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X-rays from “Le Corset” (1908) Explained

Several articles around the internet have picked up on the old Wikipedia publication “Le Corset” written in 1908 by a doctor named Ludovic  O’Followell.

When I first saw these photos, I (like many others) immediately thought that they were tampered with or “doctored” (couldn’t resist the pun!).  But actually, there’s a good chance those photos are (somewhat) real. This is why it’s important to read the WHOLE story instead of jumping to conclusions from a set of photos.

This is two examples of the photos in question (I’d post them all, but the computer I’m working on today is ridiculously slow and takes over a minute to properly load a page):

 

 

X-ray projection of a Victorian style (“curved”) corset, from “Le Corset” (1908). Same waist reduction as that shown below.

 

X-ray projection of a straight-front (“line”) corset, from “Le Corset” (1908). Same waist reduction as that shown above.

 

If you know anything about X-rays and about how corsets are made, you will see that this doesn’t quite add up.

  • Why are the binding and laces as dark as the steel bones? They are usually made just from fabric, and like the rest of the fabric in the corset itself, should not show up on the projection.
  • Why do the bones show up clearly only on one side of the corset, and not the other? After all, when you see a saggital X-ray of a skull of a subject wearing earrings, you see BOTH earrings on either side of his or her head:
This is how an X-ray works. Incidentally, I myself have gotten an X-ray recently and could see my earrings right through my skull as well.

However, today I’ve been reading through that chapter – those photos were originally used as a comparison of how the older Victorian (“curved”) corsets compressed the 9th-12th ribs (and the doctor also admitted that the Victorian corset was also positioned too high on the subject), compared to a straight-fronted (“line”) corset of the same waist reduction and how it hardly affects the position of the ribs at all. The author explains that the curved corset not only restricts more of the ribcage by starting higher on the body, but restricts breathing much more than the Edwardian “line” corsets; and shows that with a well-made corset, the ribcage does not have to be restricted at all.

He notes that the corsets used for the X-rays had in fact been modified; they used suture in the binding to make the edges show up and had dipped (or otherwise treated) the whalebone in one side of the corset (but not the other) so it would show up more clearly (presumably because balein is cartilage, it might not show up at all in X-rays as it may not be dense enough). They had also replaced the normal laces with wire. After the radiographs were taken, the photo was then optimized (probably drawn over) to mark the details more clearly.

The doctor had to admit that the subject, although she corseted for a few hours every day, she was in good health. He mentioned that he wanted to compare this subject with another woman in good health who had *never* worn a corset, but apparently couldn’t find one at the time of this study.

He also notes that since the X-ray is a projection of a 3-dimensional subject, the image becomes distorted and must be compared with X-rays of the subject without the corset as well – otherwise the image of the corseted figure looks much more abnormal than it really is.

There is quite a lot of information in this publication that I would love to touch on in the future (for instance, the argument that the corset caused spinal deformities such as scoliosis merely from the fact that it was observed in more women than men at the time – this had been de-bunked eventually from the fact that scoliosis found in modern young females progresses at a rate 8 times that in young males).

I encourage you to read a bit of “Le Corset” out of mere interest if you’re proficient in French (or happen to have a good translator). As always, take this information with a grain of salt.

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Responding to Media Sensationalism… Again.

One of my friends linked me to Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home yesterday evening, in which one reporter uncovers the dangers of living in the Victorian era. Not surprisingly, corsets were featured (the corset segment starts around the 17:50 mark).

I would like to address some of the concerns mentioned in the video. Now, I’m not going to make sweeping generalizations and say that corsets are everyone’s friend. I don’t believe that everybody should wear corsets and I don’t deny that injuries from corsets have occurred on occasion. But I’m willing to believe that corset-related injuries were more the exception than the norm – just like injuries from everyday beauty products today, like:

  • high heels (bunions, broken toes, hammer toes, corns, modification of posture/weight distribution, broken and sprained ankles)
  • hairstyling products (thermal burns, chemical burns and severe allergies to certain products)
  • pierced ears (infections, keloid scarring, tissue necrosis)

I could go on.

Anyways – onto addressing some of the concerns in the video:

 

  • Liver being pushed upwards, and grooves forming in the liver – yes, I don’t doubt that the liver moves. All organs in your peritoneal cavity are designed to move. If they weren’t designed to move, then pregnancy, exercise, stretching, or even digesting your food (peristalsis) would kill you. Once again, look up nauli kriya on Youtube – the intestines (and presumably everything above it, like the liver, pancreas and stomach) are pushed up into the ribcage using one’s own muscles. Maybe I’m insensitive, but indentations of organs don’t irk me, because I’ve seen from dissecting various organisms in biology lab that organs have indentations from other organs as it is. If you have a large amount of visceral fat, or if you a fetus inside you, you will also experience considerable organ compression.
  • The stomach moving downwards – Ann Grogan (Romantasy) and Fran Blanche (Contour Corsets) both vouch that the stomach actually moves upwards instead of down. Also, the stomach (and intestines) are not solid: they’re hollow membranous organs, often full of food/waste and air, which get pushed out when a corset is properly worn and slowly cinched down. ***Note, as of October 2014, we now have MRI evidence of the stomach and liver moving upwards.
  • Uterine prolapse – I did agree with the woman in the video as she said that the corset may exacerbate pre-existing problems; that is, the corset may not have caused uterine or vaginal prolapse per se, but if the pelvic floor had already been weakened, the extra intra-abdominal pressure may exacerbate this condition. My article on corsets and the reproductive system.
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb's tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb’s tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
  • The reporter’s experiment on respiration/ cardiac output during exercise – it is undeniable that the corset (especially Victorian overbust corset that is restrictive enough to fully support the breasts) is capable of reducing the lung capacity. Due to reduced capacity, the body compensates by taking higher and more frequent breaths to maintain the same amount of oxygen exchange. The conclusion of the experiment was that the reporter took in an average of 200-300 mL more air with each breath. But they’re still not telling the whole story:
    Photo from Hole’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, 8th edition (1999). This graph is actually of the average male – a female has a slightly smaller total capacity at about 4L. Click through to read more.

