I Grew Up in a Corset. Time to Bust Some Myths. (Ft. Actual Research)


I accidentally wrote an essay whilst researching for my corset project, so enjoy.
Stay tuned for the actual making adventures of said corset.

More interesting analyses on corset myth things:
“Busting Corset Myths” on Foundations Revealed:

“The Edwardian Silhouette Emerges” by Cathy Hay

SOURCES
Arnold, Janet. “Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses & Their Construction C. 1860 – 1940”, 1982.
Bradfield, Nancy. “Costume in Detail: Women’s Dress 1730-1930”, 1968.
Flower, B. O. “Fashion’s Slaves.”, 1892.
Flower, William Henry. “Fashion in Deformity”, 1881.
Kim, Alexandra and Mida, Ingrid. “The Dress Detective”, 2015.
Langley Moore, Doris. “The Woman in Fashion”, 1949.
O’Followell, Ludovic. “Le corset; histoire, médecine, hygiène”, 1908.
Schwarz, G. S. “Society, physicians, and the corset”, 1979.
Steele, Valerie. “The Corset: A Cultural History”, 2003.
Thomas, Theodore Galliard. “A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Women” (6th edition) 1892 (specifically the heading ‘Impracticalities of Dress’)
The Toronto Daily Mail issue dated 5th May, 1883.

Measurement chart taken from ‘details’ on this dress:

Portals to Other Realms:
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Prints of costume renderings:

