What Daughters Endure

Published on Author Lacing Mentor

Dear Sir, – I noticed a letter signed by a “Mrs. S.” in “London Life.” in which she stated that she was screwed into steel corsets. It would be interesting to know what kind of corset this was.
For many years I worked in a corset factory in the North of England, and we made almost every kind of corset that was then known. In those days (I am referring to the period 1896-1902) it was customary for mothers to train their daughters’ figures in the manner described by your correspondent: but although we frequently made stays of very stiff whalebone, I do not recollect ever seeing a pair of corsets made with steel. Perhaps this might have been done in France and on the Continent, as I can remember on those days the women of France had the reputation of being the tightest-laced of anyone.
We often had orders for corsets to be made of stiff whalebone and these sometimes had two pieces of steel fitted up the front, one each side of the front fastenings. This was done to make the wearer perfectly upright: but, needless to say, these took some getting used to as when laced into these stays the wearer was almost unable to bend or stoop down.
I have also seen the band for screwing-in referred to by your correspondent, but only the most enthusiastic corset wearer ever used these.
I have worn stiff, tight stays practically all my life, and have never regretted it. I certainly found them irksome at first, but in these days women put up with any amount of discomfort for the sake of their appearance.
I remember being fitted with my first pair of stiff stays. I had requested my mother for some time previously to put me into tight corsets, as my elder sister had been wearing them for quite a time, and I was very desirous of cultivating a waspwaist, which was the rage then. These corsets were made specially at the factory mentioned in this letter, They were made of drab-coloured kid, and were very severely boned with two pieces of steel up the front and a piece of steel on either side. This had the effect of making me walk and sit perfectly upright. My mother laced me very tightly into these stays, but the “screw” was never used except on special occasions, when my parent considered it necessary to be laced tighter than usual. This was for Sundays, or any function like a theatre, music hall of where there would be a crowd of people.
I found it difficult at first to get used to these tightly-laced corsets, as if I tried to lounge about, the steel and whalebone would soon remind me of the fact that I was properly corsetted. I found them very useful when wearing high heels.
I still maintain that a stiff well-laced pair of corsets are the correct thing for young girls, and prevent them getting into slovenly and uplady like manners. I know a lady who had a special punishment corset made for her daughters, and if they were caught lounging about in a slovenly manner they were fitted with these stays, which were constructed so that they reached tight up to the backbone and down as far as the knees, and they were laced up till the girls could barely breathe. They were made to go out wearing them sometimes, and I have seen one laced in to fifteen inches, and the wearer had to carry smelling salts for fear of fainting.
Best luck to “London Life.”
Yours faithfully,
MADGE BOLT