     

  • The total lung capacity in an average woman is about 4L (4000 mL). The vital capacity (which does not take into account residual volume) is about 3L (3000 mL).
  • The average tidal volume (uncorseted) is about 500 mL. So the tidal volume while corseted is an average of 750 mL.
  • This means that the corset has caused about a 10% increase in breathing, compared to vital capacity (not even the total capacity).
  • Also consider that it was the first day she tried lacing up (so she wasn’t adapted to wearing a corset), she was wearing the corset over a sweater (so her internal measurement was even smaller than 24 inches), and it was an overbust corset (which restricted more of her ribcage than an underbust would), and then did she did cardio exercise (which isn’t recommended while wearing corsets to begin with). Most women today wear underbust corsets which stop lower on the ribcage, they wear the corset over a very thin liner, and a well-made corset today is properly fitted to the body, rather than Victorian corsets which were sometimes made to force the body into an ideal shape to fit clothing of the day.
  • Note the spoon busk that curves around the tummy, hip gores, and expandable side ties to accommodate a growing belly. Some of these corsets also had flaps at the bust to allow for nursing post-partum.

    Women of higher class were tightlaced to reflect that they didn’t have to run around the house. The working/ industrial class and servants did wear corsets, but laced loosely to accommodate for the high amount of activity. One would also consider it insulting to “show up” the  woman of the house by having a more fashionable silhouette than she had.

  • Pregnancy corsets – I don’t doubt that women who were trying to hide their baby bump by tightlacing during pregnancy could have resulted in (possibly/probably deliberate) terminations. But pregnancy corsets were designed to accommodate a growing belly by having adjustable ties around the tummy, while providing back support for the gestating mother.
  • Pneumonia/ tuberculosis – if a corseted woman contracted a respiratory infection, then the corset may have contributed to exacerbating the condition since the woman would not be able to cough up the sputum and clear her lungs. But whether the corset actually caused women to contract the infection in the first place is unclear. Both pneumonia and TB are bacterial infections, commonly spread in a time where germ theory was non-existent or just being discovered. Whether corsets were the cause of respiratory infections is somewhat disputed. Some sources say that the corset may have prevented contraction of pulmonary TB (consumption). (Nevertheless, I do not condone wearing corsets if you have any kind of respiratory infection.) I have an article on the respiratory system here.

    Susan B Anthony ca. 1900, wearing a corset around age 80.
  • The dress reform and the women’s suffrage movement were not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they were still two distinct movements. Many female suffragists (sometimes distinct from the boorish “suffragettes”) still wore corsets, including Susan B. Anthony (often called the mother of the women’s rights movement).
  • Broken and deformed bones – I agree that corseted individuals with bone issues such as rickets may result in a higher risk of distorted ribs, but this is not a common case today. In fact, a 2015 anthropological study on the skeletons of impoverished women in the Victorian era showed that although there was some rib distortion, age markers of these women showed that they all reached and in some cases exceeded the life expectancy of the time.
  • The comment around timepoint 29:45 “There are stories of ribs breaking and piercing the lung underneath.” disappointed me – it’s difficult to tell sometimes what is a factual report or simply an urban legend. Whether or not these stories are true, Sarah Chrisman explains in her book that “ribs” also referred to the whalebone or reed that was used as boning in the corset, which can become dry and brittle over time – so broken “ribs” are said to often describe the ribs of the corset, not of the human body. If you’ve ever had a bra bone that pokes into you, you can imagine the discomfort. If a whalebone were to snap, a sharp shard could perhaps puncture the skin of the wearer – but as flexible steel is now used in corsets, this problem is almost unheard of in higher quality corsets unless the garment has been abused for years.

Well, this was a long post. Hopefully it cleared up some popular misconceptions about corsets in the Victorian era.

What were your thoughts and reactions on the segment?

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Storing your contemporary hoopskirts

Not directly corset-related (and don’t worry – I will resume the season-with-me posts soon!) but here is a cool video demonstration (not done by me) on how to fold your crinoline/ hoopskirts for travel or storage. I tried following along with the video and managed to achieve the fold once or twice – if I learn how to do it consistently and can figure out a way to explain it effectively, then I might post a tutorial for it.

Once folded, it needs to be held in place so it doesn’t pop open again. You can use the drawstring to tie it in place, or store it in an appropriately-sized drum bag or a hat-box with a latch. Here’s a budget cymbal bag that might just work.

Please note that this folding trick will likely only work on contemporary skirts that are stiffened with spring steel, and I wouldn’t attempt this with any hoopskirts stiffened with reed, bamboo, wood, etc.

What do you think? Can you fold your crinolines this way? Let me know!

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By the way, did I ever post about my crinoline video on this blog yet? If not, here you go:

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Cheers!

