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A mother's letter to her 'just married' daughter (1894)

David Kunzle: ''Fashion and Fetishism''

K., September 12th, 1894

Dear child!

Thanks very much for your nice and detailed letter from Meran. I'm so glad that you could spend some happy days there. My own most beautiful memories lead me to this charming place surrounded by breath-taking views of the mountain ranges.

I assume that all went well and that you've returned to your home in N. in the meantime. The end of your trip is at the same time the end of the summer. There are only a few weeks to go before the beginning of winter with its social happenings and events, which you, for the first time now, will enjoy side by side with your dear G., and far away from your parents. In your parental home you certainly were given more than enough opportunities to learn all the things which it is important to know in order to appear decent and ladylike and to move in the high society. I rely on you in that you will introduce and preserve in your new home the rules we stuck to in our house. This will, I guess, not be too hard for you both, as your G. also comes from a decent household, and his parents saw to it that their children were well-behaved and well-mannered. Do always stick to these rules. The mere thought is appalling for me that you could make this order, which has become an ideal for us, less stringent one day. The consequences for our society would be unforeseeable.

Winter will begin soon, you know; and therefore I tell you: Please keep in mind that social life means not only entertainment but also duties. So far these duties have been fulfilled mainly by your parents, but now that you have a household of your own you will have to fulfill them yourself.

I've often been thinking of you since you've left our house. Please do frequently write to me, so that I know how you are and that I can be with you in spirit. As your mother, I'd like to go on advising you because I'm convinced that you will need help facing all the duties you will have to fulfill in the years to come. It is not meant as an affront if I sometimes throw in pieces of advice into my letters. You are my dear H. and you know that I have your interests at heart only. You won't be at a disadvantage if you take my advice and follow it.

I'm sure you will spend the few autumn weeks to come getting new clothes for the winter. At present there are so many wonderful new clothes, I really don't know whether to dress à la mode Parisienne or à la mode Viennese.

You will notice that, as it is with most of us women, your waist has widened after the summer, during which one usually indulges all too much in laziness and casual wear. The winter dresses are, as usual, too tight. Don't be neglectful of your appearance and please don't give in to the thought that you could have your dresses altered at the tailor's. You are too young for this. It would be the first step on a wrong way and a pity, for we spent so much time and worked so hard to maintain your beautiful figure. Follow my advice and take good care of your waist, as I taught you. Do keep my words in mind: the shape of your body is the basis for your female elegance. Our social status requires that we are elegant. Sure, clothes make the man, as the saying goes, but a corset alone doesn't make an elegant lady. Look at all the women who wear reformist clothes on weekdays because ''it is so comfortable'' and who, on sundays, want to lace themselves into a corset à la mode. They cannot move smoothly in this garment since they are not used to it; and thus hey look like caricatures. You see, elegance is not comfortable, that's just the way it is. You have to be used to the corset from your teens onwards; and you should be one with your corset. It is best if the corset is a piece of you, an integral part of your body. It requires practice to wear corsets and to move gracefully and decently in them. I saw to it that you wore corsets from your early youth, and I had good reasons for this. In the beginning you reacted with reluctance but today, I think, you will agree with me when I say that I had only your interests at heart and that it was right as we did it. Do you remember that I had to tie your laces very fast every morning, because I didn't want you to unlace them secretly on your way to school? Today we both can laugh about this childish joke. You, as it were, have grown up in the meantime and are more sensible now. Frau von P., your warden at school, always saw to it that you wore your corset as is suitable for girls of your status. For this I'm still grateful to her.

In former times the corset was reserved for privileged persons, i.e. for the Queen and the higher nobility. Today every lady can buy a corset and can wear it unpunished. But it is only wealthy ladies who can afford a small waist as fashion dictates it, since this requires servants, as you know from your own experience. A noble lady has to seize the hours when her husband is out for work in order to care for her body, so that she can give up her time to him when he comes home. The servants are responsible for the household. It is not suitable for a noble lady like you to stay in the kitchen, for your clothes will take on the typical smell of cooking. Let your housekeeper take care of the servants.

While shopping your first stop will be at your corsetières'. Please take her advice as to a suitable waist measurement that fits your figure and is fashionable. We have to stick to the current fashion dictate! Please see to it that all your dresses will have the same waist measurement. I know that Johanna and you used to conspire in lacing your waist not as tight as you were supposed to; but now you have to be strict and disciplined with yourself. You should at all times have the same waist measurement. I'm sure you'll get used to that within a short time. The dresses you wear will show if you take enough care of your waist. Do often make use of a tape-measure and have yourself laced up every morning, and as tight as if you went to a bal. You will see that you can enjoy yourself much more on festive occasions if you're used to being laced very tightly. When I had your age I even had to sleep in my corset! Grandma said that adult ladies should be laced all the time, day and night. For this purpose we had special night corsets of firm linen; they were laced as tight as our satin daytime corsets. We didn't mind sleeping in corsets and had restful nights in spite of the restriction of our bodies. We sisters were very vain, and therefore we wettened our corsets after closing them. Thus they became even tighter. From hearsay we knew that this was a good means to make the waist smaller. When I wrote this down I didn't mean that you should do the same; on the contrary: in my opinion it is necessary for the body to enjoy some hours of rest at night. But still, what your grandma said remains true: a lady can tolerate her tightly laced corset best if she wears it around the clock.

Well, my dear daughter, I wish you good shopping success and hope to be able to see you soon on a happy occasion, naturally in one of your new dresses. Best wishes from your loving and devoted parents!


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