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La Gêne (1868)

In: Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, September 1868

I am also a widower, with two adopted nieces, and although I do not carry my admiration of tight-lacing to the point of wearing stays myself (rather a disgusting idea), I agree with the Widower who writes in your June number of his admiration of tight-lacing in young ladies. I will even go so far as to say that if a young lady has a pretty face and figure, there is no excess of tight-lacing in which she may please herself to indulge that is not an increase to her beauty. My nieces are respectively sixteen and seventeen years old, and as they are both very pretty and have lovely figures, I am anxious that they should make the best they can of them, and therefore join with the Widower in asking M.C. for her opinion in the matter of Viennese and French corsets. My nieces have a governess who is very severe with them in the matter of tight-lacing, and insists, through my orders, on the utmost amount of compression that they can bring when I wish them to look their prettiest. And here I must mention a point on which I quite disagree with M.C. No one would like a pretty girl to look slovenly at any time, but I cannot help thinking that coquetry is the gainer when a young lady, after having been seen in a trim morning dress, with its neatly-fitting belt of say 18 or 19 inches, appears at a picnic or croquet party in an elegant dress, tightly fitting over a corset, in which, as M.C. says, ''the potent lace'' is made to do its work, and the utmost extremity of tight-lacing is employed to reduce the figure to its smallest dimensions. I tried this plan with my nieces quite lately, on the occasion of a picnic they went to. The elder came home delighted with the day, and avowed that she had never enjoyed herself so completely; indeed, she is always anxious to help her maid and governess in their efforts with the staylace, and delights in the half-pleasure, half-pain, of the intense pressure. But the younger was very much inclined to rebel at a corset much tighter than anything she had yet endured, but was forced to submit (by what process I know not, but the coercion was effectual), and could not but admit on her return that she was pleased with the amount of admiration she caused. She is a coquette by nature, but not old enough to know the value of the motto, ''Il faut souffrir pour être belle.'' Now I want to know of M.C. what is the very best corset for compressing the figure that she knows of. Although not many will admit it, I am certain that half the charm in a small waist comes, not in spite of, but on account of, its being tight-laced, and that the uneasiness caused by the excessive pressure of a perfect corset gives an additional grace to the walk and movements of a graceful girl. Of course, the square-waisted and flat-breasted ladies who resemble raw schoolboys rather than anything female, cannot be expected to join in this view, and I suspect that it is to them that are due the letters that appear from time to time in your paper contrary to the run of the general opinion expressed. May I add that the occasional tight-lacing I describe cannot possibly be as harmful as the permanent alteration of the figure advocated by M.C.? If found to be too painful, which I doubt, it can be discontinued, or the pressure lessened on such important occasions as I speak of. For ordinary wear, no girl with any pretence to a good figure will find from 17 to 19 inches too small for comfort. I will not mention the size of the corset my elder niece wore on the above occasion, or I should not be believed, but her figure was a delight to the eye.


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