There’s the correct way to wear a corset and then there’s … not. I can forgive corset-wearing n00bs for not knowing that there is, indeed, an up and a down to this corset thing, but I absolutely cannot excuse TV and film costumers who throw their actresses into corsets any old which way like it’s totes OK. Maybe they’re trying to be edgy? Maybe it’s pure cluelessness?
Whatever it is, I call bullshit.
1. Backwards and Upside Down
That weird metal hook thing down the front? That’s called a busk. An easy way to remember which side the loops go on is that, IF the corset is constructed by someone who knows what they’re doing, the loops will go down the right edge of the opening. It’s like buttoning a blouse.
2. No Chemises
This one is the perennial costume flick trope. It will still be with us long after the heat death of the sun.
Yes, we’ve harped on this multiple times, but SERIOUSLY PEOPLE. And yes, we heard from many of you who disputed that it is uncomfortable wearing a corset without a chemise under it, but it goes beyond simple comfort — if you want to ruin your corset faster than anything, by all means, wear it without a chemise. Just don’t come crying to us, wanting to know how to get the sweat stains out of your $800 corset.
Unless you are Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001). I mean, then you can pretty much do whatever you want.
3. Wrong Period
All corsets are not alike. The deal with historical silhouettes for at least the last 600 years is that each period had a specific style of corset that was used to achieve the fashionable shape. That’s why a Victorian corset should, under no circumstances, be worn with an 18th-century gown. I’m looking at you, Amadeus (1984).
4. Corsets in Inappropriate Time Periods
I’m looking at you, Gladiator (2000). I remember bolting upright in my theater seat and exclaiming loudly, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING SHE’S WEARING???” I mean, I’ve seen some egregiously anachronistic uses of corsets in my lifetime, but putting a Victorian corset on a Roman patrician woman pretty much takes the cake. We’re not talking about Amadeus using corsets that were 100 years out of period… No, at this point, why not just have Lucilla wearing jeans and a t-shirt?
5. Corsets are BAD and UNCOMFORTABLE and NOT FEMINIST
In the run up to her live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast (2017), Emma Watson came out firmly on the side of corsets being the tool of the oppressive patriarchy. I consider this a variation on the “OMG corsets are so uncomfortable!” line that routinely gets quoted in the media whenever an actress is required to put aside her yoga pants and wear something that probably reduces her overall measurements by 1″, max. This usually is followed by the corset wearing and historical costuming communities posting angry rebuttals to their Facebook friends insisting that CORSETS ARE TOTALLY COMFORTABLE, GODDAMN IT; AND THEY AREN’T A TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY.
Emma Watson’s decree that she wouldn’t wear a corset to avoid giving little girls unhealthy body image issues is admirable, but misses the point entirely. Like it or not, historical costumes REQUIRE CORSETS. Sorry, but they do! Also, Emma’s work-around was to wear lightly boned or padded stays, which for the period the film is supposedly set in (18th-century-ish) is totally appropriate for the types of garments Belle wears for most of the film.
My question is, “What’s really setting the unreasonable body standards, here? The corset, which artificially creates a slimming effect without punishing dieting and exercise? Or the other thing … The actress … Who has to keep a punishing dieting and exercise routine in order to land parts?”
I’m just sayin’.
Do you want to yell at us about how comfortable it is to wear a corset without a chemise? Share it in the comments!
*stands up and applauds*
Excellent article! Can you make my brain calm and tell me do you really mean ‘costuming trails and tribulations’ or ‘trials and tribulations’ I must know! :)
Yes she meant “trails”!! Obviously!!
Because, I do from time to time myself corsets, I can tell on my own experience, that someone who is interested in corsetting should get a corset who is made to measure,or bespoke (with moke up) even better,and do it gradually, slowly. If you doing so and do some exercise every day for keeping the back muscles in shape ,a corset can be even profitable for the whole body,like good, made to measure shoes. Unfortunately a bespoke corset is mostly min at a price target at 300€ or more,compared to made to measure shoes its even cheap. George’s
I don’t have any particular problems with Emma Watson’s choice to not wear a corset (this is a fantasy, after all), but it does strike me as amusing that, while corsets were considered too uncomfortable, “heeled, 18th-century shoes” were apparently just fine (https://www.buzzfeed.com/keelyflaherty/emma-watsons-belle-is-an-inventor?utm_term=.nnX5187mp#.wxMmW5ljd).
Now, I’m not saying that period-accurate shoes are necessarily uncomfortable — only that I suspect a well-fitted 18th-century corset likely wouldn’t be any more unpleasant to wear than the shoes. The difference is probably that high heels are standard formal and professional wear for many women today, and corsets are not (although it could be argued, I suppose, that modern shaping garments are essentially corsets).
Anyway, very good points about historical inaccuracies in the depiction of corsets in films!
Yeah, speaking of shoes, Emma Watson has no problem with stilettos on the red carpet, which are pretty much today’s patriarchal fashion torture:
I’d rather wear a corset then try to walk in stilettos.
I can attest that a properly-fitted corset, regardless of the time period (as long as it’s pre-late-20th century, since that’s when they turned into “idealized” off-the-rack garments), are not particularly uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. They are slightly restricting, and yes, you do need to learn how to do things while wearing one. But as you say, no moreso than you have to learn how to do things without falling off your heels!
Also, just gonna say, if you’ve got a large cup size, a corset is way, WAY more comfortable to wear than a modern bra, even under modern clothing, so it’s not actually UNprofessional.
Yeah, Ms Watson, when I see you or any other actress be honest about the amount of time and effort required to look the way you do and how much money that takes? (Or just admit if you don’t hit the genetic lottery, you are not good enough for Hollywood?) THAT I’ll believe. Corsets? Less uncomfortable than a lot of things and at least for me a great reminder I slouch. (Besides, if they put her in the right shape for the approximate time, we’re not talking Victoria’s Secret unless you’re really into cone shapes…)
Pretty much. Remember back in the late-90s/early-2000s when Ally McBeal was everyone’s ideal, and all the actresses on the show were like “Tralalala! We’re just really dedicated to our health, and if you wanted to look like this maybe you should put down your cheeseburger, lol!”
And then 15 years later it comes out that pretty much every actress on that show had some flavor of debilitating eating disorder during its run?
I’ll take a corset over that kind of punishment any. fucking. day.
I routinely wear stays at work (Diderot-pattern with my 18th-century stuff), and I’ve had an eating disorder. No prizes for guessing which is less pleasant. Hint: the one that has me at a point where I cannot be weighed at the doctor’s office because hearing bad numbers causes problems even when I know rationally I should not do things like binge/starve cycles.
Also- too tall! I look at so many of the corsets seen on screen and think “oh their armpits must chafe!”
To follow that- not enough hip spring. Putting an actress who has an hourglass figure in a corset that is shaped like a rectangle is missing the point.
Yeppers. Poorly fitted corsets are another major peeve of mine, mainly because I’ve had to deal with wearing my fair share of them over the course of my life. :P
Also, padding! Sheesh, it’s not rocket science! If the gal isn’t hippy enough, PAD HER HIPS OUT.
Yes padding! It is a real eye-opener to watch old movies and see how much of the figure was padding. In classic musicals? 90% padding on a slim actress! Nowadays? Catherine, duchess of Cambridge’s wedding gown was heavily padded at the hips- to make her waist look good.
