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A BOOK oh 



By W. B. L. 


" wha will shoe my fair foot, 
Aud wha will glove my han' ? 
And wha will lace my middle jimp 
Wi' a new-made London ban' ?" 

Fair Annie of L&hroyan. 








The subject which we have here treated is a sort of figurative 
battle-field, where fierce contests have for ages been from time to time 
waged; and, notwithstanding the determined assaults of the attacking 
hosts, the contention and its cause remain pretty much as they were at the 
commencement of the war. We in the matter remain strictly neutral, 
merely performing the part of the public's " own correspondent," making 
it our duty to gather together such extracts from despatches, both ancient 
and modern, as may prove interesting or important, to take note of the 
vicissitudes of war, mark its various phases, and, in fine, to do our best 
to lay clearly before our readers the historical facts — experiences and 
arguments — relating to the much-discussed " Corset question" 

As most of our readers are aware, the leading journals especially 
intended for the perusal of ladies have been for many years the media 
for the exchange of a vast number of letters and papers touching 
the use of the Corset. The questions relating to the history of 
this apparently indispensable article of ladies' attire, its construction, 
application, and influence on the figure have become so numerous of late 
that we have thought, by embodying all that we can glean and garner 
relating to Corsets, their wearers, and the various costumes worn by 
ladies at different periods, arranging the subject-matter in its due order 
as to dates, and at the same time availing ourselves of careful illustration 
when needed, that an interesting volume would result. 


No one, we apprehend, would be likely to deny that, to enable the 
fairer portion of the civilised human race to follow the time-honoured 
custom of presenting to the eye the waist in its most slender pro- 
portions, the Corset in some form must be had recourse to. Our 
information will show how ancient and almost universal its use has 
been, and there is no reason to anticipate that its aid will ever be 
dispensed with so long as an elegant and attractive figure is an object 
worth achieving. 

Such being the case, it becomes a matter of considerable importance 
to discover by what means the desirable end can be acquired without 
injury to the health of those whose forms are being restrained and 
moulded into proportions generally accepted as graceful, by the use and 
influence of the Corset. It will be our duty to lay before the reader 
the strictures of authors, ancient and modern, on this article of dress, 
and it will be seen that the animadversions of former writers greatly 
exceed modern censures, both in number and fierceness of condemnation. 
This difference probably arises from the fact of Corsets of the most 
unyielding and stubborn character being universally made use of at the 
time the severest attacks were made upon them ; and there can be no 
reasonable doubt that much which was written in their condemnation 
had some truth in it, although accompanied by a vast deal of fanciful 
exaggeration. It would also be not stating the whole of the case if we 
omitted here to note that modern authors, who launch sweeping 
anathemas on the very stays by the aid of which their wives and 
daughters are made presentable in society, almost invariably quote 
largely from scribes of ancient date, and say little or nothing, of their 
own knowledge. On the other hand, it will be seen that those 



writing in praise of the moderate use of Corsets take their facts, 
experiences, and grounds of argument from the every-day life and 
general custom of the present period. 

The Crinoline is too closely associated with the Corset and with the 
mutable modes affected by ladies, from season to season, to be omitted 
from any volume which treats of Fashion. The same facts, indeed, may be 
stated of both the Crinoline and the Corset. Both appear to be equally 
indispensable to the woman of the present period. To make them 
serve the purposes of increased cleanliness, comfort, and grace, not only 
without injury to the health, but with positive and admitted advantage 
to the physique — these are the problems to be solved by those whose 
business it is to minister to the ever-changing taste and fashion of 
the day. 



The Corset: — Origin. Use amongst Savago Tribes and Ancient People. Slenderness of 
Waist esteemed in the East, Ceylon, Circassia, Crim Tartary, Hindustan, Persia, China, 
Egypt, Palestine Pages 9 to 29 


The Corset according to Homer, Terentius. The Strophium of Rome, and the Mitra of 
Greece. The Peplus. A Roman Toilet, Bath, and Promenade. General Luxury. 
Cleopatra's Jewels. Tight-lacing on the Tiber Pages 30 to 38 


Frahkish Fashions. The Monks and the Corset. Corsets worn by Gentlemen as well as 
Ladies in the Thirteenth Century. The Kirtle. Small Waists in Scotland. Chaucer on 
Small Bodies. The Surcoat. Long Trains. Skirts. Snako-toed Shoes. High-heeled 
Slippers Pages 41 to 59 


Bonnets. Headdresses. Costumes in the time of Francis I. Pins in France and England. 
Masks in France. Puffed Sleeves. Bernaise Dress. Marie Stuart. Long Slender 
Waists. Henry III. of France "tight-laces." Austrian Joseph prohibits Stays. 
Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth of England. Severe form of Corset. Lawn Ruffs. 
Starching. Stuffed Hose. Venice Fashions. Elizabeth's False Hair. Stubs on the 
Ladies. James I. affects Fashion. Garters and Shoe-roses. Dagger and Rapier Pages 60 to 91 


Louise de Lorraine. Marie de Medici. Distended Skirts. Hair Powder. Hair a Venfant. 
Low Dresses. Louis XIV. High Heels. Slender Waists. Siamese Dress. Charles I. 
Patches. Elaborate Costumes. Puritan Modes. Tight-lacing and Strait-lacing under 
Cromwell. Augsburg Ladies Pages 92 to 104 



Louis XV. A ]a Watteau. Barbers. Fasliions under Queen Anne. Diminutive Waists and 
Enormous Hoop. The Farthingale. The Guardian. Fashions in 1713. Low Dresses. 
Tight Stays. Short Skirts. A Lady's Maid's Accomplishments. Gay and Ben Jonson 
on the Bodice and Stays Pages 109 to 123 


Stays or Corset. Louis XVI. Dress in 1776. Severe Lacing. Hogarth. French Revo- 
lution. Short Waists. Long Trains. Buchan. Jumpers and Garibaldis. Figure- 
training. Back-boards and Stocks. Doctors on Stays. George III. Gentlemen's 
Stays. The Changes of Fashion. The term Ceinoline not new. South Sea Islanders. 
Madame la Sante on Crinoline. Starving and Lacing. Anecdote. Wearing the Corset 
during sleep. American Belles. Illusion Waists. Medicus favours moderate tight- 
lacing. Ladies' Letters on tight-lacing Pages 124 to 1C4 


The Austrian Empress. Viennese Waists. London small-sized Corsets. Correspondence of 
The Queen and the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. Lady Morton. Figure-training. 
Corsets for Young Girls. Early use of well-constructed Corsets. The Boarding-School 
and the Corset. Letters in praise of tight-lacing. Defence of the Crinoline and the 
Corset. The Venus de Medici. Fashionably-dressed Statue. Clumsy Figures. Letter 
from a Tight-lacer. A Young Baronet. A Family Man .... Pages 105 to 18G 


No elegance without the Corset. Fashion of 1865. Short Waist and Train of 1867. Tight 
Corset and Short Waist. A form of French Corset. Proportions of Figure and Waist. 
The Point of the Waist. Older Writers on Stays. Denunciations against Small Waists 
and High Heels. Alarming Diseases through High Heels. Female Mortality. Corset 
Statistics. Modern and Ancient Corset Pages 189 to 201 


Front-fastening Stays. Thomson's Corset. Stability of front-fastening Corset. De La 
Garde's Corset. Self-measurement. Viennese Bcdresseur Corset. Flimsy Corsets. 
Proper Materials. " Minet Back" Corset. Elastic Corsets. Narrow Bands Injurious. 
The Corset properly applied produces a graceful figure. The Farthingale Reviewed. 
Thomson's Zephyrina Crinoline. Costume of the Present Season. The claims of Nature. 
Similitude between the Tahitian Girl and Venetian Lady .... Pages 202 to 224 


i. The Dawn of tub Corset n 

2. Circassian Lady 15 

3. Egyptian Lady in Full Skirt 18 

4. Persian Dancing Girl 21 

5. Egyptian Lady in Narrow Skirt 24 

6. Lady of Ancient Greece 32 

7. Roman Lady of Rank (Reign of Heliogabalus) 39 

8. The Fiend of Fashion, from an Ancient Manuscript 43 

9. The Princess Blanche, Daughter of Edward III. 48 

10. Lady of Rank of the Thirteenth Century 51 

11. Lady of the Court of Queen Catherine de Medici 55 

12. Full Court Dress as worn in France, 15 15 58 

13. Ladies of Fashion in the Costume of 1380 61 

14. Norman Headdress of the Present Day 64 

15. Lady of the Court of Charles VIII., 1500 67 

16. Lady of the Court of Maximilian of Germany and Francis of France . 70 

17. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Time of Catherine de Medici . . 71 

18. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Open) . 72 

19. The Bernaise Headdress, and Costume of Marie Stuart .... 74 

20. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Closed) 76 

21. Henry III. of France and the Princess Margaret of Lorraine . . 77 

22. Lady of the Court of Queen Elizabeth 80 

23. A Venetian Lady of Fashion, 1560 83 

24. Queen Elizabeth 86 

25. Court Dress during the Boyhood of Louis XIII. 93 

26. Marie de Medici 96 

27. Fancy Costumes of the Time of Louis XIV 99 



28. Siamese Dress worn at the Court of Louis XIV 102 

29. Young English Lady of Fashion, 1653 105 

30. Fancy Dress worn in the Reign of Louis XV 108 

31. Costumes after Watteau m 

32. Crinoline in 1713 114 

33. Low Bodies and Curtailed Crinoline 117 

34. Court Dress of the Reign of Louis XVI 125 

35. Classic Costume of the French Revolutionary Period . . . .128 

36. Lady of Fashion, 1806 . ■ 131 

37. Fashionable Dress in 1824 139 

38. Lady of Fashion, 1827 142 

39. Lady of Fashion, 1830 145 

40. Lady of Fashion, 1837 148 

41. The Crinoline of a South Sea Islander 151 

42. The Fashion of 1865 188 

43. The Fashion of 1867 191 

44. Corset, forming both Corset and Stomacher (Front) 197 

45. Corset, forming both Corset and Stomacher (Back) 200 

46. Common Cheap Stay, Fastened 202 

47. Common Cheap Stay, Open 203 

48. The Glove-Fitting Corset (Thomson and Co.) 204 

49. Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Front) 205 

50. Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Back) 208 

51. The Redresseur Corset of Vienna (Weiss) 211 

52. The Fashion of 1868 222 

53. The Zephyrina Jupon (Thomson and Co.) 223 

54. Tahitian Dancing Girl and Venetian Lady 224 



The origin of the Corset — The Indian hunting-belt — Reduction of the figure by the 
ancient inhabitants of Polenqui — Use of the Corset by the natives of the Eastern 
Archipelago — Improvements in construction brought about by the advance of civilisa- 
tion — Slenderness of waist esteemed a great beauty in the East — Earth-eating in 
Java — Figure-training in Ceylon — The beauties of Circassia, their slender waists and 
Corsets — Elegant princesses of Crim Tartary — Hindoo belles — Hindoo ideas of 
beauty — Elegance of figure highly esteemed by the Persians — Letter from a Chinese 
gentleman (Woo-tan-zhin) on slender waists — Researches amongst the antiquities of 
Egypt — Fashions of the Egyptian ladies — The Corset in use among the Israelitish 
ladies — The elegance of their costume, bridal dress, &c. — Scriptural references. 

TipOR the origin of the corset we must travel back into far antiquity. 
How far it would be difficult to determine. The unreclaimed 
savage who, bow in hand, threads the mazes of the primeval forests 
in pursuit of the game he subsists on, fashions for himself, from the 
skin of some animal which good fortune may have cast in his way, a 
belt or girdle from which to suspend his rude knife, quiver, or other 
hunting gear ; and experience teaches him that, to answer the purpose 
efficiently, it should be moderately broad and sufficiently stiff to prevent 
creasing when secured round the waist. A sharpened bone, or fire- 
hardened stick, serves to make a row of small holes at each end ; a strip 
of tendon, or a thong of hide, forms a lace with which the extremities 
are drawn together, thereby giving support to the figure during the 
fatigues of the chase. The porcupine's quill, the sea-shell, the wild 
beast's tooth, and the cunningly-dyed root, all help to decorate and 
ornament the hunting-belt. The well-formed youths and graceful 


belles of the tribe were not slow in discovering that, when arrayed 
in all the panoply of forest finery, a belt well drawn in, as shown in the 
annexed illustration, served to display the figure to much greater advan- 
tage than one carelessly or loosely adjusted. Here, then, we find the 
first indication of the use of the corset as an article of becoming attire. 
At the very first dawn of civilisation there are distinct evidences of the 
use of contrivances for the reduction and formation of the female figure. 
Researches among the ruins of Polenqui,.one of the mysterious forest cities 
of South America, whose history is lost in remote antiquity, have brought 
to light most singular evidences of the existence of a now forgotten 
race. Amongst the works of art discovered there is a bas-relief repre- 
senting a female figure, which, in addition to a profusion of massive 
ornaments, wears a complicated and elaborate waist-bandage, which, 
by a system of circular and transverse folding and looping, confines the 
waist from just below the ribs to the hips as firmly and compactly as 
the most unyielding corset of the present day. 

At the period of the discovery of some of the islands of the 
Eastern Archipelago, it was found customary for all young females to 
wear a peculiar kind of corset, formed of spirally-arranged rattan 
cane, and this, when once put on, was not removed until the celebration 
of the marriage ceremony. Such races as were slowly advancing in the 
march of civilisation, after discovery by the early navigators, became 
more and more accustomed to the use of clothing, to adjust and retain 
which, waistbands would become essentially requisite. These, when 
made sufficiently broad to fit without undue friction, and stiff enough to 
prevent folding together in the act of stooping, sitting, or moving 
about, at once became in effect corsets, and suggested to the minds 
of the ingenious a system of cutting and fitting so as more perfectly to 
adapt them to the figure of the wearer. The modes of fastening, as 
we shall see, have been various, from the simple sewing together with 
the lace to the costly buckle and jewelled loop and stud. 



Investigation proves to us that the taste for slender waists prevailed 
even more in the Eastern nations than in those of Europe, and we find 
that other means besides that of compression have been extensively- 
taken advantage of. Humboldt, in his personal narrative, describes the 
women of Java, and informs us that the reddish clay called " ampo" is 
eaten by them in order that they may become slim, want of plumpness 
being a kind of beauty in that country. Though the use of this 
earth is fatal to health, those desirous of profiting by its reducing 
qualities persevere in its consumption. Loss of appetite and inability to 
partake of more than most minute portions of food are not slow in 
bringing the wished-for consummation about. The inhabitants of 
Ceylon make a perfect study of the training of the figure to the most 
slender proportions. Books on the subject are common in that country, 
and no young lady is considered the perfection of fashionable elegance 
unless a great number of qualities and graces are possessed ; not the 
least of these is a waist which can be quite or nearly clasped with the 
two hands ; and, as we proceed with our work, it will be seen that this 
standard for the perfection of waist-measurement has been almost 
world-wide. From the coral-fringed and palm-decked islands of the 
Pacific and Indian Ocean we have but to travel to the grass-clad Yaila 
of Crim Tartary and the rock-crowned fastnesses of Circassia, to see the 
same tastes prevailing, and even more potent means in force for the 
obtainment of a taper form. Any remarks from us as to the beauty of 
the ladies of Circassia would be needless, their claim to that enviable 
endowment being too well established to call for confirmation at our 
hands, and that no pains are spared in the formation of their figures 
will be best seen by a quotation from a recent traveller who writes on 
the subject: — 

" What would" (he says) " our ladies think of this fashion on the part 
of the far-famed beauties of Circassia ? The women wear a corset made of 
c morocco,' and furnished with two plates of wood placed on the chest, 


which, by their strong pressure, prevent the expansion of the chest ; this 
corset also confines the bust from the collar-bones to the waist by means 
of a cord which passes through leather rings. They even wear it 
during the night, and only take it off when worn out, to put on another 
quite as small." He then speaks of the daughters of Osman Oglow, 
and says, " Their figures were tightened in an extraordinary degree, and 
their anteries were clasped from the throat downwards by silver plates." 

These plates are not only ornamental, but being firmly sewn to the 
two busks in front of the corset, and being longest at the top and 
narrowest at the waist, when clasped, as shown in the accompanying 
illustration, any change in fit or adjustment is rendered impossible. It 
will be seen on examination that at each side of the bottom of the 
corsage is a large round plate or boss of ornamental silver These 
serve as clasps for the handsomely-mounted silver waist-belt, and by 
their size and position serve to contrast with the waist, and make it 
appear extremely small. That the elegancies of female attire have been 
deeply studied even among the Tartars of the Crimea will be seen by 
the following account, written by Madame de Hell, of her visit to 
Princess Adel Beg, a celebrated Tartar beauty : — 

" Admitted into a fairy apartment looking out on a terraced garden, 
a curtain was suddenly raised at the end of the room, and a woman of 
striking beauty entered, dressed in rich costume. She advanced to me 
with an air of remarkable dignity, took both my hands, kissed me on 
the two cheeks, and sat down beside me, making many demonstrations 
of friendship. She wore a great deal of rouge ; her eyelids were painted 
black, and met over the nose, giving her countenance a certain sternness, 
which, nevertheless, did not destroy its pleasing effect. A furred velvet 
vest fitted tight to her still elegant figure, and altogether her appear- 
ance surpassed what I had conceived of her beauty. After some time, 
when I offered to go, she checked me with a very graceful gesture, and 
said eagerly, ' Pastoi, pastoi,' which is Russian for ' Stay, stay,' and 

Circassian Lady. 


Egyptian Lady in Full Skirt. 



clapped her hands several times. A young girl entered at the signal, 
and by her mistress's orders threw open a folding-door, and immediately 
I was struck dumb with surprise and admiration by a most brilliant 
apparition. Imagine, reader, the most exquisite sultanas of whom 
poetry and painting have ever tried to convey an idea, and still your 
conception will fall far short of the enchanting models I had then before 
me. There were three of them, all equally graceful and beautiful. 
They were clad in tunics of crimson brocade, adorned in front with 
broad gold lace. The tunics were open, and disclosed beneath them 
cashmere robes with very tight sleeves, terminating in gold fringes. 
The youngest wore a tunic of azure-blue brocade, with silver ornaments ; 
this was the only difference between her dress and that of her sisters. 
All three had magnificent black hair escaping in countless tresses from a 
fez of silver filigree, set like a diadem over their ivory foreheads. 
They wore gold-embroidered slippers and wide trousers drawn close at 
the ankle. I had never beheld skins so dazzlingly fair, eyelashes so 
long, or so delicate a bloom of youth." 

The Hindoos subject the figures of their dancing-girls and future 
belles to a system of very careful training ; in all their statues, from those 
of remote antiquity, to be seen in the great cave temples of Carlee Elanra, 
and Elephanta, to those of comparatively modern date, the long and 
slender waist is invariably associated with other attributes of their 
standard of beauty. "Thurida," the daughter of Brahama, is thus 
described by a Hindoo writer : — 

"This girl" (he informs us) "was of a yellow colour, and had a nose 
like the flower of resamum ; her legs were taper, like the plantain tree ; 
her eyes large, like the principal leaf of the lotus ; her eyebrows ex- 
tended to her ears ; her lips were red, and like the young leaves of the 
mango tree ; her face was like the full moon.; her voice like the sound 
of the cuckoo ; her arms reached to her knees ; her throat was like that 
of a pigeon ; her loins narrow, like those of a lion ; her hair hung in 


curls down to her feet ; her teeth were like the seeds of the pome- 
granate ; and walk like that of a drunken elephant or a goose." 

The Persians entertain much the same notions with regard to the 
necessity for slenderness of form in the belles of their nation, but differ in 
other matters from the Hindoos. The following illustration represents a 
dancing-girl of Persia, and it will be seen that her figure bears no 
indication of neglect of cultivation. It is somewhat curious that the 
Chinese, with all their extraordinary ingenuity, have confined their 
restrictive efforts to the feet of the ladies, leaving their waists unconfined. 
That their doing so is more the result of long-established custom than 
absence of admiration for elegantly-proportioned figures will be clearly 
proved by the following extract from a letter published in Chambers* 
Journal, written by a genuine inhabitant of the Celestial Empire, 
named Woo-tan-zhin, who paid a visit to England in 1844-45. Thus 
he describes the ladies of England : — 

" Their eyes, having the blue tint of the waters of autumn, are 
charming beyond description, and their waists are laced as tight and thin 
as a willow branch. What, perhaps, caught my fancy most was the 
sight of elegantly-dressed young ladies, with pearl-like necks and tight- 
laced waists ; nothing can possibly be so enchanting as to see ladies that 
compress themselves into taper forms of the most exquisite shape, the 
like of which I have never seen before." 

By many writers it has been urged that the admiration so generally 
felt for slenderly-proportioned and taper waists results from an artificial 
taste set up by long custom; but in Woo-tan-zhin's case it was 
clearly not so, as the small-waisted young ladies of the "outer 
barbarians" were to him much as some new and undescribed flowers or 
birds would be to the wondering naturalist who first beheld them. 

Although researches among the antiquities of Egypt and Thebes 
fail to bring to our notice an article of dress corresponding with the 
waist-bandage of Polenqui or the strophium of later times, we find 

Persian D.vxcixg Girt. 


Egyptian Lady in Narrow Skirt. 



2 5 

elaborately-ornamented waistbelts in general use, and by their arrange- 
ment it will be seen that they were so worn as to show the waist off to 
the best advantage. The accompanying illustrations represent Egyptian 
ladies of distinction. The dress in the first, it will be observed, is worn 
long. A sort of transparent mantle covers and gives an appearance 
of width to the shoulders, whilst a coloured sash, after binding the 
waist, is knotted in front, and the ends allowed to fall freely over the 
front of the dress, much as we have seen it worn in our own time ; and 
it is most remarkable that, although there is no evidence to show the use 
of crinoline by the ladies of old Egypt, the lower border of the skirt, in 
some instances, appears distended as in the prior illustration ; whilst in 
others, as shown in the second engraving, the dress is made to fit the 
lower portion of the figure closely, barely affording scope for the movement 
of the legs in walking. How often these arrangements of dress have 
been in turn adopted and discarded will be seen as our work proceeds. 

The following extract from Fullam will show that Fashion within the 
shadow of the Pyramids, in the days of the Pharaohs, reigned with 
power as potent and supreme as that which she exercises in the imperial 
palaces of Paris and Vienna at the present day : — 

"The women of Egypt early paid considerable attention to their 
toilet. Their dress, according to Herodotus, consisted usually of but 
one garment, though a second was often added. Among the upper 
orders the favourite attire was a petticoat tied round the waist with a 
gay sash, and worn under a robe of fine linen or a sort of chintz 
variously coloured, and made large and loose, with wide sleeves, the 
band being fastened in front just under the bust. Their feet were 
incased in sandals, the rudiment of the present Eastern slipper, which 
they resembled also in their embroidery and design. Their persons and 
apparel, in conformity with Oriental taste in all ages, were profusely 
decked with ornaments, 'jewels of silver and jewels of gold,' with 
precious gems of extraordinary size, of which imitations, hardly dis- 


tinguishable from the real stones, were within the reach of the humblest 
classes, whose passion for finery could not be surpassed by their superiors. 
The richly carved and embroidered sandals, tied over the instep with 
tassels of gold, were surmounted by gold anklets or bangles, which, as 
well as the bracelets encircling the wrist, sparkled with rare gems ; and 
necklaces of gold or of beautiful beads, with a pendant of amethysts or 
pearls, hung from the neck. Almost every finger was jewelled, and the 
ring finger in particular was usually allotted several rings, while massive 
earrings shaped like hoops, or sometimes taking the form of a jewelled 
asp or of a dragon, adorned the ears. Gloves were used at a very early 
date, and among the other imperishable relics of that olden time the 
tombs of Egypt have rendered up to us a pair of striped linen mittens, 
which once covered the hands of a Theban lady. 

" Women of quality inclosed their hair with a band of gold, from which 
a flower drooped over the forehead, while the hair fell in long plaits to 
the bosom, and behind streamed down the back to the waist. The side 
hair was secured by combs made of polished wood or by a gold pin, and 
perhaps was sometimes adorned, like the brow, with a favourite flower. 
The toilet was furnished with a brazen mirror, polished to such a degree 
as to reflect every lineament of the face, and the belles of Egypt, as 
ladies of the present day may imagine, spent no small portion of their 
time with this faithful counsellor. The boudoirs were not devoid of an 
air of luxury and refinement particularly congenial to a modern imagina- 
tion. A stand near the unglazed window supported vases of flowers, 
which filled the room with delicious odours; a soft carpet overspread 
the floor; two or three richly-carved chairs and. an embroidered 
fauteuil afforded easy and inviting seats ; and the lotus and papyrus 
were frescoed on the walls. Besides the brazen mirror, other acces- 
sories of the toilet were arranged on the ebony table, and boxes and 
caskets grotesquely carved, some containing jewels, others furnished 
with oils and ointments, took their place with quaintly-cut smelling- 


2 7 

bottles, wooden combs, silver or bronze bodkins, and lastly, pins and 

" Seated at this shrine, the Egyptian beauty, with her dark glance 
fixed on the brazen mirror, sought to heighten those charms which are 
always most potent in their native simplicity. A touch of collyrium 
gave illusive magnitude to her voluptuous eyes ; another cosmetic 
stained their lids ; a delicate brush pencilled her brows — sometimes, 
alas ! imparted a deceitful bloom to her cheeks ; and her taper fingers 
were coloured with the juice of henna. Precious ointments were 
poured on her hair, and enveloped her in an atmosphere of perfume, 
while the jeweller's and milliner's arts combined to decorate her 

In Sir Gardner Wilkinson's admirable work on ancient Egypt, to 
which I am indebted for some valuable information, there is a plate 
representing a lady in a bath with her attendants, drawn from a 
sculpture in a tomb at Thebes, whence we may derive some faint idea 
of the elaborate character of an Egyptian toilet. 