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hello so if you're a regular round here you may already be aware of my present endeavor to recreate a circa 1890s corset for my very asymmetrical and decidedly not very fashionably 1890s self more details on the trials and challenges of the making process for that to come anon but for now there's so much research and thoughts floating about in my head regarding all this corset tree business that I just thought I'd sit down and have a little chat about it now before we proceed down this precarious path of course of myths and prospective truths I must first suggest that if you are dead set in your beliefs that corsets are the physically damaging tactical symbol of historical female oppression you may wish to save yourself the distress and click away from this video now because I'm about to share with you my first-hand experience of growing up in the nearest 21st century equivalent and I feel like some of the things I may have to say might be a little bit triggering for you now that we've at least made an effort to avoid those long pontificate Orie comments proclaiming the devilry of course–i tree from someone with no sources or actual practical experience we'll begin by addressing just that the fervent 21st century belief the corsa tree is a painful instrument of torture imposed by a patriarchal society that every woman throughout 500 years of history was tight lacing into a teen sized waist inducing fainting spells removing ribs and displacing organs strictly for the benefit of the male gaze first and foremost it is important to point out the difference between tight lacing and coarser tree as a form of everyday clothing I'm not sure if there's a clearly defined measurement threshold between tight lacing and regular corset researching from discussions on tight lacing in some of the magazines and medical journals I consulted tight lacing seems to have included waist measurements up to about 19 or 20 inches and of course includes the alleged examples of the mythical 16 or 17 inch waist but tight lacing and corsetry are not synonymous simply because a woman is wearing a corset does not mean that she is or indeed has to lace down to such extremes we have to keep in mind that the reason tight lacing is written about so fervently in contemporary sources is precisely because it was so uncommon and really rather shocking then just as it is now to have a waist small enough to wrap your hands around it is in regards to these references of tight lacing specifically that we see most of the insistence is that all corsets caused insert ceaseless list of diseases and ailments claimed but feebly are not at all proven to have been caused specifically by course the tree one discussion that I came across in the Torah Oh Daily Mail dated to the fifth of May 1883 sheds a particular bit of light on this situation on the topic of tight lacing the writer who is of the opinion that anyone wishing to lace a young girl down to an 18 inch waist should be put into a strait waistcoat precedes to advise that 25 inches is not too large for a medium-sized figure and 26 or 27 inches is more in proportion when the figure is above the average height this got me thinking back to the days I spent measuring and fitting actors in my theatrical costuming days and upon going back into consulting the archive of measurements I've accumulated over the years bound to the waist measurements of young say eighteen to thirty year old ladies to measure between 26 and 30 inches uncor stood it not terribly far off from the claim of acceptability of a 25 26 or 27 inch waist corset it but if you don't trust my vaguely anecdotal findings let's have a look at modern retail sizing I know this varies from store to store but for example let's have a look at the measurement chart for forever21 a brand marketed specifically towards the similar demographic of young Albee at 21st century women they have listed the size extra small as having a waist measure of 24 to 25 inches with the size small of 26 to 27 inches all within this healthy yet acceptable range according to our friend from the Toronto Daily Mail so side note I don't think you can really argue that people were smaller back then and that they were corseting down to a 24 inch waist it doesn't really work both ways although granted indeed not all women today nor indeed 130 years ago could be classified under this single and perhaps idealized measurement range but this just goes to show that this very prevalent 24 inch Victorian measurement is not at all extraordinary by today's standards and is in fact still seen naturally in 21st century bodies today which brings us to the inevitable discussion of societal definition of ideal beauty yes we are trying to push back against this idea of a single beautiful body type and make a conscious effort to include a wider range of body types and advertising today but the fact remains that the majority of models we see in fashion advertising today are precisely the size 0 25 inch waisted young women danced a reason that a similar trend may have also been true in the 1890s that waist sizes depicted discussed and praised were precisely these 21 or 23 21 inch waists whereas the less ideal 27 29 33 inch waists were simply less well represented a historian 200 years from now may look back on print advertising today and draw remarkably similar conclusions to the ones that we draw in regards to the sparse advertising left behind by the Victorians that all young women and subsequently although without any basis of logic whatsoever all ages of women entirely either are size 0 forever 21 models aspire to be or are irrelevant within society completely a fact which we living and experiencing the active reality of today's life no to be entirely false but it's easy to put these tight laced measurements in print to illustrate the dainty tight laced figure on fashion plates to even manipulate photographs with some prehistoric Photoshop wizardry to make the waist appear smaller it's much less simple to disguise the actual measurements present on surviving garments granted I've only been down this research hole for a couple of weeks but I did still want to take into account as many extant garments as I possibly could so after examining the two extant bonuses in my own collection I proceeded to look at the extant garments analyzed in Jenna Arnold's patterns of fashion – as well as Nancy Bradfield's costume in detail sure enough I found that the overwhelming majority of waist measurements on these gowns were 24 inches with a notable sprinkling of 25 26 and 27 inch measurements but before we go presuming that everyone in the late 19th century had a 24 inch waist we must first consider the provenance of these gowns who they belong to why they were worn and more importantly why these particular gowns survived almost consistently on the occasion that Providence was actually recorded the smaller waisted gowns were labeled as having belonged to a Miss a young woman or is said to have been worn specifically before her marriage whereas gowns featuring slightly larger measurements were said to have belonged to a mrs. or the mother of or presumably a woman of a few more years so it's important to note that the two outlying 19 and 20 inch gowns were both recorded as having belonged to the same person a lady evelyn Lindsay before her marriage to some dude or more importantly a young woman of high status who probably would have been keen to endure a little bit more discomfort for the sake of high fashion we totally don't still see that nowadays or anything this theory further endorsed in the woman in fashion by Doris Langley more one of the first dress historians of the early 20th century she had such an extensive collection of historical dress it would eventually go on to found the fashion Museum and bath in England so I expect that she may have been saying something significant when she wrote the smallest waists in my collection are not less than 21 and these are far below the average for which young women's clothing was 24 so why do such a prevalent number of these young women's dresses survive there are a number of possible explanations for this including my own personal favourite bit of logic that they were simply too small to wear to bits or to pass on to others who would well that they were probably expensive and evoked fond memories you know you may not fit into your wedding dress or your prom dress or your court presentation dress a decade later but it somehow feels important and expensive so you keep it so all that being said what about all those detrimental physical effects of course a tree that were so intrinsically led to believe the fainting the shortness of breath the shifted organs and the squashed ribs by the way there is absolutely no evidence for anyone ever having had ribs removed to achieve a smaller waist it is hypothesized in Valerie Steele's the course of a cultural history that this is simply a myth begun by contemporary rumors but seeing as medicine was still experiencing the dawn of an aesthetic practice and abdominal surgery was still an extremely risky endeavor such frivolous and unnecessary operations seem highly unlikely so if you don't already know I have a little skeletal disease called scoliosis which means that my spine has decided to grow in an S bend shape and not by the graceful Edwardian definition I spent many of my younger years in what is effectively a corset so of course I fell into this massive research hole whilst researching for my own course a tree project because here's the thing nowadays there are so many myths floating around about the physical effects of course a dream I always wonder how can one person possibly insist with such fervency of course it's caused fainting and deformed ribs when they themselves have never actually worn one and most importantly worn a proper one because as you shall soon discover with my own course of making endeavours soon to come there is a huge difference