For Victorian, true. For 18th century and before, the point WAS to make it more rectangular (Well, conical), since the point of the corset at the time was to make a smooth line to show off the fancy fabrics rather than an hourglass shape. All those old paintings of women popping out the top? Actual phenomenon, since corsets of those days didn’t make room for the boobs! Putting one on means either lifting the ladies up halfway through tightening it properly, or having your nipples popping out the bottom instead, which let me tell you, NOT AT ALL comfortable.
<3 <3 <3
All the yassss! I always love how historian Valerie Steele put it, that when women stopped wearing corsets, corsets were internalized through diet and exercise.
And corsets are so much easier!
And when one wants a slouchy lazy day, one can not wear a corset! Whereas many women get a nasty guilt trip if they so much as stop dieting for a day!
Yep, the “corset of muscle” became the norm. Personally, I’d way rather wear a corset than spend 15 hours a week in a gym and give up chocolate and booze.
I’ve always said that the diet industry would be out of business in no time if corsets came back into fashion. They’re great for portion control!
And a corset also works even when 15 hours a week at the gym and giving up chocolate and booze doesn’t…
Yep and over/extreme exercising and over/extreme dieting is sooooo healthy!
I think folks are just looking for things to complain about and the corset is an easy scapegoat.
And we won’t list all the ways movies of the 1930s thru today get it wrong will we? *Snicker* H*ll yes!! Right on!
Being both an actress (well, in the far-distant mists of the past), and definitely NOT in possession of a waif-like figure, I have to say that the time I spent in a flat-front corset were HEAVEN!! All of the weight was off my shoulders and carried by the bodice of the corset. I really miss that thing…
And four thumbs-up for this article. Although an amateur, I am among those who sit bolt upright in my chair, pointing, and yelling (in my inside, theatre voice) “WHAT CENTURY DO YOU THINK THAT IS FROM??? CHECK YOUR COSTUME SOURCE!!”
And, Lordy, do I love this site.
THANK YOU for the pregnancy rebuttal! I’ve been saying this for a while, but people just like to freak out about corsets. Not that I know anything about it from personal experience either, but a 7 lb. baby definitely displaces organs more significantly than lacing down by 2 to 3 inches.
I’ve always wondered about that corset in Gladiator–that maybe it was a clumsy attempt to reference tight fitting corset-like bodices shown in Etruscan(?) art as a means to appease an actress who would just die if she had to wear something loose fitting that made her look “fat.” But either way it failed.
Yeah, my hunch is that it was a half-assed attempt to get that girdle-like shape that you see in some Minoan sculpture (which is almost as wildly outdated for this period of Roman Empire as the Victorian corset… sigh).
I do love the other gowns she wears, though. I have a weak spot for what we like to call “bitchy Roman loungewear.” ;)
I’ve done both – pregnancy and corsets. Pretty much every flavor of corsets, too. I’ll take a corset that fits well, any day over, pregnancy. For starters, you can always take off the damn stays.
I had to just kind of elide the corset in Gladiator, and I figured it came about like Raquel Welch’s barbie-esque monstrosities in the Three Musketeers, the actress insisting on a flattering outfit instead of a believable one.
My pet peeve on the “patriarchy” thing is that it shows how ignorant people are re: historical underpinnings. Men wore corsets and stays, too!
INTERNALIZED PATRIARCHY HURTS EVERYONE.
Nah, j/k. I think men in corsets are highly underrated. I keep trying to convince Francis to do a Dark Garden window at Dickens, but he keeps refusing. Apparently he thinks it would be unbecoming of the Prince Consort… I was like, “SO PUT ON A MASK AND IT WILL BE EVEN HOTTER!!”
Selfish man!! I would totally go see that.
It’s like everyone thinks George IV was the only one who wore one and that was just because he had a 50-inch waist by the end of his life. Everyone, in the aristocracy at least, wore them. How else do you get the Regency dandy pouter pigeon look?
Genetics and being young/fit, padding in both the waistcoat and coat. I used to get close to that (or the late 14th century look); still can, if I eat correctly for a few days first. At least, I thought so :P
Corsetting definitely helps, lol. My favourite one, which I intend to make someday–is a late Regency one belonging to a Navy officer. It works almost like a modern lifting belt.
The thing is that it’s not really that corsets have ever been a “tool of the patriarchy,” it’s that much like bras in the 1960s, corsets were the designated symbol of femininity. It is actually true that some of the very early feminists–I can attest to primary sources from the 1830s–did want to see corsets done away with. It wasn’t that they saw them as “tools of the patriarchy,” though, it was that at the time, women were wearing THIRTY FIVE POUNDS of undergarments, and their message was “get rid of it ALLLLLL. Get rid of the petticoats and the long skirts and the corsets, and put on pants under a much shortened skirt and have the same freedom as men to move about!” They even specifically stated that they never wanted to be mistaken for men, they just wanted to have the same freedom of movement as men! (The sources, btw, are several issues of Amelia Bloomer’s “The Lily” newsletter, which circulated broadly as part of the Temperance movement, which was in some ways a “pre-feminist” movement–they weren’t calling themselves “feminists” or even “suffragettes” yet.)
Corsets were vilified really not because they were bad for the body, but because FEMININITY was bad for the mind, in a way. It’s unfortunate, but instead of proving that traditionally-feminine women were still perfectly capable of thinking just as well as any man, those early feminist gestures instead wound up reinforcing the idea that traditionally-feminine women COULDN’T think, and that anything that made you look traditionally feminine was to be gotten rid of–an attitude that unfortunately still persists to this day.
So yes, in some ways the statement “corsets are not feminist” is actually a truthful one. But it’s also a false one, because the core concept of feminism is that ANYONE can be whatever they want, and that includes “traditionally feminine”–whether you’re female or not.
Oh my gawd, I can’t agree more with your comment! Being called a “corset apologist” on a friend’s discussion of corsets, I’ve had to take a break from arguing with feminists about the politics of corsetry. But holy crap, it’s so frustrating! Thank you for pointing out the corset is vilified because of its association with ultra-femininity! And thank you to Sarah Loraine for this post!!
Oh lawd, “corset apologist”. I’ve been learning to practice mindfulness, but I gotta say…that would make me flip out.
As unfortunate as miss Watson’s ignorance about corsets is, so is _the whole costuming of this movie_. Go back to Party City!
OH MY GOSH YES. I could swear I saw a ZIPPER ON HER BALL GOWN.
My personal rebuttal to corsets being uncomfortable is that mine feel like hugs.
Thank you! I’ve been telling people for years “If your corset fits right, it’s like getting a nice hug, all day.” :)
I agree with almost everything stated here. However, the comments about corsets and pregnancy I disagree with. Yes, one’s organs are displaced during pregnancy. However, that is a few months out of one’s life to give someone life. It isn’t done day in and day out for nearly a lifetime, and for fashion.
Spanx. Lots of people wear those. Or control top pantyhose. Or both. Not same as a corset, but I would imagine a well-fitted corset would be a billion times more comfortable than the hell that is Spanx and control-top hose.
I would imagine a well-fitted corset would be a billion times more comfortable than the hell that is Spanx and control-top hose.
You would imagine correctly. I will take a girdle or corset any day over Spanx. I still haven’t figured out to go to the bathroom wearing them, and this is coming from someone who has no problem using the toilet in a corset.
Aw, hell! I’d rather have to use the toilet in a corset *and* hoops than in spanx! Mind, I’ve also bee known to drive- a stick, no less- wearing hoops, so…
Imagine using the bathroom when wearing a pantygirdle. Far worse than Spanx. I’m old enough to have worn a few of those impossible undergarments, and they’re hardly the most efficient or quick way to avoid an embarrassing accident.