The lady is seated in a sort of pan, with her long hair streaming 
over her shoulders, and is supported by the arm of an attendant, who, 
with her other hand, holds a flower to her nose, while another damsel 
pours water over her head, and a third washes and rubs down her 
delicate arms. A fourth maiden receives her jewels, and deposits 
them on a stand, where she awaits the moment when they will be again 

There appears little doubt that the ancient Israelitish ladies, amongst 
their almost endless and most complex articles of adornment, numbered 
the corset in a tolerably efficient form, and of attractive and rich 
material, for we read in the twenty-fourth verse of the third chapter of 
Isaiah, referring to Divine displeasure manifested against the people of 
Jerusalem and Judah, and the taking away of matters of personal 
adornment from the women, that " instead of a girdle there should be a 



rent, and instead of well-set hair baldness, and instead of a stomacher 
a girding of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty." Here we have 
the coarse, repulsive, unattractive sackcloth held up in marked contrast 
to the stomacher, which was without question a garment on which much 
attention was bestowed ; and the following extract from Fullam's History 
of Woman shows how costly and magnificent was the costume of the 
period : — 

"The bridal dress of a princess or Jewish lady of rank, whose 
parents possessed sufficient means, was of the most sumptuous descrip- 
tion, as may be seen from the account given of that worn by the bride 
of Solomon in the Canticles, and the various articles enumerated show 
the additions which feminine taste had already made to the toilet. The 
body was now clothed in a bodice ascending to the network which 
inclosed, rather than concealed, the swelling bust ; and jewelled clasps 
and earrings, with strings of pearls and chains of gold, gave a dazzling 
effect to Oriental beauty. In Solomon's reign silk is said to have been 
added to the resources of the toilet, and the sex owe to a sister, 
Pamphyla, the daughter of Patous, the discovery of this exquisite 
material, in which woman wrested from Nature a dress worthy of her 

" The ordinary attire of Jewish women was made of linen, usually 
white, without any intermixture of colours, though, in accordance with 
the injunction in Numbers xv. 38, they made 'fringes in the borders of 
their garments,' and ' put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of 
blue.' Judith, when she sought to captivate Holofernes, ' put on her 
garments of gladness, wherewith she was clad during the life of 
Manasses her husband; and she took sandals upon her feet, and put 
about her bracelets, and her chains, and her rings, and her earrings, and 
all her ornaments, and decked herself bravely to allure the eyes of all 
men that should see her.' Gemmed bangles encircled her ankles, 
attracting the glance to her delicate white feet ; and Holofernes, by an 


2 9 

Oriental figure of speech, is said to have been ' ravished by the beauty 
of her sandals.' Like the belles of Egypt she did not disdain, in setting 
off her charms, to have recourse to perfumes and cosmetics, and 
previously to setting out she ' anointed herself with precious ointment.' 
In another place Jezebel is said to c paint her eyelids ;' and Solomon, in 
the Proverbs, in describing the deceitful woman, adjures his son not to 
be * taken with her eyelids,' evidently alluding to the use of collyrium. 
The Jewish beauty owed no slight obligation to her luxuriant tresses, 
which were decorated with waving plumes and strings of pearls ; and 
in allusion to this custom, followed among the tribes from time imme- 
morial, St. Paul affirms that ' a woman's ornament is her hair.' Judith 
' braided the hair of her head and put a tire upon it ;' and the headdress 
of Pharaoh's daughter, in the Canticles, is compared by Solomon to 
Carmel. No mention is made of Judith's mirror, but it was undoubtedly 
made of brass, like those described in Exodus xxxviii. 8 as ' the 
looking-glasses of the women which assembled at the door of the 
tabernacle of the congregation.' " 



Homer the first ethnic writer who speaks of an article of dress allied to the Corset — The 
cestus or girdle of Venus — Terentius, the Roman dramatist, and his remarks on the 
practice of tight-lacing — The use of the strophium by the ladies of Rome, and the 
mitra of the Grecian belles— The peplus as worn by the ancients — Toilet of a Roman 
lady of fashion — Roman baths — Fashionable promenades of Ancient Rome — Bound- 
less luxury and extravagance — Cleopatra and her jewels — The taper waists and tight- 
lacing of the ancient Roman ladies — Conquest of the Roman Empire. 

A MONGST the ethnic writers, Homer appears to be the first who 
describes an article of female dress closely allied to the corset. He 
tells us of the cestus or girdle of Venus, mother of the Loves and Graces, 
and of the haughty Juno, who was fabled to have borrowed it with a 
view to the heightening and increasing her personal attractions, in order 
that Jupiter might become a more tractable and orderly husband. The 
poet attributes most potent magical virtues to the cestus, but these are 
doubtlessly used in a figurative sense, and Juno, in borrowing the cestus, 
merely obtained from a lady of acknowledged elegance of figure a 
corset with which to set her own attractions off to the best possible 
advantage, so that her husband might be charmed with her improved 
appearance ; and Juno appears to have been a very far-seeing and 
sensible woman. From periods of very remote antiquity, and with the 
gradual increase of civilisation, much attention appears to have been 
paid to the formation and cultivation of the female figure, and much the 
same means were had recourse to for the achievement of the same end 
prior to 560 B.C. as in the year 1868. Terentius, the Roman dramatist, 
who was born in the year 560, causes one of his characters, in speaking 
of the object of his affections, to exclaim — 

" This pretty creature isn't at all like our town ladies, whose mothers 

Lady of Ancient Greece. 



saddle their backs and straitlace their waists to make them well-shaped. 
If any chance to grow a little plumper than the rest, they presently cry, 
* She's an hostess,' and then her allowance must be shortened, and though 
she be naturally fat and lusty, yet by her dieting she is made as 
slender as a broomstick. By this means one woodcock or another is 
caught in their springe." 

Strutt informs us that the Roman women, married as well as 
unmarried, used girdles, and besides them they sometimes wore a broad 
swath or bandage round their breasts, called strophium, which seems to 
have answered the purpose of the bodice or stays, and had a buckle or 
bandage on the left shoulder, and that the mitra or girdle of the Greeks 
probably resembled the strophium of the Romans. The annexed 
illustration represents a lady of Ancient Greece. He also speaks of 
the Muses as being described by Hesiod as being girt with golden 
"mitres" and goes on to inform us that Theocritus in one of his 
pastorals introduces a damsel complaining to a shepherd of his rudeness, 
saying he had loosened her mitra or girdle, and tells her he means to 
dedicate the same to Venus. So it will be seen that the waist and its 
adornment were considered at that early period of the world's history 
matters of no ordinary importance, and whether the term strophium, 
zone, mitra, custula, stays, bodice, or corset is made use of, the end 
sought to be obtained by their aid was the same. 

Constant mention is made by early writers of the peplus as being a 
very elegant garment, and there are notices of it as far back as the 
Trojan war, and the ladies of Troy appear to have generally worn it. 
On the authority of Strutt, it may be stated to have been " a thin light 
mantle worn by Grecian ladies above the tunic ;" and we read that 
Antinous presented to Penelope a beautiful large and variegated 
peplus, having twelve buckles of gold, with tongues neatly curved. 
The peplus, however, was a very splendid part of the lady's dress, and 
it is rarely mentioned by Homer without some epithet to distinguish it 

as such. He calls it the variegated peplus and the painted peplus, 
alluding to ornamental decorations either interwoven or worked with the 
needle upon it, which consisted not only in diversity of colours, but of 
flowers, foliage, and other kinds of imagery, and sometimes he styles it 
the soft purple peplus, which was then valuable on account of the excel- 
lence of the colour. We learn from a variety of sources that the early 
Roman and Grecian ladies indulged in almost unprecedented luxury in 
matters of personal adornment, as the following extract from Fullam 
will show : — 

"The toilet of a Roman lady involved an elaborate and very costly 
process. It commenced at night, when the face, supposed to have been 
tarnished by exposure, was overlaid with a poultice, composed of boiled 
or moistened flour spread on with the fingers. Poppaean unguents 
sealed the lips, and the body was profusely rubbed with Cerona oint- 
ment. In the morning the poultice and unguents were washed off; a 
bath of asses' milk imparted a delicate whiteness to the skin, and the 
pale face was freshened and revived with enamel. The full eyelids, 
which the Roman lady still knows so well how to use — now suddenly 
raising them, to reveal a glance of surprise or of melting tenderness? 
now letting them drop like a veil over the lustrous eyes — the full, 
rounded eyelids were coloured within, and a needle dipped in jetty dye 
gave length and sphericity to the eyebrows. The forehead was encircled 
by a wreath or fillet fastened in the luxuriant hair which rose in front 
in a pyramidal pile formed of successive ranges of curls, and giving the 
appearance of more than ordinary height. 

" ' So high she builds her head, she seems to be, 
View her in front, a tall Andromache ; 
But walk all round her, and you'll quickly find 
She's not so great a personage behind.' 

" Roman ladies frequented the public baths, and it was not unusual 
for dames of the highest rank to resort to these lavatories in the dead 

hour of the night. Seated in a palanquin or sedan borne by sturdy 
chairmen, and preceded by slaves bearing flambeaux, they made their 
way through the deserted streets, delighted to arouse and alarm their 
neighbours. A close chair conveyed the patrician matron to the spec- 
tacles and shows, to which she always repaired in great state, surrounded 
by her servants and slaves, the dependants of her husband, and the 
clients of her house, all wearing the badge of the particular faction she 
espoused. The factions of the circus were four in number, and were 
distinguished by their respective colours of blue, green, white, and red, 
to which Domitian, who was a zealous patron of the Circensian games, 
added the less popular hues of gold and purple. But the spectators 
generally attached themselves either to the blue or the green, and the 
latter was the chief favourite, numbering among its adherents emperors 
and empresses, senators, knights, and noble dames, as well as the great 
mass of the people, who, when their champions were defeated, carried 
their partisanship to such an extreme that the streets were repeatedly 
deluged with the blood of the blues, and more than once the safety of 
the state was imperilled by these disgraceful commotions. 

"The public walks and gardens were a fashionable resort of the 
Roman ladies. There they presented themselves in rich costume, which 
bore testimony alike to the wealth of their husbands and their own taste. 
A yellow tire or hood partly covered, but did not conceal, their piled 
hair; their vest of muslin or sarcenet, clasped with gems, was draped 
with a murry-coloured robe descending to their high-heeled Greek 
boots ; necklaces of emerald hung from their swan-like necks, and 
jewelled earrings from their ears ; diamonds glittered on their fingers, 
and their dazzling complexions were shielded from the sun by a parasol." 

The researches of Strutt show us that the shoes of the ladies, and 
especially among the Romans, proved a very expensive part of the dress. 
In general they were white, but persons of opulence did not confine 
themselves to any colour. We find them black, scarlet, purple, yellow, 


and green. They were often not only richly adorned with fringes and 
embroideries of gold, but set with pearls and precious stones of the most 
costly kind, and these extravagances were not confined to persons of rank. 
They were imitated by those of lower station, and became so prevalent at 
the commencement of the third century, that even the luxurious Emperor 
Heliogabalus thought it necessary to publish an edict prohibiting the use 
of such expensive shoes excepting to women of quality. The women 
wore the close shoe or calceus. Gloves, too, as we have seen before, 
were known and used in very early ages, and it appears probable that 
they were first devised by those whose labours called them to the thick- 
tangled thorn coverts, but that they were worn by those who did not 
labour is clearly proved by Homer, who describes the father of Ulysses 
when living in a state of rest as wearing gloves ; but he gives us no 
information as to the material from which they were manufactured. The 
Romans appear to have been much more addicted to the practice of 
wearing gloves than the Greeks, and we are informed that " under the 
emperors they were made with fringes," though others were without 
them, and were fashioned much after the manner of the mittens of the 
present day. Further on we learn that " as riches and luxury increased, 
the lady's toilet was proportionately filled with ornaments for the person, 
so that it was called ' the woman's world.'' " They not only anointed 
the hair and used rich perfumes, but sometimes they painted it. They 
also made it appear of a bright yellow colour by the assistance of washes 
and compositions made for that purpose ; but they never used powder, 
which is a much later invention. They frizzled and curled the hair with 
hot irons, and sometimes they raised it to a great height by rows of curls 
one above another in the form of a helmet, and such as had not sufficient 
hair of their own used false hair to complete the lofty pile, and these 
curls appear to have been fashioned with hairpins. The Grecian 
virgins used to braid their hair in a multiplicity of knots, but that custom, 
as well as painting the under part of the eyelids with black paint, was 



discommended by an ancient poet. Persons of rank had slaves to 
perform for them the offices of the toilet. They held the mirror in 
their hand themselves and gave directions, and Martial tells us that, if the 
slaves unfortunately placed a hairpin wrong, or omitted to twist the 
curls exactly as they were ordered, the mirror was thrown at the 
offender's head, or, according to Juvenal, the whip was applied with 
much severity. The hair was adorned with ornaments of gold, with 
pearls and precious stones, and sometimes with garlands or chaplets of 
flowers. It was also bound with fillets and ribbons of various colours 
and kinds. The net or hair-caul for the purpose of inclosing the 
hinder part of the hair was in general use with the Grecian and Roman 
ladies. These ornaments were frequently enriched with embroidery, 
and sometimes made so thin that Martial sarcastically called them 
" bladders:' 

Again, in the matter of earrings, we quote from the same valuable 
and trustworthy authority. No adornment of the head claims priority 
to earrings. They have been fashionable, as Montfaucon justly observes, 
in all ages and almost all nations. It is evident from Homer that the 
Grecian women bored their ears for the admission of these ornaments. 
The poet gives earrings to the goddess Juno, and the words he uses on 
the occasion are literally these : — " In her well-perforated ears she put the 
earrings of elaborate workmanship, having three eyes in each" — that is, 
three pendants or jewels, either made in the form of eyes, or so called 
from their brightness. The extravagance of the Grecian and Roman 
ladies in the purchase of these articles of adornment almost exceeds 
belief. Pliny says, "They seek for pearls at the bottom of the Red 
Sea, and search the bowels of the earth for emeralds to ornament their 
ears ;" and Seneca tells us that " a single pair of earrings was worth 
the revenue of a large estate, and that some women would wear at their 
ears the price of two or three patrimonies." We read that the earrings 
worn by Cleopatra were valued at £161,458, and that Servilia, the 




mother of Brutus, was presented with a pair by Julius Cassar, the value 
of which was £48,457, 

Bracelets are also ornaments of high antiquity, as are rings and 
brooches of various forms for fastening the dress. 

Rich gold chains and jewelled fastenings were in common use during 
this period. The annexed illustration represents a Roman lady of 
rank about the reign of Heliogabalus. Little alteration appears to have 
taken place in the general style of costume for some very considerable 
period of time, and the patrician ladies concealed beneath their flowing 
draperies a kind of corset, which they tightened very considerably, for a 
slight and tapering waist was looked upon as a great beauty in women, 
and great attention was paid to the formation of the figure, in spite of 
all that has been written about the purely natural and statuesque forms 
of the Roman matrons. On the conquest of the Roman Empire by the 
wild and savage Hunnish tribes, fashion, art, taste, literature, and civilisa- 
tion were swept ruthlessly away, and a long, weird night of mental 
darkness may be said to have reigned throughout the land from the 
tenth to the middle of the fifteenth century, and we see little or nothing 
of Roman elegance or magnificence of dress to distinguish it above other 
nations from that period. 



Roman Lady of Rank (Reign of BLeliogabalus). 





The ladies of Old France — Their fashions during the reign of King Pepin — Revival of the 
taste for small waists — Introduction of " cottes hardies'''' — Monkish satire on the Corset 
in England in the year IO43, curious MS. relating to — The small waists of the 
thirteenth century — The ancient poem of Launfal — The Lady Tiiamore, daughter 
of the King of the Fairies — Curious entry in the household register of Eleanor, 
Countess of Leicester, date 1265 — Corsets worn by gentlemen at that period — The 
kirtle as worn in England — The penance of Jane Shore — Dress of Blanche, daughter 
of Edward III — Dunbar's Thistle and Rose — Admiration for small waists in Scot- 
land in the olden time — Chaucer's writings — Small waists admired in his day — The 
use of the surcoat in England — Reckless hardihood of a determined tailor — The 
surcoat worn by Mane d'Anjou of France — Italian supremacy in matters of dress — 
The Medici, Este, and Visconti — Costume of an Italian duchess desc.ib.d - Freaks 
of fashion in France and Germany — Long trains — Laws to restrain the length of 
skirts — Snake-toed shoes give place to high-heeled slippers. 

"O ESEARCH fails to show us that the ladies of France in their simple 
Hersvingian and Carlovingian dresses paid any attention to the 
formation of the waist or its display. But during the ninth century we 
find the dresses worn extremely tight, and so made as to define the waist 
and render it as slim as possible ; and although the art of making the 
description of corsets worn by the ladies of Rome was no doubt at that 
time lost, the revived taste for slender figures led to the peculiar form of 
corsage known as cottes bardies, which were much stiffened and worn 
extremely tight. These took the place of the quaint, oddly-formed 
robes we see draping the figures of Childeric's and Pepin's queens. The 
" cottes hardies" were, moreover, clasped at the waist by a broad belt, and 
seem pretty well to have merited their martial name. Very soon after 
this period it is probable that a much more complete description of 
corset was invented, although we do not find any marked representation 
of its form until 1043. A manuscript of that date at present in the 


British Museum bears on it the strange and anomalous figure represented 
in the annexed illustration. Opinions vary somewhat as to whether 
its origin might not have been Italian, but we see no reason for adopting 
this view, and consider it as of decidedly home production. It will be 
seen that the shoulder, upper part of the arm, and figure are those of a 
well-formed female, who wears an unmistakable corset, tightly laced, and 
stiffened by two busks in front, from one of which the lace, with a tag 
at the end, depends. The head, wings, tail, feet, and claws are all those 
of a demon or fiend. The drapery is worn so long as to render large 
knots in it requisite to prevent dragging on the ground. The ring held 
in the left claw is of gold, and probably intended to represent a massive 
and costly bracelet. Produced, as this MS. appears to have been, 
during the reign of Edward the Confessor, there is little doubt that 
it was a severe monkish satire on the prevailing fashion, and a most 
ungallant warning to the male sex that alabaster shoulders and slender 
waists were too often associated with attributes of a rather brimstone 
character, and that an inordinate love of long, trailing garments and 
ornaments of precious metals were snares and enticements of a sinister 
nature. Many of the figures to be found on ancient MSS. after this 
period show by their contour that the corset was worn beneath the 
drapery, and Strutt, whose work was published in 1796, thus writes of 
the customs relating to dress in the period following shortly after : — " In 
the thirteenth century, and probably much prior to that period, a long 
and slender waist was considered by our ancestors as a criterion of 
elegance in the female form. We ought not, therefore, to wonder if it 
be proved that the tight lacing and compressing of the body was 
practised by the ladies even in early times, and especially by such 
of them as were inclined to be corpulent." He then, in order to 
show at vhat an early date of the history of this country a confirmed 
taste for small waists existed, quotes from a very ancient poem, entitled 
Launfal, in which the Lady Triamore, daughter of the King of the 


Fairies, and attendant ladies are described. Of two of the latter it 
is said — 

" Their kittles were of rede cendel,* 
I laced smalle, jollyf, and well,' 
There might none gayer go." 

In the French version of the same poem it is, we read, more fully 
expressed. It says, "They were richly habited and very tightly laced." 
The Lady Triamore is thus described : — - 

" The lady was in a purple pall, 
With gentill bodye and middle small." 

Wharton quotes from an ancient poem, which he believes to date as 
far back as 1200, in which a lover, speaking of the object of his 
admiration, thus throws down the gauntlet of challenge, and exclaims — 

" Middle her she hath mensk small." 

The word mensk or maint being used instead of very or much. Some 
differences of opinion have existed among writers as to the origin of the 
word corset. Some are of opinion that the French words corps, the 
body, and serrer (to tightly inclose or incase), led to the adoption of 
the term. Madame La Sante gives it as her opinion, however, that it is 
more probably a corruption of the single word corps, which was formerly 
written cors, and may be taken as a diminutive form of it. Another 
view of the matter has been that the name of a rich material called 
corse, which was at one time extensively used in the manufacture of 
corsets, may have been thus corrupted. This is scarcely probable, as 
the word corset was in use at too early a period to admit of that origin. 
Perhaps as early an instance of the use of the term corset as any in 
existence may be found as a portion of an entry in the household register 
of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, which bears the date May 24, 1265 : — 

* A rich description of silk. 

" Item : Pro ix ulnis radii. Pariensis pro robas cestivas corsetto et clochia 
pro eodem."* 

The persons for whom these garments were made were Richard, 
King of the Normans, and Edward, his son, whose death occurred in the 
year 1308. So that corsets were, even in those early days, used by 
gentlemen as well as ladies. 

The term kirtle, so often referred to, may not clearly convey to the 
mind of the modern reader the nature of the garment indicated by it, 
and therefore it may not be amiss to give Strutt's description of it. He 
says, " The kirtle, or, as it was anciently written * kertel? is a part of the 
dress used by the men and the women, but especially by the latter. It 
was sometimes a habit of state, and worn by persons of high rank." The 
garment sometimes called a " surcol" Chaucer renders kirtle, and we 
have no reason to dispute his authority. Kirtles are very frequently 
mentioned in old romances. They are said to have been of different 
textures and of different colours, but especially of green ; and sometimes 
they were laced closely to the body, and probably answered the purpose 
of the bodice or stays — vide Launfal, before referred to : — 

" Their kirtles were of rede cendel, 
I laced smalle, jollyf, and well." 

To appear in a kirtle only seems to have been a mark of servitude. 
Thus the lady of Sir Ladore, when he feasted the king, by way of 
courtesy waited at the table — 

" The lady was gentyll and small, 
In kirtle alone she served in hall." 

We are further informed that at the close of the fifteenth century it 
was used as a habit of penance, and we read that Jane Shore, when 
performing penance, walked barefoot, a lighted taper in her hand, and 

* Item : For nine ells, Paris measure, for summer robes, corsets, and cloaks for the same. 

The Princess Blanche, Daughter of Edward III. 


having only her kirtle upon her back. John Gower, however, who 
wrote at about the same period as Chaucer, thus describes a company of 
ladies. They were, says he, " clothed all alike, in kirtles with rich capes 
or mantles, parti-coloured, white, and blue, embroidered all over with 
various devices." Their bodies are described as being long and small, 
and they had crowns of gold upon their heads, as though each of them 
had been a queen. We find that the tight-laced young ladies of the 
court of the Lady Triamore "had mantles of green-coloured velvet, 
handsomely bordered with gold, and lined with rich furs. Their heads 
were neatly attired in kerchiefs, and were ornamented with cut work and 
richly-striped wires of gold, and upon their kerchiefs they had each of 
them a pretty coronal, embellished with sixty gems or more ;" and of 
their pretty mistress it is said in the same poem, that her cheeks were as 
red as the rose when it first blossoms. Her hair shone upon her head 
like golden wire, falling beneath a crown of gold richly ornamented with 
precious stones. Her vesture was purple, and her mantle, lined with white 
ermine, was also elegantly furred with the same. The Princess Blanche, 
the daughter of Edward III., the subject of the annexed illustration, 
appears to have copied closely the dress above described, and, like the 
maids of honour of the Lady Triamore herself, she is not only richly 
habited but thoroughly well-laced as well. Thus we see, in the year 
1 36 1, the full influence of the corset on the costume of that period. 
There is another poem, said to be more ancient than even Launfal, 
which, no doubt, served to give a tone and direction s to the fashions of 
times following after. Here we find a beautiful lady described as 
wearing a splendid girdle of beaten gold, embellished with rubies and 
emeralds, about her middle small. 

Gower, too, when describing a lover who is in the act of admiring 
his mistress, thus writes : — 

" He seeth hir shape forthwith, all 
Hir bodye round, hir middle small." 



That the taste for slender figures was not confined to England will be 
shown by the following quotation from Dunbar's Thistle and Rose. 
When the belles of Scotland grouped together are described he tells 
us that 

" Their middles were as small as wands." 

A great number of ancient writings descriptive of female beauty go 
clearly to prove that both slenderness and length of waist were held in 
the highest esteem and considered indispensable elements of elegance, 
and there can be no question that such being the case no pains were 
spared to acquire the coveted grace a very small, long, and round 
waist conferred on its possessor. The lower classes were not slow in 
imitating their superiors, and the practice of tight lacing prevailed 
throughout every grade of society. This was the case even as far back 
as Chaucer's day, about 1340. He, in describing the carpenter's wife, 
speaks of her as a handsome, well-made young female, and informs us 
that " her body was genteel" (or elegant) and " small as a weasel," and 
immediately afterwards that she was 

" Long as a maste, and upright as a bolt." 

Notwithstanding the strict way in which the waist was laced during 
the thirteenth century, the talents of the ingenious were directed to the 
construction of some article of dress which should reduce the figure to 
still more slender proportions, and the following remarks by Strutt show 
that tight lacing was much on the increase from the thirteenth to the 
fourteenth centuries. He says — ■ 

" A small waist was decidedly, as we have seen before, one criterion 
of a beautiful form, and, generally speaking, its length was currently regu- 
lated by a just idea of elegance, and especially in the thirteenth century. 
In the fourteenth the women seem to have contracted a vitiated taste, 
and not being content with their form as God hath made it, introduced 

Lady of Rank of the Thirteenth Century. 



the corset or bodice — a stiff and unnatural disguisement even in its 

How far this newly-introduced form of the corset became a " dis- 
guisement" will be best judged of by a glance at the foregoing illustration, 
which represents a lady in the dress worn just at the close of the 
thirteenth century. The term surcoat was given, to this new introduc- 
tion. This in many instances was worn over the dress somewhat after 
the manner of the body of a riding-habit, being attached to the skirt, 
which spreads into a long trailing train. An old author, speaking of 
these articles of dress, thus writes : — 

"There came to me two women wearing sure oats, longer than they 
were tall by about a yard, so that they were obliged to carry their 
trains upon their arms to prevent their trailing upon the ground, and 
they had sleeves to these surcoats reaching to the elbows." 

The trains of these dresses at length reached such formidable dimen- 
sions that Charles V. of France became so enraged as to cause an edict 
to be issued hurling threats of excommunication at the heads of all 
those who dared to wear a dress which terminated " like the tail of a 

Notwithstanding this tremendously alarming threat, a tailor was found 
fully equal to the occasion, who, in spite of the terrors inspired by 
candle, bell, and book, set to work (lion-hearted man that he was) and 
made a magnificent surcoat for Madame du Gatinais, which not only 
trailed far behind on the ground, but actually " took jive yards of Brussels 
net for sleeves, which also trailed" History, or even tradition, fails to 
inform us what dreadful fate overtook this desperate tailor after the 
performance of a feat so recklessly daring ; but we can scarcely fancy 
that his end could have been of the kind common to tailors of less 
audacious depravity. 

The bodies of these surcoats were very much stiffened, and so 
made as to admit of being laced with extreme tightness. They were 


often very richly ornamented with furs and. costly needlework. As 
fashion changed, dresses were made with open fronts, so as to be worn 
over the surcoat without altogether concealing it. A portrait of Marie 
d'Anjou, Queen of France, shows this arrangement of costume. The waist 
appears very tightly laced, and the body of the surcoat much resembles the 
modern bodice, but is made by stiffening and cut to perform the part of 
a very strong and efficient corset. Until the termination of the fourteenth 
century very little change appears to have been made either in costume or 
the treatment of the figure, but at the commencement of the fifteenth 
century, when such noble families as the Medici, Este, and Visconti 
established fashions and styles of costume for themselves, each house 
vied with the other in the splendour of their apparel. The great 
masters of the period, by painting ideal compositions, also gave a marked 
tone to the increasing taste for dress. The costume of an Italian duchess, 
whose portrait is to be seen in the Academy at Pisa, has been thus 
described : — " The headdress is a gold coronet, the chemisette is finely 
interwoven with gold, the under-dress is black, the square bodice being 
bordered with white beads, the over-dress is gold brocade, the sides are 
open, and fastened together again with gold agrafes; the loose sleeves, 
like the chemisette, are of golden tissue, fastened to the shoulders with 
agrafes. The under-sleeves, which are of peculiar construction, and are 
visible, are crimson velvet, and reach to the centre of the hand. They 
are cut out at the wrists, and white puffings of the same material as 
the chemisette protrude through the openings." In both France and 
Germany a great many strange freaks of fashion appear to have been 
practised about this time. The tight, harlequin-like dress was adopted 
by the gentlemen, whilst the long trains again stirred the ire of royalty. 
We find Albert of Saxony issuing the following laws : — " No wives or 
daughters of knights are to wear dresses exceeding one yard and a-half 
in length, no spangles in their caps, nor high frills round their throats." 
During the reign of the Dauphin in France many changes in dress were 

Lady of the Court of Queen Catherine de Medici. 



effected. The length of the sleeves was much curtailed, and the 
preposterously long toes of the shoes reduced to a convenient standard. 
The ladies appear to have for some time resisted the innovation, but one 
Poulaine, an ingenious Parisian shoemaker, happening to devise a very 
attractive shoe with a heel fitted to it, the ladies hailed joyfully the 
new favourite, and the old snake-toed shoe passed away. Still, it was 
no uncommon thing to see some fop of the period with one shoe white 
and the other black, or one boot and one shoe. 



