Catherine de Medici and the Thirteen-inch Waist -The Stay Worn with Hoop Skirts - The
The modern stay is very deep beneath the waist and round the hips, but not high above the waist. It is a model that suits the average figure perfectly, is very sustaining and absolutely comfortable. The straight front is a modification of the pattern that revolutionised the cut of the stay some few years ago (written in 1911) without its disadvantages-namely, the awkward poise it gave the body and the pressure it exerted upon the breastbone, where there should be none at all.
A very successful corsetiere in London places great faith in the practice she makes of trying on her customer's corsets. It is absurd to think that a corset bought at sight can be expected to fit. It may; but then again it may not. What sensible individual would think of buying boots or shoes without first of all trying them on? Why, even the best glovers prefer to try their wares on their customers before they sell them.
There is no wisdom either in sending for the same pattern of corset over and over again. The contour of the body changes so rapidly that what was perfection six months ago may not be so after that lapse of time. Every woman should give as much time and patience to her corsetiere as to her dressmaker, and should she do so her wisdom will be amply rewarded.
When a woman reaches the age of twenty-one, especially if she be married by that time, the corset question waxes serious for her, and she not only orders more expensive stays-reckoning her corset bill an appreciable item in her dress expenditure for the year-but criticises the lines of her figure severely, and asks her corsetiere whether this defect and that cannot be remedied. Happily, there is alleviation for every ill. Supposing she is one of the many girls of the present day with the long, straight, boy-like lines from the arm-pits to the knees, which the past two decades of
Front view of an iron corset of the sixteenth century.
This model was introduced by Catherine de Medici, whose ideal waist measured but thirteen inches in circumference
From a photograph lent by Madame Dowding feminine prowess in field sports and gymnasium exercises seem to have produced, she will want to know whether her waist and hips cannot be rounded, and some difference be made in their comparative measurement, so that she may not look altogether like a "yard of pump water."
Her corsetiere will give her a pair of stays cleverly padded outside the hips in graduated thicknesses to the knees, and, if necessary, build her up about the bust, and will add to this prescription a few pieces of sound advice. She will counsel her to take life more easily, to be driven if possible in a luxurious motor-car instead of playing hockey, to drink milk and cream instead of lemon or citron squash, to dawdle rather than to hustle, to busy her fingers at home over embroidery, and try the soothing effect upon mind and body of knitting and "white work," instead of hurrying from pillar to post in a mad race over the map of Europe.
It is remedial effects of this kind that are recommended to the painfully thin and angular, rather than the aid of the corsetiere's art, because the "built up" figure can never be so attractive as the one that is natural.
Should it happen that the woman of twenty-one, inclined to be stout, wants to find elegance, and the one who is round-shouldered and stooping requires aid, despair need not mark them for her own. Let them determine to forgo a hat or two and spend the money saved upon cleverly built corsets, modelled and cut for their special wear, and visible improvement will be the immediate result, with an ultimate cure a surety. They must also take exercise and refuse to loll about in hot rooms or in sun-soaked gardens.
If married women were more careful to regard the maintenance of a beautiful figure as a duty there would be fewer sad at heart and conscious of waning charms after the rearing of several children. Women, miserably aware of the departure of their once lissom and elegant forms, should realise that there is no need for them to fear the loss of their personal beauty, and all that means, under any circumstances. Nor need they despair of restoring a neglected figure to symmetry; only they must undertake the task with infinite care and patience. They require special corseting before the arrival of their little ones, and should consider the securing of it in the light of a distinct duty to themselves, their husband, and their coming babe.
The maternity stay is a work of art, a thing of beauty, and a source of true comfort. This trio of necessaries will be found embodied in a corset made of broderie anglaise, laced up the front as well as at the back, in order to avoid all pressure, with elastic which gives to every movement, provided with side gussets that can be enlarged at will, and a supporting strap at the base of the figure, as well as shoulder - straps designed to render further ease and comfort.
Corsets for such eventualities have always been deemed a feature of the corset maker's art, and in a famous collection of stays, made by a London corsetiere, is a very old velvet maternity stay with shoulder-straps, pliable and easy in every way when compared to the iron cages called stays that were worn in those antique days. It was the man-made corset of antiquity that was the instrument of torture. In the famous collection already mentioned there is one that is actually made of iron, an excessively heavy skeleton stay, that imprisoned its wearer in a grip of steel. It was Catherine de Medici, whose special aversion was a thick waist, who introduced this model, which was known as the " corps." She admired a circumference of thirteen inches only, and advocated a system of compression that reduced the waist measurement to that limit. Two corsets were therefore worn, and the outer one was the skeleton just described. It was made in two pieces opened by means of hinges, and when clasped round the body was secured by a species of hasp and pin. Pictures of the belles of the period prove the then domination of the stay, by the puny and pinched figures of the women of fashion, which look like those of dolls rather than of living creatures. A stay worn in Queen Elizabeth's time, one of the same collection, shows a heavy wooden rib round the hips, designed to hold the skirts out, and to accentuate the tiny dimensions of the waist. The corset was made to play a useful part in emphasising a craze of fashion in later times also, for one of the period of the Georges, worn by a lady at the court of Queen Charlotte, shows an enormous formation on the hips upon which the hooped panniers and petticoats of the day were supported.
So great a store was set on slenderness, and so little on suppleness of form, in the time of Louis XVI. of France, that the bodice of a dress was actually stitched on its wearer, after the stays had been assumed and laced up to excruciation point.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century, staymakers, in despair of finding a material strong enough for their purpose, took to using "bend," a leather like that which was used for shoe soles, very nearly half an inch in thickness.
Women, when reprimanded as victims of vanity, who, to gain the admiration of men, resort to tight-lacing, are invariably reminded that the canons of beauty as issued by the ancient Greeks forbade the use of the stay. The flowing peplum, the tunic, and other draperies, in which the female form divine was then swathed, outlined a figure that was left in Nature's mould.
But do such apostles of the robe classique remember that long, long before the palmy days of Greece corsets of the most rigorous kind were worn? Professor Mosso, in his book "Palaces of Crete and their Builders," tells us that four thousand years ago the women of Crete wore stays, and shows us pictures of them in spreading skirts, well calculated to call attention to the diminutive size of the waist.
The Cretan women of the period to which reference has been made were a most advanced race, with a voice in all great matters and a recognised position as the advisers of men on the same plane of intellectuality.
A model that is admirably adapted to such fashions in dress as Empire or Directoire. The modern corset is very deep beneath the waist-line, but low above it By permission of Madame Dowding
When the classical draperies of the ancient Greeks were adapted to the needs of the women of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, stays were abandoned, or all but, and those who laced tightly before "let themselves go," to use an expressive vulgarism. What followed? In the year 1810, this chronicle of the modes was printed: "Stays are now composed, not of whalebone, indeed, or hardened leather, but of bars of iron and steel from three inches to four inches broad, and many of them not less than eighteen inches in length."
The reason of this rush to extremes can be found in the realisation forced upon femininity that it cannot afford to scorn the corset. No one really admires a figure that resembles a sack tied round according to the recognised waist line of the moment, high or low; and figures that are neglected by the abandonment of the corset, unless they belong to the very youthful and slender, develop a shapelessness that is far opposed to beauty.
The union of charms expressed in the modern Empire robe, namely, the high waist and straight hips, and the sinuously serpentine Princess model, all demand the most careful corseting below the waist, and ask for no compression above it beyond the bust bodice, necessary in some cases, which is in complete accordance with all the laws of hygiene.
A corset that laces in front, of a design that will help to ensure a perfect, slight, erect figure, with comfort and safety