I’ve done the ‘gotta pee and I’m wearing a girdle’ shimmy in a toilet cubicle. A right pain in the ass.
By the same token, sweetie, pregnancy is a 24/7 event while it lasts, and corset-wearing generally is not–and for those people for whom it is, they are not usually doing it for FASHION. (They go one of two ways: it’s medical and I HAVE to wear this thing–or did you not know that back braces are corsets?–or I am a fetishist and I get off on this. Neither one has anything to do with being fashionable…)
Also, tight jeans, which commonly ARE worn day in and day out for nearly a lifetime, ALSO displace your organs to some degree, and often no less than a corset does. Walking, sitting, standing, and eliminating waste all ALSO shift your organs around. They’re MADE to do that. That’s why you’re soft and squishy in the middle. It’s also why ribs exist. Yup, we’ve actually all got a literal built-in corset! Them ribs shape your upper torso inherently, and provide room for your heart, lungs, and stomach to move around as needed.
There is literally no difference between wearing a corset once in a while versus wearing it every day, if you aren’t tight-lacing, and tight-lacing was NEVER as common as people like to pretend it was. Or is.
A classic Australian children’s novel, “Seven Little Australians” deals with the issue of tight lacing. It was not common and nor was it approved of. There is shock in the family when it is discovered that the oldest daughter is tight lacing.
And here is another point – those who DO wear corsets 24/7 and get down to itty bitty waists are into body modification. Personally, I don’t think it looks as nice as someone wearing a corset where the waist is reduced a few inches and is *still* proportionally in synch with the rest of the body.
However, who are we to criticize them for that.
They aren’t harming anyone else. I don’t buy into the whole “but they give bad ideas to impressionable young people” trope. Those impressionable young people are encouraged to do many an invasive thing to their own body in the name of being an “individual” and to “Follow their passions”.
Like people who ink themselves all over. Again, personally, I don’t find it aesthetically nice and I do get worried about the irreversibility of Tattoos when one starts to seriously regret them. Or those who are into piercings in a huge way! Some of those are downright dangerous as infections can easily seep in.
But again, who are we to criticize?
And society, in general, *is* far more accepting of tattoos and piercings and other body modifications.
But Corsetry, even that which is NOT tight lacing, is stil deemed beyond the pale. Even though it is not permanent. Even tight lacing is reversible. Corsetry does not involve any invasive surgery (glad no one here has mentioned the old myth of ribs being removed). A corset can be removed at any time and best of all, one can lots of them for all kinds of occasions.
Oh dear… Were you ever pregnant or chatted with anyone expecting? My sister-in-law (and her hubby) are quite tall and chubby, when she was expecting (having 3 in a row) the kids were between 4-6 kg (the avarage is 3,30-3,70 kg) and the second pregnancy was a nightmare, at the third trimester the baby was allready so big whilst turning and pushing broke a floating rib! No need to say, due to pregnancy she couldn’t get any medical treatment, so every move, even breathing was a killer pain for her in the last months! During her last pregnancy the baby grew the biggest, she had to lay in bed all day from the second trimester on, as she was noted risky pregnant!
But my experience with my 2 pregnancy (and the aftermaths) is: preg is shittier, than corsets!
I have to ask — is the scene with Scarlett and Mammy historically accurate? Inquiring minds want to know. Since you didn’t mention it as an egregious error, I’m hoping it’s relatively correct.
Historically accurate in the whole “hold the bedpost while someone yanks the corset lacing?”
I can’t point to specific historical references of that particular practice, but I do know from personal experience that it does help to hang on to something when someone is tightening or adjusting the tension of your lacing.
That said, the scene in GWTW is meant to show the extreme lengths that Scarlett was willing to go in order to have the smallest waist at the picnic. I think people take it at face value, that her 17″ waist was the norm or the ideal, when if you read the book or pay attention to the subtext in that scene, it’s pretty clear that it was NOT the norm and everyone pretty much thought Scarlett was nuts for being so obsessed with having such a small waist. Especially Mammy, which is why she’s giving her the side-eye in that image (and why I chose it for the featured image). ;)
Quick question about that “Meet Me in St. Louis” scene clip at the bottom of the article… Judy Garland’s character, Esther, has just supposedly been tight-laced into her corset, and is sitting down. In the very next moment, she undoes the top hook of the busk. If it was truly tight-laced, wouldn’t that be next to impossible?
No, you can undo the busk when totally laced in… In fact, it’s designed that way to make it simpler to get into and out of on one’s own.
That said, if you don’t loosen the laces before attempting to undo the busk all the way, you end up with a lot of tension on the middle busk pegs, which can make it nearly impossible to undo without assistance. All the tension is concentrated at the waist at that point, pulling the loop over the peg in the opposite direction than it takes to undo it (tension goes outward while you need to push the tension inward to get the loop over the peg).
I have a friend who puts an industrial zipper into all of her corsets because it avoids that entire scenario if she has a panic attack and needs to get out of her clothes ASAP. Not period in the least, but it is pretty genius.
I read someplace that Robert Ringwood, the costume designer for the 1984 Dune, stated that Francesca Annis had an 18 inch waist and was used to wearing corsets with all the BBC productions and stage she’s done that she didn’t hassle him about the undergarments for Dune. Hmm
You bring up another point: Many actresses actually have naturally small waistlines. I mean, they’re basically selected for that sort of thing. So, it stands to reason that if Starlet X has a 22″ waist naturally, in a corset she could easily end up with a 20″ waist or smaller depending on how squishy she is/long torso.
I once saw a girl who had to have a 20″ waistline naturally. It was amazing. I kept watching her to see if she was potentially wearing a corset but she moved in ways that suggested she wasn’t wearing anything. Totally mesmerized me.
And then there’s my mom who had a 22″ waist for most of her life, even after having kids. I didn’t inherit that same proportion. :P
I cannot speak to the historical accuracy, but as someone who has laced hundreds of people into corsets, I would hazard that hauling and jerking the laces is inaccurate, just because it’s not useful. For starters, it puts extra wear and on the fabric and bones because of the extra friction and force. It’s also a really inefficient way to get a tight lace, because it doesn’t give you even tension or good alignment, and the direction of the pull is not helping the closure of the garment. With modern materials, it’s potentially a super way to give someone a friction burn or bruises, knock the wind out of them, or punch them in an organ with a flexing bone. A strong person hauling on laces very quickly can even crack a rib. This goes double if the corset doesn’t fit well to begin with, and triple if the lacer also uses their knee or foot for extra force. Every year I talk to a handful of women who think corseting is pain because someone who learned corset lacing on tv hurt them.
Cucu fell victim to #1 on Season 8. Should have landed her in the bottom 2 tbh.
These are all wtf, but especially OMGWTFBBQ for wearing the corsets *upside down*. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? WHERE ARE THEY PUTTING THEIR TITS? Like, I’m pretty sure you would realize if you had a bra on backwards because THERE ARE GAPING BITS ON THE BACK where protrude-y parts should go! How is it not evident from looking at a corset that the extra room is for the boobs?
The only excuse I can think of is that the corsets were meant for women with larger breasts than the actresses wearing them, so the dresser flipped the corsets upside down. I have no idea why no one thinks to pad the bust out in that case, but I’m just a costume historian, what do I know? :P
Slightly of topic question but what is the best way to pad the bust out. Apparently my boobs are to small for my waist in an off the peg corset and off the peg is all I can afford!
