The Dangerous Fetish of Tight-Lacing in the 19th Century
Females of the Victorian era were heavily corsetted and constricted under many layers of dress and underdress. The ideal look of the 19th century was a tiny waist with a large, full skirt, giving women an hourglass shape. Towards the latter part of the century, the large crinoline hoop skirts were replaced with bustles, which gave the skirt shape a flat front and full back (as opposed to round all around). The crinolines were so wide they gave the illusion of a small waist; since the bustle look of the 1860’s had a more tapered shape, it required the heaviest corsetting of all.
Corsetting in the 17th and part of the 18th century began earlier in life than foot-binding in China. When infants, male and female, began to walk, they made the transformation from swaddling clothes to stiffened bodices to help the child grow straight and protect from bruises. With little boys, the bodice was abandoned when he became active; little girls’ bodices followed with the development of their bodies. The ritual role of corsetry fully flowered in the 1800’s. Corset Heaven on Angel.
It’s strange to see the fashion plates illustrating the feminine ideal, and then the photographs of the women striving for this look. Fashion plates depict delicate females: tiny features, tiny waists, full, flowing skirts. Photographs reveal an uncomfortable woman; a woman whose body begun to be “trained” at the age of thirteen or fourteen.
It is believed that tight-lacing was particularly an English obsession. The term “tight-lacing” has no exact equivalent in any other language. The perfect waist size of the time was about 18 to 20 inches, an obscene size to modern women. Tight-lacing stands out as a cult of obsessive Victorian lower and middle class women; they died trying to whittle their waists down to as little as thirteen inches. From the mid 19th century, around the time the sewing machine was invented, corsets were mass-produced and cheap; these cheaply made corsets were often advertised specifically for tight-lacing. From the mid-century on, the female population had dominated in number over male; it seems that women were willing to resort to the extremes in order to get a man. Corset Heaven on Adsoftheworld.
It was easier to obtain permission to open the bodies of the lower and working class, so is a lot more information on tight lacing is among them. The historical horror stories are appalling. If a doctor suspected the cause of death was tight-lacing, it was kept very hush-hush to avoid publicity and scandal. One 23 year old Parisian woman at a ball in 1859 proved to be the envy of all with her thirteen inch waist; two days later she was found dead. The autopsy showed that her liver had been punctured by three ribs! Other individual examples of lower class tight-lacing include a 21 year old prostitute who died of syphilis, consumption (a fashionable disease of the time), and corsets while sitting in a police station. A chambermaid who suffered from extreme stomach pains was found dead; her stomach was nearly severed in half “leaving a canal only as narrow as a raven’s feather”. A villager dropped dead while dancing at a wedding as a result of tight-lacing. If a woman died in mysterious circumstances and was slender figured, the physician performing the autopsy looked for “tight-lace liver”; malformations of the liver as a sign that she had been guilty of tight-lacing.
Corsetry has become a staple accessory of gothic fashion today, especially in New York City (I’ll admit I love them, I own a dozen!) And as much as I love fashion, being fashionable should not equal suffering. Fetishists train their waists to be whittled down as much as they can, but what I can’t understand is why go to such an unnatural extreme... okay the “unnatural extremes” of dying your hair fuchsia and teal green and piercing various body parts may be outlandish to lots of folks, but hair grows back and body jewelry can be removed. The diagram here on the first page of this article speaks for itself; daily tight-lacing crushes the ribs and rearranges inner organs. Heavy corsetting is very dangerous!! Wear your corsets lightly or with reasonable moderation, folks! Corset Heaven on Visualcv.
Reprinted with kind permission of Mistress McCutchan of Mobid Outlook