Ribs, Toes And Other Victorian Myths

Published March 16, 2015 by mindfulofchatter

Gody's December 1875

I am tired of the unemployment whine, so let’s talk about something different. I’ll update you on that other situation another time.

I love the Victorian era. The clothing, the manners, the style is interesting and fun. I make Victorian dresses (complete with corset) and wear them for fun and what ever special occasion I can fit one into. I also love Steampunk. Steampunk is Victorian science fiction. It has it own off shoots and variables, but basically think Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and The Wild, Wild West. Victorian era with steam-powered whirly gigs and thing-a-ma-bobs. Fun!

I have read a few Steampunk novels, and enjoyed them. I find a few terms are used incorrectly, but I can almost let it go. I always end up answering billions of questions when I dress in Victorian fashions. Okay, maybe not a billion questions, but it sure seems like that many. This gave me a thought (uh-oh). Why not answer some of those questions here? This is not a Victorian, lingerie or other era blog, so it may reach the very people who ask these questions.

Victorian women had ribs removed to achieve those tiny waists we see in photographs.

Are you kidding? Think about this for a second. There was little to no anesthesia. When they eventually did have anesthesia, it was notoriously unstable and unreliable. Patients often died from the anesthesia or, almost worse, woke up mid operation.  The few patients who did have surgery, often died of peritonitis. Cosmetic surgery was simply not done. It was far too risky. Add to that that women were really not valued members of society. No doctor would ‘waste’ his time on a female for vanity’s sake.

So how did they get those tiny waists? Corsets! Women were put into corsets at a very early age. You can find examples of soft corsets for toddlers, but girls began to wear boned corsets as early as 9. Now think about your basic rib anatomy. We have what are called floating ribs. Those floating ribs expand outward as we mature (pop!). When a woman wears a restrictive corset, the ribs cannot expand. The body grows in that funny funnel shape. Add to this the bustle and the tight-fitting bodice showing off the upper body, and the waist will appear tiny. No to mention that humans, over all, were a lot smaller than us modern giants. I saw an article that stated the average waist (taken from garment measurements) was about 26 – 30 inches. Small yes, ridiculously tiny, no.

Victorian shoes are so narrow! Women had toes removed to make their feet narrow.

Again, uh – no. Same thing. Surgery was dangerous. It was done as a last resort, not for vanity. You wear narrow shoes your entire life, you have narrow feet. Ask any cowboy who has boot shaped feet. Plus removing toes makes things like standing and walking difficult.

I would never wear a bustle. My butt is big enough!

Big bustles make your waist look smaller. It was thought that women with wide hips and small waists were good child bearers. Just as men with slender waists and broad shoulders were thought to be more virile (they also wore corsets to achieve that look). As we progressed in to the hourglass figure era, the bustle disappeared, but was replaced by hip padding. Did you seriously think every woman had that perfect hourglass figure? Nope. It was achieved through padding and corseting. Victorian and Edwardian styles were about illusion.

Having the vapours means fainting.

No, no, no, no, NO! The vapours is not fainting. Why on earth would you call passing out ‘the vapours’? It doesn’t mean you became breathless and lost your vapour. It mean you have gas. The farts. Vapour. Gas. Get it now? So the next time you want to be all dainty and fall into your lover’s arms with the vapours, think twice. He may not appreciate the aroma. Or maybe just keep some matches handy.

To be clear, I do not mind people asking me all kinds of questions when I dress in Victorian fashions. To me, education is a part of dressing up. I have had a few just plain silly questions asked, but overall, people are curious and want to learn. Should you decide you would like to become part of a Victorian (or what ever) group, keep that in mind. Dress as correct as you can. We all had to learn and did it wrong before doing it right. Do your homework. If you can’t answer a question, say you don’t know. Don’t give out mis-information. There is loads of info out there and we can’t remember it all. At least not with without Cliff Notes. Above all, go have fun.

And try to keep those vapours under control, okay?


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