Body shape matters. Confession: I have, many times, started to lace someone into their upside-down corset because their figure was such that it was totally possible to wear the thing upside down – and I have known better for 20 years. Some styles on some people fit almost exactly the same (except for the fasteners) in either orientation. This goes double for some cuts of waist cinchers.
Can you explain the fainting couch with regards to corsetry? The only day i wore a corset was my wedding day, and it was a metal hook one. I found it comfortable, but it wasn’t stupid tight (looking at you, Scarlett…). Was the couch simply a pretty, fashionable piece of furniture for a few hundred years or is there some truth to women of the aristocracy not being able to comfortably breathe and getting light-headed upon removing the corset?
I will invite any interior decoration historians to comment on this (it is actually a legit study in art history) but I’m pretty sure that the “fainting couch” is just a fanciful name more than anything. Also, I think it’s more of an Americanism… The Brits tend to call them “sofas” (while we use “sofa” and “couch” interchangeably and Brits use “settee” to describe what we would call a sofa/couch. It’s all a bit confusing).
They came back into popularity around the turn of the 19th c. and that’s a period that was not heavily corseted; they referenced the lectus triclinaris of Ancient Rome. David’s portrait of Mme. Récamier is a good example of this fashion (though it’s more of a sleigh shape than what we think of as a “fainting couch”).
I watched a history program with Lucy Worsley and at one point she talks about the introduction of gas lighting into homes. The large open flames originally used would supposedly use up quite a bit of the oxygen in the room.
Also, speaking from experience, fainting couches are super uncomfortable to sit/lay on in a corset.
I actually have a chaise lounge, which is where my question came from. I love to curl up in it because it’s the more current, overstuffed style. I can see how it would be a complete PITA in stays, though. Maybe that’s why so much antique furniture is so stiff to sit in and uncomfortable to our modern butts? :) Thanks for fielding an off topic question!
And hardly ever conveniently placed precisely when one needs one.
Former upholsterer here, I can tell you that a fainting couch is pretty much an American name for something which is otherwise known as a “chaise longue” or sofa.
As for the fainting epidemic, it wasn’t really in vogue before the 19th Century, because women were “fragile flowers”, subject to her emotions, and easily beset by them… I happen to collect books on manners and society (Baronne Staffe and the like), and there are chapters in those in how to faint gracefully and such.
Both fascinating and hilarious read!
Awesome, thank you for the post! I really only have dabbled in other areas of design history (my emphasis has always been fashion history) so I really don’t have a lot of authority to comment on stuff like furniture. ;)
I wondered if it stemmed from that teaching… heaven help me during the Regency! I would have been, and still am, a proud bluestocking!
There is some truth in the concept of fainting Victorian female but it was far less to do with the Corset. Afterall, a tightly fitted bodice or garment had been around for centuries and women worked and played in them without getting a reputation for “fainting” until the mid 19th century…..just about the time gas lighting appeared in middle and upper class homes.
This new invention in its early form was nasty. Leaving a black greasy deposit on the walls and ceilings, the gas leached the oxygen from the atmosphere. Unless windows were kept open, air would dissapear and be replaced with carbon monoxide. Gentleman of those classes would often be out of the house during the day so not experiencing the long days of breathing the noxious air. The women, unless out on errands or visiting, would be at home.
So, the “fainting” female seems to have happened due to their poisonous (especially if teamed with the popular green (arsenic!) wallpaper at the time) environment. Not their corsets!
That’s really interesting, Bess! I’d never heard of the link between CO2 poisoning and fainting, but it definitely makes sense!
I’ve had close experience of it with a modern gas leak in my living room (when in Colchester). I was at home day in day out (thank goodness we didn’t have Bilbo at the time!) and couldn’t understand why I was ok in the morning (sleeping upstairs) but during the day was getting increasingly tired and befuddled (except on the few occasions I went out).
I only discovered it one day when I was so tired I went off to sleep *on the sofa in the living room* at around 10am! Got woken up at 4.00pm and could then smell the gas. Edmund had called me and thank goodness he did though he said I wasn’t making any sense. I managed to say I could smell gas and he told me to open all the doors in the house and sit outside. He then called emergency gas man who arrived very quickly and found the leak and turned off all the gas to the house.
A seal connecting two pipes to extend it had a tiny hole in it and the gas must have been escaping for a few weeks. As the living room had the front door in it, we were just “losing” the gas build up regularly with the door opening. It was also summer months so our back door was open a lot.
Just lucky that when turning lights on and off we didn’t ignite the house!
Just typical that co-inciding with gas in houses (and not “safe” as we have now), that women start to become fainting females and it gets assigned to their corsets – not their environment.
Thanks for explaining it. It really makes sense.
And I also would prefer a corset over wearing a bra. The ones I’ve worn at Ten fires and considered were so comfy and supporting. More so that the bras I wore then and wear today.
Well fainting is a convenient excuse to avoid displeasing or uncomfortable situations that might occur in the parlor.
Yep, and there is evidence that women were doing just that as a manipulation technique…wish I knew where I read that.
Not just gas lighting, either. Stoves for both heating and cooking became common in the early to mid-19th century, a improperly vented and managed stove can easily cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Not to mention the horrible air quality in many cities from all of the coal smoke.
As someone who has fainted (apparently it’s a genetic trait that runs on my mother’s side) there is no “fainting gracefully” and it’s actually terrifying to the people around you until they learn what fainting is and how to deal with it. It’s definitely more common in women than men, and it has nothing to do with corsets. If anything, a corset would prevent you from bending down or standing up too fast, SLIGHTLY minimizing the amount of fainting spells. However, corsets have zero impact on for example, whether or not you faint because of the sight of blood (like my mom) or faint once every few months for no reason at all during puberty (like my cousin).
I live in Nevada and quite a few years ago I was at a historical fashion show of Comstock era clothing. I was attending with our local museum director and the fashion show was part the state museum directors yearly conference. During the show there was mention of the ways wealthy men showed off, and the one I remember was that how a man’s wife was dressed indicated how succesful and wealthy he was. Basically if a man’s wife was dressed in such a way that she absoluely could not work he was very successful.
In an earlier comment someone was talking about fainting couches. At this conference they mentioned that in the Comstock fainting couches were located on staircase landings.
I’ve also read that it was not proper for women to just leave if they go bored or if they didn’t want to do something, so the phenomenon of “fainting” came into practice, so people began to make furniture to avoid women falling to the ground and hurting themselves, being the delicate little flowers that they are😉. This way they could get out of whatever it was AND bonus: people would be sympathetic and kind about it to them because they just had a “fainting spell” lol. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but I like the idea, it’s pretty hysterical to me.😂
I love the way those waif like actresses turn up their nose at the corset while starving themselves to fit in the one they got in their own heads.
And let’s talk about how ugly that would have been in the 18th century. People wanted flesh, preferably plump, look at Fragonard, Boucher, whatever paintings of the period.
A skinny woman was not attractive.
And I find my corset very comfortable, even if I must admit I was surprised by it the first time. Of course, I’m not into tight lacing since I’m not crazy, and as I do not lack in the plump department, it shapes that up quite nicely…And of course it makes miracles with the posture!
Have more problems in the wig department, to be honest… Historical costuming is a learning process, lol.
Personally, I have to cut Emma some slack. The trope about corsets and the patriarchy is something she’s likely heard all of her life, and about discomfort also. It’s definitely ‘common knowledge’. And she’s heavily involved in women’s rights issues, and gets a double dose of it.
