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Corsets

I’ll bet corsets are not the first thing on your mind at any time. Lately they have been on mine. No! That’s not because I’m getting fat and need to keep my figure in shape it is because I have been writing westerns. It appears nineteenth century women could not go anywhere without being laced into corsets. They were not the pale imitations we see today but powerful creations involving steel and whalebone all designed to create the ‘ideal’ figure. In 1917 the American government, as part of their war effort, banned the use of steel in corsets and enough steel was saved to build a battleship.  Now you try undressing one of your characters for a bit-of-the-other when she is laced into a steel monstrosity…not easy; so I researched whether everyone wore them in the nineteenth century. It turned out that the medical profession was none too keen on what women were doing to themselves. Two American doctors started a corset factory to make ‘healthy’ corsets and the same thing occurred in Switzerland but then an amazing coincidence. On my bookshelf is a very old book for boys. It is called On Special Service by Gordon Stables. I’m not even sure why I have it but I recognised the name when it popped up in my corset research. Dr Gordon Stables was a Royal Navy doctor who left the Navy to become a successful writer. Among his many works were books on being healthy for girls and women. He advocated girls get lots of exercise as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. The man was well ahead of his time and he was strongly against the wearing of corsets for girls but also women and campaigned against their use. So I have had my characters’ spurn corset wearing. But don’t feel too smug about our superior knowledge. Just think about some of those high heels and the damage they do to feet…

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