I had the thrill recently of reading an excerpt from an 1890 diary of a young 15 year old girl named Sarah describing her tight lacing. It was fascinating! She and her friends were about to turn 16 and have their coming out parties.
During the Victorian era at age 16, a girl's skirts went down from calf to past the ankles and their hair went up. This signified that they were no longer girls, but young women. The other rite of passage was they graduated from their training corsets into a full fledge whale bone corset.
Sarah explained how for over a year her mother had been preparing her by lacing her stays tighter as the months went by, in order to achieve the sought after Wasp Waist look, which was considered a sign of beauty & discipline. A trait very suitable to finding a husband.
When her mother was angry with her as a form of discipline she would lace Sarah even tighter. Ouch! In order to continue to lace down smaller, Sarah was instructed by her mother to reach her arms up high over her head, this worked. Sarah explained in her diary how much it hurt, and that it was very difficult to breathe because she would have to stay like this for several hours. Even while sleeping, during waist training as it was called, a corset was worn.
Sarah remarked that when she and her friends waists were finally measured, and hers was the smallest at 18 inches, it was all worth it! At her coming out party others remarked and applauded her for such a lovely, tiny waist. All for sake of beauty.
We still sacrifice to this day for beauty sake...
For more information-
One of my favorite Victorian corset tight lacers was Mrs. Ziegfeld, Anna Held
For more photos-
Victorian Actress Lina Cavalieri-