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“Corset Hacks!” 5 Non-Obvious Corset Tools I Can’t Do Without

When I bought my very first corset, I thought I was pretty much set. Some accessories like liners are obvious, but there are certain accessories that have made my lacing MUCH easier. This is a list of objects that I never knew I needed until I had them.


1. Mount mirror

Before I had access to one of these, I managed tying up my corset by looking behind my shoulder in the bathroom mirror, or just going by feel. It works pretty well, but every so often I might end up with one bunny ear longer than the other (a pet peeve of mine) or worse, if the gap in the back of my corset were accidentally twisted or not parallel because I could only see behind me on an angle! And what if your neck isn’t that flexible enough to look behind you?

This flexible mount mirror is designed so you can see the back of your hairdo, but it also makes your life MUCH easier when you need to tighten your corset, as you can see exactly what you’re doing with no neck strain, and you can use both hands to work with the laces.


 2. Spare laces. Lots of them.

Alright, laces aren’t exactly “non-obvious”, but many people think you only buy new laces when you want to switch up the color, or when you don’t like the ones that came with the corset. Don’t wait until you need new laces. I have snapped them before. It’s not impossible. It’s also not fun, especially on the day of a special event.

And corsets aren’t exactly the type of garment where you can simply tie the two broken ends together and be on your way, because it’s difficult to tighten a corset with a giant knot in the laces (not to mention these laces have an incredible amount of tension on them and if you don’t tie the knot properly, it can loosen on itself at a very inopportune time!). I highly suggest having a pair of backup laces to avoid Murphy’s Law.

If you don’t live near a fabric/ notions store like FabricLand or JoAnn’s, try a place online that sells laces. I like the polyester flat braided laces from Timeless Trends (I can also get you an extra pair of laces when ordering a longline or Gemini corset through me); or the double-face satin laces through Strait-Laced Dame on Etsy.


3. Sponges or memory foam

Whether natural sea sponges or thick makeup sponges, these have come in so handy that I can’t even.

Sometimes I have a corset with a busk that is just at that length that the top edge of it digs into my solar plexus. Sticking a sponge under the busk or a bone can help take the edge off steels digging into your skin. Or sometimes I feel a sore spot coming on, so I’ll pad slightly around the sore area (but directly not on top of it, so that the corset is “pushed away” from the injured area). Or sometimes (rarely) I’ll have a corset that’s wider than usual in the hips for me, and I don’t want that loose area to wrinkle and collapse on itself, or (less rarely) I will need some way of evening out the girls in an overbust corset. Do like a cross-dresser and pad out those curves! The sponges are also cheap enough that you won’t feel bad about cutting them to size.


 4. Fingerless leather gloves (or equivalent vegan options)

You know that you can cinch down more, but the laces are cutting into your hands too much! For all the help that the doorknob may be in getting that extra half-inch of reduction, if you can’t hold that cinch while you’re tying it off, it might be for naught. Maybe it’s just because I spend so much time around corsets, but my hands can get pretty sore when lacing down.

But one day I saw an old pair of fingerless leather driving gloves lying around and was amazed at how much they helped to prevent sore and  chafed hands. (They’re also a cute fashion accessory!)

You can still feel what you’re doing so you can properly pluck the X’s in back, but when you pull on the bunny ears, they don’t cut into your palms. These would be great for those who work in a boutique that sells corsets, if you lace up customers all day and haven’t yet developed those callouses.


5. Cocktail / wine glass charms

For those who are new at lacing up or might have spacial awareness difficulties, and you might not be able to grab onto the “X” in the laces but tend to only pull one side, these charms will keep the “X”s tidy and give you a tactile guide to tell your hands which laces to pull at the same time. Get the charms that hook or clip on, so you don’t have to unthread and rethread the entire corset, and use charms that are big enough to allow the laces to glide freely through them (so the “hole” should be about the same size as your grommets, or bigger if you like. If you don’t like these dangly charms, you can also use large beads that easily clip onto yarn or hair.

The color and type is really up to you, but if you’re going by tactile lacing up (if you haven’t picked up one of those mirrors yet), then try to find a set of charms that are different shapes and sizes so you can tell them apart just by feel.

These charms or beads can also be pretty when showing off your corset, although they might make “stealthing” a little more difficult as they can add little bumps along the back under thin tops.


(Bonus) A wire-free bra

I admit it: with my long torso, the vast majority of my underbust corsets don’t come up to my bra so I don’t often have a problem with my corset making my underwire dig into my ribs. But on those corsets that DO cause this – OUCH! If you wear corsets underneath your clothing, try wearing your bra overtop of your corset – this way, the corset won’t make the wires dig into your skin. (It will also prevent that “double lift” that the bra and the corset provide together, so you don’t end up with a chin rest.)

But many people wear corsets over their clothing – in this situation, wire-free bras are definitely useful. I’m not putting a photo of any specific bra style here because all women are different and have different needs. If you’d like to know which wireless bras I’ve tried with my corsets, you can see my reviews on the Genie Bra, Underworks chest binder, Enell Sports and Enell Lite bras, and the Knixwear Evolution bra.

What are your non-obvious “can’t-live-without” items when it comes to making your corseting easier? Tell me in the comments below!

“Tiddly” links and Amazon links are affiliate links. They do not change the price for you, and your use of these links help support Lucy Corsetry and keep this site going!