between the ways the Victorians drafted their corsets versus the way that modern costumey corsets are drafted today the negative perceptions of course–i tree that we have today I think are stemmed mainly from the rational and Aunty tight lacing tie read presented in magazines newspapers and journals from the period because here's the thing as with any fashion there are always going to be opponents of a certain trend and there are always going to be people who just can't bear the feeling of tight clothing so of course they're going to be the ones to speak out about it and of course to try and convince others to drop the fashion as well this doesn't necessarily mean that this opinion was ubiquitous throughout Victorian society or the people agreed with it the historian and me clung desperately to this question how can any 21st century person on either side of the course of tree argument possibly fully understand the effects of Victorian corset tree went today it is an exactly common practice to begin wearing a corset from adolescence if not earlier again a medical study referenced in Valerie Steele finds that starting to wear a corset in adulthood does not cause any permanent deformation or reshaping of the ribs as it can do when begun in early adolescence so yes present-day studies finds that the ribs and organs shift right back into their natural positions when the corset is removed so if that's true even corset enthusiasts of today who probably didn't start wearing corsets on a regular basis if they do it all into adulthood but we still can't quite closely understand the Victorian experience and it's not as if we can Ithaca Lea conduct present-day experiments on young children to find out exactly what the effects of growing up in a Victorian corset might have on the body but wait thought I I have effectively been wearing a corset since age 14 granted the obvious flaw in my retroactively an entirely unintentional experiment is that my corset was not at all constructed in the same way as a 19th century course it would have been and in fact was deliberately built asymmetrically with the intent of treating my spine not with creating a fashionable figure nevertheless since the worst of my curves sits right at the waist area significant waist reduction was necessary to stop the progression of the curves which means that I was corseted down to a 24 inch waist I wore this for about five years after which I was almost forcibly instructed to get out of it had I not been explicitly told to do so I would honestly probably still be wearing it today because let me tell you a thing I loved it aside from the obvious fact that what 14 year old girl doesn't want to roam the windswept moors of adolescence pretending to be Jane Eyre all the time it was extraordinarily comfortable it was made specifically to my body shape so nothing poked or pressed or hurt very much like historical corsets which mo often conformed to the unique shape of the wherethrough shaped steel or through light flexible whale bone which molded to the body with heat it was supportive did wonders for my posture and actually provided a very intrinsic sense of comfort in knowing that all these vulnerable squishy bits were very well armored it became such a regular part of my daily wear and like any well fitting undergarment nowadays you just sort of forget that it's there to the point where although I was instructed to have it off for three hours per day of course phrased a bit like you are allowed three hours of freedom per day I kept it on continuously but doctors actually have a very good reason for telling you to get out of your brace for a couple of hours every single day because no matter how comfortable and well fit it may be there will always be changes to the function and movement of the upper body when it's placed under any sort of structure when we take measurements for theatres we're often in the habit of taking a chest and waist measurement as well as an expanded measure because the expansion of the ribcage can cause a significant inch or more indifference while the effects of minor or even significant restriction may not necessarily be harmful the impediment of this natural movement of the body does cause it to adapt to these new circumstances by developing new physical habits and seeing that I was wearing my very comfy hard plastic shell for most of my growing years my body did indeed develop some different methods of performance that still persist today the most immediate effect of course was the muscle pain you can probably imagine that after having five years of external support I had absolutely no abdominal strength and still kind of don't like I still can't even do half a set up so indeed there were many moments of lying on the floor in small amounts of agony waiting for the muscle spasms to pass and I can actually very clearly see why the Victorian women may have seen it as healthier to just continue wearing her corset again those who are more bothered by tight clothing would probably have been more determined to do without their corsets and of course to then insist that others do as well thankfully things have improved on the muscular department on my end although I still do have trouble standing up for more than an hour and wearing heels but that's all spinal issues and I don't think have anything to do with the effects of course–i tree moving on to the fainting we see loads of references to the swooning and fainting in novels in works of fiction dating from this period but do we actually see this prevalently in actual non fictional writing indeed Doris Langley more points out that in the diaries letters and other literal records of time there's surprisingly little of this swooning it is entirely likely that this dramatic and conspicuous manner of reaction was simply a popular literary device used to communicate the extreme shock value of a fictional situation anyway with a fer mentioned research in my head I found it incredibly difficult to believe that the overwhelming majority of women were tight lacing down so extremely as to cause such a significant decrease in lung capacity in fact in my own years of said restriction enduring the same 24-inch waist that we see popping up so prevalently in our investigations never once did I feel desperately short of breath and never once did I actually faint but you do breathe differently and I find this still to be true today to compensate for the lack of expansion capacity you learn to breathe with the tops of your lungs rather than with the lower or middle parts of your abdomen taking smaller breaths more frequently as opposed to deeper breaths less frequently which is why L sound winded after walking up a flight of steps or just walking briskly down the street really is this harmful Valerie Steele goes into more detail on this in the chapter and her book devoted to the medical effects of corset rebut her sources and conclusions find that there is no real medical harm in breathing in this different way in fact many people with different sorts of pressure on their diaphragms say for example from pregnancy or obesity breathe in the same way it's perhaps a slightly more laborious way to obtain oxygen but I have yet to experience anything so extreme and detrimental as punctured lungs and fainting and such pulmonary diseases claimed to have been caused by corset reach the final most obvious possible effect of all this corset tree business is my eating habits I have always been an excruciatingly least slow eater that is my own problem but that seems to have been something that's been slightly exacerbated by my years spent in the brace this is perhaps an entirely personal psychological effects and is by no means necessarily widespread amongst corset wears past and present but I found it extraordinarily unbearable to feel full whilst wearing it and so preferred to eat smaller meals more frequently or normal portions but very very slowly to avoid this this is something that I am still in the habit of doing today despite the fact that I am no longer restricted so what about all those other items on the never-ending list of course it related grievances put forth by 19th century physicians consumption dyspepsia heart disease anemia birth defects yes it's possible I won't claim that there aren't any inevitable harmful effects as with any sort of extreme bodily modification as with tight lacing but we must remember that tight lacing was not commonplace and is not synonymous with Corsa tree in general it must also be pointed out that there's really no definitive evidence that many of these abundantly claimed effects were solely and specifically caused by tight lacing since these problems weren't ubiquitously common in particular only to women and haven't miraculously disappeared in our uncor Siddhant population today or in the case of consumption or tuberculosis have since been firmly proven to have other and completely unrelated causes so yeah that's I think is where I shall stop for now Corsa tree and its effects is a massive topic written on extensively both historically as well as today and I've really only just scratched the surface with this video I've put together a list of some of the sources that I explored during my own investigation into this down in the description box below if you are also interested in doing some investigating for yourself and since of course I have not explored all of the resources available out there I would be really interested to hear if you come across any additional points of interest or any new important sources yourself so with all that being said I think the one thing that we can actually definitively conclude at this place in time in regards to these social cultural psychological physical effects of Victorian Corsa tree no matter how much research we do and similar personal experience we may have had will probably never really fully understand them and maybe it's time that we stop pretending that we do that's the point of history I guess