The bonnet a canon and sugarloaf headdress — Headdress of the women of Normandy at 
the present day — Odd dress of King Louis XI. — Return of Charles VIII. from 
Naples — A golden time for tailors and milliners — General change of fashion — 
Costumes of the time of Francis I. of France and Maximilian of Germany — 
General use of pins in France and England — Masks worn in France — Establishment 
of the empire of Fashion in France — The puffed or bouffant sleeves of the reign of 
Henry II. — The Bernaise dress — Costume of the unfortunate Marie Stuart — Rich 
dresses and long slender waists of the period — The tight-lacing of Henry III. of 
France — The Emperor Joseph of Austria, his edict foi bidding the use of stays, and 
how the ladies regarded it — Queen Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth of 
England — The severe form of Corsets worn in both France and England — The corps 
— Steel Corset covers of the period — Royal standard of fashionable slenderness — The 
lawn ruffs of Queen Bess — The art of starching — Voluminous nether-garments worn 
by the gentlemen of the period — Fashions of the ladies of Venice — Philip Stubs on 
the ruff — Queen Elizabeth's collection of false hair — Stubs furious at the fashions 
of ladies — King James and his fondness for dress and fashion — Restrictions and 
sumptuary laws regarding dress — Side-arms of the period. 

TpROM about 1380 to some time afterwards headdresses of most 
singular form of construction were in general wear in fashionable 
circles. One of these, the bonnet a canon, was introduced by Isabel of 
Bavaria. The " sugar-loaf" headdress was also in high esteem, and con- 
sidered especially becoming and attractive. The accompanying illustration 
faithfully represents both of these. The latter in a modified form is still 
worn by the women of Normandy. Throughout the reign of Louis XI. 
dress continued to be most sumptuous in its character. Velvet was 
profusely worn, with costly precious stones encircling the trimmings. 
Sumptuary laws were issued right and left, with a view to the correction 
of so much extravagance, whilst the king himself wore a battered, 
shabby old felt cap, with a bordering of leaden figures of the Virgin 

Ladies oj? Fashion in che Costume ov 13S0. 






Mary round it. The rest of his attire was plain and simple to a 

Next we see his successor, Charles VIII., returning as a conqueror 
from Naples, dressed in the first style of Italian fashion. Then came 
a period of intense activity on the part of milliners and tailors, 
and a short time sufficed to completely metamorphose the reigning 
belles of the nation. Smaller, much more becoming and coquettish 
headdresses were introduced, and a general change of style brought 
about. Germany participated in the same sudden change of fashion, 
which lasted until the reign of Francis I. Accompanying illustrations 
represent a lady of the court of Maximilian I. of Germany, and a lady 
of the court of Francis I. of France. During his reign pins came into 
general use both in France and England, although their use had been 
known to the most ancient races, numerous specimens having been 
discovered in the excavations of Thebes and other Old World cities. 
Ladies' masks or visors were also introduced in France at this period, 
but they did not become general in England until the reign of Queen 
Elizabeth. It was about this time that France commenced the establish- 
ment of her own fashions and invented for herself, and that the ladies 
of that nation became celebrated for the taste and elegance of their 

On Henry II. succeeding Charles this taste was steadily on the 
increase. The bouffant, or puffed form of sleeve, was introduced, and a 
very pretty and becoming style of headdress known as the Bernaise. 
The illustration shows a lady wearing this, the feather being a mark of 
distinction. The dress is made of rich brocade, and the waist exceed- 
ingly long (period, 1547.) The right-hand figure represents the 
unfortunate Marie Stuart arrayed in a court dress of the period, 1559. 
On the head is a gold coronet ; her under-dress is gold brocade, with 
gold arabesque work over it; the over-dress is velvet, trimmed with 
ermine ; the girdle consisted of costly strings of pearls ; the sleeves are 


of gold-coloured silk, and the puffings are separated from each other by 
an arrangement of precious stones ; the front of the dress is also 
profusely ornamented in the same manner; the frill or ruff was made 
from costly lace from Venice or Genoa, and was invented by this very 
charming but unfortunate lady ; the form of the waist is, as will be 
seen on reference to this illustration, long, and shows by its contour 
the full influence of the tightly-laced corset beneath the dress, which fits 
the figure with extraordinary accuracy. 

At this time Fashion held such despotic sway throughout the 
continent of Europe, that the Emperor Joseph of Austria, following 
out his extraordinary penchant for the passing of edicts, and becoming 
alarmed at the formidable lures laid out for the capture of mankind by 
the fair sex, passed a law rigorously forbidding the use of the corset in 
all nunneries and places where young females were educated ; and no 
less a threat than that of excommunication, and the loss of all the 
indulgences the Church was capable of affording, hung over the heads 
of all those evil-disposed damsels who persisted in a treasonable manner 
in the practice of confining their waists with such evil instruments as stays. 
Royal command, like an electric shock, startled the College of Physicians 
into activity and zeal, and learned dissertations on the crying sin of tight 
lacing were scattered broadcast amongst the ranks of the benighted and 
tight-laced ladies of the time, much as the advertisements of cheap 
furnishing ironmongers are hurled into the West-End omnibuses of our 
own day. 

It is proverbial that gratuitous advice is rarely followed by the 
recipient. Open defiance was in a very short time bid to the edicts of 
the emperor and the erudite dissertations of the doctors. The corsets 
were, if possible, laced tighter than ever, and without anything very 
particular happening to the world at large in consequence. 

On Queen Catherine de Medici, who, it will be seen, was a 
contemporary of Queen Elizabeth of England, assuming the position of 

Lady ot' the Court of Maximilian 0; Germany and Francis of France. 


7 1 

Corset-Cover of Steel Worx in the Time of 

Catherine de Medici. 

power which she so long maintained at the court of France, costume and 
fashion became her study, and at no period of the world's history were 

7 2 


its laws more tremendously exacting, and the ladies of her court, as well 
as those in distinguished circles, were compelled to obey them. With 
her a thick waist was an abomination, and extraordinary tenuity was 
insisted on, thirteen inches waist measure being the standard of fashion- 
able elegance, and in order that this extreme slenderness might be arrived 

Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Eeign of Queen Elizabeth (Open). 

at. she herself invented or introduced an extremely severe and powerful 
form of the corset, known as the corps. It is thus described by a 
talented French writer: — "This formidable corset was hardened and 
stiffened in every imaginable way ; it descended in a long hard point, 
and rose stiff and tight to the throat, making the wearers look as if 
they were imprisoned in a closely-fitting fortress." And in this rigid 

WW \\' !* 


contrivance the form of the fair wearer was incased, when a system of 
gradual and determined constriction was followed out until the waist 
arrived at the required degree of slenderness, as shown in the annexed 
illustration. Several writers have mentioned the "steel corsets" of this 
period, and assumed that they were used for the purpose of forcibly 
reducing the size of the waist. In this opinion they were incorrect, 
as the steel framework in question was simply used to wear over the 
corset after the waist had been reduced by lacing to the required 
standard, in order that the dress over it might fit with inflexible and 
unerring exactness, and that not even a fold might be seen in the fault- 
less stomacher then worn. These corsets (or, more correctly, corset- 
covers) were constructed of very thin steel plate, which was cut out and 
wrought into a species of open-work pattern, with a view to giving 
lightness to them. Numbers of holes were drilled through the flat 
surfaces between the hollows of the pattern, through which the needle 
and thread were passed in covering them accurately with velvet, silk, or 
other rich materials. During the reign of Queen Catherine de Medici, 
to whom is attributed the invention of these contrivances, they became 
great favourites, and were much worn, not only at her court, but 
throughout the greater part of the continent. 

They were made in two pieces, opened longitudinally by hinges, 
and were secured when closed by a sort of hasp and pin, much like an 
ordinary box fastening. At both the front and back of the corsage a 
long rod or bar of steel projected in a curved direction downwards, and 
on these bars mainly depended the adjustment of the long peaked body 
of the dress, and the set of the skirt behind. The illustration at 
page 7 1 gives a view of one of those ancient dress-improvers. 

The votaries of fashion of Queen Elizabeth's court were not slow 
in imitating in a rough manner the new continental invention, and the 
illustrations at pages 72 and 76, taken from photographs, will show that, 
although not precisely alike, the steel corset-covers of England were 


7 6 


much in principle like those of France, and the accompanying illustration 
represents a court lady in one of them. We have no evidence, however, 
that their use ever became very general in this country, and we find a most 
powerful and unyielding form of the corset constructed of very stout mate- 


rials and closely ribbed with whalebone superseding them. This was the 
corps before mentioned, and its use was by no means confined to the 
ladies of the time, for we find the gentlemen laced in garments of this 
kind to no ordinary degree of tightness. That this custom prevailed 
for some very considerable time will be shown by the accompanying 
illustration, which represents Queen Catherine's son, Henry III. (who 
was much addicted to the practice of tight lacing), and the Princess 

Henry III. of France and the Princess Margaret of Lorraine. 


~ r^ - 

L.u>v of the Court of Queen Elizabeth 


Margaret of Lorraine, who was just the style of figure to please his 
taste, which was ladylike in the extreme. Eardrops in his ears, delicate 
kid gloves on his hands ; hair dyed to the fashionable tint, brushed back 
under a coquettish little velvet cap, in which waved a white ostrich's 
feather ; hips bolstered and padded out, waist laced in the very tightest 
and most unyielding of corsets, and feet incased in embroidered satin 
shoes, Henry was a true son of his fashionable mother, only lacking 
her strong will and powerful understanding. England under Elizabeth's 
reign followed close on the heels of France in the prevailing style of 
dress. From about the middle of her reign the upper classes of both 
sexes carried out the custom of tight lacing to an extreme which knew 
scarcely any bounds. The corsets were so thickly quilted with whale- 
bone, so long and rigid when laced to the figure, that the long pointed 
stomachers then worn fitted faultlessly well, without a wrinkle, just as 
did the dresses of the French court over the steel framework before 
described. The following lines by an old author will give some idea of 
their unbending character : — 

" These privie coats, by art made strong, 
With bones, with paste, with such- like ware, 
Whereby their back and sides grow long, 
And now they harnest gallants are ; 
Were they for use against the foe 
Our dames for Amazons might go." 

On examining the accompanying illustration representing a lady of 
the court of Queen Elizabeth, it will be observed that the farthingale, or 
verdingale, as it is sometimes written, and from which the modern crino-- 
line petticoat is borrowed, serves to give the hips extraordinary width, 
which, coupled with the frill round the bottom of the stomacher, gave 
the waist the appearance of remarkable slenderness as well as length. 
The great size of the frills or ruffs also lent their aid in producing the 
same effect. 


It was in the reign of Elizabeth that the wearing of lawn and 
cambric commenced in this country; previously even royal personages 
had been contented with fine holland as a material for their ruffs. When 
Queen Bess had her first lawn ruffs there was no one in England who 
could starch them, and she procured some Dutch women to perform the 
operation. It is said that her first starcher was the wife of her coachman, 
Guillan. Some years later one Mistress Dinghen Vauden Plasse, the wife 
of a Flemish knight, established herself in London as a professed starcher. 
She also gave lessons in the art, and many ladies sent their daughters 
and kinswomen to learn of her. Her terms were five pounds for the 
starching and twenty shillings additional for learning to " seeth" the 
starch. Saffron was used with it to impart to it a yellow colour which 
was much admired. The gentlemen of the period indulged in nether 
garments so puffed out and voluminous that the legislature was compelled 
to take the matter in hand. We read of "a man who, having been 
brought before the judges for infringing the law made against these 
extensive articles of clothing, pleaded the convenience of his pockets as 
an excuse for his misdemeanour. They appeared, indeed, to have 
answered to him the purposes both of wardrobe and linen cupboard, for 
from their ample recesses he drew forth the following articles — viz., a 
pair of sheets, two tablecloths, ten napkins, four shirts, a brush, a glass, 
a comb, besides nightcaps and other useful things ; his defence being — 
' Your worship may understand that because I have no safer storehouse 
these pockets do serve me for a roome to lay up my goodes in ; and 
though it be a strait prison, yet it is big enough for them.' " His 
discharge was granted, and his clever defence well laughed at. 

The Venetian ladies appear to have been fully aware of the reducing 
effect of frills and ruffs on the apparent size of waist of the wearer, 
and they were, as the annexed illustration will show, worn of extra- 
ordinary dimensions ; but the front of the figure was, of course, 
only displayed, and on this all the decoration and ornamentation that 

A Venetian Lady of Fashion, 1560. 


Queen Elizabeth. 



extravagant taste could lavish was bestowed. The Elizabethan ruff, 
large as it was, bore no comparison with this, and was worn as shown in 
the accompanying portrait of the " Virgin Queen," who indulged in 
numerous artifices for heightening her personal attractions. The ruffs 
and frills of the period so excited the ire of Philip Stubs, a citizen of 
London, that in his work, dated 1585, he thus launches out against 
them in the quaint language of the time : — 

" The women there vse great ruffes and neckerchers of holland, 
laune, cameruke, and such clothe as the greatest threed shall not be so 
big as the least haire that is, and lest they should fall dovvne they are 
smeared and starched in the devil's liquor, I mean starche ; after that 
dried with great diligence, streaked, patted, and rubbed very nicely, and 
so applied to their goodly necks, and withal vnderpropped with 
supportasses (as I told you before), the stately arches of pride ; beyond 
all this they have a further fetche, nothing inferiour to the rest, as 
namely — three or four degrees of minor ruffes placed gradation, one 
beneath another, and al under the mayster deuilruffe. The skirtes, 
then, of these great ruffes are long and wide, every way pleated and 
crested full curiously, God wot ! Then, last of all, they are either 
clogged with gold, silver, or silk lace of stately price, wrought all over 
with needleworke, speckeled and sparkeled here and there with the 
sunne, the mone, the starres, and many other antiques strange to 
beholde. Some are wrought with open worke downe to the midst of the 
ruffe, and further, some with close worke, some wyth purled lace so 
cloied, and other gewgaws so pestered, as the ruffe is the least parte of 
itselfe. Sometimes they are pinned upp to their eares, sometimes they 
are suffered to hange over theyr shoulders, like windemill sailes fluttering 
in the winde: and thus every one pleaseth her selfe in her foolish 

In the matter of false hair her majesty Queen Elizabeth was a perfect 
connoisseur, having, so it is said, eighty changes of various kinds always on 

hand. The fashionable ladies, too, turned their attention to artificial adorn- 
ment of that kind with no ordinary energy, and poor old Stubs appears 
almost beside himself with indignation on the subject, and thus writes 
about it : — " The hair must of force be curled, frisled, and crisped, laid 
out in wreaths and borders from one ear to another. And, lest it should 
fall down, it is underpropped with forks, wires, and I cannot tell what, 
rather like grim, stern monsters than chaste Christian matrons. At their 
hair thus wreathed and crested are hanged bugles, ouches, rings, gold 
and silver glasses, and such like childish gewgaws." The fashion of 
painting the face also calls down his furious condemnation, and the 
dresses come in for a fair share of his vituperation, and their length is 
evidently a source of excessive exasperation. We give his opinions in 
his own odd, scolding words : — 

"Their gownes be no less famous than the rest, for some are of 
silke, some velvet, some of grograine, some of taffatie, some of scarlet, 
and some of fine cloth of x., xx., or xl. shillings a yarde. But if the whole 
gowne be not silke or velvet, then the same shall be layd with lace two 
or three fingers broade all over the gowne, or els the most parte, or if 
not so (as lace is not fine enough sometimes), then it must bee garded 
with great gardes of velvet, every yard fower or sixe fingers broad at the 
least, and edged with costly lace, and as these gownes be of divers and 
sundry colours, so are they of divers fashions — chaunging with the 
moone — for some be of new fashion, some of the olde, some of thys 
fashion, and some of that ; some with sleeves hanging downe to their 
skirtes, trailing on the ground, and cast over their shoulders like cows' 
tailes ; some have sleeves muche shorter, cut vp the arme and poincted 
with silke ribbons, very gallantly tied with true love's knottes (for so 
they call them) ; some have capes reachyng downe to the midest of their 
backes, faced with velvet, or els with some wrought silke taffatie at the 
least, and fringed about very bravely (and to shut vp all in a worde), 
some are peerled and rinsled downe the backe wonderfully, with more 


knackes than I can declare. Then have they petticoates of the beste 
clothe that can be bought, and of the fayrest dye that can be made. 
And sometimes they are not of clothe neither, for that is thought too 
base, but of scarlet grograine, taffatie, silke, and such like, fringed about 
the skirtes with silke fringe of chaungeable colour, but whiche is more 
vayne, of whatsoever their petticoates be yet must they have kirtles (for 
so they call them), either of silke, velvett, grogaraine, taffatie, satten, 
or scarlet, bordered with gardes, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what 

History fails to enlighten us as to whether the irascible Stubs was 
blessed with a stylish wife and a large family of fashionable daughters, 
but we rather incline to the belief that he must have been a confirmed 
old bachelor, as we cannot find that he was ever placed in a lunatic 
asylum, a fate which would inevitably have befallen him if the fashions 
of the time had been brought within the sphere of his own dwelling. 
It is somewhat singular that, writing, as he did, in the most violent 
manner against almost every article of personal adornment, and every 
artifice of fashionable life, the then universal and extreme use of the 
corset should have escaped censure at his hands. 

King James, who succeeded Elizabeth, manifested an inordinate 
fondness for dress. We read that — " Not only his courtiers, but all the 
youthful portion of his subjects, were infected in a like manner, and 
the attire of a fashionable gentleman in those days could scarcely have 
been exceeded in fantastic device and profuse decoration. The hair was 
long and flowing, falling upon the shoulders ; the hat, made of silk, 
velvet, or beaver (the latter being most esteemed), was high-crowned, 
narrow-brimmed, and steeple-shaped. It was occasionally covered with 
gold and silver embroidery, a lofty plume of feathers, and a hatband 
sparkling with gems being frequently worn with it. It was customary 
to dye the beard of various colours, according to the fancy of the wearer, 
and its shape also differed with his profession. The most effeminate 


fashion at this time was that of wearing jewelled rings in the ears, which 
was common among the upper and middle ranks. Gems were also sus- 
pended to ribbons round the neck, while the long ' lovelock' of hair so 
carefully cherished under the left ear was adorned with roses of ribbons, 
and even real flowers. The ruff had already been reduced by order of 
Queen Elizabeth, who enacted that when reaching beyond ' a nayle of a 
yeard in depth' it should be clipped. In the early part of her reign the 
doublet and hose had attained a preposterous size, especially the nether 
garments, which were stuffed and bolstered with wool and hair to such 
an extent that Strutt tells us, on the authority of one of the Harleian 
manuscripts, that a scaffold was erected round the interior of the Parlia- 
ment House for the accommodation of such members as wore them ! 
This was taken down in the eighth year of Elizabeth's reign, when this 
ridiculous fashion was laid aside. The doublet was afterwards reduced 
in size, but still so hard-quilted that the wearer could not stoop to the 
ground, and was incased as in a coat of mail. In shape it was like a 
waistcoat, with a large cape, and either close or very wide sleeves. 
These latter were termed Danish. A cloak of the richest materials, 
embroidered in gold or silver, and faced with foxskin, lambskin, or 
sable, was buttoned over the left shoulder. None, however, under the 
rank of an earl were permitted to indulge in sable facings. The hose 
were either of woven silk, velvet, or damask ; the garters were worn 
externally below the knee, made of gold, silver, or velvet, and trimmed 
with a deep gold fringe. Red silk stockings, parti-coloured gaiters, and 
even 'cross gartering' to represent the Scotch tartan, were frequently 
seen. The shoes of this period were cork-soled, and elevated their 
wearers at least two or three inches from the ground. They were com- 
posed of velvet of various colours, worked in the precious metals, and if 
fastened with strings, immense roses of ribbon were attached to them, 
variously ornamented, and frequently of great value, as may be seen in 
Howe's continuation of Stowe's Chronicle, where he tells us ' men of rank 



wear garters and shoe-roses of more than five pounds price.' The dress of 
a gentleman was not considered perfect without a dagger and rapier. The 
former was worn at the back, and was highly ornamented. The latter 
having superseded, about the middle of Elizabeth's reign, the heavy 
two-handed sword, previously used in England, was, indeed, chiefly 
worn as an ornament, the hilt and scabbard being always profusely 



Strange freaks of Louise de Lorraine — One of her adventures — Her dress at a royal fete 
— Marie de Medici — The distended dresses of her time — Hair-powder — Costume a 
la enfant — Escapade of the young Louis — Low dresses of the period — The court of 
Louis XIV. of France — High heels, slender waists, and fancy costumes — The 
Siamese dress — Charles I. of England — Patches introduced — Elaborate costumes of 
the period — Puritanism, its effect on the fashions — Fashions in Cromwell's time, and 
the general prevalence of the practice of tight-lacing — The ladies of Augsburg 
described by Hoechstetterus. 

ITTLE change appears to have taken place in the prevailing fashions 
^~** of England for some considerable time after this period. In 
France two opposing influences sprang up. Henry III., as we have 
seen, was the slave of fashion, and mainly occupied his time in devising 
some new and extravagant article of raiment. His wife, Louise de 
Lorraine, on the other hand, although exceedingly handsome, was of a 
gloomy, stern, and ascetic disposition, dressing more like a nun than the 
wife of so gay a husband. She caused numerous sumptuary laws to be 
framed, in order to, if possible, reduce the style of ladies' dress to a 
standard nearer her own ; and the following anecdote will serve to show 
the petty spirit in which her powers were sought to be exercised. 

A writer on her life says, " She was accustomed to go out on foot 
with but a single attendant, both habited plainly in some woollen fabric, 
and one day, on entering a mercer's shop in the Rue St. Denis, she 
encountered the wife of a president tricked out superbly in the latest 
fashions of the day. The subject did not recognise the sovereign, who 
inquired her name, and received for answer that she was called * La 
Presidente de M.,' the information being given curtly, and with the 
additional remark, ' to satisfy your curiosity.' To this the queen replied, 
* But, Madame la Presidente, you are very smart for a person of your 
condition.' Still the interrogator was not recognised, and Madame la 

Court Dress during the Boyhood ob Louis XIII. 

Mauie db Medici. 



Presidente, with that pertness so characteristic of ordinary womankind, 
replied, * At any rate, you did not pay for my smartness.' Scarcely was 
this retort completed when it dawned upon the speaker that it was the 
queen who had been putting these posing questions, and then a scene 
followed of contrite apology on the one hand, and remonstrance on the 
frivolity of smart attire on the other, both very easy to imagine." 
With all this pretended simplicity and humility, Queen Louise, on certain 
occasions, indulged in the most lavish display of her personal attractions. 
It is related of her that on the marriage of her sister Margaret, she 
attended a magnificent fete given at the Hotel de Bourbon, and made 
her appearance in the saloon or grand ball-room as the leader of twelve 
beautiful young ladies, arrayed as Naiads. The queen wore a dress of 
silver cloth, with a tunic of flesh-coloured and silver crepes over it ; on 
her head she wore a splendid ornament, composed of triangles of 
diamonds, rubies, and various other gems and precious stones. Still the 
king was the acknowledged leader of fashion, which the queen did all in 
her power to suppress, except when it suited her royal caprice to astonish 
the world with her own elegance. 

Henry IV. appears to have had no especial inclination for matters 
relating to fashion, and the world wagged much as it pleased so far as he 
was concerned. On his marrying, however, his second wife, Marie de 
Medici, another ardent supporter of all that was splendid, sumptuous, 
and magnificent was found. His first wife, indeed, Marguerite de Valois, 
had strong fashionable proclivities, but she was utterly eclipsed by the 
new star, whose portrait is the subject of the accompanying illustration, 
in which it will be seen that the wide hips and distended form of dress 
accompany the long and narrow waist. This style of costume remained 
popular, as did hair-powder, which was introduced in consequence of the 
grey locks of Henry IV., until the boy-king Louis XIII., who was placed 
under the control and regency of his mother, caused by his juvenile 
appearance a marked change in the fashions of the time. The men 


shaved off their whiskers and beards, and the ladies brushed back their 
hair a Pen/ant, and as about this time Marie showed strong indications of 
a tendency towards portliness, the hoops were discarded ; and short waists, 
laced to an extreme degree of tightness, long trailing skirts, and very 
high-heeled shoes were introduced. The dresses of this period of sudden 
change were worn excessively low, and it is said of young Louis that he 
was so alarmed, enraged, and astonished at the sight of the white shoul- 
ders of a lady of high position that he threw a glass of wine over them, 
and precipitately quitted the scene of his discomfiture. The annexed 
illustration shows the style of dress after the changes above referred to. 
The next noteworthy changes we shall see taking place during the 
reign of Charles I. in England and Louis XIV. of France. The court of 
the Grand Monarque was one of extraordinary pomp and magnificence ; 
flowing ringlets, shoes with heels of extraordinary height, and waists of 
extreme slenderness were the rage. Fancy costumes were also much 
affected. The accompanying illustration represents a lady and gentleman 
of the period equipped for the chase, but of what it would be difficult to 
say, unless butterflies were considered in the category of game. The 
so-called Siamese dress, which became so generally popular, was worn 
first during the reign of Louis XIV. Many of these dresses were 
extremely rich and elegant; one is described as having the tunic or 
upper-skirt composed of scarlet silk with brocaded gold flowers. The 
under-skirt was of green and gold, with frills of exquisite work from the 
elbow to the wrist. The accompanying illustration represents a court 
lady dressed in this style, and that which follows it a fancy dress of the 
same period. It was in this reign that the coloured and ornamented 
clocks to ladies' stockings first made their appearance. Patches for the 
face were first worn in England during the reign of Charles, although 
they continued in use for a great number of years, and the following 
satirical lines were written by an old author regarding them and one of 
their wearers : — 

Fancy COSTUMES OB THE Time or Lous XIV 

Il'fll ii i 1'ilTi iiiliililiniiiiii'iiii'i iTTTTiT 

Siamese Dress worn at the Couet of Louis XIV. 



"Your homely face, Flippanta, you disguise 
With patches numerous as Argus' eyes ; 
I own that patching's requisite for you, 
For more we're pleased the less your face we view ; 
Yet I advise, since my advice you ask, 
Wear but one patch, and be that patch a mask." 

The fashions set by the court of Louis were eagerly seized on by 
the whole of Europe. The flowing curls, lace cuffs, and profuse 
embroidery in use at the court of Charles of England were all borrowed 
from France, but the general licence and laxity of the period for some 
short time showed itself in the dress of the ladies, whilst fickleness and 
love of change, accompanied by thoughtless luxury and profusion, pre- 
vailed. The following complaint of a lady's serving-man, dated 163 1, 
will show that the Puritans were not without reason in condemning the 
extravagances of the time : — 

" Here is a catalogue as tedious as a taylor's bill of all the devices 
which I am commanded to provide (videlicet) : — 

" Chains, coronets, pendants, bracelets, and earrings, 
Pins, girdles, spangles, embroidaries, and rings, 
Shadomes, rebatacs, ribbands, ruffs, cuffs, falls, 
Scarfs, feathers, fans, maskes, muffes, laces, cauls, 
Thin tiffanies, cobweb lawn, and fardingales, 
Sweet sals, vyles, wimples, glasses, crumping pins, 
Pots of ointment, combs, with poking-sticks, and bodkins, 
Coyfes, gorgets, fringes, rowels, fillets, and hair laces, 
Silks, damasks, velvets, tinsels, cloth of gold, 
Of tissues with colours a hundredfold, 
But in her tyres so new-fangled is she 
That which doth with her humour now agree, 
To-morrow she dislikes ; now doth she swear 
That a losse body is the neatest weare, 
But ere an hour be gone she will protest 
A strait gown graces her proportion best. 


" Now calls she for a boisterous fardingale, 
Then to her hips she'll have her garments fall. 
Now doth she praise a sleeve that's long and wide, 
Yet by and by that fashion doth deride ; 
Sometimes she applauds a pavement-sweeping train, 
And presently dispraiseth it again ; 
Now she commands a shallow band so small 
That it may seem scarce any band at all ; 
But now a new fancy doth she reele, 
And calls for one as big as a coach-wheele ; 
She'll weare a flowry coronet to-day, 
The symbol of her beauty's sad decay ; 
To-morrow she a waving plume will try, 
The emblem of all female levitie ; 
Now in her hat, then in her hair is drest, 
Now of all fashions she thinks change the best." 

