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Perseverance (1868)

In: Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, July and August 1868

I had the good fortune recently to come across a work called The Corset and the Crinoline, which contained abundant extracts from an interesting correspondence which had appeared in your column on the merits and demerits of tight-lacing. This discussion was new to me, and I confess I read with the greatest pleasure the testimony of so many votaries of the corset boldly speaking out the truth as to the advantages and comfort which are to be derived from its use, and proving that the health of the wearer does not suffer, even when the lacing has been most rigidly inflicted or unflinchingly self-imposed. I can corroborate them all on these points, as I am able to speak both from my own personal experience, and from the peculiar opportunities I have had of observing others who have been tight-lacers like myself.

The small round taper waist is so great and enhancing a charm in woman, and exercises, I do not hesitate to say, a most potent attraction on the majority of men. First then, I think that many neglected young ladies wishing to improve their figures will, on taking up their yard measure and finding their waists 23 or 23 inches or upwards round (sizes only too common), be discouraged by the high standard of perfection, 15 inches, to which many say they have reduced their figures, and who seem to write as if they were in the daily habit of wearing their corset thus closely confined. One lady alone I knew who could perform that feat, and she never exhibited her waist laced so small. I should be inclined to place the wearable limit at 17 inches, and should say that any girl may be proud of a waist 18 inches round, and that even 19 and 20 inches seem very neat and small on the English lady of average size and stature. When 15 inches and still smaller dimensions are mentioned, I cannot help thinking some mistake has been made - that the size has been taken from the corset when first sent home by the maker, perhaps only from her assertion meant to flatter and impose, and that it has not been fairly taken with the tape from the waist itself, even when most laced in for discipline or display. It is astonishing what mistaken notions many ladies, who are not in the habit of using the test of the measure, entertain, and, entertaining, assert in perfect good faith as to the dimensions of their figure. And it may be equally surprising to many to learn how much even the strongest and best made corset will stretch, if daily worn strictly and tightly laced. For example, I have mine made by one of our best artists, of silk or satin, stoutly lined, and when sent home they measure exactly 15 inches round, yet these will give an inch more in a few days, after which they retain their size. Now I can, if disposed, lace into 16 inches, and always do so when fresh fitted, till the corset and I are one. But I confess I rarely ever lace into less than 17 inches, though I am very strict with myself never to allow my waist to exceed 18 inches; and, accordingly, I every morning, and whenever else opportunity serves, apply the measure - an article which I consider the indispensable handmaid of every tight-lacer who wishes to improve or keep her figure - and if I detect any excess I immediately reduce it. And now, though, with my dress on, 19 inches is about my size, still, if the voices of my friends and my own eyes do not deceive me, I display as small a figure as any of my countrywomen.

I must plead guilty to a touch of self-conceit in my last, but it will be perhaps explained when I confess that, though born a gentlewoman, and restored to that by marriage, I was once a lady's maid. Hence my experience. My first mistress (the smallness of whose figure - 15 inches - I never saw surpassed) was, I fancy, attracted into engaging me on account of the trimness of mine. A lady who laces appreciates a sympathetic maid. And I have found that, where in girlhood it has been forgotten, in after life the maid can do much in promoting the use of the tight-fitting corset in the improvement of a neglected figure. As a missionary in the cause of tight-lacing, I can boast to have worked some marvellous conversions. My lady was an enthusiast that way, and had her wardrobe filled with works of the best artistes of London and Paris. She soon placed me in possession of a tight little corset, and with its aid, and following her practice and example, I quickly managed, with ease and comfort to myself, to taper off my waist. Her simple practice was to have her corset first laced firmly, not too tightly, on from the top downwards; then securing the lace at bottom, and commencing there and lacing upwards, the stays were drawn in tightly round the small of the waist; some nine or ten eyelet-holes almost touching one another enabled this to be done effectually, and the pressure to be regulated to a nicety at the required spot. For under those circumstances the plaited lace will be found not to slip, however loose the lacing be elsewhere. The confinement of the waist causing the chest to expand, the slack of the lace was employed in easing the corset above, so as to leave the chest quite free and unconfined. The width of three fingers would have covered the restricted portion of the figure. Thus she, myself, and others, whom I have initiated in the same practice, have attained great tenuity where slimness is desirable without any ill effects, as far as I have ever perceived, on the health; besides winning that comfort and pleasurable sensation which, as several of your correspondents have mentioned, the support and pressure of the tightly-laced corset affording to the wearer, it is truly a reward and luxury to enjoy. I might tell an amusing story how, when from being a pupil I became a teacher in the art, I for some time educated the figure of an ambitious but shy young lady under the cover of a loose-fitting jacket; and how I was at last obliged to have recourse to a coup d'état to oblige her to exhibit the improvement made, and how she got an immediate reward for her pains in a present from an admiring brother of a riding-habit to show off her dainty little form; and how I am afraid this habit cost the little waist another inch to be taken off. But the details would be too long. However, it is an example of the fact which all who are the happy owners of little waists cannot but be aware of - that men will be found to admire them. My husband often laughingly tells me I caught him with my waist. I believe it first attracted his attention to me, though I flatter myself I won and held him by better qualities. Yet if he ever regrets the choice he made - and I believe not - I am sure I never regret that I was once, and still am, able to gratify his artistic taste by displaying in my figure that curved line of swelling wave and sinking hollow which Hogarth styled the Line of Beauty, and which the tight-laced corset alone so well produces, as is so well exhibited in the well-known engraving of that great painter, where he exemplifies its varied and graceful curves by as many catches of the stays of his period. It is quite contrary to the fact, as some assert, that the tight-laced corset renders the figure stiff and ungainly; and if any one doubts me, I challenge them to ride behind some tight-laced beauty in Rotten-row, and compare the graceful undulations of her slightly-swaying figure with those of some companion untrammelled and unconfined by stays, and I feel certain of a verdict in favour of the corset and its effects.


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