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Shop-Girls (1893)

letter to Modern Society, 14 January 1893, pp. 276-7

From 1875-1890, I was in charge of the figures of the girls [working in] a large West End establishment, and where tight-lacing was and still is 'encouraged.' Natural emulation played a great part, but 'premiums' also helped very considerably. I noticed that what was 'tight-lacing' to one girl was not to another. The pressure necessary to reduce one girl of twenty-four inches to our standard of 19 inches was sometimes four times as much as in another case.

Again, two other things are scarcely even taken into account, but which played a very important part in the practice - viz, the angle made at he waist by the lines drawn from the armpits to the waistband, a broad-shouldered girl being very tight in nineteen-inch corsets, while a narrow-shouldered girl would not be. Do I make myself plain? Second, a girl with a fully developed bust had often enormous difficulty to contend with, while a girl of identical dimensions except the bust would have none.

Would you like the figures taken from my note-book? I have the names and full particulars of over 1,500 girls. Out of every hundred, I found three could not lace at all; six could with difficulty; eight eventually gave up; ten endured the bondage; seventy really enjoyed it, and three laced excessively.

At admission we found out of one hundred, three had 24-inch waists; six only had 23-inch; eighteen had 22-inch; forty-five had 21-inch; twenty-five had 20-inch; and two had 19-inch. At the end of three months by judicious lacing the figures were these (omitting the three, who could not lace), 24 [through] 21-inch, four; 20 inch, eight; 19-inch, seventy-two; 18-inch, fourteen; less, two. In six months (our limit of allowance) we had 20-inch [and over, eight]; 19-inch, seventy-five; 18-inch, eleven; 17-inch, four; 16 1/2-inch, two. The first eight were discharged, relentlessly, and this though they may have endured, as some did, sheer martyrdom to attain the desired slenderness.

The most devoted girls I ever saw came from the South of England, and used to lace to even less than I have quoted, for the above figures only relate to the first six months of their stay with us. There was a tall slender girl from Wales who took to lacing magnificently. The tighter she was laced the better she worked, and the happier she looked. I looked upon her as a good 'subject,' as the doctors say, and offered her a high premium, if she would lace as tightly as ever she could, to show me how small a waist she could attain. She asked for a year to do it, and by the aid of myself and another assistant, we gradually laced her in to the incredibly small size of eleven inches. Of course, many of our girls broke down, due, I think, mainly to injudicious, not tight, lacing.


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