On Puritanism becoming general the style of dress adopted by the 
so-called " Roundheads," as a contrast to that of the hated " Cavaliers," 
was stiff, prim, and formal to a degree ; and during Cromwell's sway as 
Protector, small waists, stiff corsets, and very tight lacing again became 
the fashion; and Bulwer, who writes in 1653, in speaking of the young 
ladies of his day, says, "They strive all they possibly can by streight 
lacing themselves to attain unto a wand-like smallness of waist, never 
thinking themselves fine enough until they can span their waists." 
The annexed illustration, adapted by us from his work, The Artificial 
Changeling, represents a young lady who has achieved the desired 
tenuity. He also quotes from Hoechstetterus, who in his description of 
" A us purge, the metropolis of Swevia" 1653 (meaning Augsburg, the 
capital of Suabia), " They are," saith he, describing the virgins of 
Auspurge, "slender, streight laced, with 'demissi (sloping) shoulders, 
lest being grosse and well made they should be thought to have too 
athletique bodies." So throughout the length and breadth of Europe 
the use of tightly-laced corsets remained general. 

Young English Lady of Fashion', 1653. 


Fancy Dress worn in the Eeign of Louis XV. 



Fashion during the reign of Louis XV. — Costumes a la Watteau — An army of barbers — 
The fashions of England during the reign of Queen Anne — The diminutive waist 
and enormous hoop of her day — The farthingale : letters in the Guardian protesting 
against its use — Fashion in 17 13 — Low dresses, tight stays, and short skirts: letters 
relating to — Correspondence touching the fashions of that period from the Guardian 
— Accomplishments of a lady's-maid — Writings of Gay and Ben Jonson — Their 
remarks on the "bodice" and "stays*" 

A T the death of Louis XIV. and the accession of his successor, 
Louis XV., in 17 15, fashions ran into wonderful extremes and 
caprices. Hoops became the rage, as did patches, paint, and marvellously 
high- heeled shoes. The artistic skill of Watteau in depicting costume 
and devising the attributes of the favourite fancy dresses of the time, led 
to their adoption among the votaries of fashion. Shepherds who owned 
no sheep were tricked out in satins, laces, and ribbons, and tripped it 
daintily hand in hand with the exquisitely-dressed, slender-waisted 
shepherdesses we see reproduced in Dresden china and the accompanying 
illustration. Guitars tinkled beneath the trees of many a grove in the 
pleasure-grounds of the fine old chateaux of France ; fruit strewed on the 
ground, costly wines in massive flagons, groups of gay gallants and 
charming belles, such as the accompanying illustration represents, engaged 
in love-making, music and flirtation, make up the scene on which 
Watteau loved most to dwell, and which King Louis' gay subjects were 
not slow in performing to the life, and the happy age of the poet 
appeared all but realised : — 

" There was once a golden time 
When the world was in its prime — 
When every day was holiday, 
And every shepherd learned to love." 

To carry out the everyday life of this dream world, no small amount 
of sacrifice and labour was needed, and we are informed that over 
twelve hundred hairdressers were in full occupation in Paris alone, 
frizzing, curling, and arranging in a thousand and one fantastical ways, 
hours being needed to perfect the head-gear of a lady of ton. For the 
prevailing fashions of England we must step back a few years, and 
glance at the latter portion of the reign of Queen Anne, at which time 
we find the diminutive size of the waist in marked contrast to the 
enormous dimensions of the hoop or farthingale, which reached such a 
formidable size that numerous remonstrances appeared in the journals of 
the day relative to it. The following letter complaining of the grievance 
appeared in the Guardian of July 22, 1713 : — 

"Mr. Guardian, — Your predecessor, the Spectator, endeavoured, 
but in vain, to improve the charms of the fair sex by exposing their dress 
whenever it launched into extremities. Amongst the rest the great 
petticoat came under his consideration, but in contradiction to whatever 
he has said, they still resolutely persist in this fashion. The form of 
their bottom is not, I confess, altogether the same, for whereas before it 
was one of an orbicular make, they now look as if they were pressed so 
that they seem to deny access to any part but the middle. Many are 
the inconveniences that accrue to her majesty's loving subjects from the 
said petticoats, as hurting men's shins, sweeping down the ware of 
industrious females in the street, &c. I saw a young lady fall down the 
other day, and, believe me, sir, she very much resembled an overturned 
bell without a clapper. Many other disasters I could tell you of that 
befall themselves as well as others by means of this unwieldy garment. 
I wish, Mr. Guardian, you would join with me in showing your dislike of 
such a monstrous fashion, and I hope, when the ladies see this, the opinion 
of two of the wisest men in England, they will be convinced of their folly. 
" I am, sir, your daily reader and admirer, 

« Tom Pain." 

Costumes after Wattbau. 


Crinoline in 1713. 


The accompanying illustration will show that these remonstrances 
were not without cause. 

The fashion of wearing extremely low dresses, with particularly 
short skirts, also led to much correspondence and many strong remarks, 
which are duly commented on by the editor of the Guardian, assisted by 
his "good old lady" as he calls her, "the Lady Lizard." Thus he 
writes on the subject under discussion : — 

" Editorial letter. 

"Guardian, July 16, 17 13. 
" I am very well pleased with this approbation of my good sisters. 
I must confess I have always looked on the ' tucker' to be the decus et 
tutamen, the ornament and defence of the female neck. My good old 
lady, the Lady Lizard, condemned this fashion from the beginning, and 
has observed to me, with some concern, that her sex at the same time 
they are letting down their stays are tucking up their petticoats, which 
grow shorter and shorter every day. The leg discovers itself in propor- 
tion with the neck, but I may possibly take another occasion of handling 
this extremity, it being my design to keep a watchful eye over every 
part of the female sex, and to regulate them from head to foot. In the 
meantime I shall fill up my paper with a letter which comes to me from 
another of my obliged correspondents." 

That these very low dresses were not alone worn in the house and 
at assemblies, but were also occasionally seen on the promenades, is 
shown by the following satirical appeal to the editor of the journal from 
which we have just been quoting, and the accompanying illustration 
represents the too-fascinating style of costume which caused its writer 
so much concern : — 

"Wednesday, August 12, 1713. 

" Notwithstanding your grave advice to the fair sex not to lay the 
beauties of their necks so open, I find they mind you so little that we 



young men are as much in danger as ever. Yesterday, about seven in 
the evening, I took a walk with a gentleman, just come to town, in a 
public walk. We had not walked above two rounds when the spark 
on a sudden pretended weariness, and as I importuned him to stay longer 
he turned short, and, pointing out a celebrated beauty, 'What,' said 
he, ' do you think I am made of, that I could bear the sight of such 
snowy beauties ? She is intolerably handsome.' Upon this we parted, 
and I resolved to take a little more air in the garden, yet avoid the 
danger, by casting my eyes downwards ; but, to my unspeakable surprise, 
discovered in the same fair creature the finest ankle and prettiest foot 
that ever fancy imagined. If the petticoats as well as the stays fhus 
diminish, what shall we do, dear Mentor ? It is neither safe to look at 
the head nor the feet of the charmer. Whither shall we direct our 
eyes ? I need not trouble you with my description of her, but I beg 
you would consider that your wards are frail and mortal. 
" Your most obedient servant, 


There is no source, perhaps, from which a clearer view of the 
fashions of this period, and mode of thought then entertained concerning 
them, could be obtained than the antiquated journal we have just quoted 
from. The opinions therein expressed, and the system of reasoning 
adopted by some of the contributors to its columns, are so singularly 
quaint that we cannot resist giving the reader the benefit of them. The 
happy vein of philosophy possessed by the writer of the following letter 
must have made the world a mere pleasure-garden, through which he 
wandered at his own sweet will, " king of the universe :" — 

"Guardian, Friday, May Stb, 17 13. 
"When I walk the streets I use the foregoing natural maxim (viz., 
that he is the true possessor of a thing who enjoys it, and not he that 
owns it without the enjoyment of it) to convince myself that I have a 

Low Bodies and Curtailed Crinoline. 


property in the gay part of all the gilt chariots that I meet, which I 
regard as amusements designed to delight the eye and the imagination 
of those kind people who sit in them gaily attired only to please me. I 
have a real and they only an imaginary pleasure from their exterior 
embellishments. Upon the same principle I have discovered that I am 
the natural proprietor of all the diamond necklaces, the crosses and stars, 
brocades and embroidered cloths which I see at a play or birthnight, as 
giving more natural delight to the spectator than to those who wear 
them ; and I look on the beaux and ladies as so many paroquets in an 
aviary, or tulips in a garden, designed purely for my diversion. A 
gallery of pictures, a cabinet, or library that I have free access to, I 
think my own. In a word, all that I desire is the use of things, let who 
will have the keeping of them. By which maxim I am growing one of 
the richest men in Great Britain, with this difference, that I am not a 
prey to my own cares or the envy of others." 

The reply to the foregoing letter by a lady of fashion, written with 
a strong dash of satire, is equally curious in its way, as it shows 
the great importance attached to a pleasing and attractive exterior : — 

" To the Editor of the Guardian. 

"Tuesday, May igth, 17 13. 
" Sir, — I am a lady of birth and fortune, but never knew till last 
Thursday that the splendour of my equipage was so beneficial to my 
country. I will not deny that I have dressed for some years out of the 
pride of my heart, but am very glad that you have so far settled my 
conscience in that particular that now I can look upon my vanities as so 
many virtues, since I am satisfied that my person and garb give pleasure 
to my fellow-creatures. I shall not think the three hours' business 
I usually devote to my toilette below the dignity of a rational soul. 
I am content to suffer great torment from my stays that my shape may 


appear graceful to the eyes of others, and often mortify myself with 
fasting rather than my fatness should give distaste to any man in 
England. I am making up a rich brocade for the benefit of mankind, 
and design in a little time to treat the town with a thousand pounds' 
worth of jewellery. I have ordered my chariot to be newly painted for 
your use and the world's, and have prevailed upon my husband to 
present you with a pair of Flanders mares, by driving them every 
evening round the ring. Gay pendants for my ears, a costly cross for 
my neck, a diamond of the best water for my finger shall be purchased, 
at any rate, to enrich you, and I am resolved to be a patriot in every 
limb. My husband will not scruple to oblige me in these trifles, since I 
have persuaded him, from your scheme, that pin-money is only so much 
money set for charitable uses. You see, sir, how expensive you are to 
me, and I hope you will esteem me accordingly, especially when I assure 
you that I am, as far as you can see me, 

" Entirely yours, 

" Cleora." 

The tight lacing and tremendously stiff corsets of the time were also 
the subjects of satirical remark in some quarters, and were upheld 
in others, as the two following letters, copied from the Guardian of 17 13, 
will show: — 

"Thursday, June iSth, 1713. 
« Sir, — I don't know at what nice point you fix the bloom of a 
young lady, but I am one who can just look back on fifteen. My father 
dying three years ago left me under the care and direction of my mother, 
with a fortune not profusely great, yet such as might demand a very 
handsome settlement if ever proposals of marriage should be offered. 
My mother, after the usual time of retired mourning was over, was so 
affectionately indulgent to me as to take me along with her in all her 
visits, but still, not thinking she gratified my youth enough, permitted 


me further to go with my relatives to all the publick cheerful but 
innocent entertainments, where she was too reserved to appear herself. 
The two first years of my teens were easy, gay, and delightful ; every 
one caressed me, the old ladies told me how finely I grew, and the 
young ones were proud of my company ; but when the third year had a 
little advanced, my relations used to tell my mother that pretty Miss 
Clarey was shot up into a woman. The gentlemen began now not to 
let their eyes glance over me, and in most places I found myself distin- 
guished, but observed the more I grew into the esteem of their sex, the 
more I lost the favour of my own ; some of those whom I had been 
familiar with grew cold and indifferent ; others mistook by design my 
meaning, made me speak what I never thought, and so, by degrees, took 
occasion to break off acquaintance. There were several little insignificant 
reflections cast upon me, as being a lady of a great many acquaintances, 
and such like, which I seemed not to take notice of. But my mother 
coming home about a week ago, told me there was a scandal spread 
about town by my enemies that would at once ruin me for ever for a 
beauty. I earnestly intreated her to know it ; she refused me, but 
yesterday it discovered itself. Being in an assembly of gentlemen and 
ladies, one of the gentlemen, who had been very facetious to several of 
the ladies, at last turned to me. 'And as for you, madam, Prior has 
already given us your character : — 

" ' That air and harmony of shape express, 
Fine by degrees and beautifully less.' 

"I perceived immediately a malignant smile display itself in the 
countenance of some of the ladies, which they seconded with a scornful 
flutter of the fan, till one of them, unable any longer to contain herself, 
asked the gentleman if he did not remember what Congreve said about 
Amelia, for she thought it mighty pretty. He made no answer, but 
instantly repeated the verses — 


u « The Mulcibers who in the Minories sweat, 
And massive bars on stubborn anvils beat, 
Deformed themselves, yet forge those stays of steel, 
Which arm Aurelia with a shape to kill.' 

" This was no sooner over but it was easily discernable what an 
ill-natured satisfaction most of the company took, and the more pleasure 
they showed by dwelling upon the two last lines, the more they increased 
my trouble and confusion. And now, sir, after this tedious account, 
what would you advise me to ? Is there no way to be cleared of these 
malicious calumnies ? What is beauty worth that makes the possessed 
thus unhappy? Why was Nature so lavish of her gifts to me as to 
make her kindness prove a cruelty ? They tell me my shape is delicate, 
my eyes sparkling, my lips I know not what, my cheeks, forsooth, 
adorned with a just mixture of the rose and lillie ; but I wish this face 
was barely not disagreeable, this voice harsh and unharmonious, these 
limbs only not deformed, and then perhaps I might live easie and 
unmolested, and neither raise love and admiration in the men, nor 
scandal and hatred in the women. 

" Your very humble servant, 

" Clarina." 

"Editor's Reply to Letter of Thursday, June 18th, 1713. 
"The best answer I can make my fair correspondent is, that she 
ought to comfort herself with this consideration, that those who talk thus 
of her know it is false, but wish to make others believe it is true. 'Tis 
not they think you deformed, but are vexed that they themselves were 
not so nicely framed. If you will take an old man's advice, laugh and 
not be concerned at them ; they have attained what they endeavoured if 
they make you uneasie, for it is envy that has made them. I would not 
have you with your shape one fiftieth part of an inch disproportioned, 
nor desire your face might be impoverished with the ruin of half a 
feature, though numbers of remaining beauties might make the loss 


insensible ; but take courage, go into the brightest assemblies, and the 
world will quickly confess it to be scandal. Thus Plato, hearing it was 
asserted by some persons that he was a very bad man — ' I shall take 
care,' said he, ' to live so that nobody will believe them.' " 

The milliners and lady's-maids of the time were expected to fully 
understand all matters relating to the training of the figure. 

A writer of this period, in speaking of the requisite accomplishments 
of a mantua-maker, says — " She must know how to hide all the defects 
in the proportions of the body, and must be able to mould the shape by 
the stays so as to preserve the intestines, that while she corrects the 
body she may not interfere with the pleasures of the palate." 

Some difference of opinion has existed as to the period at which the 
word " stays" was first used to indicate an article of dress of the nature 
of the corset or bodice. It is evident that the term must have been 
perfectly familiar long anterior to 17 13, as constant use is made of it in 
the letters we have just given. Gay, who wrote about 1720, also avails 
himself of it in The Toilette — 

" I own her taper form is made to please, 
Yet if you saw her unconfined by stays!" 

The word " boddice," or " bodice," was not unfrequently spelt bodies 
by old authors, amongst whom may be mentioned Ben Jonson, who wrote 
about 1600, and mentions 

" The whalebone man 
That quilts the bodies I have leave to span." 




General use of the word "stays" after 1600 in England — Costume of the court of 
Louis XVI. — Dress in 1776 — The formidable stays and severe constriction then had 
recourse to — The stays drawn by Hogarth — Dress during the French revolutionary 
period — Short waists and long trains — Writings of Buchan — Jumpers and "Gari- 
baldis" — Return to the old practice of tight-lacing — Training of figures : backboards 
and stocks — Medical evidence in favour of stays — Fashion in the reign of George III. 
— Stays worn habitually by gentlemen — General use of Corsets for boys on the 
Continent — The officers of Gustavus Adolphus — The use of the Corset for youths : 
a letter from a gentleman on the subject of — Evidence regarding the wearing of 
Corsets by gentlemen of the present day — Remarks on the changes of fashion — The 
term " Crinoline" not new — Crinoline among the South Sea Islanders — Remarks of 
Madame La Sante on Crinoline and slender waists — Abstinence from food as an 
assistance to the Corset — Anecdote from the Traditions of Edinburgh — The custom 
of wearing Corsets during sleep, its growing prevalence in schools and private families : 
letters relating to — The belles of the United States and their " illusion waists" — 
Medical evidence in favour of moderately tight lacing — Letters from ladies who have 
been subjected to tight-lacing. 

"P'OR some considerable period of time we find stays much more 
frequently spoken of than corsets in the writings of English authors, 
but their use continued to be as general and their form of construction 
just as unyielding as ever, both at home and abroad. The costume 
worn at the court of Louis XVI., of which the following illustration will 
give an idea, depended mainly for its completeness on the form of the 
stays, over which the elaborately-finished body of the dress was made to 
fit without fold or crease, forming a sort of bodice, which in many 
instances was sewn on to the figure of the wearer after the stays had 
been laced to their extreme limit. The towering headdress and 
immensely wide and distended skirt gave to the figure an additional 
appearance of tenuity, as we have seen when describing similar contri- 

Court Dress of the Reign of Louis XYT. 


Classic Costume ok the French Revolutionary Period. 



vances in former times. Most costly laces were used for the sleeves, 
and the dress itself was often sumptuously brocaded and ornamented 
with worked wreaths and flowers. High-heeled shoes were not wanting 
to complete the rather astounding toilet of 1776. For many years 
before this time, and, in fact, from the commencement of the eighteenth 
century, it had been the custom for staymakers, in the absence of any 
other material strong and unyielding enough to stand the wear and 
tension brought to bear on their wares, to employ a species of leather 
known as " bend," which was not unlike that used for shoe-soles, and 
measured very nearly a quarter of an inch in thickness. The stays 
made from this were very long-waisted, forming a narrow conical case, 
in the most circumscribed portion of which the waist was closely laced, 
so that the figure was made upright to a degree. Many of Hogarth's 
figures, who wear the stays of his time (1730), are erect and remarkably 
slender-waisted. Such stays as he has drawn are perfectly straight in 
cut, and are filled with stiffening and bone. 

In 1760 we find a strong disposition manifested to adopt the 
so-called classic style of costume. During the French revolutionary move- 
ment and in the reign of the First Napoleon, the ladies endeavoured to 
copy the costume of Ancient Greece, and in 1797 were about as 
successful in their endeavours as young ladies at fancy dress balls usually 
are in personating mermaids or fairy queens. The annexed illustration 
represents the classic style of that period. For several years the ladies 
of England adopted much the same style of costume, and resorted to 
loose bodies — if bodies they might be called — long trains, and waists 
so short that they began and ended immediately under the armpits. 
The following illustration represents a lady of 1806. Buchan, in 
writing during this short-waisted, long-trained period, congratulates him- 
self and society at large on the fact of " the old strait waistcoats of 
whalebone," as he styles them, falling into disuse. Not long after this 
the laws of fashion became unsettled, as they periodically have done for 



ages, and the lines written by an author who wrote not long after 
might have been justly applied to the changeable tastes of this transition 
period : — 

" Now a shape in neat stays, 
Now a slattern in jumps," 

these "jumps" being merely loose short jackets, very much like 
those worn under the name of "jumpers" at the present day by ship- 
wrights and some other artificers. The form of the modern " Garibaldi" 
appears to have been borrowed from this. The reign of relaxation 
seems to have been of a comparatively short duration indeed, as we see 
by the remark made by Buchan's son, who edited a new edition of his 
father's work, Advice to Mothers, and an appendix to it: — "Small" (says 
he) " is the confidence to be placed in the permanent effects of fashion. 
Had the author lived till the present year (1810), he would have 
witnessed the fashion of tight lacing revived with a degree of fury and 
prevailing to an extent which he could form no conception of, and which 
posterity will not credit. Stays are now composed, not of whalebone, 
indeed, or hardened leather, but of bars of iron and steel from three to 
four inches broad, and many of them not less than eighteen in length." 
The same author informs us that it was by no means uncommon to see 
"A mother lay her daughter down upon the carpet, and, placing her 
foot on her back, break half-a-dozen laces in tightening her stays." 
Those who advocate the use of the corset as being indispensable to the 
female toilet have much reason on their side when they insist that these 
temporary freaks of fancy for loose and careless attire only call for 
infinitely more rigid and severe constriction after they (as they invariably 
have done) pass away, than if the regular training of the figure had 
been systematically carried out by the aid of corsets of ordinary power. 
In a period certainly not much over thirty years, the old-established 
standard of elegance, "the span," was again established for waist 
measurement. Strutt, whose work was published in 1796, informs us 

Lady of Fashion, 1806. 



that in his own time he remembers it to have been said of young women, 
in proof of the excellence of their shape, that you might span their 
waists, and he also speaks of having seen a singing girl at the Italian 
Opera whose waist was laced to such an excessive degree of smallness 
that it was painful to look at her. 

Pope, in the Challenge, in speaking of the improved charms of a 
beauty of the court of George II., clearly shows in what high esteem 
a slender figure was held. As a bit of acceptable news, he says — 

"Tell Pickenbourg how slim she's grown." 

There is abundant evidence to show that no ordinary amount of 
management and training was had recourse to then, as now, for 
reducing the waists of those whose figures had been neglected to the 
required standard of fashionable perfection, and that those who under- 
stood the art were somewhat chary in conferring the benefit of it. In a 
poem entitled the Bassit Table, attributed to Lady M. W. Montagu, 
Similinda, in exposing the ingratitude of a rival beauty, exclaims — 

" She owes to me the very charms she wears — 
An awkward thing when first she came to town, 
Her shape unfashioned and her face unknown ; 
I introduced her to the park and plays, 
And by my interest Cozens made her stays." 

A favour in those days no doubt well worthy of gratitude and due 

About this time it was the custom of some fashionable staymakers 
to sew a narrow, stiff, curved bar of steel along the upper edge of the 
stays, which, extending back to the shoulders on each side, effectually 
kept them back, and rendered the use of shoulder-straps superfluous. 
The slightest tendency to stoop was at once corrected by the use of the 
backboard, which was strapped flat against the back of the waist and 
shoulders, extending up the back of the neck, where a steel ring covered 

with leather projected to the front and encircled the throat. The young 
lady of fashion undergoing the then system of boarding-school training 
enjoyed no bed of roses, especially if unblessed on the score of slender- 
ness. A hard time indeed must an awkward, careless girl have had 
of it, incased in stiff, tightly-laced stays, backboard on back, and 
feet in stocks. She simply had to improve or suffer, and probably did 
both. It is singular and noteworthy that although so many of the 
older authors give stays the credit of constantly producing spinal 
curvature, an able writer on the subject of the present day should make 
this unqualified assertion : — " To some, stays may have been injurious ; 
fewer evils, so far as my experience goes, have arisen from them than 
from other causes." It is well known that ladies of the eighteenth 
century did not suffer from spinal disease in the proportion of those of 
the nineteenth, which might arise in some degree from the system of 
education ; but some highly-educated women of that period were elegant 
and graceful figures, and it is well known they generally wore stiff stays, 
though their make, it must be admitted, was less calculated to injure the 
figure than many of those of the present day. 

The author we have just quoted goes on to say — " Mr. Walker, in 
ridiculing the practice of wearing stays, has chosen a very homely and 
not very correct illustration of the human figure. 'The uppermost pair 
of ribs,' says he, 'which lie just at the bottom of the neck, are very 
short. The next pair are rather longer, the third longer still, and thus 
they go on increasing in length to the seventh pair, or last true ribs, 
after which the length diminishes, but without materially contracting the 
size of the cavity, because the false ribs only go round a part of the 
body. Hence the chest has . a sort of conical shape, or it may be 
compared to a common beehive, the narrow pointed end being next the 
neck, and the broad end undermost ; the natural form of the chest, in 
short, is just the reverse of the fashionable shape of the waist ; the latter 
is narrow below and wide above, the former is narrow above and wide 


below.' Surely, when the idea struck him, he must have been gazing 
on a living skeleton, uncovered with muscle. After reading his observa- 
tions, I took the measure of a well-formed little girl, seven years of age, 
who had never worn stays, and found the circumference of the bust just 
below the shoulders one inch and a-half larger than at the lower part of 
the waist." The views of the author just quoted seem to be borne out 
by the researches of a French physician of high standing who has paid 
much attention to the subject. He positively asserts that " Corsets cannot 
be charged with causing deviation of the vertebral column" 

After the period referred to by Buchan's son, when tight-lacing was 
so rigorously revived, we see no diminution of it, and towards the end of 
George III.'s reign, gentlemen, as well as ladies, availed themselves of 
the assistance of the corset-maker. Advertising tailors of the time 
freely advertised their " Codrington corsets" and " Petersham stiffners" 
for gentlemen of fashion, much as the "Alexandra corset," or "the 
Empress's own stay," is brought to the notice of the public at the 
present day. Soemmering informs us that as long ago as 1760, "It was 
the fashion in Berlin, and also in Holland a few years before, to apply 
corsets to children, and many families might be named in which parental 
fondness selected the handsomest of several boys to put in corsets." In 
France, Russia, Austria, and Germany, this practice has been decidedly 
on the increase since that time, and lads intended for the army are 
treated much after the manner of young ladies, and are almost as tightly 
laced. It is related of Prince de Ligne and Prince Kaunitz that they 
were invariably incased in most expensively-made satin corsets, the 
former wearing black and the latter white. Dr. Doran, in writing of 
the officers of the far-famed " Lion of the North," Gustavus Adolphus, 
says, "They were the tightest-laced exquisites of suffering humanity." 
The worthy doctor, like many others who have written on the subject, 
inseparably associates the habitual wearing of corsets with extreme 
suffering; but the gentlemen who, like the ladies, have been sub- 


jected to the full discipline of the corset, not only emphatically deny that 
it has caused them any injury, and, beyond the inconvenience experienced 
on adopting any new article of attire, little uneasiness, but, on the 
contrary, maintain that the sensations associated with the confirmed 
practice of tight-lacing are so agreeable that those who are once addicted 
to it rarely abandon the practice. The following letter to the English- 
woman's Magazine of November, 1867, from a gentleman who was 
educated in Vienna, will show this : — 

"Madam, — May I be permitted for once to ask admission to your 
'Conversazione,' and to plead as excuse for my intrusion that 1 am 
really anxious to indorse your fair correspondent's (Belle's) assertion 
that it is those who know nothing practically of the corset who are most 
vociferous in condemning it? Strong-minded women who have never 
worn a pair of stays, and gentlemen blinded by hastily-formed prejudice, 
alike anathematise an article of dress of the good qualities of which they 
are utterly ignorant, and which consequently they cannot appreciate. 
On a subject of so much importance as regards comfort (to say nothing 
of the question of elegance, scarcely less important on a point of feminine 
costume), no amount of theory will ever weigh very heavily when 
opposed to practical experience. 

