Q: I am a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I am doing my Honours degree in Physical Anthropology with a particular focus on paleopathology, general osteology, and forensic anthropology. The big project on which I am currently working is regarding the physical effects of tight-lacing on the skeleton. I was first inspired to learn more about this "art form", as I like to call it, when I saw a lovely photograph of the corset-designer Pearl in the December 1995 issue of Vogue. I have found a fair number of journal articles and books (right now I am reading "Fashion and Fetishism" by David Kunzle) outlining the social and/or psychological takes on tight-lacing, but I have yet to find any "hard" facts regarding any skeletal deformation. As this project is intended for my paleopathology course I find myself in dire need of physical facts. I have carefully read and considered the information you have already provided on this site but I hoped that you might be able to help me out further. Would you be able to point me in the right direction toward any medical reports, journal articles, archives, photographs etc. that would allow me to analyze scientifically the effects of tight-lacing on the skeleton? Until I read your responses to questions on the site I was only able to find snippets of information regarding "stories" about what the effects were, and a number of these sources seem as though they may be biased against and in condemnation of the wearing of corsets. I was especially interested in your mention of X-rays in the late 40's exhibiting the ability of the corset to change the human form. Do you have any suggestions as to how or where I might be able to get a glimpse at these or similar X-rays? Or perhaps even any other images? I know that you are probably a very busy person but I would really be thrilled with any aid that you might be able to offer. I find my passion for this topic only growing and I am hoping that (if I can scrape up some more data!) I may be able to pursue this interest when I begin work on my Masters degree. --Alexis Dolphin (3/2/97)

A: Thank you for your interesting question. I know just a few x-ray pictures of women in their corsets. One is published in "A History of Women's Underwear" by Cecil Saint-Laurent (Academy Editions 1986, ISBN 0 85670 901 8), p. 193. The picture is referring to a medical monograph by Dr Abadie Léotard, 1904.

In "Hygiene der Kleidung," by Prof. Dr Heinrich Jaeger and Mrs. Anna Jaeger, Stuttgart 1906 (Ernst Heinrich Moritz ed.), there are four x-ray pictures of two young ladies, one whom never laced, and one whom more or less had grown up in corsets. The picture quality is not that good, although it indicates a certain deformation of the lower ribs. The main purpose is to demonstrate how the movements of the diaphragm are substantially impaired by the lacing. The authors show how both the diaphragm and the lower ribs are immobilized in a tightly laced corset, and how this totally changes the way of breathing. There are also pictures of young skeletons. One shows a normal thorax, whereas another demonstrates a cone-form which can only be the long-standing impact of a corset. The authors also say that research made by a certain Dr Mayer in Fuerth on schoolgirls demonstrated that more than 70% showed deformities of the vertebral column. The explanations are said to be rachitis, lack of exercise and corsets.

I am absolutely sure that there is a lot more real scientific literature on the topic.

Regarding my own experiences from the late 40´s and the 50´s: these come from reading quite a number of lung x-rays of young women (tuberculosis checks). A few of them showed compressed lower ribs, which most probably was an effect of lacing - the thin waist was fashionable at that time. At a grand round a lady with really deformed ribs was demonstrated, and the cause, an extremely tight corset, discussed. Unfortunately I think it is impossible to retrieve these old pictures today, as the archives probably have been destroyed.


Return to Main Medical Advice Page

Return to LISA's Main Page