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Corsets as Deep Pressure Therapy & Relaxation (for Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, Somatosensory Disorders)

This article covers another area in how corsets can affect us positively in a physical, mental and emotional manner, except instead of discussing how corsets affect our confidence through posture, I hope to show you how the deep touch pressure of a corset can induce a calming effect on some wearers. Once again this  has less to do with what your figure looks like or how many inches you can cinch down – tightlacing is not mandatory for this to work – this has more to do what level of pressure you personally may find enjoyable.

If you would rather watch or listen, feel free to view the video I’ve prepared below. This article is more or less a transcript of the video.

Continue reading Corsets as Deep Pressure Therapy & Relaxation (for Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, Somatosensory Disorders)

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Corsets, Posture and Confidence (it’s not all about size)

In the past, I’ve discussed at length the effects that the corset can have physically on the body, but up until now haven’t discussed how it can affect your mental and emotional state. In this article, I will discuss how corsets can directly affect your confidence and your interactions with others. You may also view my video version of this article, if you prefer not to read:

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Let me preface this by saying that a corset can affect one’s positive self-image, without feeding into society’s warped views on weight and its relation to social hierarchy. So many people chide corseters, presuming that our own confidence stems directly from changing or lying about our figures. This couldn’t be a more misinformed frame of mind.

 I will start with my own personal experience in this sense, and go on to discuss the science behind this.

Continue reading Corsets, Posture and Confidence (it’s not all about size)

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My First Video Interview – by Radical Redefinition

2012 has been an exciting year for me (so far!), having accomplished so much toward building my site, my Youtube channel, and my corset collection.

As most of you know, I tend to shy away from interviews (especially on national television) as it’s difficult to know if my words might be twisted around or if my passion may be made to look like something from a side show.

But the moment I spoke with Celina Wilde (owner of Radical Redefinition of Having It All), I knew that she would do neither. Her own site revolves around what success and contentment really means to each individual working woman, as opposed to what definition of success has been fed to us.

It was such a pleasure and an honour to speak with Celina, and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. For anyone curious about following your own passions and dreams, do check out Celina’s site here.

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Deborah Roberts’ blog on Waist Training experiment (ABC 20/20)

Just a few hours ago, the late-night TV show ABC-20/20 had aired an episode on “Going to Extremes”, in which corseting was discussed (in the same light as plastic surgery and feeding-tube diets). While I could make this post easily dissolve into an argument on why I think the simple wearing of a garment (which can be removed at any time) is not necessarily as extreme as going under the knife, the real reason I’m posting is to bring attention to Deborah Roberts’ latest blog entry on the ABC website and discuss the representative doctor’s statement. In this article, Ms. Roberts explains how she received a custom-fit underbust training corset (made by Jill Hoverman) and undergoes a waist training experiment over the course of two weeks, under the guidance of Ann Grogan, owner of Romantasy.

I’m certain I’m not the only one who noted a tiny discrepancy in the mood of the TV segment vs the blog. While I have 100% respect for Dr. Gottfried and still maintain that one should see their doctor and ensure that they’re in good health before and during the process of corseting, I’m extremely curious to know where she found the statistic that “Corsets can squish your lungs by 30 to 60 percent, making you breathe like a scared rabbit”. In my several years of research, I have only found studies that had shown a maximum of 30% reduction in capacity while wearing a corset, with the average decrease in lung capacity among corseted females being only 20% (see my article on corsets and lungs here for more information). Being one who believes in backing up research with proof in numbers, I’d be annoyed in either scenario if I were to learn that the 30-60% statistic came from a study that was only available within the medical community and deliberately concealed from the public, OR to learn that number were mere speculation and stated as absolute fact.

A diminished capacity of the traditionally reported maximum  30% would be less likely to cause hyperventilation (compared Gottfried’s statistic of 60%) since the tidal volume – the amount of air a healthy, uncorsetted individual takes in during a typical relaxed breath – is a mere 10-15% of the vital capacity for an average human. It would, of course, be stupid to run a 100m dash while tightlaced – but under normal, relaxed circumstances I and many other corsetted individuals have never experienced adverse effects in breathing, particularly when using an underbust corset (which was largely not used in daywear during the Victorian era). If anyone can find the study that states capacity reduction of up to 60%, please let me know because it would be worth adding to my research.

In the very least, the written blog is refreshingly corset-neutral and fairly highlights both Deborah Roberts’ positive and negative experiences – and even Dr. Gottfried’s statement is somewhat ‘softer’ here compared to that on the TV segment. I thank Ms. Roberts for being sensitive and sensible around the subject of corseting.

 

If you would like to watch the video of ABC’s 10/12/12 20/20 “Going to Extremes” show, click through this link. The corset segment runs six minutes and starts at the 20 minute mark—about 1/3 through the “bar” at the bottom of the screen.

Deborah’s blog: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/10/my-life-in-a-corset-squeezing-into-a-new-dieting-strategy/

Finally, this video shows more of the interviewer’s week-long trial of corset wearing.

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“Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” by Jill Salen – an overview

This is more or less a transcript of my video review of the same book – if you prefer to watch/ listen to the review instead of reading it, you may do so here:

I purchased this book for about $23 on Amazon. This book includes full-color photos of historical corsets, then patterns made from these corsets and notes on how they’re constructed or typical embellishments. This book is designed to be a supplement or an improvement to Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh, adding to the number of patterns and more detailed construction notes. Having 25 patterns in this book, this means that the price for each pattern was less than $1, which made the purchase well worth it to me.