" The proof of the pudding is a proverb too true not to be acted on in 
such a case. To put the matter to actual test, can any of the opponents 
of the corset honestly state that they have given up stays after having 
fairly tried them, except in compliance with the persuasions or commands 
of friends or medical advisers, who seek in the much-abused corset a conve- 
nient first cause for an ailment that baffles their skill ? c The Young Lady 
Herself (a former correspondent) does not complain of either illness or 
pain, even after the first few months ; while, on the other hand, Staylace, 
Nora, and Belle bring ample testimony, both of themselves and their school- 
fellows, as to the comfort and pleasure of tight-lacing. To carry out my 
first statement as to the truth of Belle's remark, those of the opposite 


sex who, either from choice or necessity, have adopted this article of 
attire, are unanimous in its praise ; while even among an assemblage of 
opponents a young lady's elegant figure is universally admired while the 
cause is denounced. From personal experience, I beg to express a 
decided and unqualified approval of corsets. I was early sent to school 
in Austria, where lacing is not considered ridiculous in a gentleman as in 
England, and I objected in a thoroughly English way when the doctor's 
wife required me to be laced. I was not allowed any choice, however. 
A sturdy madchen was stoically deaf to my remonstrances, and speedily 
laced me up tightly in a fashionable Viennese corset. I presume my 
impressions were not very different from those of your lady correspon- 
dents. I felt ill at ease and awkward, and the daily lacing tighter and 
tighter produced inconvenience and absolute pain. In a few months, 
however, I was as anxious as any of my ten or twelve companions to 
have my corsets laced as tightly as a pair of strong arms could draw 
them. It is from no feeling of vanity that I have ever since continued to 
wear them, for, not caring to incur ridicule, I take good care that my 
dress shall not betray me, but I am practically convinced of the comfort 
and pleasantness of tight-lacing, and thoroughly agree with Staylace that 
the sensation of being tightly laced in an elegant, well-made, tightly- 
fitting pair of corsets is superb. There is no other word for it. I have 
dared this avowal because I am thoroughly ashamed of the idle nonsense 
that is being constantly uttered on this subject in England. The terrors 
of hysteria, neuralgia, and, above all, consumption, are fearlessly promised 
to our fair sisters if they dare to disregard preconceived opinions, while, 
on the other hand, some medical men are beginning slowly to admit that 
they cannot conscientiously support the extravagant assertions of former 
days. ' Stay torture? c whalebone vices? and \ corset screws* are very 
terrible and horrifying things upon paper, but when translated into 
cont'd or satin they wear a different appearance in the eyes of those most 
competent to give an opinion. That much perfectly unnecessary dis- 


comfort and inconvenience is incurred by the purchasers of ready-made 
corsets is doubtless true. The waist measure being right, the chest, 
where undue constriction will naturally produce evil effects, is very 
generally left to chance. If, then, the wearer suffers, who is to blame 
but herself? 

"The remark echoed by nearly all your correspondents, that ladies 
have the remedy in their own hands by having their stays made to 
measure, is too self-evident for me to wish to enlarge upon it ; but I do 
wish to assert and insist that, if a corset allows sufficient room in the 
chest, the waist may be laced as tightly as the wearer desires without 
fear of evil consequences ; and, further, that the ladies themselves who 
have given tight-lacing a fair trial, and myself and schoolfellows converted 
against our will, are the only jury entitled to pronounce authoritatively 
on the subject, and that the comfortable support and enjoyment afforded 
by a well-laced corset quite overbalances the theoretical evils that are so 
confidently prophesied by outsiders. 

" Walter." 

Since it has become a custom to send lads from England to the Con- 
tinent for education, many of them adhere to the use of the corset on 
their return, and of the use of this article of attire among the rising gene- 
ration of the gentlemen of this country there can be no doubt ; we are 
informed by one of the leading corset-makers in London that it is by no 
means unusual to receive the orders of gentlemen, not for the manufac- 
ture of the belts so commonly used in horse-exercise, but veritable 
corsets, strongly boned, steeled, and made to lace behind in the usual 
way — not, as the corset-maker assured us, from any feeling of vanity on 
the part of the wearers, who so arranged their dresses that no one would 
even suspect that they wore corsets beneath them, but simply because 
they had become accustomed to tight-lacing, and were fond of it. So it 
will be seen that the fair sex are not the only corset-wearers. 

During 1824, it will be seen by the accompanying illustration that 

Fashionable Dress in 1S24. 


Lad* of Fashion, 1827. 



fashion demanded the contour of the figure should be fully defined, and 
the absence of any approach to fullness about the skirt below the 
waist led to the use of very tight stays, in order that there might be 
some contrast in the outline of the figure. This style of dress, with slight 
modifications, remained in fashion for several years. In 1827, the dress, 
as will be seen on reference to the annexed illustration, had changed but 
little ; but three years, or thereabouts, worked a considerable change, 
and we see, in 1830, sleeves of the most formidable size, hats to match, 
short skirts, and long slender waists the rage again. A few years later 
the skirts had assumed a much wider spread ; the sleeves of puffed-out 
pattern were discarded. The waist took its natural position, and was 
displayed to the best advantage by the expansion of drapery below it, as 
will be seen on reference to the annexed cut. The term "crinoline" 
is by no means a new one, and long before the hooped petticoats with 
which the fashions of the last few years have made us so familiar, the 
horsehair cloth, so much used for distending the skirts of dresses, was 
commonly known by that name. It is not our intention here to enter on 
a description of the almost endless forms which from time to time this 
adjunct to ladies' dress has assumed. Whether the idea of its construc- 
tion was first borrowed from certain savage tribes it is difficult to determine. 
That a very marked and unmistakable form of it existed amongst the 
natives of certain of the South Sea Islands at their discovery by the early 
navigators, the curious cut, representing a native belle, will show, and 
there is no doubt that, although the dress of the savage is somewhat diffe- 
rent in its arrangement from that of the European lady of fashion, the object 
sought by the use of a wide-spread base to the form is the same. Madame 
La Sante, in writing on the subject, says — "Every one must allow that 
the expanding skirts of a dress, springing out immediately below the 
waist, materially assist by contrast in making the waist look small and 
slender. It is, therefore, to be hoped that now that crinoline no longer 
assumes absurd dimensions, it will long continue to hold its ground." 



The same author, in speaking of the prevailing taste for slender waists, 
thus writes : — " We have seen that for many hundred years a slender 
figure has been considered a most attractive female charm, and there is 
nothing to lead us to suppose that a taste which appears to be implanted 
in man's very nature will ever cease to render the acquisition of a small 
waist an object of anxious solicitude with those who have the care of the 
young." For several years this solicitude has been decidedly on the 
increase, and many expedients which were had recourse to in ancient 
days for reducing the waist to exceeding slenderness, are, we shall see 
as we proceed, in full operation. 

A very sparing diet has, as we have already seen, from the days of 
Terentius, been one great aid to the operation of the corset. 

There is a very quaint account to be found in the Traditions of 
Edinburgh bearing on this dieting system. An elderly lady of fashion, 
who appears to have lived in Scotland during the early part of the last 
century, was engaged on the formation of the figures of her daughters, 
stinted meals and tight corsets worn day and night being some of the 
means made use of; but it is related that a certain cunning and evil- 
minded cook, whose coarse mind only ran on the pleasure of the appetite, 
used to creep stealthily in the dead of night to the chamber in which 
the young ladies slept, unlace their stays, and let them feed heartily on 
the strictly-prohibited dainties of the pantry ; grown rash by impunity, 
she one night ventured to attempt running the blockade with hot roast 
goose, but three fatal circumstances combined against the success of the 
dangerous undertaking. In the first place, the savoury perfume arising 
from hot roast goose was penetrating to an alarming degree ; in the 
second, the old lady, as ill-luck would have it, happened to be awake, 
and, worse than all, had no snuff, so smelt goose. The scene which 
followed the capture of the illicit cargo and the detection of the culprit 
cook can be much more easily imagined than described. 

The custom of wearing the corset by night as well as by day, above 

Lady of Fashion, 1830. 


Lady of Fashion, 1837. 



referred to, although partially discontinued for some time, is becoming 
general again. About the commencement of the last century the custom 
was much advocated and followed in France, and it is said to reduce and 
form the figure much more rapidly than any system of lacing by day 
only could bring about. 

A French author of the period referred to says — " Many mothers 
who have an eye to the main chance, through an excess of zeal, or 
rather from a strange fear, condemn their daughters to wear corsets 
night and day, lest the interruption of their use should hinder their 
project of procuring for them fine waists." That ladies are fully aware 
of the potent influences of the practice, the following letter to the 
Englishwoman 's Domestic Magazine will show : — 

"As several of your correspondents have remarked, the personal 
experience of those who have for a number of years worn tight-fitting 
corsets can alone enable a clear and fair judgment to be pronounced upon 
their use. Happening to have had what I believe you will admit to be 
an unusual experience of tight-lacing, I trust you will allow me to tell 
the story of my younger days. Owing to the absence of my parents in 
India, I was allowed to attain the age of fourteen before any care was 
bestowed upon my figure ; but their return home fortunately saved me 
from growing into a clumsy, inelegant girl ; for my mamma was so 
shocked at my appearance that she took the unusual plan of making me 
sleep in my corset. For the first few weeks I occasionally felt conside- 
rable discomfort, owing, in a great measure, to not having worn stays 
before, and also to their extreme tightness and stiffness. Yet, though I 
was never allowed to slacken them before retiring to rest, they did not 
in the least interfere with my sleep, nor produce any ill effects whatever. 
I may mention that my mamma, fearing that, at so late an age, I should 
have great difficulty in securing a presentable figure, considered ordinary 
means insufficient, and consequently had my corsets filled with whalebone 
and furnished with shoulder-straps, to cure the habit of stooping which 


I had contracted. The busk, which was nearly inflexible, was not front- 
fastening, and the lace being secured in a hard knot behind and at the 
top, effectually prevented any attempt on my part to unloose my stays. 
Though I have read lately of this plan having been tried with advantage, 
I believe it is as yet an unusual one, and as the testimony of one who 
has undergone it without the least injury to health cannot fail to be of 
value in proving that the much less severe system usually adopted must 
be even less likely to do harm, I am sure you will do me and your 
numerous readers the favour of inserting this letter in your most enter- 
taining and valuable magazine. I am delighted to see the friends of the 
corset muster so strong at the c Englishwoman's Conversazione.' What 
is most required, however, are the personal experiences of the ladies 
themselves, and not mere treatises on tight-lacing by those who, like 

your correspondent Brisbane, have never tried it. 


Another correspondent to the same journal (signing herself " Debu- 
tante") writes in the number for November, 1867, as follows: — 

" Mignonette's case is not an c unusual' one. She has just finished 
her education at a 'West-End school' where the system was strictly 
enforced. As she entered as a pupil at the age of thirteen and was 
very slender, she was fitted on her arrival with a corset, which 
could be drawn close without the extreme tightness found necessary in 
Mignonette's case. They did not open in front, and were fastened by 
the under-governess in such a manner that any attempt to unlace them 
during the night would be immediately detected at the morning's 
inspection. After the first week or two she felt no discomfort or pain 
of any kind, though, as she was still growing, her stays became propor- 
tionately tighter, but owing to her figure never being allowed to enlarge 
during the nine or ten hours of sleep, as is usually the case, this was 
almost imperceptible." 

Madame La Sante also refers to the custom as being much more 



general than is commonly supposed. She says — " Several instances of 
this system in private families have lately come to my own knowledge, 
and I am acquainted with more than one fashionable school in the neigh- 
bourhood of London where the practice is made a rule of the establish- 
ment. Such a method is doubtlessly resorted to from a sense of duty, 
and those girls who have been subjected to this discipline, and with 
whom I have had an opportunity of conversing, say that for the first few 
months the uneasiness by the continued compression was very consider- 
able, but that after a time they became so accustomed to it that they felt 
reluctant to discontinue the practice." In the United States of America 
the ladies often possess figures of remarkable slenderness and elegance, 
and the term "illusion" is not unfrequently applied to a waist of more 
than ordinary taperness. In a great number of instances the custom 
above referred to would be found to have mainly contributed to its 
original formation. The way in which doctors disagree on matters 
relating to the corset question is most remarkable. 

The older writers, as we have seen, launched out in the most 
sweeping and condemnatory manner against almost every article of 
becoming or attractive attire. Corsets were most furiously denounced, 
and had the qualities which were gravely attributed to them been one- 
thousandth part as deadly as they were represented, the civilised world 
would long ere this have been utterly depopulated. When we find such 
diseases and ailments as the following attributed by authors of supposed 
talent to the use of the corset, we are no longer surprised at 
remarks and strictures emanating from similar sources meeting with 
ridicule and derision : " hooping-cough, obliquity of vision, polypus, 
apoplexy, stoppage of the nose, pains in the eyes, and earache" are all 
laid at the door of the stays. We are rather surprised that large ears 
and wooden legs were not added to the category, as they might 
have been with an equal show of reason. Medical writers of the 
present day are beginning to take a totally different view of the 


matter, as the following letter from a surgeon of much experience will 
show : — 

" My attention has just been directed to an interesting and important 
discussion in your magazine on the subject of corsets, and I have been 
urged as a medical man to give my opinion regarding them. Under 
these circumstances 1 trust you will allow me to attend the ' English- 
woman's Conversazione' for once, as medical men are supposed to 
be the great opponents of the corset. It is no doubt true that 
those medical men who studied for their profession some thirty or 
forty years ago are still prejudiced against this elegant article of 
female dress, for stays were very different things even then to 
what they are now. The medical works, too, which they studied 
were written years before, and spoke against the buckram and iron 
stays of the last century. The name * stays,' however, being still 
used at the present time, the same odium still attaches to them 
in the minds of physicians of the old school. But the rising generation 
of doctors are free from these prejudices, and fairly judge the light and 
elegant corsets of the present day on their own merits. In short, 
it is now generally admitted, and I, for one, freely allow, that moderate 
compression of the waist by well-made corsets is far from being injurious. 
It is really absurdly illogical for the opponents of the corset to 
bring forward quotations from medical writers of the last century, 
for the animadversions of Soemmering are still quoted. Let us, however, 
merely look at facts as they at present stand ; statistics prove that there 
are several thousand more women than men in the United Kingdom. 
A statement in the Registrar-General's Report of a few years since 
has been brought forward to prove that corsets produce an enormous 
mortality from consumption, but these would-be benefactors of the fair 
sex omit to state how many males die from that disease. If there 
be any preponderance of deaths among women from consumption, 
the cause may easily be found in the low dress, the thin shoes, and the 


sedentary occupations in close rooms, without attributing the blame 
to the corset. Dr. Walshe, in his well-known work on diseases of the 
lungs, distinctly asserts that corsets cannot be accused of causing 
consumption. With regard to spinal curvature, a disease which has 
been connected by some writers with the use of stays, an eminent 
French physician, speaking of corsets, says — 'They cannot be charged 
with causing deviations of the vertebral column.' Let us, then, hear no 
more nonsense about the terrible consequences of wearing corsets, at all 
events till the ladies return to the buckram and iron of our great- 
grandmothers. Your fair readers may rest assured that what is said 
against stays at the present day is merely the lingering echo of prejudice, 
and is quite inapplicable now-a-days to the light and elegant production 
of the scientific corsetiere. As a medical man (and not one of the old 
school) I feel perfectly justified in saying that ladies who are content 
with a moderate application of the corset may secure that most elegant 
female charm, a slender waist, without fear of injury to health. 


A great number of ladies who, by the systematic use of the corset, 
have had their waists reduced to the fashionable standard, are to be 
constantly met in society. The great majority declare that they have in 
no way suffered in health from the treatment they had been subjected to. 
Vide the following letter from the S$ueen of July 18, 1863 : — 

" Madam, — As I have for a long time been a constant reader of the 
Lady's 'Journal, I venture to ask you if you, or any of your valuable 
correspondents, will kindly tell me if it is true that small waists are again 
coming into fashion generally ? I am aware that they cannot be said to 
have gone out of fashion altogether, for one often sees very slender 
figures; but I think during the last few years they have been less 
thought of than formerly. I have heard, however, from several sources, 
and by the public prints, that they are again to be La Mode. Now I 
fortunately possess a figure which will, I hope, satisfy the demand of 


fashion in this respect. What is the smallest-sized waist that one can 
have ? Mine is sixteen and a-half inches, and, I have heard, is considered 
small. I do not believe what is said against the corset, though I admit 
that if a girl is an invalid, or has a very tender constitution, too sudden a 
reduction of the waist may be injurious. With a waist which is, I 
believe, considered small, I can truly say I have good health. If all that 
was said against the corset were true, how is it so many ladies live to an 
advanced age ? A friend of mine has lately died at the age of eighty- 
six, who has frequently told me anecdotes of how in her young days she 
was laced cruelly tight, and at the age of seventeen had a waist fifteen 
inches. Yet she was eighty-six when she died. I know that it has been 
so long the habit of public journals to take their example from medical 
men (who, I contend, are not the best judges in the matter) in running 
down the corset, and the very legitimate, and, if properly employed, 
harmless mode of giving a graceful slenderness to the figure, that I can 
hardly expect that at present you will have courage to take the part of 
the ladies. But I beg you to be so kind as to tell me what you know of 
the state of the fashion as regards the length and size of the waist, and 
whether my waist would be considered small. Also what is the smallest- 
sized waist known among ladies of fashion. By doing this in an early 
number you will very much oblige, 

"Yours, &c, 

" Constance." 

The foregoing letter was followed on the 25th of the same month by 
one from another correspondent to the same paper, fully bearing out 
the truth of the view therein contained, and at the same time showing 
the system adopted in many of the French finishing schools : — 

"Madam, — As a constant reader of your highly-interesting and 
valuable paper, I have ventured to reply to a letter under the above 
heading from your correspondent Constance, contained in your last 
week's impression. In reply to her first question, there is little doubt, I 


think, that slender and long waists will ere long be la mode. Ladies of 
fashion here who are fortunate enough to possess such enviable and 
graceful attractions, take most especial care by the arrangement of their 
toilets to show them off to the very best advantage. A waist of 
sixteen and a-half-inches would, I am of opinion, be considered, for a 
lady of fair average size and stature, small enough to satisfy even the 
most exacting of Fashion's votaries. The question as to how small one's 
waist can be is rather hard to answer, and I am not aware that any 
standard has yet been laid down on the subject, but an application to 
any of our fashionable corset-makers for the waist measurement of the 
smallest sizes made would go far to clear the point up. Many of the 
corsets worn at our late brilliant assemblies were about the size of your 
correspondent's, and some few, I have been informed, even less. I beg 
to testify most fully to the truth of the remarks made by Constance as 
to the absurdly-exaggerated statements (evidently made by persons 
.utterly ignorant of the whole matter) touching the dreadfully injurious 
effects of the corset on the female constitution. My own, and a wide 
range of other experiences, leads me to a totallv different conclusion, and 
I fully believe that, except in cases of confirmed disease or bad constitu- 
tion, a well-made and nicely-fitting corset inflicts no more injury than a 
tight pair of gloves. Up to the age of fifteen I was educated at a small 
provincial school, was suffered to run as nearly wild as could well be, and 
grew stout, indifferent and careless as to personal appearance, dress, 
manners, or any of their belongings. Family circumstances and change 
of fortune at this time led my relatives to the conclusion that my 
education required a continental finish. Advantage was therefore taken 
of the protection offered by some friends about to travel, and I was, 
with well-filled trunks and a great deal of good advice, packed off to a 
highly-genteel and fashionable establishment for young ladies, situated in 
the suburbs of Paris. The morning after my arrival I was aroused by 
the clang of the ' morning bell.' I was in the act of commencing a hurried 



and by no means an elaborate toilet, when the under-governess, accom- 
panied by a brisk, trim little woman, the bearer of a long cardboard 
case, made their appearance ; corsets of various patterns, as well as silk 
laces of most portentous length, were at once produced, and a very short 
time was allowed to elapse before my experiences in the art and mystery 
of tight-lacing may be fairly said to have commenced. My dresses were 
all removed, in order that the waists should be taken in and the make 
altered ; a frock was borrowed for me for the day, and from that hour 
I was subjected to the strict and rigid system of lacing in force through 
the whole establishment, no relaxation of its discipline being allowed 
during the day on any pretence whatever. For the period (nearly three 
years) I remained as a pupil, I may say that my health was excellent, as 
was that of the great majority of my young companions in 'bondage,' 
and on taking my departure I had grown from a clumsy girl to a very 
smart young lady, and my waist was exactly seven inches less than on 
the day of my arrival. From Paris I proceeded at once to join my 
relatives in the island of Mauritius, and on my arrival in the isle sacred 
to the memories of Paul and Virginia, I found the reign of ' Queen 
Corset' most arbitrary and absolute, but without in any way that I could 
discover interfering with either the health or vivacity of her exceedingly 
attractive and pretty subjects. Before concluding, and whilst on the 
subject, a few words on the c front-fastening corset,' now so generally 
worn, may not come amiss. After a thorough trial I have finally 
abandoned its use, as being imperfect and faulty in every way, excepting 
the very doubtful advantage of being a little more quickly put on and 
off. Split up and open at the front as they are, and only fastening 
here and there, the whole of the compactness and stability so highly 
important in this part, of all others, of a corset is all but lost, whilst the 
ordinary steel busk secures these conditions, to the wearing out of the 
material of which the corset is composed. The lpng double-looped 
round lace used is, I consider, by no means either as neat, secure, or 


durable as a flat plaited silk lace of good quality. Trusting these 

remarks and replies may prove such as required by Constance, I beg to 

subscribe myself, 

" Fanny." 

Another lady writing to the Queen on the same subject in the month 
of August has a waist under sixteen inches in circumference, as will be 
seen by the annexed letter, and yet she declares her health to be 
uninjured : — 

"Dear Madam, — I have read with interest the letters of Constance 
and Fanny on the subject of slender waists. It is so much the fashion 
among medical men to cry down tight-lacing that advocates are very 
daring who venture to uphold the practice. It has ever been in vogue 
among our sex, and will, I maintain, always continue so long as elegant 
figures are admired, for the wearing of corsets produces a grace and 
slenderness which nature never gives, and if the corset is discontinued or 
relaxed, the figure at once becomes stout and loose. The dress fits 
better over a close-laced corset, and the fullness of the skirts, and ease of 
its folds, are greatly enhanced by the slenderness of the waist. My own 
waist is under sixteen inches. I have always enjoyed good health. Why, 
then, if the practice of tight-lacing is not prejudicial to the constitution 
of all its votaries, should we be debarred from the means of improving 
our appearance and attaining an elegant and graceful figure ? I quite 
agree with Fanny respecting the front-fastening corset. I consider it 
objectionable. The figure can never be so neat or slender as in an 
ordinary well-laced corset. May I inquire what has become of your 
correspondent Mary Blackbraid? Her partialities for gloves and wigs 
brought upon her severe remarks from your numerous correspondents. 
I agree with her in the glove question, and always wear them as much as 
possible in the house. I find they keep the hands cooler, and in my 
opinion there is no such finish to the appearance as a well-gloved hand. 
Where I am now staying the ladies invariably wear them, and I have 


heard gentlemen express their admiration of the practice. I have worn 
them to sleep in for some years, and never found any inconvenience. 
Pardon me trespassing so much on your space, but your interesting paper 
is the only one open to our defence from the strictures of the over- 

" Eliza." 

The following letter from the columns of the S^ueen contains much 
matter bearing immediately on the subject, and will no doubt be of 
interest to the reader : — 

"Madam, — I am sure your numerous readers will thank you for 
your kindness in publishing so impartially the correspondence you have 
received on the subject of the corset, and as the question is one of great 
importance, and moreover one on which much difference of opinion 
seems to exist, I trust you will continue to give us the benefit of your 
correspondents' remarks. 

" When I read the very apropos letter of Constance, and the excellent 
letter of Fanny in reply, I was quite prepared to see in your last 
number some strong expressions of opinion against this most becoming 
fashion ; but I think that they, as well as Eliza, need not be discouraged 
by the formidable opposition they have met with, and 1 beg you will 
afford me space for a few lines, in order to refute the arguments of the 
anti-corset party, in your valuable journal. 

"Much as I, in common with all your readers, delight in reading 
Mr. Frank Buckland's articles, I really cannot agree with him in his view 
of the subject. In the first place, I really must question his authority in 
the matter, for I am convinced that it is only those who have experienced 
the comfortable support afforded by a well-made corset who are entitled 
to pronounce their opinion. What can Mr. Buckland, or any one not of 
the corset-wearing sex, know of the practical operation of this indispen- 
sable article of female attire? I will not attempt so arduous a task as 


that of disproving all that Mr. Combe and his professional brethren have 
written against tight-lacing ; I am even willing to admit that there may 
be persons so constituted that the attainment of a graceful slenderness 
would be injurious ; but these are the exceptions, not the rule. The 
remarks of the faculty are founded principally on theory, backed up by 
an occasional case which might very often be referred to some other 
cause with equal justice. But who does not know that practice often 
belies theory, or that theory is frequently at fault ? Slender waists have 
been in fashion for several hundred years, and for the purposes of my 
argument I will refer to a period thirty or forty years ago. No one 
then thought of questioning the absolute necessity of attaining a slender 
figure by the instrumentality of the corset. If, let me ask Mr. Buckland 
and your other correspondents, theory be true that torture and death are 
the result, how does it happen not only that there are millions of healthy 
middle-aged ladies among us now, but that the female population actually 
exceeds the male ? By what wonderful means have they continued to 
exist and enjoy such perfect health, while such a terrible engine 
of destruction as the corset was at work upon their frames ? If all that 
theory said against the corset were true, not a thousand women would 
now be left alive. 

" I cannot avoid troubling you a little further while I descend more 
into details. Spinal curvature, it is said, is caused by wearing stays. 
But what kind of stays were they which produced this result, and were 
no other causes discernible ? I think that in every instance it would be 
found that the stays have been badly made, that they have not been 
properly laced, or that the busk and materials have not been sufficiently 

"In addition to this, girls are too often compelled to maintain an 
erect position on a form or a music-stool for too long a time during school 
hours. If the corset is properly made, a young lady may be allowed to 
lean back in her chair without danger of acquiring lounging habits or 


injuring her figure. It is to this over-tiring of the muscles that all spinal 
curvature is attributable, and not to the stays, which, if properly 
employed, would act as a sure preventative. Again, let me ask any one 
of the opposite sex who, at any rate at the present day, do not wear 
stays, whether they have never experienced 'palpitation or flushings,' 
headaches, and red noses? What right has any one to make these 
special attendants on small-waisted ladies ? There is no more danger of 
incurring these evils than by a gentleman wearing a hat. Well may the 
old lady have c forgotten' these little items in her anecdotes. The 
comparison between the human frame and a watch is correct in some 
respects, but it is particularly unhappy in relation to the present subject. 
The works of a watch are hard and unyielding, and not being possessed 
of life and power of growing, cannot adapt themselves to their outer 
case. If you squeeze in the case the works will be broken and put out 
of order ; far different is it with the supple and growing frame of a young 
girl. If the various organs are prevented from taking a certain form or 
direction, they will accommodate themselves to any other with perfect 
ease. Nothing is broken or interfered with in its action. I will, of 
course, allow that if a fully-grown woman were to attempt to reduce her 
waist suddenly, respiration and digestion would be stopped; but it is 
rarely, if ever, that a lady arrives at maturity before she has imbibed 
sufficient notions of elegance and propriety to induce her to conform to 
this becoming fashion to some extent. Happy indeed those who are 
blessed with mothers who are wise enough to educate their daughters' 
figures with an eye to their future comfort. The constant discomfort felt 
by those whose clumsy waists and exuberant forms are a perpetual 
bugbear to their happiness and advancement should warn mothers of the 
necessity of looking to the future, and by directing their figures success- 
fully while young, avoid the unsuccessful attempts to force them at an 
advanced age. One word more on the question. Is a small waist 
admired by the gentlemen ? Mr. Buckland, it seems, has become so 


imbued with Mr. Combe's ideas against tight-lacing, that he looks upon 
a slender waist with feelings evidently far from admiration. But is this 
any reason or authority for concluding that every gentleman of taste is 
of a like opinion ? On the contrary, I think it goes far to prove that it 
is other than the younger class of gentlemen (for whom, of course, the 
ladies lay their attractions) who run down the corset. Many times 
in fashionable assemblies have I heard gentlemen criticising the young 

ladies in such terms as these : — ' What a clumsy figure Miss is ! it 

completely spoils her.' 'What a pity Miss has not a neater 

figure !' and so on, and I believe there is not one young man in a 
thousand who does not admire a graceful slenderness of the waist. 
What young man cares to dance with girls who resemble casks in form ? 
I have invariably noticed that the girls with the smallest waists are the 
queens of the ball-room. I have not space to enter into the discussion 
as to whether the artificial waist is more beautiful than that of the Venus 
de Medici ; on such matters every one forms their own opinions. The 
waist of the Venus is beautiful for the Venus, but would cease to be so 
if clothed. I maintain that the comparison is not a good one, as the 
circumstances are not equal. In other respects, let the ladies, then, not 
be led to make themselves ungraceful and unattractive by listening to 
theories which are contradicted by practice, promulgated by persons 
ignorant, as far as their personal experience goes, of the operation and 
effect of corsets, and taken up by ladies and gentlemen, not of the 
youngest, who, like your Country Subscriber, are past the age when 
the pleasantest excitements of life form topics of interest. Is it not 
natural that a young lady should be anxious to present a sylph-like form 
instead of appearing matronly ? There are some to whom the words 
* tight lacing' suggest immediately what they are pleased to term 
c torture,' * misery,' &c, but who have never taken the trouble to inquire 
into the subject, preferring the far easier way of taking for granted that 
all that has been said against it is true. When such would-be bene- 


factors to the fair sex hear of a sudden death, or see a lady faint at a 
ball or a theatre, they immediately raise the cry of £ Tight-lacing !' An 
instance occurred not long ago in which, in a public journal, the sudden 
death of a young lady was ascribed to this cause, but in a few days 
afterwards was expressly contradicted in a paragraph of the same paper. 
Do we never hear of men dying suddenly, or fainting away from over- 
heat ? That small waists are the fashion admits of no doubt, for I have 
myself applied to several fashionable corset-makers in London and the 
principal fashionable resorts to ascertain whether it be the case. I gather 
from their information that small waists are most unmistakably the 
fashion; that there are more corsets made to order under eighteen 
inches than over that measurement ; that the smallest size is usually 
fifteen inches, though few possess so elegantly small a waist, the majority 
being about seventeen or eighteen inches ; that the ladies are now 
beginning to see that the front-fastening busk is not so good as the old- 
fashioned kind, and have their daughters' corsets well boned. Many 
also prefer shoulder-straps for the stays of growing girls, which keep 
the chest expanded, and prevent their leaning too much on the busk. If 
these are not too tight they are very advantageous to the figure, and the 
upper part of the corset should just fit, but not be tight. A corset 
made on these principles will cause no injury to health, unless the girl is 
naturally of a consumptive constitution, in which case no one would think 
of lacing at all tightly. 

