Monday, March 17, 2014

Corsets at the Sherman House -- March 17, 1903

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Here’s one for the “Those Days Are Gone Forever, Thankfully” files.

“If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot,” Gloria Steinem once asked.
Back on this date, March 17, in 1903 a whole day in Chicago was devoted, not to the foot, but to the torso as a “field day for corsets and petticoats” was held at the dressmakers’ convention at the Sherman House.

In the hotel’s lecture hall, “cluttered with heaps of lingerie,” Mme. S. Howland Pine of New York told "what she knew about corsets and other things which come both before and after the stays.”  All men, obviously, were barred from the proceedings.

From The Tribune’s reporting of that momentous day . . .

"'Don’t treat a corset like an old coat that you can throw on in an instant and rush for a call,' said Mme. Pine, picking up a pair of stays and exhibiting their complexity of construction to the audience.  'A corset is a serious thing; the thing of art that makes of your figure a work of art.  Treat the wearing of it with great consideration.'”

The paper described the tone of Mme. Pine as “emphatic.”  She continued.

“Now don’t jerk yourself into your corset as if you were a bag of meal.  And another thing, don’t think that the kangaroo walk affected by women since the introduction of the straight front is necessary. If you wear a straight front never stand with your heels together; always stand with one foot slightly advanced.  You have a grater purchase that way and are always right balanced and posed.”

A skeptical member of the audience, an “irreverent woman,” asked if such a rigid stance would prevent one from getting off a street car.

“I fear nothing,” came the reply.  “But the presence of a watchful and gallant conductor can ever effectually guard women from that bane.  But the fact is that the straight front has done more to develop the female figure than all the athletics and golf in which woman has indulged.  You hear a girl tell you that she built up that form of hers on the golf links, but don’t you believe it.  Ten to one she began wearing a straight front before she knew a putter from a bunker.”

I will be the first to admit that I am ill equipped to comment on the intricacies of the feminine universe.  I’ve been around folks of the feminine persuasion for six decades and still am baffled and outgunned.

I do know this, though . . . if I had to get up on election day and stand while someone put a knee in my back in order to lace up my corset laces so tightly that I could barely breathe and then somehow mince myself over to the window to watch all the men folk go out and vote in a contest from which I was barred, I think I might at some point be ready for a revolution, too.


As soon as I could get my breath.