Unhygienic " Floppiness "-Corsets a Necessity-the Right and Wrong Kinds-how the Fashions Have Changed for the Better-the Effect of Corsets on the Brain and Digestive Organs-corsets in the Tropics-smart Dressing and Warmth-the Importance of Warm Arms
The smartly dressed woman not infrequently looks with an impatience, well flavoured with contempt, upon any suggestion to consider clothing from the point of view of health. It must be confessed that the smarily dressed woman is not altogether to blame, for the fact is that hygienists have certainly managed to place dress in connection with health in an unpleasing and a most unbecoming light. Hygienic dress has been made uncompromisingly ugly by the action of the section of hygienists who preach the doctrine that clothing, in order to fulfil all the requirements of hygiene, should exert no pressure upon any part of the figure it covers. We all can conjure up in our mind's eye the results that this teaching produces in the disciples who give their adherence to it. They are not results that gladden the eye, nor appeal to those who have the faintest leanings to smartness; and, according to the latest medical pronouncements, they are not really hygienic.
The doctrine that the floppiness of the uncorsetted figure makes for health is exploded. The very reverse is now taught, and the corset, so long maligned and condemned, is to-day taking its place among the "therapeutic agents" recommended by many physicians.
A lady doctor, writing in "The Lancet" remarks: "For some time I have been in the habit of sending patients to the corset-fitting rooms of good drapers whom years ago I should have sent to an instrument maker for abdominal belts."
The Importance of the Right Kind of Corset
The reason for the change in the attitude of those best qualified to teach what is really hygienic is the recognition of the fact that the firm, upward support afforded to the lower part of the abdominal region by a properly made corset is of real benefit to the health in many ways. For one thing it is of great assistance in the prevention of that too common trouble-constipation; and also, strange to say, it is stated on excellent authority to conduce to increased muscular and mental activity.
That corsets should increase a woman's brain power may seem paradoxical, but it is not a statement loosely made; on the contrary, it is a fact proved by experiments some years ago by two learned professors (Ray and Adarni), who delivered an address on the subject before the British Association.
The professors found that there is a tendency for a large amount of waste blood to accumulate and remain stagnant in the neighbourhood of the intestines, and that if this region is gently compressed by means of a well-fitting corset, the blood, instead of remaining stagnant, will be driven into the general circulation, and thus will be brought into use in other parts of the body. This naturally causes an increase of nutrition in muscle and brain, and as our thinking powers depend to a great degree upon the nourishment of the brain by healthy blood, it is easy to understand that this action of the corset must tend to improve the mental condition.
Injurious Effects of Undue Pressure
One must, however, bear in mind that these advantages do not accrue from the wearing of any sort of corset. Far from it. The hygienists who sweepingly condemn every make of corset are wrong in one way, but they are quite right in their diatribes against the kind whose principal effect is to "nip in" the waist, and tightly fix the ribs so that it is impossible to take a deep inspiration. Tight pressure round the soft part of the middle of the figure can have nothing but an injurious, and may have a disastrous, effect upon the digestion, because it prevents the free movement of the stomach (which lies on the left side, above the waist line). It also does just what the firm, upward pressure of the properly cut corset does not do-it exercises a downward pressure on the intestines, and so increases the stagnation mentioned above.
The importance of obtaining the right and of corset will, therefore, be recognised as a matter of real moment by every woman who values her health as well as her appearance. The right kind is fortunately what are now chiefly in vogue, and are known either as the straight-busked French corset, or the erect or American corset. These entirely cover the abdominal region, and when laced, and the suspender straps fastened, afford support just where it is needed. They are, or should be, low in front, not reaching to the breast bone. The old-fashioned " high-busked stays," which compressed the chest and made deep-breathing impossible, are, luckily, condemned as much by the smartly dressed as by the family physician. The outline of figure which they produced was so unnatural and so repellent to artistic taste that one wonders how they ever came to be invented. With their passing has also disappeared the vogue of the mid-victorian " wasp-waist "-that fertile producer of so many a red nose and spotty complexion. Extreme tight-lacing is, luckily, no longer fashionable.
Probably, the golf course and tennis lawn have helped towards its extinction. At all events, it is not necessary, in order to attain a fashionable figure, to be " drawn in " by staylaces until you cannot bend and can hardly breathe, for at length we recognise that beauty of outline is not gained by strenuous pinching-in of the middle of one's figure.
The editor of a drapery trade paper took the trouble some years ago to obtain returns from corset manufacturers as to the waist measurements which customers most frequently ask for. He has kept up the inquiry year by year since then, and finds that the demand for the very small sizes in waists is steadily on the decrease. This, from a hygienic point of view, is certainly satisfactory, as showing that the trend of fashion is in the direction of sensible clothing.
Another advantage of corset-wearing which must not be omitted is the protection the corset affords from chills. A long, deep-fronted corset gives protection to the entire abdominal region over which it fits closely. The well-known surgeon, Mr. James Cantlie, in giving advice to women as to how they should dress in tropical climates recommends them to wear stout and well-made corsets; not those composed of coarse net, which are often sold as being specially suitable for India. These, he says, wear badly when subjected to much perspiration, and they do not efficiently protect. He adds that the remarkable immunity from abdominal ailments which English women, as compared with men, enjoy in the Tropics is largely due to their preservation from chills by reason of their corsets.
It is an unfortunate fact that in the minds of many young women there is a struggle during cool weather as to whether they shall yield to their desire for warmth or their ambition to appear smart. They imagine that smartness cannot be attained if they are warmly clad, for they have not grasped the -truth, which everyone should grasp when preparing their wardrobe, that bodily warmth is not best secured by loading the person with heavy clothing. The best of all ways for keeping warm is by taking plenty of exercise.
For this reason long fur coats reaching nearly to the heels, the kind that look so tempting in the illustrated catalogues of the fashionable furriers, are not healthy garments for winter wear, even in the coldest weather, except for driving or motoring. They overheat and exhaust the body, and the exercise one takes in them does more harm than good. Cloth is far better than fur for outdoor wear when taking exercise. Sir Ernest Shackleton found that even in the Antarctic fur was exhausting as clothing when hard at work. He says that a material which is windproof as well as waterproof answered better even in the rigorous climate at the South Pole. This is a fact that it is useful to bear in mind when purchasing cloth, serge and tweed.
Some cloths are very loose textured. These are the reverse of windproof, unless they are lined. It is an excellent plan to line the sleeves of garments made from a loose-textured material with chamois leather. The arms are very sensitive to cold, and the chamois effectually protects them from keen winds. It is well to remember that chilled arms have a disastrous effect on the complexion.