Dear Sir.--The year 1886. The scene, a fashionable drawing-room. The time, 9 p.m.
A tall, graceful woman, and a pretty girl of 18 or 19, are reading the latest fashion news. Looking at the clock. The elder of the two says, "Come, dear; It is time to dress for bed."
One readily imagines the outburst of merriment with which the modern flapper would greet such an announcement. The fact remains. However, that at the period mentioned above. one did actually "dress" before retiring for the night. The young lady would go to her room, and a maid, under the supervision "mamma," would prepare her in the following manner:
After being disrobed she would be fitted with a pair of sleeping stays, boned to almost rigidity. Having been frequently told that to show any signs of distress in the presence of one's maid whilst being laced in is extremely unladylike, the young lady tries to assume an indifferent expression as the maid takes up the laces.
The pride taken in their tiny hands and feet amounted almost to a fetish in those days. Therefore, after having had her hands and arms well creamed the young lady willingly went through the struggle of having shoulder-length gloves of extreme tightness fitted. Very thin and long cotton stockings would next be drawn on, and tiny ankle boots, heelless but extremely narrow and pointed, had to be literally forced on.
Then followed her "night robe," heavily frilled, very voluminous, boned bodice to fit her figure, and a high collar, and of course long full sleeves.
Just as Madame Mode decrees in these days that a slim, boyish figure, and a well-painted face shall be the fashion, this command was exactly reversed in those days, when a well-curved figure and pale complexion was modish. Therefore Miss Victorian next had her hair well brushed and rolled up under her lacy night-cap, and then drank the juice of a lemon, whilst pads soaked with the juice were fitted on her cheeks and held in position by a strip of some soft material fastened under her chin and over her head, in order to keep her complexion.
She would then be assisted into bed, and, after a good-night kiss, mamma would return to the drawing-room, convinced that she was doing her best to train her daughter in the fashionable way she should go.
The Updated Version
The daughter stands undressed down to a light shift, the attentive maid hovers in readiness for the signal from the proud and ambitious mother whose duty it is to oversee the extensive operations necessary to prepare a young lady of fashion for bed. The nighttime hours should not be wasted if the daughter is going to be ready for the upcoming season.
The daughter half turns towards her mother to ask a little leniency from the trials to come, but seeing her mothers upright posture and stern face, thinks better of it and sits down at the dressing table stool for the application of the first item. The maid reaches over to a bowl which contains a face lotion consisting of a mixture of chopped cucumber, vinegar and curdled milk (which smells disgusting) and dips a cotton face mask into the liquid. The facemask is then applied to the daughter's face, chin and neck and then tied with two light tapes.
Next comes the Madame Verences Face and Neck Smoother. This consists of fitted full head mask made of white kid leather which closes at the rear with close lacing from the crown to the base of the neck. The daughters tight pigtail is passed through a larger hole in the lacing and the lacing begins, From top to bottom and back again until the kid leather is pulled taut with straining seams across the daughters features, the only openings being two small round holes for the eyes, two smaller ones for the nose and a row of even smaller holes across the mouth. The mask will keep the skin smooth and help the face lotion to permeate into the daughter's skin throughout the night.
The maid looks round to the mother for approval on the tightness, who nods. The maid ties off the back lacing and then lifts up the two straps hanging from the under the chin of the mask, these are taken up over the head and threaded through two placement loops towards the rear of the crown. A lace is threaded through the ends and the straps drawn tightly together and again the maid turns for approval, when none is forthcoming, she drags tightly on the lace until a little squeak comes from the mask and the daughter rises slightly from the stool.
This time the mother nods and the maid reaches for the next item, which is the Beeching Anatomical Neck Extender (with optional chin posture attachment). This consists of a heavy brown, six inch deep, leather collar lined with vertical metal stays and a padded rim at top and bottom, the front is extended up and out in a steep chin support and the back closed with numerous straps and buckles. The daughter in readiness has tilted her head and the Beeching Neck Extender was fitted. The daughter has not tilted her head back far enough because as soon as the straps start to tighten, her head was forced even further back so that when it is fully tightened she is looking at the ceiling.
When the straps were tightened to the mother's satisfaction and the daughters neck is compressed into solid tube, the next item is the Deepdale Guaranteed Bosom Improver whose guarantee states that with its use "the bosom will become larger and more pronounced". The bosom improver consists of two metal rings that fit over and tight to base of the breasts, shoulder straps and a strap around the chest to a back buckle. As soon as the back strap is tied off the maid starts to tighten both of the screws on the rings, around the base of each breast. As the rings dig into the soft flesh at the base of the breasts, the rest of the breast is forced tight and out. When the rings are so tight that the squeezed breasts have turned in to two tight orbs a squeak was heard from the mask and the maid stopped tightening, the mother tutted and stepped forward and gives the screws a firm turn each eliciting two more muffled squeaks from under the mask. The mother steps back and nods and the maid then takes hold of the shoulder straps and pulls them tight dragging the taut breasts high up onto the daughters chest, nearly level with her shoulders and generating a louder squeak from behind the mask.