Would be really spiffy if one of us could disabuse her of the notion…
I totally understand how she got there… I love her and her determination to make feminism more mainstream. That said, she missed the opportunity to talk about the other ways that “princess films” can create unhealthy ideas for little girls about what is considered desirable in women. I’d really love to see that conversation take place some day.
Totally agree. Disney princesses for the most part seem to want to catch a prince.Modern princesses such as Kate, Victoria, Mary, Madeleine & Sofi, to name some of my favourites, expound upon national concerns – literacy, bulling education to name a few, support charities like Heads Together, Queen Silvia’s one on child abuse, and are mothers, wives etc as well & to quote a saying about females ice dancers ‘do it backwards on skates (in heels) and skirts long or short. Maybe if Disney make a movie about that, girls would see princesses as more than eye candy for princes.
Sorry for getting carried away.
Moana and Brave do real princess versus Disney Princess pretty well. In one scene Maui even mocks Moana for being a princess thanks to animal sidekick and she tells him off. I’m happily buying Moana for my girls.
And at least Frozen Anna basically saved herself by loving her sister. Not to much else i loved about that movie, other than the whole mockery of love at first sight… it takes, ya know, at least 12 hours to realize you’ve fallen in love with Kristoff. *eye roll*
True, and I too liked Brave but haven’t seen Moana.
And yes to your comment on Frozen. Anna had to grow up during picture, Elsa was the more interesting character.
I always though the princess in Brave (can’t remember her name, don’t care enough to check) was nothing more than a spoiled brat. If my niece, now 30, had acted like that she’d still be in a time out. Of course, if I had (1950’s-60’s), I’d still be in my room with nothing but my books and a Shirley Temple doll!
Let’s not forget that Moana makes this idiot manchild of a demigod fix the issues he caused.
YES!!!! I loved that – hold the feet to the fire instead of falling in love!! Huzzah!! And by the end you could see that they liked and respected each other, but there would be no THERE there. :)
I also refer to the pic I posted up thread of Emma wearing sky-high heels – she could easily make a point about patriarchy & fashion that relates to women today except she very likely gets those Christian Louboutin shoes for free to promote them at events/on the red carpet (most actresses do). Apparently marketing > feminism for her *shrug*
For someone who is practically Hermione Granger complete with study ethic, she could just crack open a few books or speak to people who actually know and study the topic of historical costuming and learn the truth rather than repeating what she has “always heard so it must be true” stories. ;-)
But also, you know how modern academia gets caught up in the whole “corsets are terrible and tools of the patriarchy” nonsense, so I’m not sure that’s entirely a failsafe either!
Valerie Steele is the best academic source on corsetry, so maybe we should see if we can get some of her articles and books into Emma’s hands. ;)
Yep! Even Lucy Worsley buys into that. She has a post on her blog linking to the series on dangerous items in houses.
She refers to the tight lacing and implies every woman did it and that caused fainting along with the gas lamp issue.
Its irritating that someone of such influence is stating it and I bet even she has not done one teensy bit of research on the subject (of course it would help if she would stop merely “dressing up” and actually research costume properly).
“Gas must have provided a quite stunning improvement to people’s ability to read, write or sew in the evenings with minimal effort. It nevertheless had many drawbacks. There were frequent explosions, and it replaced the oxygen in the air with black and noxious deposits. The aspidistra, a hugely popular plant, became so because it survived well in oxygen-starved conditions. Victorian ladies frequently fainted partly because of tight-lacing, but also because of a lack of oxygen in their gas-lit drawing rooms.”
I’ve been telling people the pregnancy thing for decades (literally, I had my twins 22 years ago) – there isn’t a corset constructed that can come even close to the alteration that is need to have two babies inside your belly!
I am a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and I often watch them with my friends.
Every time, I pause the movie to explain that Elizabeth passed out because of dehydration, low blood sugar, and heatstroke, not because her corset cut off her breathing. And she wouldn’t have called it a corset, she’d have called it stays.
My friends have learned to tolerate this.
You know, I never connected the fainting to her being dehydrated, etc. before, either. That said, I think I’ve seen “Pirates” a grand total of once… My take-away was always that they made such a fuss about her stays being so tight in order to be “fashionable” that she was suffocating in them. But in retrospect, your explanation makes sense…
As a man who fell in love with a woman who loves corsets, I am slowly being educated to the history of, and appreciation for, the corset. She loves how they make her feel, and I love it when she is happy. Everybody wins. She kindly sent me this post, and once I stopped laughing and cheering I wanted to thank you most sincerely for it. I have yet to yell at a movie or TV over misuse of a corset, but rest assured I am getting there fast!
She loves how they make her feel, and I love it when she is happy. Everybody wins.
THIS. THIS RIGHT HERE.
You’re a good partner, my friend.
OH Mah Goodness!! Yes. Yes Yes!!! This whole post is amazing! Especially the corset is bad and I’m not wearing one because, I like to breath. I can’t tell you how many people believe this silly rumor. I hope everyone reads this! Corsets are pretty comfortable if you wear them correctly. It’s the people that believe we are all trying to corset down to an unreasonable/ unattainable if you are over the age of 12; 19inch waist(Thanks Scarlett) that are all in a huff. I love wearing my corset. It’s so pretty and makes me feel amazing.
I found it very amusing once when in full Victorian dress with corset etc, a visitor was convinced I had a waist close to 25 inches. They were exclaiming how tiny it was. Except, it was 34 inches! I can lace down around 3 inches without feeling it. 4 and itThe whole look was an illusion. Shaped torso with dropped shoulders to the bodice and huge crinoline/bustle skirt!
I’m a 2″ max in waist reduction. Anything more than that and I’m really uncomfortable. As you know, it has a lot to do with your “squish factor” as well as the gap between your last set of ribs and your hips. The longer torso’d ladies have more space for displacement, whereas us shorter waisted types have less.
That means that my waist measurement goes from about 30″ to 28″ at most. But with petticoats/panniers/bumrolls that can make it visually look much smaller.
It’s all an optical illusion!
But I bet you feel more beautiful and more comfortable in yours than a bra?
Susan Pola….absolutely!! I ADORE my What Katie Did “Storm” corset (used for Victorian dress). It is supportive and comfortable. I’d wear it in work but the shape it creates is very obvious. Also, I can’t drive in it…its that whole cars (and modern furniture) aren’t designed for use with corsets.
I probably could lace down much further as I have a big gap between rib and hip but I’d have to waist train to slowly get it smaller in a corset and have bespoke corsets for it which gets expensive and life is too short for waist training!! I also like to have lots of slouchy days!! ;-) If I’m in a corset for around a week, I can go to 4 inches but not for a weekend only.
Near my work we have a fab little retro fashion shop near the office and many of us (of different ages and shapes and sizes) love it. Lots of the fashions from that shop are appearing in work. My waist cincher and girdles are really useful for wearing underneath the 50s style dresses. I’ve just bought two shift dresses from Collectif. They will look great with the cincher and girdle underneath. Though I am hankering after an underbust sheer corset now.
If I can stop my lungs from being annoying with the asthma I can wear them all again (can’t wear corsets/cinchers when the asthma is playing up badly though).
I was convinced that a particular painting of Queen Elizabeth I was idealized until I put on a similar costume once. My waist in an Elizabethan corset actually gets BIGGER, because of the shape of the corset, even though I’m winching flesh in by nearly 10″. (I am very, very plus sized and very, VERY squishy, so this is NOT tight-lacing. I need to take in nearly that much to be in the “comfortably snug” range. Less than that and my corset starts shifting and rubbing and is terribly uncomfortable.) And yet, omg, I look so much smaller at the waist than I am, and my hands, they look so TINY and DELICATE! EXACTLY like the painting in question.