"I must apologise for this long letter, but I felt bound to take 
advantage of the opportunity you afford to discuss this really important 

" I remain, madam, yours, 

" Admirer." 



The elegant figure of the Empress of Austria — Slender waists the fashion in Vienna — The 
small size of Corsets frequently made in London — Letter from the Queen on small 
waists — Remarks on the portrait of the Empress of Austria in the Exhibition — 
Diminutive waist of Lady Morton — General remarks on the figure — Remarks on 
figure-training by the use of stays — Mode of constructing Corsets for growing girls — 
Tight-lacing abolished by the early use of well-constructed Corsets — Boarding- 
school discipline and extreme tight-lacing — Letter in praise of tight Corsets — Letter 
in praise of Crinoline and Corsets — Another letter on boarding-school discipline and 
figure-training — The waist of fashion contrasted with that of the Venus de Medici — 
A fashionably-dressed statue — Clumsy figures a serious drawback to young ladies — 
Letter from a lady, who habitually laces with extreme tightness, in praise of the 
Corset — Opinions of a young baronet on slender waists ; letter from a family man on 
the same subject. 

A S most of our readers will be aware, the much-admired Empress of 
-*■ -^ Austria has been long celebrated for possessing a waist of sixteen 
inches in circumference, and a friend of ours, who has recently had unusual 
opportunities afforded for judging of the fashionable world of Vienna, 
assures us that waists of equal slenderness are by no means uncommon. 
We are also informed by one of the first West-End corset-makers that 
sixteen inches is a size not unfrequently made in London. Much 
valuable and interesting information can be gathered from the following 
letter from a talented correspondent of the Queen a few months ago : — 

"Corsets and Small Waists. 

"lama constant reader of the Queen, and look forward with anxiety 

for more of the very interesting letters on the corset question which you 

are so obliging as to insert in your paper. I know many who take as much 

pleasure in reading them as myself, for the subject is one on which both 



health and beauty greatly depend. All who visited the picture-gallery 
in the Exhibition of 1862 must have seen an exquisitely-painted portrait 
of the beautiful Empress of Austria, and though it did not show the 
waist in the most favourable position, some idea may be formed of its 
elegant slenderness and easy grace. Many were the remarks made upon 
it by all classes of critics while I seated myself opposite the picture for a 
few minutes. I should like any one who maintains that small waists are 
not generally admired to have taken up the position which I did for half- 
an-hour, and I am sure she would soon find her opinion unsupported by 
facts ; your correspondents, however, are at fault in supposing that six- 
teen inches is the smallest waist that the world has almost ever known. 
Lady Babbage, in her Collection of Curiosities, tells us that in a portrait of 
Lady Morton, in the possession of Lord Dillon, the waist cannot exceed 
ten or twelve inches in circumference, and at the largest part imme- 
diately beneath the armpits not more than twenty-four, and the immense 
length of the figure seems to give it the appearance of even greater 
slenderness. Catherine de Medici considered the standard of perfection 
to be thirteen inches. It is scarcely to be supposed that any lady of the 
present day possesses such an absurdly small waist as thirteen inches, but 
I am certain that not a few could be found whose waistband does not 
exceed fifteen inches and three-quarters or sixteen inches. Much 
depends on the height and width of the shoulders ; narrow shoulders 
generally admit of a small waist, and many tall women are naturally so 
slender as to be able to show a small waist with very little lacing. It is 
needless to remark how much depends on the corset. Your correspon- 
dent, A. H. Turnour, says that the long corsets, if well pulled in at the 
waist, compress one cruelly all the way up, and cause the shoulders to 
deport themselves awkwardly and stiffly. Now, no corset will be able 
to do this if constructed as it should be. I believe the great fault to be 
that when the corset is laced on it is very generally open an inch or so 
from top to bottom. The consequence of this is, that when the wearer 


is sitting down, and the pressure on the waist the greatest, the tendency- 
is to pull the less tightly drawn lace at the top of the corset tighter ; on 
changing the posture this does not right itself, and consequently an 
unnecessary and injurious compression round the chest is experienced. 
Now, if the corset, when fitted, were so made that it should meet all the 
way, or at any rate above and below the waist, when laced on, this evil 
would be entirely avoided, and absence of compression round the upper 
part of the chest would give an increased appearance of slenderness to 
the waist and allow the lungs as much play as the waistbands. There 
seems to be an idea that when the corset is made to meet it gives a 
stiffness to the figure. In the days of buckram this might be the case, 
but no such effect need be feared from the light and flexible stays of the 
present day, and the fault which frequently leads to the fear of wearing 
corsets which do not meet is, that the formation of the waist is not 
begun early enough. The consequence of this is, that the waist has to 
be compressed into a slender shape after it has been allowed to swell, and 
the stays are therefore made so as to allow of being laced tighter and 
tighter. Now I am persuaded that much inconvenience is caused by 
this practice, which might be entirely avoided by the following simple 
plan, which I have myself tried with my own daughters, and have found 
to answer admirably. At the age of seven I had them fitted with stays 
without much bone and a flexible busk, and these were made to meet 
from top to bottom when laced, and so as not to exercise the least pres- 
sure round the chest and beneath the waist, and only a very slight 
pressure at the waist, just enough to show off the figure and give it a 
roundness. To prevent the stays from slipping, easy shoulder-straps were 
added. In front, extending from the top more than half way to the 
waist, were two sets of lace-holes, by which the stays could be enlarged 
round the upper part. As my daughters grew, these permitted of my 
always preventing any undue pressure, but I always laced the stays so as 
to meet behind. When new ones were required they were made exactly 


the same size at the waist, but as large round the upper part as the 
gradual enlargement had made the former pair. They were also of 
course made a little longer, and the position of the shoulder-straps 
slightly altered ; by these means their figures were directed instead of 
forced into a slender shape ; no inconvenience was felt, and my 
daughters, I am happy to say, are straight, and enjoy perfect health, 
while the waist of the eldest is eighteen inches, and that of the youngest 
seventeen. I am convinced that my plan is the most reasonable one that 
can be adopted. By this means ' tight-lacing will be abolished, for no 
tight-lacing or compression is required, and the child, being accustomed 
to the stays from an early age, does not experience any of the incon- 
veniences which are sometimes felt by those who do not adopt them till 
twelve or fourteen. 

" A Former Correspondent (Edinburgh)." 

The advisability of training instead of forcing the figure into 
slenderness is now becoming almost universally admitted by those who 
have paid any attention to the subject ; yet it appears from the following 
letters, which appeared in the Englishwoman } s Domestic Magazine of 
January and February, 1868, that the corset, even when employed at 
a comparatively late period of life, is capable of reducing the size of the 
waist in an extraordinary manner, without causing the serious con- 
sequences which it has so long been the custom to associate with the 
practice of tight-lacing. 

A Tight-Lacer expresses herself to the following effect : — " Most 
of your correspondents advocate the early use of the corset as the 
best means to secure a slender waist. No doubt this is the best and 
most easy mode, but still I think there are many young ladies who 
have never worn tight stays who might have small waists even now if 
they would only give themselves the trouble. I did not commence to 
lace tightly until I was married, * nor should I have done so then had 
not my husband been so particularly fond of a small waist ; but I was 


determined not to lose one atom of his affection for the sake of a 
little trouble. I could not bear to think of him liking any one else's 
figure better than mine, consequently, although my waist measured 
twenty-three inches, I went and ordered a pair of stays, made very strong 
and filled with stiff bone, measuring only fourteen inches round the waist. 
These, with the assistance of my maid, I put on, and managed the first 
day to lace my waist in to eighteen inches. At night I slept in my 
corset without loosing the lace in the least. The next day my maid got 
my waist to seventeen inches, and so on, an inch smaller every day, until 
she got them to meet. I wore them regularly without ever taking them 
off, having them tightened afresh every day, as the laces might stretch a 
little. They did not open in front, so that I could not undo them if I 
had wanted. For the first few days the pain was very great, but as 
soon as the stays were laced close, and I had worn them so for a few 
days, I began to care nothing about it, and in a month or so I would not 
have taken them off on any account, for I quite enjoyed the sensation, 
and when I let my husband see me with a dress to fit I was amply repaid 
for my trouble ; and although I am now grown older, and the fresh 
bloom of youth is gone from my cheek, still my figure remains the same, 
which is a charm age will not rob me of. I have never had cause to 
regret the step I took." 

Another lady says — " A correspondent in the October number of 
your magazine states that her waist is only thirteen inches round, but 
she does not state her height. My waist is only twelve inches round ; 
but then, although I am eighteen years old, I am only four feet five 
inches in height, so that my waist is never noticed as small ; while my 
elder sister (whose height is five feet eight inches) is considered to have 
a very nice figure, though her waist is twenty-three inches round. I am 
glad to have an opportunity of expressing my opinions on the subject of 
tight-lacing. I quite agree with those who think it perfectly necessary 
with the present style of dress (which style I hope is likely to continue). 


I believe every one admires the effect of tight-lacing, though they may not 
approve in theory. My father always used to declaim loudly against stays 
of any kind, so my sister and I were suffered to grow up without any 
attention being paid to our figures, and with all our clothes made 
perfectly loose, till my sister was eighteen and I fifteen years old, when 
papa, after accompanying us to some party, made some remarks on the 
clumsiness of our figures, and the ill-fitting make of our dresses. 
Fortunately, it was not too late. Mamma immediately had well-fitting 
corsets made for us, and as we were both anxious to have small waists we 
tightened each other's laces four and five times a day for more than a 
year ; now we only tighten them (after the morning) when we are going 
to a party." 

As it has been most justly remarked, no description of evidence can 
be so conclusive as that of those whose daily and hourly experience 
brings them in contact with the matter under discussion, and we append 
here a letter from a correspondent to the Englishwoman? s Domestic 
Magazine of May, 1867, giving her boarding-school experience in the 
matter of extreme tight-lacing : — 

Nora says — "I venture to trouble you with a few particulars on 
the subject of c tight-lacing,' having seen a letter in your March number 
inviting correspondence on the matter. I was placed at the age of 
fifteen at a fashionable school in London, and there it was the custom 
for the waists of the pupils to be reduced one inch per month until they 
were what the lady principal considered small enough. When I left 
school at seventeen, my waist measured only thirteen inches, it having 
been formerly twenty-three inches in circumference. Every morning one 
of the maids used to come to assist us to dress, and a governess super- 
intended to see that our corsets were drawn as tight as possible. After 
the first few minutes every morning I felt no pain, and the only ill effects 
apparently were occasional headaches and loss of appetite. I should be 
glad if you will inform me if it is possible for girls to have a waist of 



fashionable size and yet preserve their health. Very few of my fellow- 
pupils appeared to suffer, except the pain caused by the extreme tight- 
ness of the stays. In one case where the girl was stout and largely 
built, two strong maids were obliged to use their utmost force to make 
her waist the size ordered by the lady principal — viz., seventeen inches — 
and though she fainted twice while the stays were being made to meet, 
she wore them without seeming injury to her health, and before she left 
school she had a waist measuring only fourteen inches, yet she never 
suffered a day's illness. Generally all the blame is laid by parents on 
the principal of the school, but it is often a subject of the greatest 
rivalry among the girls to see which can get the smallest waist, and often 
while the servant was drawing in the waist of my friend to the utmost 
of her strength, the young lady, though being tightened till she had 
hardly breath to speak, would urge the maid to pull the stays yet closer, 
and tell her not to let the lace slip in the least. I think this is a subject 
which is not sufficiently understood. Though I have always heard 
tight-lacing condemned, I have never suffered any ill effects myself, and, 
as a rule, our school was singularly free from illness. By publishing 
this side of the question in the Englishwo?narfs Domestic Magazine you 
will greatly oblige." 

Cases like the foregoing are most important and remarkable, as they 
show most indisputably that loss of health is not so inseparably associated 
with even the most unflinching application of the corset as the world has 
been led to suppose. It rather appears that although a very considerable 
amount of inconvenience and uneasiness is experienced by those who are 
unaccustomed to the reducing and restraining influences of the corset, 
when adopted at rather a late period of growth, they not only in 
a short time cease to suffer, but of their own free will continue the 
practice and become partial to it. Thus writes an Edinburgh lady, who 
incloses her card, to the Englishwoman 1 s Domestic Magazine of March, 

I 7 2 


" I have been abroad for the last four years, during which I left my 
daughter at a large and fashionable boarding-school near London. I 
sent for her home directly I arrived, and, having had no bad accounts of 
her health during my absence, I expected to see a fresh rosy girl of 
seventeen come bounding to welcome me. What, then, was my surprise 
to see a tall, pale young lady glide slowly in with measured gait and 
languidly embrace me ; when she had removed her mantle I understood 
at once what had been mainly instrumental in metamorphosing my merry 
romping girl to a pale fashionable belle. Her waist had, during the 
four years she had been at school, been reduced to such absurdly small 
dimensions that I could easily have clasped it with my two hands. ' How 
could you be so foolish,' I exclaimed, * as to sacrifice your health for the 
sake of a fashionable figure ?' ' Please don't blame me, mamma,' she 
replied, 'I assure you I would not have voluntarily submitted to the 
torture I have suffered for all the admiration in the world.' She then 
told me how the most merciless system of tight-lacing was the rule of 
the establishment, and how she and her forty or fifty fellow-pupils had 
been daily imprisoned in vices of whalebone drawn tight by the muscular 
arms of sturdy waiting-maids, till the fashionable standard of tenuity 
was attained. The torture at first was, she declared, often intolerable ; 
but all entreaties were vain, as no relaxation of the cruel laces was 
allowed during the day under any pretext except decided illness. 'But 
why did you not complain to me at first ?' I inquired. ' As soon as 
I found to what a system of torture I was condemned,' she replied, 
C I wrote a long letter to you describing my sufferings, and praying you 
to take me away. But the lady principal made it a rule to revise all 
letters sent by, or received by, the pupils, and when she saw mine she 
not only refused to let it pass, but punished me severely for rebelling 
against the discipline of the school.' 'At least you will now obtain 
relief from your sufferings,' I exclaimed, 'for you shall not go back 
to that school any more.' On attempting to discontinue the tight-lacing, 


however, my daughter found that she had been so weakened by the 
severe pressure of the last four years that her muscles were powerless to 
support her, and she has therefore been compelled to lace as tight as 
ever, or nearly so. She says, however, that she does not suffer much 
inconvenience now, or, indeed, after the first two years — so wonderful is 
the power of Nature to accommodate herself to circumstances. The 
mischief is done; her muscles have been, so to speak, murdered, and 
she must submit for life to be incased in a stiff panoply of whalebone 
and steel, and all this torture and misery for what ? — merely to attract 
admiration for her small waist. I called on the lady principal of the 
establishment the next day, and was told that very few ladies objected 
to their daughters having their figures improved, that small waists were 
just now as fashionable as ever, and that no young lady could go into 
good society with a coarse, clumsy waist like a rustic, that she had 
always given great satisfaction by her system, which she assured me 
required unremitting perseverance and strictness, owing to the obstinacy 
of young girls, and the difficulty of making them understand the 
importance of a good figure. Finding that I could not touch the heart 
of this female inquisitor, who was so blinded by fashion, I determined to 
write to you and inform your readers of the system adopted in fashion- 
able boarding-schools, so that if they do not wish their daughters 
tortured into wasp-waisted invalids they may avoid sending them to 
schools where the corset-screw is an institution of the establishment." 

And on the appearance of her letter it was replied to by another 
lady, who writes as follows : — 

"In reply to the invitation from the lady from Edinburgh to a 
discussion on the popular system amongst our sex of compression of the 
waist, when requisite to attain elegance of figure, I beg to say that I am 
inclined, from the tone of her letter, to consider her an advocate of the 
system she at first sight appears to condemn. This conviction of mine 
may arise from my own partiality to the practice of tight-lacing, but the 



manner in which she puts the question almost inclines me to believe that 
she is, as a corset-maker, financially interested in the general adoption of 
the corset-screw. Her account of the whole affair seems so artificial, so 
made up for a purpose, so to speak, that I, for one, am inclined to totally 
discredit it. A waist e easily clasped with two hands.' Ye powers ! 
what perfection ! how delightful ! I declare that ever since I read that I 
have worn a pair of stays that I had rejected for being too small for me, 
as they did not quite meet behind (and I can't bear a pair that I cannot 
closely lace), and have submitted to an extra amount of muscular 
exertion from my maid in order to approach, if ever so distantly, the 
delightful dimensions of two handsful. Then, again, how charmingly she 
insinuates that if we will only persevere, only submit to a short 
probationary period of torture, the hated compression (but desired 
attenuation) will have become a second nature to us, that not only 
will it not inconvenience us, but possibly we shall be obliged, for 
comfort's sake itself, to continue the practice. Now, madam, as a part 
of the present whole of modern dress, every one must admit that 
a slender waist is a great acquisition, and from my own experience and 
the experience of several young lady friends similarly addicted to guide 
me, I beg to pronounce the so-called evils of tight-lacing to be a mere 
bugbear and so much cant. Every woman has the remedy in her own 
hands. If she feels the practice to be an injury to her, she can 
but discontinue it at any time. To me the sensation of being tightly 
laced in a pair of elegant, well-made, tightly-fitting corsets is superb, and 
I have never felt any evil to arise therefrom. I rejoice in quite a 
collection of these much-abused objects — in silk, satin, and coutil of every 
style and colour — and never feel prouder or happier, so far as matters of 
the toilette are concerned, than when I survey in myself the fascinating 

undulations of outline. 

" Staylace." 

Then follows a letter rather calculated to cast doubt on the subject 


of the sufferings of the young lady whose case has been described, from 
a lady who, although possessing a small waist, knows nothing of them. 
Thus she writes : — 

" Please let me join in the all-absorbing discussion you have intro- 
duced at the Englishwoman's monthly Conversazione, and let me first 
thank Staylace for her capital letter. I quite agree with her in 
suspecting the story of the young lady at the boarding-school to be 
overdrawn a little. Would the young lady herself oblige us with a 
description of her 'tortures,' as I and several of my friends who follow 
the present fashion of small waists are curious to know something of 
them, having never experienced these terrible sufferings, though my 
waistband measures only eighteen inches ? The truth is, there are always 
a number of fussy middle-aged people who (with the best intentions, no 
doubt) are always abusing some article of female dress. The best of it 
is, these benevolent individuals are usually of that sex whose costume 
precludes them from making a personal trial of the articles they 
condemn. Now it is the crinoline which draws forth their indignant 
outcries, now the corset, and now the chignon. They know not from 
their own experience how the crinoline relieves us from the weight of 
many under-skirts, and prevents them from clinging to us while walking, 
and they have never felt the comfortable support of a well-made corset. 
Yet they decry the use of the first as unaccountable, and of the second 
as suicidal. Let me tell them, however, that the ladies themselves judge 
from practice and not from theory, and if the opponents of the corset 
require proof of this, let me remind them that compression of the waist 
has been more or less universal throughout the civilised world for three 
or four centuries, in spite of reams of paper and gallons of printing-ink. 
I may add that, for my own part, I have always laced tightly, and have 
always enjoyed good health. Allow me to recommend ladies to have 
their corsets made to measure, and if they do not feel they suffer any 
inconvenience, they may certainly take the example of your clever 


correspondent Staylace, and look upon the outcry as a 'bugbear and 

so much cant.' 


Thus called on, the young lady herself writes and confirms, as it will 
be seen, the statements of others, that the late use of the corset is the 
main source of pain on its first adoption ; and the statement she makes 
that her waist is so much admired that she sometimes forgets the pain 
passed through in attaining it, coupled with the confession that she is 
not in ill-health, gives her letter strong significance. Here it is in its 
integrity : — 

"In last month's number of your valuable magazine you were kind 
enough to publish a letter from my mamma on the subject of tight-lacing, 
and as your correspondent Staylace says she is inclined to think the 
whole story made up for a purpose, mamma has requested me to write 
and confirm what she stated in her letter. It seems wonderful to me 
how your correspondent can lace so tightly and never feel any inconve- 
nience. It may be, very likely, owing to her having begun very young. 
In my case I can only say I suffered sometimes perfect torture from 
my stays, especially after dinner, not that I ate heartily, for that I found 
impossible, even if we had been allowed to do so by our schoolmistress, 
who considered it unladylike. The great difference between your corre- 
spondent Staylace and myself seems to be that she was incased in corsets 
at an early age, and thus became gradually accustomed to tight-lacing, 
while I did not wear them till I went to school at fourteen, and I did 
not wear them voluntarily. Of course it is impossible to say whether I 
underwent greater pressure than she has. I think I must have done so, 
for my waist had grown large before it was subjected to the lacing, and 
had to be reduced to its present tenuity, whereas, if she began stays 
earlier, that would have prevented her figure from growing so large. 
Perhaps Staylace will be so kind as to say whether she began stays 
early, or at any rate before fourteen, and what is the size of her waist 


and her height ? One reason why she does not feel any inconvenience 
from tight corsets may be that, when she feels disposed, she may loosen 
them, and thus prevent any pain from coming on. But when I was at 
school I was not allowed to loosen them in the least, however much they 
distressed me, so that what was in the morning merely a feeling of 
irksome pressure, became towards the end of the day a regular torture. 
I quite admit that slender waists are beautiful — in fact, my own waist is 
so much admired that I sometimes forget the pain I underwent in 
attaining it. I am also quite ready to confess I am not in ill-health, 
though I often feel languid and disinclined for walking out. Nor do I 
think a girl whose constitution is sound would suffer any injury to her 
health from moderate lacing, but I must beg that you will allow me to 
declare that when stays are not worn till fourteen years of age, very 
tight lacing causes absolute torture for the first few months, and it was 
principally to deter ladies from subjecting their daughters to this pain in 
similar cases that mamma wrote to you. I am sure any young lady who 
has (like myself) begun tight-lacing rather late will corroborate what I 
have said, and I hope some will come forward and do so, now you 
so kindly give the opportunity." 

Much ill-deserved blame has been from time to time cast on the 
lady principals of fashionable schools for insisting on the strict use of the 
corset by the young ladies in their charge. The following letter from a 
schoolmistress of great experience, and another from a young lady who 
has finished her education at a fashionable boarding-school, will at once 
serve to show that the measures adopted by the heads of these estab- 
lishments for the obtainment of elegant figures are in the end fully 
appreciated by those who have been fortunate enough to profit by them. 

A Schoolmistress Correspondent says — " As a regular subscriber to 
your valuable magazine, I see you have invited your numerous readers 
to discuss the subject brought forward by a correspondent in Edinburgh, 
and as the principal of a large ladies' school in that city, I feel sure you 


will kindly allow me space to say a few words in reply to her letter. In 
the first place it must be apparent that your correspondent committed a 
great mistake in placing her daughter at a fashionable school if she did 
not wish her to become a fashionable belle, or she should at least have 
given instructions that her daughter should not have her figure trained 
in what every one knows is the fashionable style. For my own part I 
have always paid particular attention to the figures of the young ladies 
intrusted to my care, and being fully convinced that if the general health 
is properly attended to, corsets are far from being the dreadfully hurtful 
things some people imagine, I have never hesitated to employ this most 
important and elegant article of dress, except in one case where the pupil 
was of a consumptive tendency, and I was specially requested not to 
allow her to dress at all tightly. All my pupils enjoy good health, my 
great secret being regular exercise, a point which is almost always 
disregarded. It appears from your correspondent's letter that the young 
lady did not experience any inconvenience after the first two years she 
was at the school, nor does her mother say her health was affected. She 
only complains that she is no longer a ' romping girl.' Now, no young 
lady of eighteen who expects to move in fashionable society would wish 
to be thought a romping schoolgirl. With regard to the slight pain in 
the muscles which the young lady described as ' torture,' this was no doubt 
caused by her not having been accustomed by degrees to a close-fitting 
dress before she went to the school. I find that girls who have 
commenced the use of stays at an early age, and become gradually used 
to them, do not experience any uneasiness when they are worn tighter at 
fourteen or fifteen. There can be no doubt that a slender figure is as 
much admired as ever, and always will be so. The present fashion of 
short waists is admitted on all hands to be very ugly, and will soon go 
out. Those girls, then, who have not had their figures properly attended 
to while growing will be unable to reduce their waists when the fashion 
changes, whereas, by proper care now, they will be able to adopt the 


fashion of longer waists without any inconvenience. I trust you will 
allow us schoolmistresses fair play in this important matter, and insert 
this, or part of it, in your magazine." 

Mignon says — "Dear Mrs. Englishwoman, — 1 beg — I pray — 
that you will not close your delightful Conversazione to the tight-lacing 
question : it is an absorbing one ; hundreds, thousands of your young 
lady readers are deeply interested in this matter, and the subscribers to 
your excellent magazine are increasing daily, to my own knowledge, by 
reason of this interesting controversy ; pray wait a little, and you will see 
how the tight-lacers and their gentlemen admirers will rally round the 
banner that has been unfurled. There is an attempt being made to 
introduce the hideous fashion of the * Empire,' as it is called. Why 
should we, who have been disciplined at home and at school, and laced 
tighter and tighter month after month, until our waists have become 
* small by degrees and beautifully less,' be expected to hide our figures 
(which we know are admired) under such atrocious drapery ? My stay 
and dress maker both tell me that it is only the ill-formed and waistless 
ones that have taken to the fashion ; such, of course, are well pleased, 
and will have no objection to have their waistbands as high as their arm- 
pits. Angular and rigid figures have always pretended to sneer at tight- 
lacers, but any one of them would give half, nay, their whole fortune to 
attain to such small dimensions as some of your correspondents describe. 
I shall keep my waist where nature has placed it, and where art has 
improved it, for my own comfort, and because a certain friend has said 
that he never could survive if it were any larger or shorter. My waist 
remains just as it was a year and a-half ago, when I left school, where 
in the course of three years it was by imperceptible degrees laced from 
twenty to fifteen inches, not only without injury to health but with great 
satisfaction and comfort to myself." 