28 thoughts on “I Grew Up in a Corset. Time to Bust Some Myths. (Ft. Actual Research)”

  1. Hello! Yes, it seems I speak very fast; if you are having trouble understanding or keeping up, you can go down into the video settings at the bottom of the video, go to 'speed' and slow it down to 0.75 for a more tolerable speaking rate. 🙂

  2. I'm sorry but most women today don't have a 24 inch waist. There are plus sized models, actresses, youtubers, etc. If some historian in hundreds of years were to analyse today's society and conclude that girls were all as skinny as some models are, that would be extremely incompetent on their part. Also, you admitted yourself that you've had trouble with your muscles, your breathing and your eating because of your own corset (which btw was so different from the victorian era ones that the comparison is weak), so what was the point of this video? you're basically saying "yeah corsets have bad side effects but they wont kill you"

  3. Well done research and great vocabulary! I instantly saved the video to watch, because I also had to wear a correction brace (62° kyphosis and 16/18° scoliosis). I was very surprised when you said that it was comfortable and that you loved it. I was annoyed, because even though I never was embarrassed over it, I wanted a straight and healthy back, but wearing it was impossible. I wore it for only 2 years, as I couldn't handle it. I hated it. I couldn't breathe well, my pelvis bones hurt while walking or sitting, it was difficult to clean, I got regularly burned under my armpits due to the friction and I had to buy new bras, cause wearing ones that clicked on the back and not the front, would create wounds on my back. During summer it was too hot. I had trouble sleeping and a lot of my tshirts got tore while I was at school, sitting back on my chair. I'm really glad it was different for you, though. I'm just sharing my own experience as well. Take care!

