Q: When reading about tightlacing one often gets the impression that cases are exaggerated. This might be the smallness of the waist, or the nature of the corset itself (the stiffness, its steels etc). Of all the accounts the most intriguing stories (in terms of their potential exaggeration) seem to be those that relate to the production of the pipe stem waist. I can accept that the body is a fairly "liquid" entity....the Thai tribe who place rings around their necks, pressing their collar bones down and compressing the rib cage (I presume). It may be that such stories are the fancy of those who are in some way stimulated by B&D concepts. What knowledge and comments do you have regarding the pipe stem corset?--Stephen (3/3/97)
A: There is absolutely no doubt that there are lot of exaggerations regarding corsets such as you point out. I have touched upon these matters earlier, but let me just comment a little on the stem waist.
The human body is pliable indeed, although it takes a very long time to transform it into an exaggerated form or shape. It must be clearly understood that in all cases where an excessive reshaping of the human body is desired, this seriously involves the bony structures of the body. That also means that the transformation force must be long-standing, more or less perpetual and regularly increased. The modification of the bony structures means that the new desired form will be more or less permanent and, in most cases, very visible, both looking at the body from the outside and, for example, on x-ray pictures.
Many organs have been the target for permanent reshaping into some prevailing fashion ideal. The elongation of the skull, widely known in certain people from all over the world, is one example; the old Chinese foot-binding is another. You yourself are referring to the peculiar habit of the gradual lengthening the neck by wrapping it with an increasing number of metal rings. This method of beautification of the body is known in a few places (I didn't know about the Thai tribe, but of another tribe in South Africa). The result will be an elongation of the neck, including its skeleton, over the years, up to a foot over the shoulders, which are pressed down. Thus, the collar bones are very visibly affected, whereas the rib cage as such is unaffected. The neck rings are never removed and actually could only be done with difficulty, as they eventually become fully instrumental in keeping the head upright.
Particularly at the end of the 19th century, fashion prescribed both a small waist and a long one. The corset could effectuate both. The lengthening of the waist was particularly claimed to be the cause of severe compression of the lower ribs, which only could be endured after years of early tight-lacing. To achieve a good result without ever-lasting pain, the ribs had to be permanently bent inwards, the more the better. As the lower five ribs are not connected to the breast bone, strong and effective lacing can rather easily cram them together. With a special strongly boned pipe-stem corset, the lacing procedure can be made completely effective, resulting in a stem waist with a length of several inches -- five inches wouldn't be an anatomical problem. In the days when corsetting was started in early childhood, the creation of such a true pipe-stem waist wouldn't be a technical problem in the teen-ager.
However, from the literature and from available pictures, it seems that the real pipe-stem must have been very uncommon. It is mentioned in the "boulevard" press, that is true, but then more as a fictitious, sex-stimulating phenomenon than a reality. Details of how the stem is first laced in a special, very strongly boned tube corset with the same circumference up and down, and how then another longer corset, without space-consuming waist steels, is fixed over it, are not proof that these corsets existed, at least for everyday use. Both the uncomfortable and time-consuming way of becoming dressed and the unbelievable waist dimensions reported make me feel that we are far from reality with these tales.
But again, on the contrary, there is no doubt, as seen both from advertisements and photos, that the industry produced high, very long-waisted corsets reminiscent of stems. Personally I think that these corsets give a most beautiful and feminine figure, but certainly one must be used to them, more than any other model, during a long time to eventually feel comfortable with their pressure, particularly on the lower ribs. But don't worry, if you don't give up, your ribs will give in: Many female skeletons have demonstrated that.
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