Corsetting in the bad old days

Published on Author Lacing MentorLeave a comment

Dear Sir – One of your correspondents asks for information in respect of punishment corsets and I am tempted to write to you again, having had some experience in these matters.
In the early years of the nineteenth century great efforts were made with regards to the reduction of growing girls’ waists and to the grace of their carriage. To these ends, the corsets worn at fashionable girls’ schools were frequently made of heavy and rigid material as for instance, thick leather, and were laced with leather thongs to a remarkable degree of tightness.
The discomfort of wearing these training stays must have been terrible. In fact, they are described as “instruments of torture” in 1835, a period of strict tight-lacing. Frequently a “stocking needle” was mounted on the busk, to prick the wearer when she stooped forward.
Many were fitted with shoulder-straps to hold back the shoulders while others had a curved steel bar sewn round the top in front, finishing under the armpits for the same purpose. For extreme cases of stooping a back board was used, consisting of a wooden board strapped to the back, to which the shoulders the back, to which the shoulders were firmly strapped, having a leather-covered steel hoop fixed to the top, which encircled the throat and forced the chin up. Thus, secured the disobedient girl was put into stocks and forced to sit bolt upright on a narrow bar.
But to come to more modern times in the late 90’s, I was given charge of a young lady of 15, to turn her into a fashionable belle. Her figure had been trained for years and was very lovely indeed but she was high spirited and didn’t give me any help in training her but rather tried to hinder me, so I resorted to the use of various punishment stays.
As she was nearing the end of her training and had several pairs of very long and stiff sleeping corsets, coming well over her thighs, I found that by making her wear these laced very tightly indeed for several hours she could generally be made to see the error of her ways.
She was unable to sit down or walk much and generally made very uncomfortable indeed.
Her normal waist was 15 inches for ordinary day and night wear, but I had a special pair of punishment stays made with a solid busk of steel, made in the “base poire”, or spoon-busk fashion, 6 inches wide at the widest part. These were very rigidly boned and nearly reached to her knees and were laced at the back and at both sides being capable of being reduced to 12 inches at the waist. When not in use, they stood in a corner of her room and when she had been very disobedient, she was quickly trussed up in a stretching-frame and the corsets laced on and then gradually tightened till she showed signs of great distress.
The three lacings made it possible to lace her in to the absolute limit of her endurance and an hour or so thus laced was enough to break her spirit for quite a long time. If she loosened the laces, I tightened them again and tied her hands together at the back of her neck, putting her feet into a very tight high-heeled boots as well, so that sitting was impossible and standing very painful.
By this means she soon realized that the best thing was to submit to the tortures of training rather than the agony of punishment and has since had reason to thank me for the way I treated her.
The craze for “boyish” figures is passing and tight-lacing may become popular again. I venture to think that compression of the waist is less harmful than compression of the breasts and hips, which, when the “boyish” figure was in vogue in Spain in the middle ages led mothers to bind strips of lead round their young daughters’ breasts and thighs to prevent their development. Even the old steel corsets were surely less harmful than this.
Hoping you can find room to publish this long letter.

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