I like the hat on the left especially.
Isn't it grand? *happy sigh*
 I have never worn a hat this big, but I wouldn't think they are that heavy. Most hats of the early 1900's were trimmed with feathers. They may look tall and/or wide, but it's all float-y feathers and ribbon and gauze. You would pin your hat onto your hair, so it couldn't be heavy or it would smash your Gibson Girl hairdo. :)

Ostrich feathers!
Genevieve Lantelme, 1905
This is one of my very favorites - Lillian Russell. (probably 1890's, based on her sleeves)
Bird Milman
Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii, 1890's.
Mary Weston
Nina Napier
Gaby Deslys

Princess Sophie Charlotte of Oldenburg, 1910
Even young girls wore hats! Paris, June 4th, 1906.
Another one of my favorite pictures.
If you've ever wondered how a spoon-busked corset makes someone's posture, here you have it.
Miss Lily Elsie
Madeleine Celiat
So there you have it. Lots of feathers and flowers. I've bought some silk flowers for mine, partly because I like them and partly because ostrich feathers are way too pricey to cover a whole hat in. ;) I will keep looking, but there is no where online that I've found that sells untrimmed 1900's hats, except for boaters, but those aren't as big as what I'd like. I might resort to buying straw braid and sewing my own hat if I can't find anything.

Hope you are having a lovely week!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

American Duchess Tavistocks

Recently, the amazing American Duchess historical shoe company had an "imperfects" sale, meaning every pair of shoes they inspected and found lacking their great standards was sold for a bit cheaper. They had several pairs of their new White Tavistock boots for sale, so I snatched up a pair. They arrived yesterday!

I took one picture of the box, but then I got too excited to take any more pictures and just opened them. :) Thanks to my little sister for taking the pictures of them on me!

I was debating between getting a size 8.5 or a 9, because the width of my foot when measured was a 9, but the length was an 8. I decided on an 8.5 and I think I picked perfectly. The boots feel like they were made specifically for my foot, which is amazing, because usually my feet are very picky about which shoes they are comfortable in.

I almost didn't get the button hook, but I'm very glad I did. It makes them so much easier to get on and off.

The 2" French heel is a bit higher than I'm used to, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I adore French heels. :)

 I wore them last night for quite a few hours and am happy to report that they are some of the most comfy boots I have ever worn. Most fashion shoes tend to be uncomfortable if worn for more than a few hours.

I love my new boots and highly recommend American Duchess's shoes.