Have to say that I had never considered Sarah Lorraine’s point about being long-waisted, either–I am at the extreme end of that, with just four inches between waistline and hipline (the average is 9), so maybe my issues with later corsets, and with tabs and the dropped point, is that I need to adjust for that, make my tabs and points a bit shorter from waist to end, and when I next try another Victorian-style corset, take less reduction in the hips and slightly more in the waist and upper torso. Then my hips will support the rest of the corset a bit better.
Thank you! I spend 3 months the a year on a custom made corset (and get paid for it). If I had a decent, reliable person to lace me in every morning my big Ole ta-tas would be in it all year. Would even take a corseted bodice over a bra. My postures better, the girls are better supported (and no digging in on the shoulders), and the corset diet is great! No, I can’t tie my shoes (boots, then corset…..you’ll only do it wrong once), but I can power squat or “work the fulcrum” to pick things up off the ground. (Or get a cute guy in a kilt to do it for me. 😉) I have to utter at least once a day “Point goes down” as so many women put the thing on upside down. The arch the point creates is for your hips not your boobs. I know we’re taught that they’re supposed to suck and hurt, but good grief is that wrong. Thank you for calling out the crazy!!
My personal motto is “shoes first, then corset” for exactly the reason you state.
And yet, I still manage to fuck it up on a regular basis. :P
In Kentwell in Victorian and Edwardian Events, we have had a sign up of a Victorian lady dressing with the motto “BOOTS FIRST, CORSET SECOND” for exactly that reason.
Surprisingly, it IS actually possible to tie your shoes while wearing a corset…just not AT ALL in the “normal” way. It requires a fairly tall surface, such as the top of a picnic table, and the ability to bend very flexibly at the hips, which if you can power-squat, you can probably manage. Stick your booted foot up on the table with your skirts pulled up around your knees, you scandalous thing you, and tilt from the hips. You may need to hold your breath, as this does rather squish your ENTIRE torso too flat to inhale, or at least it does for me. (I breathe just fine in a corset. Squish the girls against my knee, not so much.) You can then reach your laces, if a bit awkwardly, at that point. If not, flex the knee of the leg you are standing on a bit. Or curl your extended leg in, still on the table top. Your laces may be tied off-center at that point, but tied is still better than tripping on them.
I do all my costumes, regardless of era, by the principle “If you can’t vacuum your house in it, you’ve made it wrong.” I can vacuum my house in full Elizabethan court-casual costume. I’m told it’s quite a sight!
The GIF of Judy Garland is *killing* me! Her stocking garter clasp thingys (can’t remember the real name) are on the outside of her petticoat! Aaauuuggghhh!
You simply never cease to 1. amaze me, 2. Hit my period-costume g-spot, 3. Make the exact same arguments as myself, 4. Keep the love of corsets and period costume ablaze in my heart’s core! Kudos, over & over!!
Hit my period-costume g-spot
I LOVE YOU FOR THIS.
Not sure what I’m loving more: The post or the comments, both are amazing, informative & really epic
Thank you x
All this is making me wonder if the actresses of MS Watson’s calibre are getting custom made corsets or off the rack ones? If custom made to fit wouldn’t they be more comfortable than Extra Female character XS?
Nicole Kidman always looks terrific in her period costumes. I believe it can’t be just her alone. Well, I suppose it could.
Love all the comments. I’m learning so much!
I live in Nevada and quite a few years ago I was at a state museum director’s meeting with our local museum director. Part of their program that year was a fashion show of Comstock era clothing. Lots of lovely dresses, and one spot where the model got undressed so everyone could see how everything layered and attached. Wish they had had a video made of that! I remember the statement that a man was truly wealthy and of high social status if his wife was dressed in such a way that she could not work. Fainting couches were also mentioned, and it was said they were located on stair landings.
A million times all of this! Brava!
As a side note, one thing that always annoys me is when there is a sex scene and the corset is removed by unlacing it from the back, instead of undoing the busk. Or possibly loosening the laces and then undoing the busk.
The most egregious example of this is in Gangs of New York, where we see a corset, totally unlaced and the busk still fastened flying across the screen. That turned me off even more than the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio engaging in sexytimes.
Westworld (2016) fucking it up. Both corsets are on upside down.
Not surprised. They’re androids in an amusement park.
Great article! It was both amusing and informative.
To be fair to Emma Watson, though, someone probably told her that corsets are uncomfortable and a form of patriarchal oppression and she had no reason not to be believe them b/c that’s a standard trope that gets repeated. She’s an actress, not a costume designer.
As I said further up:
“For someone who is practically Hermione Granger complete with study ethic, she (Emma Watson) could just crack open a few books or speak to people who actually know and study the topic of historical costuming and learn the truth rather than repeating what she has “always heard so it must be true” stories. ;-)”
No one is an expert in everything. Every one is capable of learning and finding out more and not taking everything as gospel. Particularly if its asserting x or y because thats what has always been said.
I love wearing my properly fitted corset! My shoulders and neck don’t ache from the weight of my bra-damaged breasts pulling down. My back is better supported and my posture is improved while wearing a good corset. I have gone 19 hours in a corset made for me and never felt achy. It did feel good to rub and lightly scratch my skin where my chemise had been bound against me when I took the corset off, but that was nothing compared to the relief my shoulders had all day.
I agree with all of these except for the last one. To say that corsets didn’t promote an unhealthy and unrealistic body image and that they aren’t uncomfortable is just not true. There is nothing realistic about the body a corset suggests a woman should have. High class women were expected to wear one everyday, shifting and squishing your organs that much all day everyday is just not healthy and it leads to health problems. There were even pregnancy corsets. Additionally, it’s absurd to compare the shifting your organs do during pregnancy to corsets. The direction of the squishing is different, natural, not for fashion, and only for a few months. Also, ask any pregnant woman, it’s not comfortable.
All that being said, women mostly wear them now for costumes or simply because they like them, not to serve some impossible expectation of how a woman should look. Which is why I agree with Emma Watson for speaking out about the wardrobe of Beauty and the Beast. She is such a positive role model for so many young girls. There are already enough warped images of women’s bodies bombarding them, that for her to say that corsets (or at least the body they promote) should not be glorified is a wise move.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore corsets, and have several, but to say that they promote a healthy, attainable body image is off the wall.
That said, the scene in GWTW is meant to show the extreme lengths that Scarlett was willing to go in order to have the smallest waist at the picnic. I think people take it at face value, that her 17″ waist was the norm or the ideal, when if you read the book or pay attention to the subtext in that scene, it’s pretty clear that it was NOT the norm and everyone pretty much thought Scarlett was nuts for being so obsessed with having such a small waist. Especially Mammy, which is why she’s giving her the side-eye in that image (and why I chose it for the featured image).
I could have sworn that scene featured Scarlett’s efforts to resume a 17″ waist after giving birth to Bonnie Blue.
I can recall actress Lesley-Anne Down talking about how the female cast members of the “NORTH AND SOUTH” trilogy had to endure wearing corsets underneath their costumes. Most of them found the corsets uncomfortable. And she also pointed out that for some, their menstrual cycle was effected. There was a long shooting schedule for the first two miniseries, since they had originally aired at least six month apart.
I doubt that the menstrual changes were caused by the corsets. Its extremely common for women who spend a great deal of time together to find that there menstrual cycles start to synchronize to some degree, its caused by pheremones in sweat. I’d imagine that with the combination of layers and layers of undergarments, topped off with polyester satin, there was plenty of sweat on that set.
