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Letter from Aunt Helen to her sister (1892)

Mother of interviewee S.S-H., undated but postmarked 1892, when the writer must have been about 17. David Kunzle: ''Fashion and Fetishism''

Dearest mooney,

--It's only a year now - or a bit less till I come out! I can stop lessons then, lovely! I'm much more interested in young men, and as you know in attracting them! Oh yes, I suppose I'm vain. Certainly I mean to have a really good figure with my tiny waist. There was a very nice friend of Eric's who came home with him from Harrow last holidays. He and Eric and I went for a walk towards Braiseworth one day, and after a time Eric, who likes walking quickly, said I was going too slowly, so John said he'd wait and come along with me while Eric went on. I was very glad this happened as I had a feeling he was attracted by me, and especially by my upright figure! But he was too shy to say anything until he had to help me over a stile. Then he happened to feel my waist, and said how small it was! Why didn't I show it more. Then I explained to him that Miss -- (her governess) wouldn't let me do so until I came out with a really small waist. I then found that he was really interested and liked a very small tightly laced waist. He told me his mother had a beautiful figure and was beginning to do something about his two younger sisters who are 15 and 16 1/2 but that they objected very much to being laced at all tightly. After that of course I had to tell him all about my training by Miss M-- and told him I might be even smaller than 17 inches when I came out. He then said, ''I believe my hands would go right around your waist, it's so small? I told him to try but they wouldn't quite get round. Anyway he then held me very tightly and kissed me!! It was lovely. I told him that if he liked I might be able to be even smaller in the evening if Miss -- would let me wear the stays which she makes me wear when I have been rude to her or annoy her. All went well and that evening Miss -- laced me into them. I can hardly move in them as they are only 16 inches in the waist and more heavily boned with wide side steels than my ordinary stays. John could not take his eyes off me! I told him I thought I was quite a lot smaller this evening and he said 'lovely'. I only wish he could have held me, but his admiration made up for the pain I was in by the end of the evening: I think my face must have given this away to John, as when we had a talk next day he said he had thought I was going to faint. Eric I'm sure is very proud of me though he's sorry I can't play tennis now.

While in London staying with the P--'s, Miss -- took me to Madame [Dowding's?]. An inch smaller in the waist for everyday wear and made so as to lengthen my waist. I am wearing them today for the first time. The lengthening of the waist I find painful but Miss -- insists that I must be laced right in to be really beautiful for my coming out dance. My ribs have been aching so much this last hour, but as Miss -- is in a good temper today she is pleased that I have not complained before and I am going to bed. Dear Mooney, write to me when you have time.

Your affectionate sister Helen


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