The daughter then extends one arm for the fitting of the first of the shoulder length gloves, because of their extreme tightness the fitting takes at least ten minutes per glove. The maid has to roll and pull the gloves up each arm half an inch at a time and force each finger down one by one. When both were on and perfectly smooth to the shoulders the maid clips the top of the gloves to the shoulder straps, as they are so tight that they will ride down without support.
The daughter turns around on the stool to face the room and tentatively extends a leg as if she not looking forward to the next stage. The next items of the bedtime ritual are Dr Masons Orthopedic Leg & Feet Compression Boots, which have been scientifically developed (or so they claim) to produce perfectly straight legs while at the same time compress the feet to be at least two sizes smaller.
The orthopedic leg boots lie on the bed and are long enough to reach to the top of the daughters thighs, unlike ordinary boots they have no heel and also do not bend at the foot, instead even as they lie on the on the bed they are perfectly straight from top to toe and will hold the front of the foot in a perfectly straight line with the leg. The front lacing extends from top to toe and the holes are stiffened from behind by half-inch wide spring steel on each side. The sides are also stiffened with sprung steel all the way down to the pointed steel toe cups. Each boot is fitted to the daughter's legs and the lacing threaded, although the maid fingers are nimble with the lacing each boot takes nearly ten minutes to thread the lace. The maid then pulls the lacing slightly taut and turns her attention to the heel compressors. With the foot held in line with the leg, the heel sticks out at the back, this allows a metal stirrup to pass over a loop in the heel and be hinged down to the steel toe cups. Passing through the back of the stirrup is a threaded bolt attached to plate mounted to the leather on the back of the heel. As the maid turns the bolts, the plate forces the heel down and as such the daughter's toes are forcibly compressed into the pointed steel toe cups. The tightening continues until the bolts have been screwed in about an inch and a half and at the end every turn produces a muffled mew of protest from within the mask.
When the mother has nodded her approval for the heel compressors, the maid returns to the boot lacing and tightens each boot with a vengeance until the steel stiffeners are buried in the flesh and a ridge of fat is squeezed out at the top of the thighs. The mother and the maid now help the daughter to stand up, the help is required as the daughters legs are now held in a rigid straight line from thigh to toe with the feet compressed to an unfeasibly small size, and the toes forced down into the steel toe cups. As she is helped to her feet her weight puts even more pressure on her crushed toes and she shuffles uneasily on the points to try and relieve the pain.
The maid then leads the daughter in tottering and stuttering walk across the room and back again , each step compresses her toes down into the toe cups and making the daughter wince beneath the mask, the stuttering walk finishes so that the daughter is under the lacing bar. The daughter grasps the lacing bar tightly and raises herself so as to take some of the pressure of her toes, and the maid leans down and gives the screw on the heel compressors another turn as they have loosened slightly due to the extra compression caused by the 'walk'.
This brings another 'mew' from the daughter, which the maid ignores and turns to pick up the 'piece de resistance' of the bedtime preparations. It is a training corset made by Madame Dowding the foremost London Corsetiere; the corset is designed to mould the daughter's body to the stringent long smooth lines of the current princess line fashion. This prodigious close boned corset is lifted by the maid (with some difficulty due to its size and weight) and carried over to the lacing bar, the daughter releases one hand and then the other and slips one gloved arms and then the other through the shoulder straps of the corset and shrugs it on like a heavy coat.
Once the corset is on it runs form mid thigh to breast, the breasts are not supported as the corset has two half crescent cut outs, but the busk continues up to the centre of the breasts. The mother is especially proud of it as it is Madame Dowdings strictest model, with back and two side lacings, double boning and an extra width busk. The maid then comes to the front and with difficulty starts to fasten the latches on the stiff full length busk from the bottom to the top, as she reaches the top the daughter emits muffled whines as the stiff busk touches her tight stretched breasts. Once its is closed the maid reaches up and straps the daughters wrist to the lacing bar and then reaches down and passes another strap around her ankles. The maid then moves over to the wall, and turns a handle that raises the lacing bar that stretches the daughter's body within the corset.
The lacing then proceeds, the mother moves attentively forward, as she is keen to see the maid to fully close all three lacings at the waist, as the next size down had been delivered some weeks before and she has been urging the maid to close the laces for some nights now, but up to now they had defeated her best efforts and the daughters waist had stubbornly refused to be compressed to the required fifteen inches.