The corsets range from about 1750 to around the time of WWI. There’s a section in the introduction that explains how corsets were dated (if they didn’t have the year of manufacture stamped on the corset). Curators gain hints by the way that these corsets were constructed. The earliest corsets were sewn entirely by hand and used hand-sewn eyelets and a wooden busk, whereas in the late 19th century had the luxury of sewing machines and many corsets were mass-produced at this time; they also usually had metal eyelets and a metal split busk. You can also gain insight to the year each corset was made, based on what silhouette was in fashion at what time, or ways of patterning – use of hip or bust gores, or cording instead of boning, etc.

Ms. Salen also discusses who would wear a certain corset and when they would be worn – certain corsets were designed for younger ladies verses matrons, women of higher class could afford to purchase more elaborate corsets or less practical corsets. Also, a proper lady may have several corsets – one for daily work, one for riding horseback, one for dances and special occasions. What country a person lived in also meant access to different materials or different fashions.

One interesting point she makes is that many of the corsets you see in museums are not representative of the norm – if you think about what clothes we save in our wardrobe, the ones that survive the longest are usually expensive clothes, those of sentimental value, and clothes that you keep in hopes of losing weight. Jill says this is no different from women 1-200 years ago! So the tiniest and the most elaborate of corsets are the ones that survive because they’re worn the least – so we falsely believe that everyone had an 18” waist at the time.

The meat of the book is a collection of 25 corsets from 1750-1917. For each corset there’s a full color photo, followed by a blurb explaining what materials it was made from, and notes on construction or embellishment if you want to make a period-accurate recreation of it. There are also interesting notes where applicable – for instance in the 1917 corset Salen explains how many of the textiles were rationed due to the war, and so new, cheaper synthetic fibers were made in lieu – they also found ways of making paper twine, paper cording, even paper thread to minimize the cost of clothing during this time. After these photos and notes, you find a pattern for each corset. The patterns are drawn out conveniently on a grid, with a legend so you can size it up easily before adjusting the measurements if you wish. On the patterns there are also marks for boning or cording placement, grainlines for the fabric, eyelet placement and “balance marks” (aka notches) so you know

“Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” by Jill Salen.

what panels are sewn together in the correct order.

After these patterns the book gives you two “projects” – step-by-step instructions how to make a corset two different ways: a hand-stitched corset from 1790, and a machine-stitched corset from about 1900. The techniques section in the back shows you period-accurate hand-stitching, what’s appropriate at the seams, at the eyelets, at the binding, etc. It shows you how to do basic flossing and cording, and how to insert a busk.

It also has a bibliography for further reading, URLs for various museums which hold corset collections, an index, and a list of shops that supply specialty corsetry items (which is a little odd because a German store is listed under UK and a Canadian store is listed under US).

My personal thoughts:

I found this book an easy and quick read, considering it’s mostly patterns. I did learn some new things in here, such as techniques for hand-sewing and the little historical or political anecdotes associated with the corsets in each time were interesting. In the section of current corset manufacturers she only mentions two (Symingtons and Vollers), which I consider an unfairly small sample size. Having a color photo of each corset so you have a clear view of what the end result is supposed to look like, is useful, I especially liked extra photographs of how stays were finished on the inside, and wish that could have been done with all of the corsets,  although I can understand if a museum wouldn’t allow that. But despite the two projects in the back, you MUST already have knowledge basic corset terminology, and how to construct corsets – how to adjust the fit, how to sew panels together, etc. in order to make full-use of this book. However, I will still always keep this book in my collection. It’s a fantastic resource for period corset patterns, and even if I were to make every pattern in the book, I would still keep this book to look at the pretty photographs. ;)

The cheapest place I have been able to find this book (price + shipping) is on Amazon. You can view the book and read other reviews about it here.

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“Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh – an overview

This post is a transcript of my video, “Book Review: Corsets and Crinolines” which you can view here:

“Corsets and Crinolines” is a book containing historical summaries, corset diagrams and patterns, and collection of period letters, articles and other fashion publications directly pertaining to women’s undergarments. Written in 1954 when corsets and fluffy skirts were coming back into fashion; Ms Waugh observed how fashion trends were cyclic and discussed how small waists and big skirts came in and out of fashion 3 distinct times in history. Each of the three eras are given their own chapter:

  • Chapter 1 is dedicated to the 1500’s – 1670 when the pair of bodies became popular and the farthingale (the predecessor of the hoopskirt) was first seen in Spain.
  • Chapter 2 is from 1670 – 1800 when the stays and hoop petticoats were fashionable.
  • Chapter 3 is from 1800 – 1925 when the corset (as many of us know it today) were popular, as well as the crinoline (in the Victorian era) and the bustle (in the Edwardian era).

The Chapters

Each of these chapters contain a section on the history of these garments: how they came to be , how they spread in popularity, what they were made of, etc. The next section in each chapter contains references to the garments from contemporary sources – bits and pieces of people’s journals, diaries, poems and song lyrics, articles from old newspapers. One thing I found interesting is how in every era, there are people who both love and detest the fashion. One particular entry I noted was written by a man who was convinced that corsets and hoopskirts were a sin because it allowed a woman to lie about about the shape of her body – they gave the impression of a small waist and wide birthing hips until she removes the garments. I can see how that would be a disappointment, but a “sin”? That’s a bit of a catch 22 since a lady would be considered loose and indecent if she hadn’t worn this foundation gear.