  4. 8:10 – I thought that was a scholiosis brace in the thumbnail! I do as well – mine’s a C-curve and fairly mild, but I did wear a brace for about 2 years… it’s still hanging around in my basement somewhere!

  5. Thank you so much for putting it into words so well ! Now I can link people to your video instead of wasting my life will and link a bunch of articles when this kind of discussion comes up,,

  6. YouTube recommended this video, I clicked and I’m in love. Your vocabulary and eloquence are so refreshing, especially in this environment of binging YouTube videos!! Recently I’ve been watching the PBS Masterpiece “Victoria” and I love hearing them speak, the way they say things directly while at the same time using polite words (most of the time). Anyway love hearing you speak!

  7. Very interesting video. Especially your own experiences.
    Many people who wear corsets for long periods today are very aware of keeping their core muscles strong.
    It has been proposed that women can actually easily adapt to upper chest breathing by nature because a pregnancy does far worse things to the body and replacing of the organs than a corset ever could, and the expectant mother still needs to breathe.
    Btw, ''Broken bones'' due to corsetry, meant a whalebone (which gets more brittle over time) got broken. By a good sneeze or something.

  8. I constantly have back pain (even though I have good posture) and the first time I wore a corset for a costume, I was absolutely amazed at how secure my spine felt. It was amazing and I even though I had a little trouble breathing something like 2 hours in (it was tight+asthma) my back hadn’t felt so great since I was a wee lass.

  9. when I watched Kiera knightly being tightlaced into a corset in Pirates of the Caribbean, I believed the myth that corsets were painful and caused respiratory discomfort. however, now that I've worn corsets in theatre and enjoyed them, I rewatched the scene where she is tightlaced and found there was still a lot of space left within her corset for her and I thought that her maids lacing her up could fit their fist in that gap it was so big. same with Emma Watson in beauty and the beast. she objected to stays in her costume even though it was historical costuming, she played up the wardrobe making her gasp for breath when she was taken in at the waist, and it really just makes me roll my eyes now.
    it's not oppressive.
    it doesn't hurt.
    it doesn't cause damage to your rib cage or organs
    and often corsets were made to size so that each woman had a corset that fit properly, as in, corsets don't have a "one size, squeeze in, fits all" branding.

    BTW, I'm in the process of making 18th-century stays, so wish me luck on that endeavor.

  10. I feel like it's somewhat disingenuous to not acknowledge that many people are not wearing properly drafted corsets. I think a lot of the modern day complaints come from the fad of corsets and waist trainers among people who do not do the proper research and willfully play into a idea of corsetry as a way of playing into idealized patriarchal beauty standards or fetish communities that enjoy the tightlacing/body modification aspect. To each his/her own but there are those who like corsets for similar problematic reasons as people who like choker necklaces or bondage-inspired jewelry. People take in societal messaging and sometimes react to it in weird ways.

  11. Having worked at an Elizabethan Ren faire I can tell you the propensity to lace tightly in an Elizabethan style bodice is Quite prevalent due to exactly these myths. Having spent 20+ years doing it I can tell you Yes, it can make you oxygen deprived, and sleepy and faint. I' have come close to passing out myself on a number of occasions. When you are wearing 17-24 Pounds of upholstery fabric and Wool along with said bodice in 98 degrees with 100% humidity Any other strain on the body Will provoke this kind of reaction. And loosening your laces Helps a great deal. Because of my own back issues I did spend a number of years in my own bodice 23-7 and found it quite comfortable, and learned how tight is Too tight. Snug but not Tight, does what it is supposed to without killing you.

  12. I thought I was going to see an attractive woman wearing a corset. Instead I got an intelligent woman explaining things I couldn't grasp on my best day. I'm sad now.😔

  13. I too have spinal alignment issues and have a back brace, that I wore daily for a year, and now only occasionally when the pain flairs up, and it indeed is very comfortable and supportive.

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