It has been much the fashion amongst those who have written in 
condemnation of the use of the corset to contrast the figure of the 

Venus de Medici with that of a fashionably-dressed lady of the pre- 
sent day ; but the comparison is anything but a happy one, as it would 
be quite as reasonable to insist that because the sandalled and stocking- 
less foot of the lady of Ancient Greece was statuesque in contour 
when forming a portion of a statue, it should be substituted for the 
fashionable boot or slipper and silk stocking of the present day. That 
perfection itself in the sculptor's art when draped in fashionable attire 
would become supremely grotesque and ridiculous was not long since 
fully proved by actual experiment. A former contributor to the columns 
of the Queen, who at one time followed the medical profession, felt so 
convinced of the claims to admiration possessed by the classic order of 
form, that he obtained a copy of the Greek Slave, and had it draped by a 
first-rate milliner, who made use of all the modern appliances of the 
toilet, corset and crinoline included. The result was that dress made a 
perfect fright of her, and the disappointed experimentalist candidly 
confessed that he did not like her half as well as he had done. The 
waist was disproportionately thick, and the whole tout ensemble dowdy 
in the extreme. No fallacy can be greater than to apply the rules of 
ancient art to modern costume. Thus writes an artist in the English- 
woman's Domestic Magazine of September, 1867: — 

" I do not for a moment deny the truth of your artist correspondent's 
assertions, for I consider, as every one must, that the proportions of the 
human body are the most beautiful in creation (where all is beautiful 
and correct), but the great mistake which so many make is this. In 
civilised countries the body is always clothed; and that clothing, 
especially of the ladies of European nations, completely hides the contour 
of the body. The effect of this is to give great clumsiness to' the waist 
when that part of the person is of its natural size. Let any one make a 
fair and unprejudiced trial, such as this : let him get a statuette of some 
celebrated antique, the Venus de Medici or the Greek Slave, and have 
it dressed in an ordinary dress of the present day, and see what the 

effect really is. Until fashion, in its ever-changing round, returns to the 
costume of Ancient Greece or Rome, we can never expect to persuade 
ladies not to compress their waists merely on the score of beauty ; and 
as several of your correspondents have shown that a moderate compres- 
sion is not so injurious as some supposed, there is no chance of the 
corset becoming an obsolete article of female dress. It has been in use 
for seven or eight hundred years, and now that its form and construction 
are so much modified and improved, there need be no longer an outcry 
against it ; indeed, outcry has for centuries failed to affect it, though 
other articles of dress have become in their turn obsolete, a clear proof 
that there is something more than mere arbitrary fashion in its hold upon 
the fair sex." 

Another gentleman, not an artist, but whose sisters now suffer from 
all the annoyances consequent on clumsy, ill-trained figures, thus writes to 
the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine of September, 1867 : — 

" Though the subject on which I propose to address to you a few 
observations hardly concerns a man, I hope you will allow me a little 
space in your excellent journal to express my views upon it. I have 
been much interested by reading the correspondence on the subject of 
slender waists, and the means used for attaining them. Now, there can 
be no doubt that gentlemen admire those figures the most which have 
attained the greatest slenderness. I think there is no more deplorable 
sight than a large and clumsy waist ; and as nature, without assistance 
from art, seldom produces a really small waist, I think those mothers and 
schoolmistresses who insist upon their daughters or pupils between the 
ages of ten and seventeen wearing well-made corsets, and having them 
tightly laced, confer upon the young ladies a great benefit, which, though 
they may not appreciate at the time, they will when they go out into 
society. Certainly some of your correspondents seem to have fallen into 
the hands of schoolmistresses thoroughly aware of the advantages of a 
good figure — a waist that two hands can easily clasp is certainly a marvel. 

I never had the good fortune to see such a one, yet one of your corre- 
spondents assures us that her daughter's was no larger than that. Nora, 
too, says that her waist only measured thirteen inches when she left 
school ; this seems to me to be miraculously small. Most gentlemen do 
not think much about the means used for attaining a fashionable figure, 
and I should not have done so either if I had not heard it a good deal 
discussed in my family, where my sisters were never allowed to lace at 
all tightly, the consequence of which is, that now that they are grown 
up they have very clumsy figures, much to their regret ; but it is too 
late to alter them now. As doctors seem to think that the dangers of 
tight-lacing have been much exaggerated, and as I know many ladies 
with very slender waists enjoying quite as good health as their more 
strongly built sisters, I would urge upon all who wish to have good 
figures not to be deterred by alarmists from endeavouring gradually to 
attain an elegant shape." 

It is most remarkable that, notwithstanding the number of letters 
which have been published casting condemnation and ridicule on those 
who wear corsets, not one can we discover containing the personal 
experiences of those who have been anything but temporary sufferers 
from even their extreme use, whilst such letters as the following, which 
appeared in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine of August, 1867, 
are of a nature to lead to the conclusion that unless the germs of disease 
of some kind are rooted in the system, a well-made and perfectly-fitting 
corset may be worn with impunity, even when habitually laced with con- 
siderable tightness. The lady thus gives her own experiences and those 
of her daughters : — 

" From the absence of any correspondence on the all-important topic 
of tight-lacing in your August number, I very much fear that the subject 
has come to an end. If so, many other subscribers besides myself will 
be very sorry for it. I cannot tell you what pleasure it gave me to see 
the sentiments that were expressed by so many who, like myself, are 


addicted to the practice of tight-lacing, and as for many years I have 
been in the habit of lacing extremely tight, I trust that you will allow 
me, by inserting this or part of it, to make known that I have never 
suffered any pain or illness from it. In the days when I was a school- 
girl, stays were worn much stiffer and higher than the flimsy things now 
used, and were, besides, provided with shoulder-straps, so that to be 
very tightly incased in them was a much more serious affair than at the 
present day.* But, nevertheless, I remember our governess would insist 
on the greatest possible amount of constriction being used, and always 
twice a day our stays were tightened still more. A great amount of 
exercise was inculcated, which perhaps did away with any ill effects this 
extreme tight-lacing might have occasioned, but while at school I 
imbibed a liking for the practice, and have ever since insisted on my 
maid lacing me as tightly as she possibly can. I quite agree with Stay- 
lace in saying that to be tightly laced in a pair of tight-fitting stays is a 
most superb sensation. My two daughters, aged respectively sixteen 
and eighteen, are brought up in the same way, and would not consider 
themselves properly dressed unless their stays were drawn together. 
They can bear me out in my favourable opinion of tight-lacing, and their 
good health speaks volumes in its praise. I hope, madam, you will 
kindly insert this letter in your valuable and largely-circulated magazine." 
Many opponents to the use of the corset have strongly urged the 
somewhat weak argument, that ladies with slender waists are not gene- 
rally admired by the gentlemen. That question has been ably dealt 
with in one or two of the preceding letters from ladies, and it is but fair 

* Fairholt remarks, in speaking of the discipline observed in schools during the reign of 
George III. — " It was the fashion to educate girls in stiffness of manner at all public 
schools, and particularly to cultivate a fall of the shoulders and an upright set of the bust. 
The top of the steel stay busk had a long stocking-needle attached to it to prevent girls 
from spoiling their shape by stooping too much over their needlework. This I have heard 
from a lady since dead who had often felt these gentle hints and lamented their disuse." 


to them that the opinions of both the young and old of the male sex 
(candidly communicated to the columns of the Englishwoman: 's Domestic 
Magazine) should be added to the weight of evidence in favour of 
almost universal admiration for a slender and well-rounded waist. Thus 
writes a young baronet in the number for October, 1867 : — 

"As you have given your readers the benefit of Another Corre- 
spondent's excellent letter will you kindly allow another member of the 
sterner sex to give his opinion on the subject of small waists ? Those 
who have endeavoured to abolish this most becoming fashion have not 
hesitated to declare that gentlemen do not care for a slender figure, but 
that, on the contrary, their only feeling on beholding a waist of eighteen 
inches is one of pity and contempt. Now so far from this being the 
case, there is not one gentleman in a thousand who is not charmed with 
the sight. Elderly gentlemen, no doubt, may be found who look upon 
such things as c vanity and vexation of spirit ;' but is it for these that 
young ladies usually cultivate their charms ? There is one suggestion I 
should be glad to make if you will permit me, and that is that all those 
ladies who possess that most elegant attraction, a slender waist, should 
not hide it so completely by shawls or loose paletots when on the 
promenade or in the street. When by good-luck I chance to meet 
a lady who has the good taste, I may say the kindness, to show her 
tapering waist by wearing a close-fitting paletot, I not unfrequently turn 
to admire, and so far from thinking of the means used to obtain the 
result, I am held spellbound by the beauty of the figure." 

That elderly gentlemen are by no means as indifferent to the 
attractions of elegant slenderness as our young correspondent supposes, 
will be best shown by a letter from a family man on the subject, 
communicated to the above journal, November, 1867. He says — 

"I have read with much interest the correspondence on the above 
subject in the Englishwoman's Conversazione for several months past, 
having accidentally met with one of the numbers of your magazine in a 


friend's house, and have since regularly taken it, although not previously 
a subscriber. As an ardent admirer of small waists in ladies, I wish to 
record for the satisfaction of those who possess them the fact, which is 
sometimes disputed, that the pains bestowed in attaining a slender figure 
are not in vain so far as we gentlemen are concerned, and some of us 
are positively absurd in our excessive admiration of this particular female 
beauty. Poets and novelists are perpetually introducing heroines with 
tiny waists and impossible feet, and if they are to portray female loveli- 
ness in all its attributes, they could not well omit two such essential 
points, and I take it their ideal is not an unfair criterion of the taste of 
the public at large. I am delighted to learn from very clear evidence 
put forward by your many correspondents that ' small waists' are attain- 
able by most ladies at little or no inconvenience, and that those of the 
clumsier build are willing to suffer a certain amount of pain if necessary 
in reducing their bulky figures to graceful proportions, and, above all, 
that this can be done without injury to health, for after all it would be 
a dearly-purchased charm if health were sacrificed. Some fifteen or 
twenty years ago, I recollect the word 'stays' was uttered as though a 
certain amount of disgrace attached to the wearer, and * tight-lacing* 
was looked on as a crime ; but I am glad to see that a reaction is setting 
in, and that ladies are not afraid to state openly that 'they lace very 
tightly,' and many of them declare the sensation of being laced as tightly 
as possible as positively a -pleasurable o?ie. I may say that personally 
I feel that every lady of my acquaintance, or with whom I may come 
in contact, who does so places me under a direct obligation. I will go 
further than your correspondent, A Young Baronet, and say that when- 
ever I meet a young lady who possesses the charm of a small waist, and 
has the good taste to wear the tight-fitting dress now fashionable for the 
promenade, I make it a point to see her pretty figure more than once, 
and have often gone considerably out of my way to do so. Although 
married years and years ago, I am still a slave to a c little waist, 9 and I 



am proud to say my wife humours my whim, and her waist is decidedly 
a small one. I will, therefore, add my experience to that of others 
(more competent to give an opinion, having experienced tight-lacing in 
their own proper persons), and state that she never enjoyed better health 
than when her waist was the smallest, and I shall be much disappointed 
if her daughters, when they ^ come out,'' do not emulate their mother's 
slender figure. By keeping your Conversazione open to the advocates 
of tight-lacing, and thoroughly ventilating the subject, you will, in my 
opinion, confer a benefit on the rising generation of young ladies, whose 
mammas, in too many instances, are so prejudiced against the use of the 
corset that they permit their daughters to grow up into clumsy, 
awkward young women, to their own disgust and great detriment in the 
matrimonial market. 

" I am, madam, your obedient servant, 


^-vcvxv ■. 

The Fasfiion of 1865. 



The elegance of dress mainly dependent on the Corset — Fashion and dress of 1865 — r ^" ne 
short-waisted dresses and trains of 1867 — Tight Corsets needed for short waists — 
Letter on the figure — Description of a peculiar form of Corset worn by some ladies 
of fashion in France — Proportions of the figure and size of the waist considered — 
The point at which the waist should be formed — Remarks of the older writers on 
stays — Corsets and high-heeled shoes denounced — Alarming diseases said to be 
produced by wearing high-heeled shoes — Mortality amongst the female sex not on 
the increase — Extraordinary statistics of the Corset trade — The Corset of the present 
day contrasted with that of the olden time. 

TTrE could very easily add letters enough to occupy the remaining 
portion of this work, all incontestably proving that slender waists 
are, notwithstanding that which some few writers have urged to the 
contrary, held in high esteem by the great majority of the sterner sex. 

Without the aid of the corset, it has been very fairly argued, no 
dress of the present day could be worn, unless its fair possessor was 
willing to submit to the withering contempt of merciless society. The 
annexed illustration represents a lady dressed in the fashion of the 
close of 1865, and there are few who would be unwilling to admit 
its elegance and good taste. One glance at the contour of the figure is 
sufficient to show the full influence of the modern form of corset on the 
adjustment of this style of costume, and it would be a waste of both 
time and space to represent the figure in its uncultivated form similarly 
arrayed. In 1867, we find a strong tendency towards the short waists, 
low dresses, and long trailing trains of old times, and we are forcibly 
reminded, when contemplating the passing caprice, of the lines from a 
parody on the "Banks of Banna" — 

" Shepherds, I have lost my waist, 
Have you seen my body ?" 


Still the waist is by no means suffered to remain perdu, but, as in 
1827, has to be laced with very considerable tightness to compensate 
the eye for its loss of taperness and length. The annexed illustration 
represents a lady of fashion of 1867, and it would be a perfect 
work of supererogation to ask our readers how a lady so dressed would 
look " unlaced and unconfined." The ladies themselves are by far the 
best judges of the matter, and the following letter from the English- 
woman's Domestic Magazine will show that the corset has to play an 
important part in the now-existing style of dress. Thus writes a lady 
who signs herself Edina : — 

"Allow me to occupy a small portion of your valuable space with 
the subject of stays. I quite agree with A Young Baronet that all. those 
ladies who possess that most elegant attraction, a slender waist, should 
not hide it so completely by shawls whenever they promenade. Excuse 
my offering a few remarks to facilitate that desirable object, a handsome 
figure. Ladies, when dressing for the afternoon walk or ride, or the 
evening display, when putting on their stays at first, should not lace 
them quite tight ; in about a quarter of an hour they might again 
tighten them, and in the course of half-an-hour or so lace them to the 
requisite tightness. They may fancy in this way there is no sudden 
compression of the waist, and the figure gets more easily accustomed to 
tight-lacing. Occasionally, in France, ladies who are very particular 
about their figures have their corsets made in three pieces, laced down 
the sides as well as behind, and cut away over the hips ; the holes for 
the laces are very numerous and close together. This form of corset 
offers great facilities for the most perfect adjustment to the figure, as 
well as power of tight-lacing when required, and perfect ease in walking 
or dancing. I may add that, in order to insure a good fit and to keep 
it properly in its place, the busk in front, and the whalebones behind, 
are made somewhat longer than the present fashion. Perhaps the lady 
in your September number, who signs herself An Inveterate Tight-Lacer, 


The Fashion ok ISO" 



might find a trial of a corset made in this form a great boon as well as a 
comfort in tight-lacing." 

Practical hints such as these will not fail to be of interest to the 
reader. Numerous inquiries, as will be seen on reference to the fore- 
going correspondence, have been made as to what circumference the 
waist should be to meet the requirements of elegance. 

It must be borne in mind, when dealing with this question, that 
height and breadth of shoulder have much to do with proportionate 
slenderness of waist. A lady who is tall and wide-shouldered would 
appear very neatly shaped with a waist laced to twenty or twenty-one 
inches, whilst with a slight, narrow form of figure that size would carry 
the appearance of much clumsiness with it. Madame La Sante says — 
"A waist may vary in circumference from seventeen to twenty-three 
inches, according to the general proportions of the figure, and yet appear 
in all cases slender and elegant." We have abundant evidence before us, 
however, that seventeen inches is by no means the lowest standard of 
waist-measure to be met with in the fashionable circles of either London, 
New York, Paris, or Vienna. Numbers of corsets sixteen inches at 
the waist, and even less, are made in each of these cities every day. In 
the large provincial towns, both at home and abroad, corset-makers 
follow out the rules laid down by fashion. We are disposed to think, 
therefore, dealing with the evidence before us, that a lady of medium 
stature and average breadth of shoulder would be subscribing to the 
laws of fashionable taste if the circumference of her waist was not 
more than from seventeen to nineteen inches, measuring outside the 

Fashion has indulged in some strange freaks regarding the length 
and position of the waist, as a reference to many of the illustrations 
will show, but its true position can be laid down so clearly that no 
doubt need remain on the matter. A line drawn midway between the 
hip and the lowest rib gives the exact point from which the tapering 


form of the waist should spring, and by keeping this rule in view it 
appears the statement made by so many ladies (that provided ample 
space is allowed for the chest the waist may be laced to an extreme of 
smallness without injury) has much truth to support it. The con- 
tributors to works of popular instruction even in our own day are very 
lavish in their denunciations of the practice of wearing corsets, and, 
following in the track of the ancient writers on the same subject, muster 
such a deadly and tremendously formidable array of ailments, failings, and 
diseases as inseparably associated with the wearing of that particular 
article of attire, that the very persons for whom these terrors are 
invoked, seeing from their own daily experience how overdrawn they 
are and how little knowledge their authors show about the subject, 
laugh the whole matter to scorn and follow the fashion. We have now 
before us a very talented and well-conducted journal, in which there are 
some sweeping blows at the use of both corsets and high-heeled boots or 
shoes, and, as an instance of the frightfully severe way in which the ladies 
of the time (1842) laced themselves, the writer assures us that he had 
actually seen a young lady's waistbelt which measured exactly "twenty- 
two inches," " showing that the chest to which it was applied had been 
reduced to a diameter (allowing for clothes) of little more than seven 
inches." The chest is thus shown as being about one inch less than the 
waist. Now, in 1842 it must have been a very eccentric lady indeed 
who formed her waist round her chesty and as to the twenty-two-inch 
waistband, we cannot help thinking that the majority of our readers 
would seek one of considerably smaller size as an indication of the 
practice of tight-lacing in the owner. And now on the score of high- 
heeled boots and slippers, we are, like the immortal boy in Pickwick, 
" going to make your flesh creep." In writing of these terrible engines 
of destruction our mentor says — " From the uneasiness and constraint 
experienced in the feet sympathetic affections of a dangerous kind often 
assail the stomach and chest, as haemorrhage, apoplexy, and consumption. 


Low-heeled shoes, with sufficient room for the toes, would completely 
prevent all such consequences." 

How the shareholders of life assurance companies must quake in 
their shoes as the smart and becoming footgear of the period meets their 
distracted vision at every turn ! and what between the fatal high heels 
and waists of deadly taperness, it is a wonder that female existence can 
continue, and that all the policies do not fall due in less than a week, 
all the undertakers sink into hopeless idiocy in a day from an over- 
whelming press of business, and all the gentlemen engage in sanguinary 
encounter for the possession of the "last woman" who has survived 
the common fate by reason of her barefooted habits and of her early 
abandonment of stays. 

We do not find, as a matter of fact, that the Registrar-General has 
his duties materially increased, or that the bills of female mortality are 
by any means alarming, although on a moderate calculation there are 
considerably over twelve million corsets in the United Kingdom alone, 
laced with as many laces round as many waists every day in the week, 
with, in many instances, a little extra tension for Sundays. 

We learn from the columns of Once a Week that the total value of stays 
made for British consumption annually, cannot be less than £1,000,000 
sterling, to produce which about 36,000,000 yards of material are 
required. The stay trade of London employs more than 1 0,000 in town 
and country, whilst the provincial firms employ about 25,000 more ; of 
these, about 8,000 reside in London, and there is about one male to every 
twenty-five women. Returns show that we receive every year from France 
and Germany about 2,000,000 corsets. One corset-manufacturer in the 
neighbourhood of Stuttgard has, we are informed, over 1,300 persons in 
constant employment, and turns out annually about 300,000 finished 
corsets. Messrs. Thomson and Co., the manufacturers of the glove- 
fitting corset, turn out incredible numbers from their immense manu- 
factories in England, America, and on the continent. It will be 


readily conceived that the colonial demand and consumption is pro- 
portionately great. The quantity of steel annually made use of for 
the manufacture of stay-busks and crinolines is perfectly enormous. 
Of the importance of the whale fishery, and the great value of whale- 
bone, it will be needless to speak here, further than to inform our 
readers that more than half the whalebone which finds its way into 
the market is consumed by the corset-makers. Silk, cotton, and 
wool, in very large quantities, are either spun up into laces or used 
in the sewing or manufacture of the corset itself. No inconsiderable 
quantity of timber is made use of for working up into busks. Ox- 
horn, ebonite, gutta-percha, and hardened brass are all occasionally 
used for the same purpose, whilst the brass eyelet-holes, of which we 
shall have to say more by-and-by, are turned out in such vast and 
incalculable quantities, that any attempt at computing their number would 
be useless. It will be seen by these statistics and remarks that, unlike 
certain other articles of raiment which have reigned in popular esteem 
for a time, and then passed away, the corset has not only become an 
established institution throughout the whole civilised world, but is of 
immense commercial importance, and in rapidly-increasing demand and 

We shall now have to remark on some of the most noteworthy 
forms of the corset worn at the present day, contrasting them with 
those of the olden time. The steel corset-covers we have already figured 
and described. On these contrivances being found heavy and too un- 
bending in their construction, a form of corset was, as we have before 
said, contrived, which needed no cover to preserve its perfect smoothness 
of surface and rigidity of form ; the front was therefore enriched with 
gold and silver tissue, and ornamented with embroidery, performing the 
part of both corset and stomacher, whilst the back was made of a heavier 
material, because the dress of the period often concealed it. 

The annexed illustrations are carefully sketched from a very excellent 







specimen of this form of corset or bodice, kindly lent us for the purpose 
by Messrs. Simmons, the well-known costumiers of Tavistock-street, 
Covent Garden, by whom it has been preserved as a great curiosity. 
The materials used in its construction are very strong, whilst every part 
the least liable to be put out of form is literally plated with whalebone, 
making its weight considerable. The lace-holes are worked with blue 
silk, and are very numerous and close together. 




Remarks on front-fastening stays — Thomson's glove-fitting Corsets — Plan for adding 
stability to the front-fastening Corset — De la Garde's French Corset — System of 
self-measurement — The Redresseur Corset of Vienna and its influence on the figures 
of young persons — Remarks on the flimsy materials used in the manufacture of 
Corsets — Hints as to proper materials — The " Minet Back" Corset described — Elastic 
Corsets condemned — The narrow bands used as substitutes for Corsets injurious to the 
figure — Remarks on the proper application of the Corset with the view to the 
production of a graceful figure — Thomson's Zephyrina Crinoline — Costume of the 
present season — The claims of Nature and Art considered — The belle of Damara 

TT would be difficult to find a much more marked contrast to the 

style of bodice referred to in our last chapter than is to be found in 

the ordinary cheap front-fastening corset commonly sold by drapers. 

Common Cheap Stat, Fastened. 

The accompanying illustrations accurately represent it, and those who 
have written on the subject have much reason on their side when they 



insist that it neither aids in the formation of a good figure nor helps to 
maintain the proportions of one when formed. Corsets such as these 
have neither beauty of contour nor compactness of construction. The 
two narrow busks through which the holes are drilled for the reception 
of the studs or catches are too often formed of steel so low in quality 
that fracture at these weak points is a common occurrence, when some 

Common Cheap Stay, Opew 

danger of injury from the broken ends is to be apprehended. It will 
also be found that when these bars or plates are deficient in width and 
insufficient in stiffness the corset will no longer support the figure, or 
form a foundation for the dress to be neatly adjusted over. On the 
introduction of the front-fastening system it was at once seen that much 
saving of time and trouble was gained by the great facility with which 
corsets constructed according to it could be put on and off, but the 
objections before referred to were soon manifest, and the ingenuity of 
inventors was called into action to remedy and overcome them, and it 



was during this transition stage in the history of the corset that the front- 
fastening principle met with much condemnation at the hands of those 
who made the formation of the figure a study. From Thomson and 
Co., of New York, we have received a pattern of their "glove-fitting 
corset" the subject of the accompanying illustration, in the formation of 
which the old evils have been most successfully dealt with. The steels 
are of the highest class of quality and of the requisite degree of 

The Glove-Fitting Corset (Thomson and Co.) 

substance to insure both safety and sustaining power. Accidental un- 
fastening of the front, so common, and, to say the least of it, incon- 
venient, in the old form of attachment, is rendered impossible by the 
introduction of a very ingenious but simple spring latch, which is opened 
or closed in an instant at the pleasure of the wearer. This corset is 
decidedly the best form on the front-fastening plan we have seen. Its 
mode of construction is excellent ; it is so cut as to admit of its adapting 
itself to every undulation of the figure with extraordinary facility. We 
have suggested to the firm the advisability of furnishing to the public 

Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Front). 


Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Back). 



corsets combining their excellent method of cutting, great strength of 
material, and admirable finish, with the single steel busk and hind-lacing 
arrangement of the ordinary stay. The requirements of all would be 
then met, for although numbers of ladies prefer the front-fastening 
corset, it will be observed that a great number of those who have written 
on the subject, and make the formation and maintenance of the figure a 
study, positively declare from experience that the waist never looks so 
small or neatly proportioned as when evenly and well laced in the hind- 
lacing and close-fronted form of corset. It has of late become the custom 
to remedy the want of firmness and stability found to exist in many of the 
common front-fastening corsets by sewing a kind of sheath or case on the 
inside of the front immediately behind the two steels on which the studs 
and slots are fixed ; into this a rather wide steel busk is passed, so that 
the division or opening has the centre line of the extra busk immediately 
behind it. That this plan answers in some measure the desired end 
there is no doubt, but in such a corset as that of Thomson and Co. no 
such expedient is needed. 

The accompanying illustrations are from sketches made expressly 
for this work from a corset made by De La Garde and Co., of Paris, 
and our readers will form their own opinion as to the contour of the 
figure from which these drawings were made, which is that of a lady 
who has for many years worn corsets made by the above-mentioned firm. 
The waist-measure is eighteen inches. The remarks as to the advisa- 
bility of having corsets made to measure are scarcely borne out by her 
experiences. She informs us that it has always been her custom to 
forward to Messrs. De La Garde and Co.'s agent the measure taken 
round the chest below the arms, from beneath the arm to the hip, the 
circumference of the hips, and the waist-measure, when the fit is a matter 
of certainty. By adopting this system ladies residing in the country can, 
she assures us, always provide themselves with corsets made by the first 
manufacturers in Europe without the trouble and inconvenience of being 



attended for the purpose of measurement. In ordering the "glove-fitting 
corset" the waist measure only need be given. From M. Weiss, of 
Vienna, we have received a pattern and photographs from which our other 
illustrations are taken. Here we have represented the so-called " redres- 
seur" corset, devised mainly with a view to the formation of the figure 
in young persons, or where careless and awkward habits of posture 
have been contracted. It will be seen on examination that the front of 
the chest is left entirely free for expansion, the waist only being confined 
at the point where restraint is most called for. The back is supported 
and kept upright by the system of boning adopted with that view, and 
the shoulder-straps, after passing completely round the point of the 
shoulder, are hooked together behind, thus bringing the shoulders in 
their proper position and keeping them there. As a corrective and 
improver to the figure there can be no doubt that the redresseur corset 
is a safe and most efficient contrivance. We have had an opportunity of 
seeing it worn, and can testify to the marked and obvious improvement 
which was at once brought about by its application. 