The Illustrations

Corsets and Crinolines cover. Link will take you to Amazon.

As far as the illustrations go, there are over 100 illustrations in this book. All illustrations are described and listed in the front of the book so you can find the page of what you’re looking for. Some of these visuals are old paintings done as far back as 1560’s, all the way up to photographs taken in the 20th century. There are portraits of ladies, caricatures and fashion/costume sketches. This book also contains a ton of patterns. Every section includes scaled-down patterns of the stays, the corsets, and the hoopskirts, true to the period, so you can make your own. Later editions of this book include a legend with every pattern, showing how much each one should be scaled up.

The Appendices

There are four appendices total: the first two are instructions on how to construct corsets and hooped skirts. The third appendix talks about “supports” (the bones) – the book touches on everything except whalebone – they discuss geese quills and cane in corsets, saplings in farthingales and steel hoops in crinolines. The fourth and last appendix is entirely dedicated to whalebone: the book explains where it comes from, (the cartilaginous jaw of the baleen whale), and the fishing industry and its role in economy – how people reacted to the rising prices in baleen when whales became endangered.
Lucy’s side note: 
If you have never seen what baleen looks like, watch Disney’s Finding Nemo at the part where Marlin and Dori are trapped in the whale

Lastly, there’s a glossary of terms in the back and a pretty exhaustive index.

Who is this book for?

This is a must for fashion historians and those interested in first-hand accounts of fashion. You can buy it for the patterns, there are approximately 25 patterns included so it works out to $2 per pattern – just be aware that there are no step by step instructions.

One important thing to note is that many of the contemporary sources are in French. This isn’t a problem for me because I can somewhat read French (I read it a lot better than I speak it, anyway) but if you can only understand English then only about half of the written content of this book will be useful to you.

The cheapest place I have been able to find this book is on Amazon. You can also see select pages inside the book on the Amazon site.

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“Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” by Sarah A. Chrisman — an Overview

I admit it. I’m terrible at book reviews. So many years of working in biology labs have conditioned me to treat every publication the same way: study, jot notes, report results relevant to my own research. Opinions are frowned upon by the Board. (At least I got to sneak in some alliteration.)

My video review, despite being 13 minutes long, feels painfully short and superficial. In reality, the raw footage of the review was over an hour long, wherein I combined Chrisman’s research and experiences with my own and discussed possible (soft) conclusions to certain questions regarding physical, psychological and societal impacts of wearing a corset. Alas, most people these days don’t have 13 minutes to spare, nevermind an hour.

This book used to be called “Waisted Curves: My Transformation into a Victorian Lady” and was self-published and hand-made – Chrisman carefully hand-folds each page, sews them together, and binds the cover in your choice of cloth, silk or leather — the way that books were made in the Victorian era. Due to the print or weave on the cover fabric, no two books are exactly the same. You kind of feel the love and the labour emanating from this. The price of this book, $40 for cloth-bound and $49 for either silk or leatherbound, is well-justified just by how much work must have gone into assembling the book itself — but the contents inside are worth much more.

Now the book has been picked up by a publisher, it has changed its name to “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” and is available on Amazon.

The book is essentially a memoir of Chrisman’s first year (and a few months extra) of corset training – in this time, her waist is reduced from 32” uncorseted to 22” corseted – she changes the way she carries herself, and her style of dress so that essentially she is transformed into a “Victorian lady” by the end of the book. If this book were made into a movie trailer, I have a feeling that it would look like a typical “transformation” or “make0ver” movie (e.g. Clueless, She’s All That, Teen Witch, Princess Diaries, etc). Let me tell you now that those movies are garbage compared to this book. “Waisted Curves…” is a non-fiction, first-hand account of what it’s really like to make such a transformation (not only in appearance but also in health, grace and building one’s knowledge) – it’s not an overnight change, and it’s not without its challenges.

A not-so-brief summary of events (SPOILER ALERT)

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“The Basics of Corset Building” by Linda Sparks: a review

Linda Sparks is the owner of the company Farthingales which has a store in Stratford, Canada. I purchased the 2008 hardcover edition of “The Basics of Corset Building” back in very early 2011, for less than $20 – the cheapest place I found it at the time was on Amazon. It’s only 77 pages long, but don’t let that fool you – it’s chock full of information. There’s no froth in here – pretty much no history or filler; just instructions.

If you prefer to watch the review instead of read it, you can view my video (from last year) here:

In the foreward Ms. Sparks jumps right in by saying that anyone who can sew a straight line can sew a corset. Her methods are friendly yet no-nonsense – she does a good job of saying “yes, there’s a lot of fine detail and many steps to constructing a corset, but building a corset from start to finish doesn’t have to be scary.” If you’re willing to put in the work and practice some patience you can make a corset.

There are four sections in the book:

Section one focuses on what you’ll need to make a corset. She dedicates a chapter to each of the tools involved like awls, bone cutters, pliers etc. (I believe you can preview this chapter on Google Books.) There are also chapters on textiles (being the strength fabric and fashion fabric, waist tape etc.), and also a chapter on supports and hardware of the corset – the bones, tips, busk, and grommets. Most of the materials in this section you can also buy directly from her online store.

Section two explains in detail the steps of putting a corset together. How to cut and tip bones – both steel and plastic – how to insert a busk, how to insert grommets, working with lacing tape, tipping your laces, applying binding, etc.