I would like to thank you for writing everything I’ve thought about how wrong Hollywood has portrayed corsets. That’s actually kind of cute, saying that a well-fitted corset feels like a hug you get all day long. :)
I remember once reading an article about the myths surrounding corsets, like:
– only women wore them
– they were always so tight women were suffocating in them
– they automatically made a fat woman skinny
– they squeezed the woman’s body out both ends like a toothpaste tube
– they always looked like Victorian corsets
– some women had their lower ribs removed in the late 1800s in order to get that tiny waist they wanted
Whole lot of that was a total crock, as I read. I was surprised to read that ordinary women like you or me, in eras when corsets were normal underwear, they usually would just lace it up so it was snug, NOT ready to squeeze them to death. Only a few crazy fashionistas and entertainers (sound familiar, Hollywood?) would do that whole “tight corset” thing. In fact, women actually had more problems with itchiness than anything else. Either that, or in the 1800s, when steel boning was used (whalebone was better), poorer women sometimes had problems with RUST showing up on their corset! Can you imagine that? Finding rust stains on your underwear?
Plus, not all corsets made that famous hourglass shape! In fact, the Tudor corset almost makes the woman’s waist look squarish or vaguely triangular, or in ancient Crete, it was just a simple waist cincher. Heck, the corsets of the Regency Era often were just a soft strap across the breasts, or a softer number that almost made the waist look vaguely rectangular.
That was actually surprising, hearing about MEN of all people secretly wearing corsets. *cough*Shatner*cough*. It’s one thing to hear about men wearing tight armor or tight clothing in the past. It’s another to hear about men in more recent times secretly wearing them under their clothes. Guess it’s a vanity thing.
One thing I think you should do, is write about historical maternity clothing shown in movies or on tv. I’ve always been curious (and I’m sure lots of people have) about what women in corset-wearing eras did with said garment when pregnant. I mean, you can’t afford to squeeze your waist into that shape with a baby growing inside. There’s so little information out there about it too! My family and I have watched “Outlander,” and mom suggested that maybe pregnant women in the 18th century had a special loose corset, or maybe one that just strapped across the breasts and provided back support, but was open below to let the baby grow. I’m skeptical about that because there’s no historical evidence to support such a garment. From what I can tell, the women just adapted their clothes to the growing baby and ditched the corset after a certain point. I know in the last few weeks of pregnancy, middle- and upper-class women went into seclusion, though peasant women had to keep working up until the day the baby was born.
Just an idea to try out.
In the 19th century there is a fair amount of evidence for women wearing unboned stays during pregnancy. Past Patterns has a pattern that features three different stays, one of which has lacing over the abdomen that could have been adjusted as the pregnancy progressed. The stays were made out of heavy fabric, and smoothed out some of the lumps and put the bust in the correct place, but don’t provide any compression.
Stays might also be worn for other reasons, not all women chose to wear corsets, and from my own experience wearing an unboned stay I can testify that it provided the correct look, and decent back support, while not constraining freedom of movement in any way. It was also less tricky to fit than a corset.
Emma has stated she didn’t want to wear a corset because she wants Belle to be a princess that can move around. Belle wanted to go on adventure, to explore and learn and that’s pretty hard to do in a corset, especially the size that disney expects the princesses to get down to. Lily James (Cinderella) admitted to having to go on a liquid diet in order to get fit into her corset during the ball scene. Did she look amazing? Yes. Of course, she did. Does Emma look amazing during the ball scene? Yes. They both look amazing. Bell isn’t your typical princess, the first song of the show is talking about how strange/different she is from everyone else. I think that refusing to wear a corset, despite the fashion of the time is totally Belle. Corsets can be comfortable, but only when they are measured to your actual body and not a set size that you are forcing your body to fit into.
Plus Disney princesses aren’t exactly historically accurate to begin with.
#1- I highly doubt that the Disney Studio could not afford a bespoke corset for Thompson, one that would not only NOT squeeze her to death, but actually might help with that horrible slouch she has in the photo above. Her costume looks dreadful. #2- I admit I’m surprised at Emma’s stance. She is supposed to be a “Professional” actress. You do what is required of your character, and the image your director has for the film. Politics is fine, but keep it the hell off the set. As a Costumer for the stage for many years I’ve had it with Prima Donas. #3- Suck it up, Emma. You’re not in Harry Potter anymore.
Although it does appear to be the case that Emma Watson — and not Disney, the director, or the costume designer — was adamant about unboned jumps instead of stays, I suspect that Disney had quite a few demands of their own to make regarding Belle’s costumes. That would help to explain the weird blue-and-white pinafore dress-type outfit that Watson wears in the photo; in the animated movie, Belle wears something roughly similar (and similarly inappropriate for the 18th century), so it seems to me that this was a design choice based purely on marketing and brand recognition. Watson’s yellow ball gown also seems to have been made to resemble the dress in the cartoon more than it resembles any actual 1740s gown (although, to be fair, it looks a bit more 18th century than the cartoon version, which, IMO, is somewhat Victorian in style). Ultimately, though, I guess accuracy doesn’t matter much in a silly Disney fantasy film that is made to promote the “Disney Princess” brand.
As far as that photo is concerned, Watson was probably just in the process of bending over — hence the appearance of bad posture. I very much doubt that she spends the whole movie slouching, although of course I could be wrong. ;-)
Not movie or TV related, but I thought you’d get a kick out of this:
The man who dresses up as his ancestors: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38828042
Via Metafilter: http://www.metafilter.com/165218/He-finds-the-corsets-very-uncomfortable
I thought you might appreciate Emma Watson’s corset-style top on the cover of Elle UK. It made me chuckle. http://www.gofugyourself.com/photos/emma-watson-covers-elle-uk-again/watsonelleuk
Stumble upon your site and instantly fell in love. It’s like every time I shouted at my TV for inaccurate historical clothing in period movies/show, it created particles, and then they just gathered and gave birth to this website. I feel like a child at Christmas morning, so much articles to read. Anyway this one reminded me of a great post by artist Shoommah, who got quite famous on the internet with her “historically accurate Disney princesses” series.
I saw Beauty and the Beast yesterday. I swear Belle is wearing Tom’s shoes in a few scenes. And yes she did look a bit “slouchy’ in her clothing. And maybe there’s a back zipper in her ballgown costume?? (I was moaning throughout the movie although, I admit, I liked it.)
Can’t wait to read your review! And…a question. Any suggestions on a good website to order a corset? Making a gown for a costume party (first time!!!) and I want to wear a corset.
The other day I got into it with someone who was trying to prove that women in the 19th century were trying to look as if men could throw them into the air by their tiny waists. Her source? One quote from one guy in 1840 who obviously had that as his particular personal fetish. I think the sexual proclivities of some men have long been used as erroneous proof of real corseting practices, like those letters men wrote to magazines when the tightlacing issue came up (pretending to be teenage girls who loved the “delicious agony” of lacing down to 13 inches- or, more often, being forced by stern schoolmistresses to lace down to 13 inches). The pseudosexual language is obvious, and yet armchair historians take these letters at face value as evidence that women were constantly tightlacing. It’s ridiculous.
I’ve seen several articles recently about women who are tightlacing, teaching waist training, selling waist trainers and corsets, and going on about the fetishized, sexual thrills they get from dressing that way. If future historians were to look at them in the same way as your armchair historians, they might think that this was a mainstream thing. One has only to look at my waist and see that it is not!
