Front page & Index 1899 or 1902

Harriet Hubbard Ayer's Book, A Complete and Authentic Treatise on the Laws of Health and Beauty



The glass of fashion and the mould of form.--Hamlet.

The, cultivated waist.   That is what they call the twenty-four inch waist in England when it is compressed so that it may be girdled by an eighteen-inch leather helt.

Cultivated forsooth!   They may require coaxing in merry England, but we do not need schooling in waist torture in this glad land.   We want it understood that tive take to squeezing our waists naturally.   Ninety-nine girls out of one hundred, pass through the self-infliction, waist-squeezing period before they have reached one and twenty--the age of responsibility.

Many of them continue to crowd and jam their internal organs beyond the years allotted to ignorance and youth.   Sometimes we have the pitiful spectacle of stout old ladies girded into the tightest kind of quarters around tbe belt.

Usually it is the very young thing and the married belle who affect the wasplike dimensions that are so unpleasant to contemplate, so excruciatingly painful to endure.

The artistic standards of beauty require that the waist should be twice the size of the throat.   Therefore, if one's throat measure twelve and one-half inches one's waist ought to measure twenty-five.

The Venus de Medici, supposed to be a perfect type of feminine beauty, is only five feet two inches high. She has a waist of twenty-seven inches.   The wasp waist is not only unpleasant to look at, but it is accountable for many of the ailments of women, which result for life in impaired digestion, circulation, and respiration.

No woman can have a good complexion where the vital organs are packed away inside a corset four or five inches too small for her.

The woman who laces herself into the shape of an hour-glass presumably does so because she considers it enhances her beauty.   Goodness knows why she considers it fascinating to resemble an insect of the wasp species, but obviously she does.

I read somewhere that the tightly-laced woman always imagines herself peculiarly sylphlike and graceful.   Well, why?   All we know about sylphs is obtained from reading about them, and from gazing at their alleged portraits.   I presume to say that I have have seen all the noted pictures of the entire collection of sylphs.   Certainly I have gazed at ladies of a very early vintage who were listed under the alluring guise of nymph, sylph, siren, goddess or Venus, and warranted the genuine artiele.   But I cannot recall one--no, not even one sylph, not a single Venus, nor even a second-rate goddess, with an eighteen inch belt measure.

So it is manifestly absurd to compare the cultivated waist of our English cousins, which we have not copied, but taken to without aid or instruction from our elders across the sea, with the waist of poetry or canvas.

I think, however, that the men are to blame for the revival of the wasp waist.   For there is a revival in active effect this moment. The new figure came into fashion about a year ago.   The corset that produced this so-called new form of womanhood claimed to be so constructed that the wearer could reduce the size of the waist from three to six inches.

Well, I am acquainted with men who should have known better, and who rave about the new figure.   One male of my acquaintance told me recently that a certain woman who immediately adopted the corset warranted to compress your figure, has a perfect figure, and then he described it :--

"Such an exquisite figure," he said.   "She has a waist you can span with your hands and magnificent shoulders, broad enough for a man."   Five minutes later he was declaring that "women nowadays were a broken-down lot of nervous, hysterical creatures who should be forced to go into hospitals and rest cures so as to relieve the well members of society in general from the strain of sympathizing with, and caring for them."

I was tempted to ask why this all-wise person did not reflect a little on the law of cause and effect.

The truth is, that a slender, trim waist is pretty, and that a squeezed waist is not. Now, there are ways of attaining a slender waist--healthful, wholesome ways.   Such a waist will, to use the slang of the period, be the real thing, while the squeezed waist will always be a deformity.

Nothing sooner destroys a woman's freshness and the flesh-and-blood beauty of womanhood, than diseased and disordered nerves. There never was an agent conceived so diabolical in its effects upon the nervous system, as the corset that ingeniously deprives a woman of the proper functioning of every vital organ of her body.

I am no advocate of so-called dress reform, which is usually merely the fad of a man or woman who has become a crank over some supposed discovery of rational dress.

There has been a great deal of nonsense, written and spoken, for and against the corset. This being a free country, there is no reason why women who prefer to go about without stays, whether from physical reasons or moral convictions in the matter, should not be allowed to follow their own sweet inclinations.

Personally, I consider a well-fitting, properly constructed corset a blessing. I have experimented with substitutes, claiming to be æsthetic, hygienic, and elevating morally, and I have suffered, been made hideous to look upon, and certainly have not been improved in temper as a result.

There are, of course, some slight, willowy women who can do without the support of a corset. They are the very, very rare exceptions.

Take for example Mrs. Leslie Carter as one of them. Mrs. Carter wears a little girdle about her waist, which is all she requires, her figure being naturally slender, and the physical culture which she has received in her years of hard training has given her extraordinary litheness and poise.

But the average woman has neither Mrs. Carter's figure nor has she had the benefit of long, persistent and harmonious physical training.

This everyday woman requires a corset.

To show what corsets will do for a woman's figure, I induced a lady not long ago who was, by the by, wearing a most hideous corset herself, to have photographs taken with the object in view of demonstrating the effect of the corset as a factor in a woman's appearance.

The modle aged woman with a badly fitting corset

When my friend had the photograph taken (which is reproduced here and marked No. 1) she wore the corset of her own selection.   Every woman who sees this picture will recognize the figure as one she knows very well.

Same woman with proper fitting corset

No. 2 shows the same lady with a proper and wellfitting corset.   This corset, I may add, is not heavily boned, but it is cut so that the ugly curve at the waist is entirely suppressed, and the objectionable embonpoint, caused by the wretched form of the old corset, has disappeared.

Corset for slender woman who wish the new figure

No. 3 is a photograph of another subject in a French corset, which is intended to give a slimness to the figure, I do not think this corset adapted for any but very slight women, and I did not suggest it for my friend.   The length upon the hips would not be comfortable for a woman of her size.

I believe in a simple corset--not the corset coffin.   The novel, boneless, ribbon corsets of Yvette Guilbert are all that are necessary to support the busts of slender women, young or old.   Even stouter women look better in an easy-fitting corset that does not press the adipose tissue below or above its confines.

The great mistake American women make is in buying corsets without trying them on and securing a proper fit.

No French woman ever thinks of purchasing a corset from the counter.   She tries her corset on, and she is never satisfied until she secures a stay that is not only comfortable, both for sitting and standing, but one that gives her figure graceful lines, while it allows her to breathe easily and to walk without the appearance of being hampered in any way.

Be very certain, dear reader, that the hour-glass waist --or to use the descriptive term of the fashionable London modiste, the "cultivated waist," which is at present in vogue (to a limited extent only, I am glad to say), will mean disease and loss of beauty to the foolish women who follow a fashion which makes a travesty of the human form.   And recollect that unfortunately the harm done by tight lacing is often entailed upon a succeeding generation.

Women, not afflicted with obesity, who regard their health are wearing corsets that are corsets in name only.   In reality they are only satin or taffeta girdles, boned; and laced in the back and over the hips.   They come in black and white, and all the new shades of pink and yellow.

In one of these girdles a slim figure appears to advantage, but woe betide the buxom matron who attempts them.