Section three goes into techniques. Ms Sparks teaches you five different ways of making a corset: single layer that can be altered or not altered, double layer that can be altered or not altered, and lastly a corset that has a pretty fashion layer.

Section four goes into customizing corset patterns, namely Simplicity and Laughing Moon patterns, and how to fit mock-ups and alter your corset to your body. She also provides inspirational photos of the same corset patterns made with different fashion fabrics to show you how drastically they can change the overall look.

There’s also a glossary of terms at the back of the book. Throughout the book any words you see in bold you can find in the glossary.

My Personal Thoughts

Going through the other reviews of this book online, I notice that a lot of people complain about grammatical errors. Reading through the book myself, I admit that some errors jumped out at me, but I can forgive that because this book not supposed to be a literary masterpiece, it’s an instruction manual. It’s still perfectly readable and easy to understand and the content is good.

Pictures:this book is bountiful with pictures, both black and white photographs and diagrams. I liked how

“The Basics of Corset Building” by Linda Sparks – 2008 edition book cover

many pictures were featured, but for the total beginner corsetiere I think there could be fewer simple diagrams and more photographs. If the next edition of the book were to include colour photos that’d be great too. I understand depth and dimension a lot better in colour pictures compared to greyscale, and this would make it easier to keep track of overside and underside of fabric during the sewing instructions.

Succinctness: The title of the book is not misleading in any way: it goes through the BASICS of corset building and it is a handbook for BEGINNERS. If you have no knowledge whatsoever in making a corset, then this book is a fantastic resource. However if you have already made a corset before, you may be a little underwhelmed by this book. Many of the techniques like using an awl, applying grommets, inserting a busk, making internal boning channels, adding binding to the edges of a corset etc. I learned just by following instructions that came with the Simplicity 9769 pattern. However for those who like multiple resources, who like to learn about slight variations in construction methods or who just like to read the same methods explained in different words, then this book would be a great addition to your collection.

The photo of the corset on the cover of the book is gorgeous, but in the book it doesn’t teach you about diagonal bone placements or cording or any flossing techniques featured on the corset on the cover – I think this book has a lot of opportunity to expand in the future – Ms. Sparks could possibly add a chapter or create another entire book on advanced techniques. I did learn a few new things from this book but wish there could have been a bit more on finishing, embellishment etc. I was quite happy with my purchase anyway, as it is another way to support the corset making community and keep it alive.

You can read other reviews on this book or purchase it from Amazon, here.

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“Corsets: A Modern Guide” by Velda Lauder – A book overview

I choose to call this an “overview” rather than a “review” because I have decided that I’m terrible at reviewing books. I give “spoilers” (if such exist in history) and don’t inject much of my own opinion into reviews. What I simply aim to do is tell you all the different interesting things you can expect to learn in this book, in more detail than I have given in my video or this post. If you prefer to watch/ listen instead of read, here is my video review:

What can you expect to learn in this book?

This book has a heavy focus on the history of corsets. It starts at the very beginning, with primitive corset-like garments worn by the Norfolk, Boadicea the Celtic Goddess, a statue of an ancient Crete goddess, incredibly old drawings and paintings – these all portrayed women wearing leather bodices as armor: waist cinchers complete with adjustable lacing, since other methods of closure (like buttons) hadn’t been invented yet.

It also touches on how almost every culture has some form of body modification – food binding, neck stretching, etc. And now cosmetic surgery is prevalent – it’s a human need to “reinvent ourselves,” Lauder says.
She mentions that women are not the same shape and size that they were in the Victorian era, due to health and nutrition – therefore she says it is necessary to modify the shape of the corset to fit a modern woman.

Corsets throughout history were different shapes and had different purposes – either to flatten curves and give a more child-like silhouette in the medieval era, or to give a conical torso in the 16th century, then a natural shape in the Regency era where corsets were higher and more resembled bras, then to give an hourglass shape and accentuate curves in the late 1800s. However it’s important to note that not all of this shaping was done by corsets, pairs-of-bodies etc. Padding was also used on the shoulders and hips to accentuate this silhouette. Corsets and other under-clothing was also used for warmth, and to prevent the body from staining the outer clothing as bathing was less frequent.

The book touches on how fashion was different and similar between the wealthy and the more “industrial” classes – namely, how the wealthier classes deliberately dressed impractically, to show that they don’t have to do hard physical labor. However, both high and lower classes did wear some form of the corset.

Letters and newspaper columns of the time show opposition of the corset mostly from men – however, women’s fashion endured because of older women – the mothers, grandmothers and maids. Therefore, corsets were not forced upon women by male misogynists.

“Corsets: A Modern Guide” book cover

During the 1800s, both men and women wore corsets (as I had mentioned in my men and corsets video), especially those of higher class, as it promoted good posture and showed that you were an “upstanding” citizen. King George IV was one of these corseted men.

Modern designers like Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Alexander McQueen are known for their corsets created in modern materials like metals, latex, plexiglass, scales and feathers – they combined the traditional with the fetish with the surreal.

Christian Dior was responsible for the New Look fashion in the late 40’s / early 50’s. This book also touches on Chanel, Jacques Fath, and others. Vivienne Westwood, called the Mother of Punk in the 70s, was one of the first people to wear a corset as outer wear. Punk and fetish fashion rose together at this time. There was also of course the goth movement in the 80’s, Madonna’s corsets in the 90’s, and today, corsets have evolved once more in steampunk fashion.