I’m a bit late to this interesting thread…really good post and super following comments.
Here are a few additions from lil ole me.
Surely most of us have worn clothes for that were uncomfortable to the point of pain, impractical etc.???…but we did wear them. Women have done the same for many centuries. We want to be like the other women…;have you ever been to a smart party and find that you are the only one in a short skirt, or the only one in flat shoes. 18 and 19 century women did not want to be the one with the largest waist. We don’t change do we?
For the lady portrayed in the historical movies discussed here (thank you Trystan!) her corset was rather like our bras today. Ok for everyday, but a bit tighter for best wear. Not to wear a corset sent the same messages as not wearing a bra today. Yes, yes, we are more liberated today, but both men and women raise eyebrows when an obviously bra less woman enters the room?
I think another way to say this would be: ‘in a film, if you want to convey that the character doesn’t care about societal expectations, show her not wearing a bra/corset & the other characters (the audience) can draw negative conclusions from that.’
Half of me agrees with you, but then probably that’s the way I was brought up (to be a lady ha!). However, the other half disagrees…….after all what’s wrong with the natural body? Being natural is all the rage now? I’m sure that a lady in the 19 century would have said the same (gross ,trashy and sloppy!) about a woman not wearing a corset.
It’s so difficult looking at history without the filter of our own experience?
ladyaquanine73551: Though I agree with the thrust of your comment two points I’d like to address. “Clown costumes” of the 16th/17th centuries? If you mean the high, elite ruffed outfits and the huge skirts, they aren’t that bizarre and again, they decided to wear them. There was no “fashion designers” then to impose a fashion on society as there is now – people went to a tailor and effectively designed their own clothing based on what their peers were wearing.
Having worn such a style, I can attest that the design is no different to wear than any other historical clothing.
“It was only the crazy fashionistas who removed their ribs or wore super-tight corsets, not ordinary, everyday women.”
ahem No one, not even the “crazy fashionistas” ever removed their ribs. It is unlikely that it has happened now, despite one person claiming she has (the “photos” and “videos” of the “op” seem suspicious).
Anaesthesia was not controllable and therefore an operation like that which is not for life/death situation would never be carried out by any doctor prior to very recent times (it is carried out now but only for life/death situations).
“provided it’s a body pleasing to the eye. I cannot tell you how grossed out I’ve been when…”
HEY NOW. I tried to give you a polite warning, but this is straight-up body shaming for no reason. NOT COOL. Snarking clothing is one thing. Saying person X shouldn’t wear thing Z is fine. Saying women didn’t show off curves in time period Q is OK, but saying women shouldn’t & talking about bodies as “gross” & equating certain clothing / lack of clothing w/self-respect is NOT OK HERE.
DELETING YOUR COMMENT ladyaquanine73551
I tried to give you a polite warning, but you went way too far into body shaming for no reason. NOT COOL. Snarking clothing is one thing. Saying person X shouldn’t wear thing Z is fine. Saying time period Q has R beauty standards is OK, but saying women shouldn’t show off curves & talking about bodies as “gross” & making a host of crude descriptions of different body shapes is NOT OK HERE.
Sorry, myladyswardrobe, your very sensible reply got deleted as well because it was nested below the inappropriate one.
I’ve found a movie of 1889 of ladies cycling in corsets. I’ve posted some comments on my blog at https://corsetpicddiscussion.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/corsets-and-bicyles-1899/
I know the authors here are so very good at rubbishing historical movies, but this one is real for 1899, so don’t be rude!
I’ve also commented on a 1740 portrait of a girl in chest deforming stays, but that was a bit early for movies. It’s at https://corsetpicddiscussion.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/shuttlecocks-stays-and-corsets/
Please add your comments, there are so many costume experts here.
To be fair to Emma Watson, Cinderella’s Lily James did some serious tightlacing for her live action Disney film. And probably some CGI as well. Google some of the images of her in costume. If that’s not an unrealistic standard, I don’t know what is.
Plus Disney princesses aren’t exactly historically accurate to begin with.
Moara… Lily James in many interviews has pointed out that there wasn’t any problem at all. ALL her bodices are pretty much the same except that amazing ballgown makes her look so much tinier in the waist due to the huge crinoline and petticoats. It really is huge and way bigger than most gowns worn in the 19th century. The bertha “widens” the neckline and adds to the illusion. Yes her waist is small but then she is naturally very small in the waist anyway (see Downton Abbey).
Quote: “Why on earth are we focusing on something so irrelevant?’ Lily, 25, said … ahead of the London premiere.”
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3002608/Lily-James-says-criticism-waist-Cinderella-irrelevant.html#ixzz5CFDLIpIT
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Quote from Sandy Powell, the costumer and one who REALLY knows her costumes:
‘I don’t understand what the concerns are actually,’ said costume designer Sandy Powell, ‘Lily does have a small waist, but so do all the other girls in the film.
‘All the girls in the film wore corsets because that’s what you wear with period clothes it creates the silhouette for the period. Lily’s dress in particular is an optical illusion the diameter of the skirt and the width [on the shoulders] and that really does make the waist smaller than it actually is.’
Producer Allison Shearmur said that people are ‘paying attention to the opposite themes of the movie, which is your sense of beauty and strength is on the inside.’
Her comments regarding her “liquid” diet were also taken way out of context. And she comments on that in various interviews. That dress, though utterly amazing, is not practical (she had to have various mockups made to see how big the skirt could be made to still enable her to dance and to practice in before the ACTUAL dance scene).
Not eating much is far better if you are in a dress of that kind for HOURS AND HOURS due to the filming schedule. Though many of us have no problem in using the bathroom in historical dress, that one dress would defeat probably all of us. And keep in mind that in the 19th century, a lady would be in a ball gown for an evening and not for the length of time that is often required for filming purposes. (I have done filming for documentaries and there is a LOT of hanging around for hours and hours and hours and relatively little actual filming. One is in ones outfit for way longer than one would expect and for continuity purposes cannot do much to “change” it).
Lily James was also not able to sit down in that dress – not because it was impossible to do so but because doing so would crush the dress and cause issues for continuity. Same situation occurred for Tilda Swinton as the White Witch in the Narnia film (https://i.pinimg.com/564x/90/a0/56/90a05689641209d0a2474ea632292258.jpg) She had to have a special “standing” board created for her to lean against between numerous takes etc. She also had to be sewn into that dress and if I rightly remember also had a fairly liquid diet during filming.
Point is, the media and those who wanted to see an issue or problem, took comments way out of context (very likely deliberately), did not engage brains to think about the environment that the actresses (operative word is actress) are working in, is not equivalent to what it WOULD be like in real life in that time period/fantasy period and just wanted a sensational angle to shock people with.
And NO CGI was used at all for the dress. None. It has been stated by the Sandy Powell the costumer.
Now it’s Emma Stone whining her organs were displaced and she’s been permanently harmed. If true she must have been lacing way too tight.
On the whole “corsets are uncomfortable” thing: I’ve never actually worn a corset, but I did have to wear a back brace for a few years when I was in middle school that was pretty much a corset in all but name. And I got used to it pretty quickly: it was comfortable enough that I could wear it while I slept. Actually, for a while it felt pretty weird not wearing it anymore.
Youtube Channel PriorAttire: that is all.
Hi. I love your article. Do you have some literature on where these misconceptions about corsets can be disproven with facts? I’d love to read more on this. Thank you.
Nicole, Have a look for Valerie Steel’s “Corset: A visual History”. She really does have a good look at these questions. Though good luck finding a copy at a reasonable price.