Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Video: The True Truth About Corsets

Friday, July 15, 2016
Loretta reports:

Isabella/Susan and I have devoted quite a bit of blog space to dealing with corset myths. Here, for instance. (For more, please search “corsets” on this blog.) However, we are only two nerdy history people against a tsunami of myths.

In an essay in a May issue of the New Yorker, the writer referred to women removing ribs to make their waists smaller as an example of how women torture themselves for fashion. We addressed this rib-removal urban legend in our myth-busting talk last spring at the New England Romance Writers Conference, and will no doubt address it again. The short version: No one has yet found a shred of actual medical evidence to support this; the evidence against, on the other hand, is substantial.

Meanwhile, here’s some footage to help bust the myth about Victorian ladies languishing on their sofas (when they weren’t too busy fainting, that is).

And you might want to check out her blog post here.

Video: "Busting Victorian Myths: Corsets" by Prior Attire.
Image: Henri de Montaut, Etudes sur les femmes 1882-1890, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1951.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.


Regencyresearcher said...

Victorian ladies were known for their adventuresome spirits and travels throughout the world. Obviously not wilting on the sofa. Some who did take to the sofa like EE Browning did so for other reasons. As for busting the various myths-- might as well bail the Pacific with a tea cup. The internet can spread disinformation faster than corrections can catch up.
Thanks for all of your informative and interesting blogs.

Anonymous said...

Removing ribs sounds extreme, and very hard to believe. But even though there may not be evidence, just look around at the surgeries women are doing now, not just on the face but every single part of the body. I'm sure there would have been a few misguided Victorians standing in line to do it, if they could. Any way, common sense dictates that it wasn't/isn't healthy to wear restrictive bone/metal ribbing around all the major organs that are working overtime to keep a body healthy on diets that were not ideal. If one understand biology and how these organs function and can become inflamed then it would be tough to make a case for corsets. I think they were health damaging. The corset was tightened to create a waist line and to appeal to men. It doesn't make sense to imply that they were comfortable and easy to move around in. Anyway, aside from this one, I really blog. I enjoy your blog. Thanks!

Yve said...

I have always found the "Rib Removal" myth really hard to fathom as let's face it, such surgery would be risky now despite all the advancements in surgery since Victorian times so I don't really see it being an option back then.... plus, why would they need to? When modern women doing re-enactments or actresses playing period roles put on a boned corset they find it very restrictive and difficult to breathe... because our bodies have not developed while wearing corsets (from our late teens at least?) as a Victorian would. Surely that would naturally have restricted the organs and the rib cage as the woman's body grew, in a similar, but less extreme, way to binding a baby's feet?
In our modern times haven't we all felt our bodies naturally expand as lycra became a wardrobe staple.... or is that just me ;o)

LorettaChase said...

We covered the rib removal myth extensively in our talk. Too much material to get into in a comment here—possibly a blog at some future date. Meanwhile this piece touches on many of the critical points:

Anonymous said...

The hair styles have always seemed to me to be more time consuming and challenging then the dresses.

Christina Mitchell said...

The Ziegfeld story and the rib removal myth is a good one. Victorian dresses (adult) and 20-22" waists appear on average to be the smallest recorded. Of course, there may an exception. In "Dress Reform Culture in Late Victorian Fiction" by Christine Bayles Kortsch there is a reference cited in "The Dress Reform Problem" (1896) which talks about women who buy 18" and 19" stays and who "must" leave them open "2,3 and 4 inches." Remember most Victorian and Edwardian corsets were worn over a camisole. I've fitted a lot of corsets in my time.

Surgery was a very risky procedure and patients died from infection and blood loss. Rib removal would certainly have been in the risk category.


Amy Rutherford said...

I once had a BIOLOGY teacher inform the class one day when I wore period clothes that women had their ribs removed to wear corsets. She of all people should have known that surgery before modern antibiotics was extremely risky...

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