Other sections mention the Burlesque side, featuring Bettie Page and Gypsy Rose Lee in historical context, and Dita Von Teese and Immodesty Blaize in modern Burlesque.

Yet another chapter is dedicated somewhat to fetish of corsets. The first known corset fetish stories are published in the “English Woman Domestic Magazine”, though the stories in here have been largely dismissed as fantasy. However this establishes a different between corseting and tight lacing. Almost all women corseted everyday at a light reduction, but did not necessarily tight lace. In modern day, extreme tight lacing and other forms of body modification like piercings, tattoos, implants, branding etc formed a marriage – Fakir Musafar is referred to as the father of modern body modification.

Galliano and Mr Pearl both promoted the couture / high fashion side of corsetry, the heavily embellished pieces that were works of wearable art.

The last chapter is the “modern girl’s guide to corsets” – Corset 101 – how to choose the correct size, how to lace it up. The end of the book includes interviews from three of Velda’s models and their personal experiences.

My personal thoughts

The book itself is well-written, there are few if any errors. This book is MUCH easier to read than certain other history books, and was capable of keeping my attention.

I noticed in the historical section it jumped around a lot – I would have preferred for it to focus on one fashion era at a time, for instance devoting one chapter to each fashion era, instead of the current organization. In this book, the silhouette would be one chapter, and it would describe the silhouette in one era compared to the next era. Then the next part focused on the skirts: how the skirts in ‘that era’ compared to ‘that other era’. I found that with the current organization of this book, it had a tendency to repeat itself. However this may be useful for people who don’t want to bother reading the whole book but instead pick out the chapters that they want to read, as those chapters are able to stand alone.

Some people have said that this book is too “Velda-centric”. There are a lot of her corsets in here, and it does mention her introduction to the modern corset industry and how she pioneered some styles – however, it says in the preface that this is HER journey through history – it wasn’t written by a historian per se, but by a designer. It isn’t meant to be read like an unbiased textbook; it is definitely pro-corsetry. I’m not surprised that so many of her designs are featured throughout the book, and I wouldn’t hold this against her or the book at all.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book (and looking at all the pretties in the book!) and I’m currently enjoying combing through the bibliography in the back to learn more about the history of corsets and fashion. You can read more reviews on “Corsets: A Modern Guide” or to purchase this book on Amazon here.

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“History Myths” Blog articles of interest

History Myths” is a charming blog that reads somewhat like Snopes or FactCheck, except with the obvious focus on popular myths and legends throughout history. While nearly all articles are a fun read, here are a few that would be of particular interest to corset-enthusiasts. It’s also worth it to read through the comments of each article, as some very pertinent points are made by other readers.

Myth #59: Women had very tiny waists in “the olden days” – historical corsets and outfits displayed in museums usually have waists ranging between 21 inches to 35 inches, the average being around 23″-25″.
There is quite a lot to say on this topic, including the fact that many of the corsets of the time were not designed to be closed all the way – it was customary to have a 1-3 inch gap in the back, meaning that an 18″ corset may have been worn closer to 21″. Also, be aware that while many museums display articles of clothing that are best preserved, many of them preferentially display corsets and clothing that would be most interesting to visitors – those being the most elaborate, and those with the tiniest proportions – although they may not necessarily be representative of the average of the time.

MYTH #47: The fainting couch was invented during Victorian times for tightly corseted women to use whenever they felt faint – the chaise longue has existed (and been fashionable) for millenia, certainly not made for the sole purpose of fainting women. (Note: I talk a bit about the “fainting stories” in my blood pressure article here.)

Myth #28: Women had ribs surgically removed to make their waists smaller – There is zero evidence supporting that ribs have been surgically removed for cosmetic reasons, ever. That goes for today’s celebrities as well – Cher, Janet Jackson, and Marilyn Manson have all been subject to the rumors of rib removal – you can read more about this on Snopes, here.

Once again, it’s best to read through the comments and not just the articles, as some of the information in those articles have been debated as well. But these articles provide a good place to jump into further discussion.

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With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes

A lovely, balanced and logical corset-neutral article that shows that the average waist reduction among 52 women was only about 2.5 inches, that corsets were necessary foundations to support the breasts and the heavy garments of the time, and that even a corset at zero reduction has remarkable effect on silhouette/frame. Also featured is an interestesting study performed in the late 19th century which is worth a read in itself. Do turn a blind eye to the words “today’s fetish corsets” as it’s not supposed to be taken as derogatory to tightlacers. As Liz sums up nicely elsewhere in her blog, “Whether you are a lady or a gent, costumer or casual, tight-lacer or comfort-seeker, there is a corset for you!”
Go through this article slowly; it’s well worth it. ~ Lucy

With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes

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A corset-positive article by Collector’s Weekly

Beautifully flossed corset
Image from CollectorsWeekly.com

This article titled “Everything You Know About Corsets Is False” written by Lisa Hix is a corset-positive piece based off museum curator Valerie Steele’s book, “The Corset: A Cultural History.”

This article has already been widely read and discussed within the corset community, but it still merits a nod here because of its concise debunking of some of the most common misconceptions about corsets.  I highly recommend this article to anyone who is new to corsetry and looking for quick and credible answers to the more popular questions and worries concerning corsets and tight lacing.

As for Ms. Steele’s book, I am planning a review on this book within the next couple of months, so sit tight. :D