Tightlacing of Victorian / Edwardian Times

There are many examples of Victorian and Edwardian photographs (1850s-1910) of pretty women with incredibly thin waists. Yet, many of those studio photos were edited by the photographer or someone else to make these women’s waists look thinner than they really were. They would essentially just paint over whatever they didn’t want to show in the final photo. Obviously that process is not perfect, and a lot of the time you can see some trace of editing if you know what you’re looking for. This was done on many postcards also.

Victorian and Edwardian women didn’t have waists that were as thin pictured in photos or postcards. The average was about 20–28” which is not at all unhealthy or unrealistic. Usually, 22 inches waist circumference was the desired size by the ladies and corsets were actively used to achieve that. The best of the corsets were quite elongated, they tightly squeezed the body.

At first, corsets with waist measurements four inches smaller than the lady’s natural waist size were recommended. To tighten a waist with a corset was an exercise that took a lot of time. Nevertheless, in those days there were no social networks and the Internet, so it took many minutes and even hours to dress oneself.

Young and fashionable women were most likely to tightlace (using corsets), especially for balls, social events, fashionable gatherings, and other occasions for display. Older, poorer, and primmer women would have laced moderately – just enough “to be decent”.

But your ancestors did have problems The corset tightly squeezed the internal organs, which led to the deformation of the kidneys, the liver, and other organs. Besides, the back would become weaker because the muscles did not work. The spinal column was supported by a corset. It was known that ladies fainted, and some even died. Nevertheless, beauty, as it is known between 1850 and 1910 required a lot of sacrifices.

Look over family photos covering 1850s to 1910 and see how many ancestors were using the corset, tightly wearing the corset or did the studio photographer do any special lighting around the wrist.

It was all about the fashionable female silhouette. It’s about the appearance – the perception of a small waist. Women wore a corset to hold things in place. To lift the bust into a fashionable silhouette and support it. Doing so gave her more or less an hourglass shape. Then they added petticoats, a bustle, a pad, padding to the hips, padding to the bust, chemisettes (small blouse additions) and corset covers that have ruffles on them and dropped shoulder lines. This all increased the hips and the shoulder appearance, making the waist look smaller. It was all about illusion.

Photos: Examples of late 1800s and early 1900 thin waist fashions. Plus an example of waist made to look smaller in a photo. Oval Portrait in 1889 of Mary Jane Musselman – my great grandmother.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Victorian Photos

Victorian Behaviors

Tuberculosis and Fashion

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