The Hygeia Waist – To Breathe or Not to Breathe

The Hygeia Waist – To Breathe or Not to Breathe

Photo from Historian Jaan Kolk

Ottawa Historian Jaan Kolk

Just for fun, I looked into 19th century usage of “hygeian.” Taken from the Greek goddess of health and medicine, Hygeia (from which we get “hygiene”) it was used for all things claimed to be healthy in the late 19th century. An 1893 article on the Chicago World’s fair stated that excellent city water was available for free, but “hygeia water” (not capitalized) was available at one cent per glass for those who wanted it.

Most interesting, however, were ads for “hygeia waist” corsets, like this one from Canadian Magazine 1899. One wonders: was the hygeia waist more loose, to allow, say, breathing – or the opposite? That’s a question more in your area of expertise than mine, Linda

“If women will continue this destructive habit of corsets –the race must inevitably deteriorate.”

Both of these pamphlets were published at the end of an era. The advent of elasticized fabric paved the way for the creation of an early bra, displayed by Herminie Cadolle at the Exposition Universelle in 1889.



In the late 1890s the Hygeia Waist Corset came into fashion as women were sick and tired of being not able to breathe. The Hygeia waist corsets were at first only sold by women at home as it seems the stores did not want to change their fashion, but women wanted to be able to work or look after their families. To encourage sales most of these Hygeia waist corsets were sold for a dollar. Maybe that was another reason stores did not carry them at first. Low markup.

The Butte Miner
Butte, Montana
18 Jul 1905, Tue  •  Page 7

However, the corset’s final death knell was World War I. Women could not work in factories or the field while wearing restrictive clothing. Once household staff went to work for the war effort, upper-class women had no one to help them dress. Girdles and bras took over the corset’s supporting role, after calls for the end of the “destructive habit” of corsetry.

Many of my customers when I had my store Flash Cadilac in Ottawa were niche corset-enthusiasts – a culture that could come under the categories of retro style, body modification, fetishism or cosplay – but the trend for an exaggerated hourglass figure has also turned waist training mainstream.

Waist trainers and more traditional corsets are widespread on social media because they are a perfect fit. Social media reward anything “that is unusual or unique. The thin ideal is so impossible to achieve, and this is another level of that.

That picture on Instagram of somebody with a tiny waist and giant boobs is exotic, almost a fantasy. You get rewarded for this look and even though some might not approve the look it doesn’t matter because it still drums up a reaction– and that is what the world loves now– a reaction.

In the 1800s-1900s corsets were a must- but no one forces me to wear them, I just love them. But-a corset should never be laced so tight that it restricts your breathing! A tinier waist is not more important than breathing but — by god it sucks it in.. 😛


The San Francisco Call
San Francisco, California
13 Nov 1898, Sun  •  Page 27

Passaic Daily News
Passaic, New Jersey
21 Oct 1910, Fri  •  Page 2

The Poker Face of Corsets and Waist Training -1800s Fashion Comes Back in Style

Saved by Her Corset

It’s Electrifying! Dr Scott’s Electric Corset

Tales of the Chatteron House Corset — Queen’s Hotel in Carleton Place

Death by Corset? Bring Out Your Dead and Other Notions!

“Sex in the Pan” Memories – A RIP Fashion Violation Photo Essay

About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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