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The fashions of the 1870s are extremely body-revealing, featuring an increasingly long sheath-like cuirasse-bodice, and a skirt that was tied back with concealed tapes, to give a straighter and noticeably tighter fit in front.
''Ladies... must be encased in a sheath. ... The cuirasse-corsage now moulds not only the waist, but encloses the whole figure''. Or as another journalist wrote, ''Bodies are made to fit like wax''.
"The ideal at present is the greatest possible flatness and straightness; a woman is a pencil covered with raiment" (October 23 1875).
It was, however, several years before the bustle was completely abandoned. When this ideal was achieved, to maintain flatness and straightness and to provide variety in the "raiment" asymmetry was introduced.
The slenderizing of the body continued downward, and by 1881 the knees had become so constricted by inner ties and construction that walking was reduced to small, mincing steps.
Harpers Bazar 1867-1898
|During the crinoline era and the later 1860s the fetishistic emphasis in La Vie Parisienne was decidedly on the feet. By the mid -'70s it moved with even greater decisiveness to the corset, this time in a new and powerful form known as the "corset-cuirasse". It became necessary to defend this article against accusations of resemblance to "medieval" and "romantic" instruments of sartorial torture, especially since its effects were exhibited as never before. As the shirt shrank, the waist lengthened, and for the first time in living memory - arguably in Western history - the natural hip-contour was clearly and systematically defined and exposed. New techniques in cutting and seaming ensured absolute precision of fit, and the new anatomically compressed outline was heightened by the use of artificial dyes and glaring color contrasts, with excessively complicated ornamentation on the swaths wound tightly round the legs. Having touted the corsetière as sculptor, La Vie Parisienne was able to hail the emergence of the Femme Statue: "After 12 years of struggle against bad taste, we have at last attained the supreme goal - the statue woman of serpentine slenderness, molded in her dress like warriors in their cuirasse...sculpted in an armor revealing a hip contour which, they say, cost our ancestor Paradise." The constriction and immobilization is accompanied by expansion: "under the tight gussets, the breast swells, opens out...aloft! For some, it is like a stall-ledge. Women push and press into their kidskin sheath as if it were a pair of gloves. The legs are clasped the full length, the skirt is tight, woman is impeded in her movements, one can feel the ribbon fettering all from behind.
...Knees touch, visibly...woman sits down sideways, she cannot do otherwise and this uncomfortable attitude is not ungracious...Beneath this sheath, undulations must be soft and slow, almost imperceptible...Now, one can see the whole body breathing; previously they eyes judged the movements of the heart by the breasts alone."
For the first time in hundreds of years the form of the belly was exposed to such a degree that it registered small respiratory movements...One writer ends on the curious insight that, immobilized, "woman is obliged to observe herself."
David Kunzle, "The Corset as Erotic Alchemy" in "Woman as Sex Object"
Sound Advice to Mothers and Governesses
When Swooning Was Fashionable.
You need not be unduly alarmed when your daughter faints while being laced. Young ladies of 15 to 20 frequently swoon. Indeed, I read that many ultra-fashionable French ladies do not now consider themselves properly laced until they have swooned. Moreover, fashionable young ladies are secretly not a little proud of the number of times they faint, so that your friend who regularly laces her daughter until she faints need not be deemed too strict.
Dear Sir. - I have been very interested in the recent letters published in your topping paper about very tight lacing, and I would like to add my experiences, to those others who are interested in the most fascinating subject in the world.
Queen Alexandra - tight laced, gloved and bejewelled
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