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.
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