We have heard many complaints lately of the flimsy manner in 
which corsets of comparatively high price are turned out by their 
makers, the stitching being so weak that re-sewing is not unfrequently 
needed after a few days' wear. The edges of the whalebones, too, 
instead of being rounded off and rendered smooth, are often, we find, 
left as sharp as a knife, causing the coutil or other material to be 
cut through in a very few days. The eyelet-holes are also made so 
small and narrow at the flanges that no hold on the material is afforded, 
and even the most moderate kind of lacing causes them to break from 
their hold, fall out, and leave a hole in the material of which the corset 
is made, which if not immediately repaired by working round in the old- 
fashioned way rapidly enlarges, frays out, and runs into an unsightly hole. 
Corset-makers should see that the circle of metal beyond the orifice 
through which the lace passes is sufficiently wide to close down perfectly 

The "Kedresseur" Corset of Vienna (Weiss). 



on the fabric, and retain a firm hold of it ; if they do not do so, the old 
worked eyelet-hole is preferable to the stud, notwithstanding the neat 
appearance of the stud and the apparent advantage it has over the old plan. 
A form of corset made without lacing-holes, known as the " Minet Back" 
with which many of our readers will no doubt be familiar, and which 
was extensively worn in France some few years ago, is still to be obtained 
of some few makers in England. This has a row of short strong loops 
sewn just beyond each back whalebone. Through these pass from top to 
bottom, on each side of the back, a long round bar of strong whalebone, 
which is secured in its place by a string passing through a hole made in its 
top to the upper loop of each row. The lace (a flat silk one) was passed 
through the spaces between the loops, and was tightened over the smooth 
round whalebone, thus enabling the wearer not only to lace with extreme 
tightness without danger to the corset, but admitting of its almost 
instant removal by slightly slackening the lace and then drawing out one 
of the bars, which immediately sets the interlacing free from end to end. 
We are rather surprised that more of these corsets are not worn, as 
there are numerous advantages attendant on them. Our space will not 
admit of our more than glancing en passant at the various inventions 
which have from time to time been brought to the notice of the public. 
By some inventors the use of elastic webbing or woven indiarubber cloth 
was taken advantage of, and great stress was laid on the resilient 
qualities of the corsets to which it was applied. But it must never be 
lost sight of that all materials of an elastic nature, when fitted tightly to 
the figure, not only have the power of expanding on the application 
of force, but are unceasingly exercising their own extensive powers of 
contraction. Thus, no amount of custom could ever adapt the waist to 
the space allotted to it, as with the elastic corset it is changing every 
second, and always exercising constriction even when loosely laced. The 
narrow bands hollowed out over the hips may be, as some writers on 
the subject have stated, adapted for the possessors of very slight figures 


who ride much on horseback ; but many ladies of great experience in the 
matter strongly condemn them as being inefficient and calculated to lead 
to much detriment to the figure. Thus writes a correspondent to the 
Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine : — 

" As one of your correspondents recommends the waistbands in lieu 
of corsets, I have during the last three weeks made a trial of them, and 
shall be glad if you will allow me to express my opinion that they are 
not only disadvantageous but positively dangerous to the figure. Your 
correspondent says that ordinary corsets, if drawn in well at the waist, 
hurt a woman cruelly all the way up. I can only say that if she finds 
such to be the case the remedy is in her own hands. If ladies would 
only take the trouble to have their stays made to measure for them, 
and have plenty of room allowed round the chest, not only would the 
waist look smaller, but no discomfort would be felt such as H. W. 
describes. Young girls should always be accurately fitted, but it is, I 
have found, a mistake to have their corsets too flimsy or elastic. I quite 
agree that they should be commenced early — indeed, they usually are 
so, and thus extreme compression being unnecessary, the instances 
brought forward by the lady who commenced the discussion and by 
Nora must, I think, be looked upon as exceptional cases. 

" Effie Margetson." 

Another lady writing in the same journal says — "No one will 
grudge ' The Young Lady Herself any sympathy she may claim for the 
torture she has submitted to, but so far from her case being condem- 
natory of stays it is the reverse, for she candidly admits that she does not 
suffer ill-health. Now such a case as hers is an exception, and the 
stout young lady spoken of by Nora is also an exception, for it is 
seldom that girls are allowed to attain the age of fourteen or fifteen 
before commencing stays. The great secret is to begin their use as 
early as possible, and no such severe compression will be requisite. It 
seems absurd to allow the w r aist to grow large and clumsy, and then to 


reduce it again to more elegant proportions by means which must at first 
be more or less productive of inconvenience. There is no article of 
civilised dress which, when first begun to be worn, does not feel uncom- 
fortable for a time to those who have never worn it before. The bare- 
footed Highland lassie carries her shoes to the town, puts them on on 
her arrival, and discards them again directly she leaves the centre of 
civilisation. A hat or a coat would be at first insupportable to the men 
of many nations, and we all know how soon the African belle threw 
aside the crinoline she had been induced to purchase. But surely no one 
would argue against these necessary articles of dress merely on the 
ground of inconvenience to the wearer, for, however uncomfortable they 
may be at first, it is astonishing how soon that feeling goes off" and how 
indispensable they become. My opinion is that stays should always be 
made to order, and not be of too flimsy a construction. I think H. W.'s 
suggestions regarding the waistbands only applicable to middle-aged 
ladies or invalids, as they do not give sufficient support to growing girls, 
and are likely to make the figure look too much like a sack tied round 
the middle instead of gradually tapering to the waist. Brisbane's letter 
shows how those who have never tried tight-lacing are prejudiced 
against it, and that merely from being shown a print in an old medical 
work, while Nora's letter is infinitely more valuable, as showing how 
even the most extreme lacing can be employed without injury to health. 

"L. Thompson." 

Such a work as this would be incomplete without some remarks 
touching the best means to be applied for the achievement of the 
desired end, and hence a letter from a lady of great experience, who has 
paid much attention to the subject, contributed to the Englishwoman's 
Domestic Magazine, enables us to give the very best possible kind of 
information — viz., that gathered by personal observation. Thus she 
writes : — 

"In the numerous communications on the subject of tight-lacing 


which have appeared in the Etiglishwo?nan' > s Domestic Magazine, but 
little has been said on the best mode of applying the corset in order to 
produce elegance of figure. It seems to me that nearly all those who 
suffer from tight-lacing do so from an injudicious use of the corset, and 
in such cases the unfortunate corset generally gets all the blame, and not 
the wearer who makes an improper use of it. I can easily understand 
that a girl who is full grown, or nearly so, and who has been unac- 
customed to wear tight stays, should find it difficult and painful to lace 
in her waist to a fashionable size ; but if the corset be worn at an early 
age and the figure gradually moulded by it, I know of no terrible 
consequences that need be apprehended. I would therefore recommend 
the early use of a corset that fits the figure nicely and no more. Now, 
simply wearing stays that only Jit, will, when a girl is growing, in a great 
measure prevent the waist from becoming clumsy. If, however, on her 
reaching the age of fourteen or fifteen, her waist be still considered too 
large, a smaller corset may be worn with advantage, which should be 
gradually tightened till the requisite slimness is achieved. I know of so 
many instances in which, under this system, girls have, when full grown, 
possessed both a good figure and good health, that I can recommend it 
with confidence to those parents who wish their children to grow up into 
elegant and healthy women. As to whether compression of the waist 
by symmetrical corsets injures the health in any way, opinion seems to be 
divided. The personal experiences of tight-lacers, as your correspondent 
Belle has observed, will do more to solve this knotty question than any 
amount of theory. But whatever conclusion we may come to on this 
point, there is no denying the fact that very many of the strongest and 
healthiest women one sees in society habitually practise tight-lacing, and 

apparently do so with impunity. 

"An Old Subscriber." 

As we have before stated, the remarks and observations contained in 
the above letter are the result of careful study and a thorough acquaint- 



ance with the subject, and not of hasty conclusion, prejudice, or theory. 
A letter in the earlier portion of this work, from an old Edinburgh cor- 
respondent to the Queen, than whom few are more competent to direct 
and advise on this important subject, will be found precisely to the same 
end, and we feel sure, in laying before the reader such united experiences, 
that much will be done towards the establishment of such a system of 
management as will lead to the almost certain achievement of grace and 
elegance of figure without the sacrifice of health. That these are most 
important and desirable objects for attainment few would be puritanical 
and headstrong enough to deny, and there can be no question that, how- 
ever superb or simple a lady's costume may be, it is mainly dependent for 
its elegance of adjustment and distinctiveness of style to the corset and 
crinoline beneath it. 

We have seen how Mrs. Selby's invention influenced the world of 
fashion in her day, and a glance at the illustration at page 114 will be 
sufficient to prove how inferior, in point of grace and elegance, the 
costume of that period was to that of our own time. Some idea may 
be formed of the wide-spread and almost universal attention which 
Mrs. Selby's wondrous " crinoline conception^ met at the hands of the 
fashionable world by a perusal of the following lines, which were 
written at Bath concerning it in the year 171 1, and are entitled, The 
Farthingale Reviewed ; or, More Work for the Cooper. A paneygerick 
on the late but most admirable invention of the hooped petticoat. 

"There's scarce a bard that writ in former time 
Had e'er so great, so bright a theme for rhyme ; 
The Mantua swain, if living, would confess 
Ours more surprising than his Tyrian dress, 
And Ovid's mistress, in her loose attire, 
Would cease to charm his eyes or fan Love's fire. 
Were he at Bath, and had these coats in view, 
He'd write his Metamorphosis anew, 


" Delia, fresh hooped, would o'er his heart prevail, 
To leave Corinna and her tawdry veil. 
Hear, great Apollo ! and my genius guide, 
To sing this glorious miracle of pride, 
Nor yet disdain the subject for its name, 
Since meaner things have oft been sung to Fame ; 
Even boots and spurs have graced heroic verse, 
Butler his knight's whole suit did well rehearse; 
King Harry's costume stands upon record, 
And every age will precedents afford. 
Then on, my Muse, and sing in epic strain 
The petticoat — thou shalt not sing in vain, 
The petticoat will sure reward thy pain ; 
With all thy skill its secret virtues tell — 
A petticoat should still be handled well. 

" Oh garment heavenly wide ! thy spacious round 
Do's my astonished thoughts almost confound ; 
My fancy cannot grasp thee at a view, 
None at first sight e'er such a picture drew. 
The daring artist that describes thee true, 
Must change his sides as modern statesmen do, 
Or like the painter, when some church he draws, 
Following his own, and not the builder's laws, 
At once shows but the prospect to the sight, 
For north and south together can't be right. 

"Hence, ye profane! nor think I shall reveal 
The happy wonders which these vests conceal ; 
Hence your unhallow'd eyes and ears remove, 
'Tis Cupid's circle, 'tis the orb of Love. 
Let it suffice you see th' unwieldy fair 
Sail through the streets with gales of swelling air; 
Nor think (like fools) the ladies, would they try, 
Arm'd with their furbelows and these, could fly. 
That's all romantick, for these garments show 
Their thoughts are with their petticoats below. 


" Nor must we blame them whilst they stretch their art 
In rich adornment and being wondrous smart ; 
For that, perhaps, may stand 'em more in stead 
Than loads of ribbons fluttering on the head. 
And, let philosophers say what they will, 
There's something surer than their eyes do's kill ; 
We tell the nymph that we her face adore, 
But plain she sees we glance at something more. 

"In vain the ladies spend their morning hours 
Erecting on their heads stupendous towers ; 
A batteiy from thence might scare the foe, 
But certain victory is gained below. 
Let Damon then the adverse champion be — 
Topknots for him, and petticoats for me ; 
Nor must he urge it spoils the ladies' shape, 
Tho' (as the multitude at monsters gape) 
The world appears all lost in wild amaze, 
As on these new, these strange machines they gaze ; 
For if the Queen the poets tell us of, from Paphos came, 
Attired as we are told by antique fame, 
Thus would they wonder at the heavenly dame. 

" I own the female world is much estranged 
From what it was, and top and bottom changed. 
The head was once their darling constant care, 
But women's heads can't heavy burdens bear — 
As much, I mean, as they can do elsewhere ; 
So wisely they transferred the mode of dress, 
And furnished t'other end with the excess. 
What tho' like spires or pyramids they show, 
Sharp at the top, and vast of bulk below ? 
It is a sign they stand the more secure : 
A maypole will not like a church endure, 
And ships at sea, when stormy winds prevail, 
Are safer in their ballast than their sail. 

"Hail, happy coat! for modern damsels fit, 
Product of ladies' and of taylors' wit ; 


" Child of Invention rather than of Pride, 
What wonders dost thou show, what wonders hide ! 
Within the shelter of thy useful shade, 
Thin Galatea's shrivelled limbs appear 
As plump and charming as they did last year ; 
Whilst tall Miranda her lank shape improves, 
And, graced by thee, in some proportion moves. 
Ev'n those who are diminutively short 
May please themselves and make their neighbours sport, 
When, to their armpits harnessed up in thee, 
Nothing but head and petticoats we see. 
But, oh ! what a figure fat Sempron'ia makes ! 
At her gigantick form the pavement quakes ; 
By thy addition she's so much enlarged, 
Where'er she comes, the sextons now are charged 
That all church doors and pews be wider made — 
A vast advantage to a joiner's trade. 

"Ye airy nymphs, that do these garments wear, 
Forgive my want of skill, not want of care £ 
Forgive me if I have not well displayed 
A coat for such important uses made. 
If aught I have forgot, it was to prove 
How fit they are, how apropos for love, 
How in their circles cooling zephyrs play, 

Just as a tall ship's sails are filled on some bright summer day. 
But there my Muse must halt — she dares no more 
Than hope the pardon which she ask'd before." 

Fashions have altered, times have changed, hooped petticoats have 
been in turn honoured and banished, just as the fickle goddess of the 
mirror has decreed. Still, as an arrow shot in the air returns in time to 
earth, so surely does the hooped jupon return to power after a 
temporary estrangement from the world of gaiety. The illustration 
on page 223 represents the last new form of crinoline, and there can 
be no doubt that its open form of front is a most important and note- 

The Fashion or 18G8. 




worthy improvement. Preceding this engraving, we have an illustration 
representing two ladies in the costume of the present season arranged 
over " the glove-fitting corset" and " Zephyrina jupon," for patterns of 
both of which we are indebted to the courtesy of Messrs. Thomson and 
Co., the inventors and manufacturers. 

The Zephyrina Jupon. 

It is the custom with some authors to uphold the claims of nature in 
matters relating to human elegance, and we admit that nature in her own 
way is particularly charming, so long as the accessories and surroundings 
are in unison. But in the human heart everywhere dwells an innate 
love of adornment, and untaught savages, in their toilet appliances and 
tastes, closely resemble the belles of highly-civilised communities. We 
have already referred to the crinoline petticoats worn by the Tahitian 
girls when they were first seen by the early navigators. The frilled ruff 



which so long remained a high court favourite during the Elizabethan 
period (and which, if we mistake not, will again have its day) was as 
well known to the dusky beauties of the palm-clad, wave-lashed islands 
of the Pacific, when Cook first sailed forth to discover new lands, as it 
was to the stately and proud dames of Venice. Beneath, we place 
side by side types of savage elegance and refined taste. Where the one 
begins and the other ends, who shall say ? 

-n', T*£4 

Tahitian Dancing Gikl. 

Venetian Lady. 


Adventure, an, of Louise do Lorraine, 92, 97. 
Alarming disoases said to bo produced by wearing 

high-heeled shoes, 194, 195. 
Ancient inhabitants of Polonqui, reduction of the 

waist by, 10. 
An Italian duchess, the costume of, 54. 
Antiquities of Egypt, researches among, 25 — 2 7> 
Augsburg, the ladies of, by Hoechstettcrus, 104. 
Austria, Empress of, elegant figure of, 165. 

Backboards and stocks, 134. 

Bands (narrow), used as substitutes for corsets 

injurious, 213, 214. 
Barbers, an army of, no. 
Beauties of Circassia, 13, 14. 
Beauty, Hindoo ideas regarding, 19, 20. 
Belles of India, 19, 20. 
Belt (ornamented) of the Indians, 9. 
Bernaise dress, 65. 

Blanche, daughter of Edward III., dress of, 49. 
Boarding-school discipline, letter on, 170, 171. 
Boddice, bodice, or bodies, 123. 
Bonnet a canon, the, 60. 

Bouffant sleeves of the reign of Henry II., 65. 
Bridal dress of an Israelitish lady, 28. 
Buchan, writings of, 130. 

Ceylon, figure-training in, 13. 

Chaucer's writings, his admiration of small waists, 

Chinese gentleman, letter from a, 20. 
Cleopatra and her jewels, 37. 
Clumsy figures great drawbacks to young ladies, 

Conquest of the Roman Empire, 38. 
Corps, the, 72, 75. 
Corset, a peculiar form of, worn by some ladies of 

fashion in France, 190. 
Corset in use among the Israelitish ladies, 28, 29. 

Corset, general use of the, on the Continent for 

boys, 136 — 138. 
Corset, origin of, 9. 
Corset, use of by the inhabitants of the Eastern 

Archipelago, 10. 
Corset-covers (steel), 75. 

Corsets and high-heeled shoes denounced, 194, 195. 
Corsets, custom of wearing during sleep, 150, 153. 
Corsets for growing girls, remarks on, 167, 168. 
Corsets of the present day contrasted with those 

of the olden time, 196. 
Corsets, remarks on the proper application of, 

214 — 216. 
Corsets, severe form of, worn in the Elizabethan 

period, 75, 76. 
Corsets, the small size of, made in London, 165. 
Corsets, their use for youths, 1 38. 
Corsets worn by gentlemen in 1265, 46. 
Corsets worn by gentlemen of the present time, 

Costume a l'enfant, 98. 
Costume a la Watteau, 109. 
Costume of the court of Louis XYL, 124. 
Costumes of the ladies of Israel, 27 — 29. 
Cottes hardies, 41. 

Crim Tartary, beautiful princesses of, 14, 19. 
Crinoline among the South Sea Islanders, 143. 
Crinoline and slender waists, remarks of Madame 

La Sante on, 143, 144. 
Crinoline not a new term, 143. 
Cromwell's time, tight-lacing in, 104. 

De La Garde's French corsets, 209, 210. 

Demon of fashion, a monkish satire, 42. 

Determined tailor, a, 55. 

Dress in 1776, 129. 

Dress, its elegance dependent on the corset, 1 89. 

Dresses (low) of 1713, 115. 

Dunbar's Thistle and Rose, 50. 

226 INDEX. 

Earth-eating in Java, 13. 

Hindoo belles, 19, 20. 

Eastern Archipelago, nse of the corset in, 10. 

Hindoo standards of beauty, 19, 20. 

Edict of the Emperor Joseph of Austria forbidding 

Hogarth, stays drawn by, 1 29. 

the use of stays, 66. 

Homer speaks of the corset, 30. 

Edinburgh, Traditions of, anecdote from, 144. 

Egyptian fashions and costumes, 25 — 27. 

Improvements in corsets brought about by the 

Elastic corsets condemned, 213. 

advance of civilisation, 10. 

Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, entry in household 

Indian hunting-belt, 9, 10. 

register of, 45, 46. 

Israelitish ladies, 27 — 29. 

Elegance of figure highly esteemed by the Per- 

sians, 20. 

Jane Shore, penance of, 46 — 49. 

Elegant costumes of the ancient Jewish ladies, 

Java, earth-eating in, 13. 


Jonson (Ben), his remarks on stays, 123. 

Empress of Austria, the, portrait of, 166. 

Jumpers and Garibaldis, 130. 

Escapade of young Louis of France, 98. 

Extravagance of the Roman ladies, 36. 

King Charles I. of England, fashions of the court 

of, 103. 
King George III., fashion in the reign of, 135. 

Families, Medici, Este, and Visconti, 54. 

Family man, letter from a, 184, 185. 

King James and his fondness for dress, 89, 90. 

Farthingale, the, protest against, no. 

King Louis XV. of France, fashion in the reign 

Fashionable promenades of Ancient Rome, 35. 

of, 109. 

Fashion and dress in 1865, 189. 

Kirtle, the, 46. 

Fashion in the reign of King Pepin, 41. 

Fashion in 1713, 115. 

Ladies of Old France, 41. 

Fashions in Ancient Egypt, 27 — 29. 

Lady Morton, diminutive waist of, 166. 

Figure, general remarks on the, 182. 

Lady Triamore, daughter of the King of the Fairies, 

Figure, letter on the, 190 — 193. 


Figure, reduction of, by the ancient inhabitants of 

Lady's-maid, accomplishments of a, 123. 

Polenqui", 10. 

Launfal, poem of, 45- 

Figure -training, 133, 167. 

Lawn ruffs of Queen Bess, 82, 87. 

Food, abstinence from, an assistance to the corset , 

Laws, sumptuary, relating to dress, 90. 

144, 149. 

Letter from a lady, who habitually laces with 

Freaks of fashion in France and Germany, 54. 

extreme tightness, in praise of the practice, 

French revolutionary period, dress during, 1 29. 


Front-fastening stays, remarks concerning, 

Letters from ladies who have been subjected to 

202 — 204. 

tight-lacing, 155 — 164. 

Louis XIV. of France, court of, 98. 

Gay, the writings of, 123. 

Louis XIV. of France, the court of, high-heeled 

Guardian, the, correspondence from, relating to 

shoes, slender waists, and fancy costumes, 

the fashions of 1713, no, 115, 116, 119, 120, 121, 

fashionable at, 98. 

122, 123. 

Louise de Lorraine, fete dress of, 97. 

Guardian, the, letters from, relating to low dresses 

Louise de Lorraine, strange freaks of, 92, 97. 

and tight stays, 120 — 123. 

Gustavus Adolphus, the officers of, 135. 

Marie d'Anjou, costume of, 54- 

Marie de Medici and the costumes of her time, 97. 

Hair powder, its introduction, 97. 

Marie Stuart, costume of, 159. 

Henry III. of France a wearer of corsets, 76, 81. 

Medical evidence in favour of stays, 134, 135. 



Medical man, letter from, in favour of moderately 

tight lacing, 154, 155. 
Minet hack corset described, 213. 
Mitra used by the Grecian ladies, 33. 
Modo of adding stability to tho trout-fastening 

corset, 209. 
Mortality among tho female sex not on tho increase, 


Old authors, their remarks on stays, 194. 

Peplus, the, 33. 

Proportions of the figure and size of waist con- 
sidered, 193. 
Puritanism, its effect on fashion, 104. 

Queen Anne, fashions during the reign of, no. 
Queen Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth 

of England, 72, 75. 
Queen Elizabeth's collection of false hair, 87, 88. 
Queen newspaper, letter from, on small waists, 


Redresseur corset of Vienna, 210. 
Remarks on the changes of fashion, 143. 
Remarks on the flimsy materials used in making 

some modem corsets, 210. 
Revival of the taste for small waists in Old 

France, 41. 
Roman baths, 34, 35. 
Royal standard of fashionable slenderness, 72. 

Scotland, small waists admired in, in olden times, 

Scriptural references, 29. 
Selby, Mrs., the invention of, reviewed, 217. 
Self -measurement, remarks concerning, 209. 
Short waists and long trains, 129. 
Siamese dress, the, 98. 
Side-arms of the Elizabethan period, 91. 

Snake-toed shoes, long sleeves, and high-heeled 

slippers, 59. 
Starching, tho art of, 82. 
Statistics, extraordinary, of the corset trade, 

, " 9S ' 
Statue, a fashionably dressed, 180. 

Stays, formidable kind of, in use in 1776, 129. 

Stays, the general use of the word after 1600 in 

England, 124. 

Stays worn habitually by gentlemen, 135. 

Strophium, the use of, by the ladies of Rome, 33. 

Stubs, Philip, on tho ruff, 87—89. 

Stubs, bis indignation, 88, 89. 

Taper waists and figure -training in Ancient Rome, 

Terentius, strictures and remarks of, 30. 
Thirteenth century, the small waists of, 42. 
Thomson's glove-fitting corsets, 204, 205. 
Tight corsets, letter in praise of, 182, 183. 
Tight corsets needed for short waists, 190. 
Tight-lacing revived, 130. 
Toilet of a Roman lady of fashion, 34 — 36. 

United States of America, belles of the, 153. 

Venice, fashions of the ladie3 of, 82, 87. 

Venus de Medici, waist of, contrasted with the 

waist of fashion, 180. 
Venus, the cestus of, 30. 
Vienna, slender waists the fashion in, 165. 
Voluminous nether-garments of the gentlemen of 

the Elizabethan period, 82. 

Waist, the point at which it should be formed, 
193, »94- 

Young Baronet, letter from, 184. 
Zephyrina jupon of Thomson and Co., 221. 

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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE; condensed from the Original Dictionary by 
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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. By Noah Webster, LL.D. Condensed 
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Lessons on General Subjects, suited to the capacity of Young Learners, with 
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1 The Wonders of the World, 

in Earth, Sea, and Sky, as related 
to his Young Friends. By Uncle 

2 Fifty Celebrated Men ; their 

Lives and Trials, and the Deeds 
that made them famous. 

3 Fifty Celebrated Women s 

their Virtues and Failings, and 
the Lessons of their Lives. 

4 The Life and Surprising Ad- 

ventures of Robinson Crusoe, of 
York, Mariner. By Daniel Defoe. 
With a Biographical Sketch of the 

5 The History of Sandford and 

Merton. By Thomas Day. Illus- 
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it is Told by Himself. Full of 
Adventure and Daring Deeds. 

7 Life in a Whaler -, or, Perils 

and Adventures in the Tropical Seas. 
By Sailor Charley. 

8 Great Inventors ; the Sources 

of their Usefulness, and the 
Results of their Efforts. 

9 Household Stories. Collected 

by the Brothers Grimm ; to which 
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io The Marvels of Nature ; or, 
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11 Evenings at Home; or, The 

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14 Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress 

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16 The Triumphs of Perseve- 

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18 Edgar's Crusades and Cru- 


19 Fanny Fern's New Stories for 

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I've Been Thinking •, or, The 

Secret of Success. By A. S. Roe. 

Revised and Edited by Rev. C. B. 

Tayler, M.A. 
A Daughter's Love ; or, The 

Star and the Cloud. By the Author 

of " I've Been Thinking." 
Holiday House. By Catherine 

The Heart Triumphant ; or, 

How Could He Help It ? By the 

Author of " I've Been Thinking." 

The Young Marooners. A 
Book for Boys. By F. R. Goulding. 

The English Governess ; a 
Tale of Real Life. By the Author 
of " The School Girl in France." 

Freston Tower. A Tale of 
the Times of Cardinal Wolsey. 
By the Author of " Margaret Catch- 

The £5 Note -, An Autobio- 
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The Wide, Wide World. By 
Miss Wetherell. With 12 Illustra- 
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To Love and to be Loved. 
By the Author of " I've Been 

11 Uncle Tom's Cabin. By Mrs. 

Stowe. With 24 beautiful En- 

12 Self-Sacrifice ; or, The Chan- 

cellor's Chaplain. By the Rev. 
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13 The Lamplighter. By Miss 


14 The Journey of Life. By 

Catherine Sinclair. With Portrait of 
the Author. 

15 The School Girl in France. 

By Miss McCrindell. 

16 Julamerk ; a Tale of the Holy 

Land. By the Author of " Naomi." 

17 The Young Islanders. By 

Jeffreys Tayler. 

18 The Merchant's Clerk, Mark 

Wilton. A Book for Young Men. 
By the Rev. C. B. Tayler, M.A. 

19 The Mothers of Scripture ; 

or, Maternal Influence on Sons. By 
Dr. Robert Philp, Author of " The 
Lydias," " Marthas," &c. 

20 Maternal Counsels to a 

Daughter. By Mrs. Pullan, Author 
of " The Lady's Library," &c. 

21 The Battle for Truth ; or, 

Emma de Lissau. By the Author of 
" Miriam and Rosette." 

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