After all three extra long laces had been tightened sufficiently at thighs and chest and leaving only half an inch on all three laces at the waist, the maid stood back for a rest as the exertions had left her red faced and slightly short of breath. This was nothing compared to the daughter who is now held by nearly solid boning from breast to thigh, with a wasp like sixteen and half inch waist, her chest is rising and falling rapidly, causing the distended breasts to bounce slightly with every rapid breath.
The impatient mother urges the maid to resume and she grasps one of the side laces, whose excess now trails yards across the floor, unties it and bunching the laces in her fists, pulls back with all her might. The first side lacing gradually closes and is at the same time a long low muffled groan emerges from behind the mask, interspersed between the pants for air. "Be silent", the mother barks, for to show that much distress in the presence of a servant is simply not done. The side closes and the maid ties it off and starts on the other side. As the lacing close, the daughter tries to pull up on the lacing bar and raise her chest out of the corset, in an effort to get more air, with only a little whimper this time, the side lacing is closed, leaving only the half inch at the back. The mother halts the maid to allow the daughter some time to recover from the strictures of the lacing and her body to settle within the corset.
While the maid tidies the bedroom, the mother's watches the daughter until her breathing has slowed, then she signals the maid to recommence the lacing. The maid unties the back lace keeping the tension and leans back strongly, the long lace passes through the metal eyes and the gap begins to close. The mother urges the maid on and so she leans even further back and the corset closes at the waist and with a little gasp the daughter's head droops slightly against the stiff collar. The maid ties off the waist and comes to the front and examines the daughter, her eyes are closed and her breathing is slow, she has fainted.
The mother smiles, her daughter has done well, in the past in trying to close the training corset, she has fainted well before this and the lacing has had to be halted. This time she has fainted just as the lacing was closed. The maid goes to the dressing table and picks up the bottle of smelling salts. She takes the top off them and returns to waft them under nose holes of the kid mask. The daughter gasps and the panting of her breasts resumes.
Most of the 'training' devices are now fitted and the mother is reasonably satisfied with their effect, but the 'devices' are not very pretty to look at, and also all the steel and boning has a tendency to tear nightdresses and sheets. To solve both of these problems the maid picks up the first of the covers, which will hide the devices and also protect the sheets. It is a white quilted pocketed bosom cover with a frilly edge, it is fitted over the daughter's taut and distended breasts and fastened behind. Next comes a sumptuous silk corset cover with black and white vertical stripes and a large white frill at top & bottom which is fitted and laced to a perfectly smooth fit over the rigid underbody of the training corset.
The daughter's deeply indented waist over the corset is now as rigid as a wooden block and down to the requisite fifteen inches, with smooth hips of thirty eight inches and her high augmented bosom is now at least forty three inches, the overall effect is striking, but the mother is not satisfied. As the maid finishes lacing the corset cover the mother comes forward and measures the daughter's waist, first from front to back and then from side to side and she 'tuts' to show her disapproval. The problem is that her daughters corseted waist has developed an oval shape and is significantly wider from side to side than back to front. Madame Dowding is slowly curing this problem by increasing the side boning in all the daughters corset, but this method is too slow for the mother and she nods to the maid who brings over the next training device.
This is an 'Austrian' belt supplied by Madame Dowding, it consists of a two inch deep, hinged iron ring with a pin to close the join, in the middle of each side of the ring are large threads with leather covered curved steel plates attached to the inner end. The plates were screwed back to inner face of the belt and then it was fitted around the around the daughters corseted waist and closed with the pin. The custom made belt was a perfect circle and the out of roundness of the harshly compressed waist is plain to see. The sides of the waist push up tight to the curved leather covered plates, while there is nearly an inch gap between the front of the belt and the corsets heavy busk and half an inch between the back of the belt and the close back lacing. The maid then picks up two large keys and fits them on the squared of ends of the side screws, the mother moves forward and takes hold of one key and the maid the other and with a nod they both begin to turn the keys. The leather covered curved plates start to push into the rigid sides of the corset, which begins to compress inwards, with the tight placed bones creaking and muffled groans from the daughter at every turn. The mother suffers this unseemly groaning as Madame Dowding has informed her that the belt is a very strict method of waist training and the trainee will be feel extreme discomfort. The mother and maid continue turning until the busk and the back lacing has been forced out to touch the front of the outer ring and the squared off ends of the threads are just proud of the side of the ring.
The keys are removed and the mother measures the waist again, and is pleased to find that the waist is now just under four inches side to side and six inches front to back. The maid reaches for the next item but the mother stops her and points to the shoulder straps of the corset which have become loose during the tightening, the maid brings a stool and gets on it so that she is raised level with the straps. The maid herself cannot see any good reason for over tightening the straps and as such she only pulls them through the buckles so that the looseness is removed. The mother tells her to tighten the straps more (it should be said that mother knows of no good reason for tightening the straps, but feels that if a strap is there it should be tight, very tight). The maid heaves on the buckles and the daughter's shoulders and upper chest are forced down into the top of the corset. Along with the 'Austrian' belt and this extra compression, the daughter starts panting at an even greater rate, with each pant the taut breasts push up high and with there tops now higher than her shoulders.
