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A reader's inquiry, taken from a fashion magazine from 1903

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Question: My daughter is 15 years old, normally built and goes to boarding-school. I often think about the right time to get her a corset. I don't want to make any mistakes concerning this topic. Some of her schoolmates do wear corsets already. But so far she didn't ask me to buy her one.

Please tell me what to do! When is it advisable for girls to start corseting? What kind of corset is best (reform or fashion)? For the beginning: should she wear the corset for festive events only or for everyday wear? To what extent should she be laced?

Answer: Your questions are indeed frequently asked questions; and no caring mother does not ask them herself, especially if it's about her first daughter. We usually answer these letters by writing a personal letter to the inquirer, but in this case we think that our response is of interest for many women, which is why we use the occasion for a thorough and detailed explanation of the necessary proceedings.

It is very justified that you ask when your daughter should get her first corset. In this context there are a number of aspects to be considered. And there are many differing opinions as to the correct answer. This, let's call it a dispute, probably has its roots in differing opinions about the corset's impact on the growing body as well as in the fact that the right time can be entirely different for each individual girl.

In former times, people were convinced that, in order to obtain a perfect waist, a girl could not start corseting early enough. At the time it was usual to use corsets for relatively small children, as this method was considered the best. Doctors and educators were right in opposing this practice. Today we know that the body of a girl should have reached a particular stage in its development before she can wear corsets. Otherwise the corset will not be able to fulfill its forming and body-shaping function. In fact, a corset is not only to form a small waist, but also to form harmonic proportions, as fashion prescribes them. But it is just as wrong if you wait too long before getting your daughter a corset. During the process of growing up the bones do ossify more and more. If they are too firm at the time the girl puts on a corset for the first time, the result will be irreparable damage. The best corset and the most rigid lacing won't help, then. Only at an early age is it possible to sculpt the body without problems. If a girl starts corseting too late, then she could cause damage to vital organs, and this should not happen at all.

As a rule of thumb we can recommend the time around confirmation or communion as a good starting point for the corset, as this is also the period where girls substitute long skirts for their children's dresses - a fact which makes corsets indispensable anyway.

In general this will be the right time looking at the physical development, too. Girls attending higher schools are normally confirmed when they finish school. In this case we recommend that she wears corsets during her last two years in school already, not least due to the fact that girls usually take dancing-lessons during that time. It would be regarded as bad manners if a girl attended her dancing-lessons and bals without a corset on.

Now, if the time has come for your daughter to put on her corset for the first time, you should see to it that she gets properly used to her corset. It would be wrong to think it's easier for your daughter if you make her put the corset on sundays and for festive occasions only. This doesn't help her at all, on the contrary, it makes it even harder for her to get used to a corset. She will come to dislike the procedure of putting the corset on. Once she has opted for the corset, she should wear it continually. Each interruption will have negative effects on her figure.

It is of vital importance for both the mental and physical process of getting accustomed to corset-wearing that you choose an appropriate corset. A good corsetière will advise you well. You should by any means choose a fashionable corset that shapes the body right from the start in a way that is desirable for an adult lady. A certain group of people recommend reformist corsets, but these are not advisable at all, as they don't support the back and deteriorate the figure rather than improving it. Furthermore no mother should ever think of buying a ready-made garment. It is only with a perfectly fitting made-to-measure corset that you can obtain what you want.

While substituting long skirts, corset and other adult's clothes for her children's dresses, a young lady gradually changes her lifestyle, and at the same time her way of thinking. She no longer enjoys herself at playgrounds and slowly develops other fields of interest instead. It is very important that you take into account this psychological aspect when introducing corsets to your daughter. Otherwise she could feel offended or taken by surprise and possibly oppose herself against the corset or even refuse to wear it. At the beginning it is of vital importance not to exaggerate things and not to proceed too fast. This does not mean that one should be sloppy or neglectful with the lacing. If the corset is made to measure you should always close it entirely. Nevertheless the first corset should not be too tight, because your daughter has to adapt - both physically and mentally - to the new circumstances, to the unusual pressure that is exerted by the corset. If the corset is too tight, the organs don't have enough room and time to adapt to the new situation. Another reason why it is advisable to choose a rather wide corset is that most girls grow considerably during the corresponding years. The fact that they grow has the positive effect that the corset becomes tighter and tighter, and this happens automatically. So the body easily gets accustomed to this.

Ideally a 15-year-old girl has a natural waistline of 48-50cm. If she continually sticks to this waist measurement with the help of her corset, then she 'grows into' the corset without even noticing it, and everything is fine.

Most girls - especially those with an elder sister who is already corseted - impatiently look forward to the day when they get their first corset. Not all of them are all joyful when they feel the growing pressure that is created by the closing of the laces. But they quickly get used to that; and after a few weeks they couldn't imagine to live without the firm and agreeable support of their corset. Girls of this age are vain and they want to eclipse each other. That is why one must have a look at them that they don't overdo it and lace themselves too tightly. This could easily look unproportioned and, what's worse, cause damage to the girl's body and health. A careful mother will watch her daughter's corseting herself, at least during the first few years; and she won't leave it to the maidens because they tend to give in to the capricious wishes of the young ladies'. You should insist on your daughter sticking to a moderate and constant way of lacing. A girl who cares for her figure from an early age will look elegant and beautiful even as an old lady.


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