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Hygeia: Interviews on the topic waist measurements (1889)

David Kunzle: ''Fashion and Fetishism''

A lover of health made her own enquiries (2 April 1887) with a French corsetière apparently omitted by Hygeia, for she came up with several sub-14 sizes: 12 1/2 inch - 3; 13 inch - 9; 13 1/2 inch - 2; 14 inch - 13; 15 inch - 7; 16 inch - 13; 17 inch - 11; 18 inch - 23; and a large number at 19 and 20 inches. The interviewer personally knew or had known ''several'' young ladies ''admitting'' to a 13-inch waist, all of whom had started at 14-15 years, and one person possessed of a 12-inch waist.

O.H. interviewed another noted French corsetière, and published her findings in a cover-story entitled ''Does tight-lacing exist?'' (2 November 1889). Although this corsetière disapproved of sub-18-inch waists, she had made twenty to thirty corsets of 15 or 16 inches and several of 13 and 14 inches, which she considered harmful and possible only with bodies trained from the age of ten or twelve years. The smallest waist she knew was the 13 inches of an Austrian countess. ''At four other places I visited, '' concludes O.H., ''it was the same story...The Rational Dress Society has much to accomplish.'' Roughly the same estimates are provided in a letter written by a corsetière's fitter-on (15 May 1886).

A few individuals wrote to claim possession of 11, 12 and 13 inch waists, but very few readers, whether for or against tight-lacing, had ever seen such a thing. Men who had practised extremes of waist-reduction on themselves tended to be less incredulous of the possibility, but many men generally sympathetic to the practice, and especially those themselves possessing 17 or 18 inch waists, categorically refused to believe that it was physically possible to lace to the low or sub-teens. The very notion was ''preposterous, absurd, utterly impossible'' (Civis, 22 Dec. 1888). To descend thither from the upper teens was to pass from the sublime to the ridiculous, dangerous and ugly. The consensus was that a ''happy medium'' lay between 16 and 19, depending on the person's build. Incredibility decreases when the corsettee admits that extremes are attempted and attained only on special occasions and for very limited periods of time, as a test of endurance, to be sustained privately rather than for public exhibition. One girl (19 June 1886), married in a 13 inch corset, at thirty years of age settled for 16 inches, a measurement which permitted her to enjoy all the outdoor sport she needed. A 21 year-old (12 June 1886) boasted of a 13 1/2 inch waist, in which she could comfortably stand and walk, but not sit. All those (about a dozen in all) who claimed to have reduced to 14 inches started to train in their early teens, managed an immediate reduction of from 4 to 6 inches, and reached their limit at the rate of about one inch per year, around five years later. None maintained the extreme permanently; the 14 inches displayed at a twenty-first birthday party had expanded to 17 inches four years later (25 December 1886) or, in another instance, to 19 at the age of thirty-seven. The 14 inches possible at home became 16 on the tennis court. No-one claimed to be able to dance or play tennis in a waist under 15 inches.


Waist measurements: Values/Overview Waist measurements Other evidence: Waistlines
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