The maid steps down, releases the ankle straps and picks up and fits a padded belt over the metal 'Austrian' belt and then picks up and holds out the next devices for a decision from the mother. In one hand she holds Madame Dowding mono glove and in the other she holds a pair of Dr Mason's Orthopedic Arm Sheaths. The mother has to decide between them, she has to decide which will be of the most benefit to her daughter when worn through the night. The mono-glove is designed to improve the posture by pulling the shoulders back; the daughter puts both arms behind her and the mono-glove is fitted over both of them, it is then laced tight so that her shoulders are pulled back and her posture is improved and her bosom thrust forward. The arm sheaths are boned to slim the upper and lower arms. The mother decides on the arm sheaths as the daughter still has some puppy fat on her arms and anyway she can wear a shoulder brace under her dress tomorrow.
The maid loosen the laces on both sheaths and then releases one of the daughters wrists from the lacing bar, she then pushes one of the boned arm sheaths up the daughter's arm over the long kid glove right up to the shoulder, the daughter raises her arm so that the maid can pull the sheath further down her arm and onto her shoulder until all of the fingers are showing at the other end. The sheath is then tightened so that puppy fat is forced up and out at the shoulder and between the lacing. The daughters arm now drops, but only to the level of her shoulder due to the tightness of the lacing and the boning in the arm 'corsets', the soft flesh of her arm has been compressed into a smooth rigid tube.
The daughter is secretly glad to be wearing the arm sheaths rather than the mono-glove as the mono-glove only allowed her to 'sleep' or, more truly, lie and suffer on one side. As her arms were pinioned behind her, it did not allow her to turn over and so move to a different position to relieve the pressure of the crushing corset. One night, to her eternal regret, she had struggled so much in the mono-glove that she had accidentally turned herself over onto her front and had spent the whole night in agony with all her weight on her tender, distended breasts and her arms pointing in the air like a ships mast.
The daughter forces her arm back up to the lacing bar and grips it with her fingers, and then drops her other arm for the fitting of the next sheath. Gingerly but quickly she moves her pointed toes a half an inch or so backwards and forwards, to regain her balance under the lacing bar. She can only move her feet so little, as she is now totally rigid from breast to toe and without her grasp on the lacing bar, she has no control and would soon fall over.
The maid then picks up a full size porcelain doll's face with eyes, lips and red rouged circle on each cheek; it is fastened with two straps over the kid mask to cover the straps and seams. Next comes a voluminous nightgown, heavily frilled, boned bodice with a pouch for the Austrian belt to fit the training corset, and a boned high collar, and of course long full sleeves. The maid places it over the daughters head, and the daughter releases one arm and then the other for the sleeves to be fed over her rigid arms. The maid then smoothes it down over the boned bodice, down to the floor and then begins to fasten the multitude of tiny buttons from the bottom of the corset right up to the high collar. The pigtail is then coiled up onto the top of the daughter's head and a large frilly nightcap is fitted, covering the top and the back of the kid mask and the edges of the pot mask.
Now as many of the 'devices' are concealed as possible, that is while the daughter is standing up and still hanging from the lacing bar. The mother and maid grasp the daughters arms and she then releases lacing bar and slowly totters towards the bed, led by the other women, as the daughter is now virtually blind, due to the combination of the collar forcing her head up, the small eye holes in the kid mask, and the misalignment of the eyeholes in the pot mask. When they reach the bed the maid supports, while she slowly falls as stiff as board down onto the bed.
Now that the daughter is lying down the maid can fit the padded bed socks to cover the metalwork of the orthopedic boots. These are like long babie's booties and cover the boots all the way to the corset cover and lace up with satin ribbons. The nightgown is then pulled down to cover the booties, leaving one last area of the daughter's body to be addressed. The maid picks up a pair of Doctor Paranaby's finger slimmers; each one consists four split tubes joined by four screws. The four tubes are fitted over fingers of one of the daughters hands and the screws tightened until her fingers are crushed. The mother is worried that the daughter's are too podgy and she will not look her best when she comes out. The other hand has similar treatment, and then the metal work on the hands is covered with padded mittens.
The maid then pulls the covers up to the daughter's chin, tucks them in and then stands back with the mother to survey the fruit of their labours. The mother leans forward and gives the daughter a kiss on the pot mask and then retires to the drawing-room, convinced that although the bedtime dressing marathon has taken an hour and half, she has done her best to ensure that her daughters bedtime hours are not wasted.
I think that mother is right, I cannot think of any more that the mother could do -- Can You???