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Like every other thing, there were pros and cons to the fashion debate.    Take for example the corset, which played an important role in the Fashion Reform Movement (debate).  The corset can indeed be instrumental in carving out an extremely appealing posture.   Yet, its overuse or wrong use can lead to either dehydration or Glenard's disease which actually refers to the deformation of lower ribs. In an extreme case, the disease can even lead to organ failure. Deformation of stomach and lever are other severe consequences of wearing corsets.





·       Gerritt Smith, a wealthy landowner wrote an open letter to Elizabeth Stanton in 1855 stating “Women will never obtain political or social equality without reforming their mode of dress, not only do popular fashions make women fragile and helpless, but men will continue to believe women are inferior as long as they cripple themselves with their clothing.”

 The Women’s Rights Movement, American History Series, David L. Bender, page 76


 ·       Physician Mary F. Thomas, the first woman to earn a medical degree from an American university, wrote an editorial on the benefit of Dress Reform.  “In order that we may have sound minds in sound bodies, our dress must be such as to allow the full expansion of the chest and the most perfect muscular development of the whole body…

 Women’s Rights Movement, American History Series, David L. Bender, page 80


 ·       Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, an American Author, wrote:  “Burn up the corsets!... Nor do you save the whalebones; you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation.


 ·       “Aside from our variable climate and the excitement of a young civilization affecting men and women alike, aside from improper dress, diet and general habits of life, there are many social customs and restrictions which are detrimental to the health of American Women?

The above excerpt from the 1881 book History of Woman Suffrage was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a key figure in the suffrage movement as well as an advocator of dress reform


·        “Meanwhile let that mother know who tricks out her little girl in all the colors of the rainbow; puts rings on her fingers if not "bells on her toes"; binds her at an early age into a corset; sets her to wallowing in a long skirt and tilts the vital organs at the invalid-angle by high heeled shoes, that she has deliberately deformed a body that came fresh and fair from God's hand, and manacled a soul that was made in His image.

The above is part of a series of lectures given by Woman's Christian Temperance Union President Frances Willard. Willard advocated changes in dress.


·       In the Chicago Tribune

THE SLAVES OF FASHION, through Long Centuries Women Have Obeyed Her Whims

It is difficult to imagine a slavery more senseless, cruel or far-reaching in its injurious consequences than that imposed by fashion on civilized womanhood during the last generation. … the tight lacing required by the wasp waist has produced generations of invalids and bequeathed to posterity suffering that will not vanish for many decades. … And in order to look stylish, thousands of women wear dress waist so tight that no free movement of the upper body is possible; indeed in numbers of instances, ladies are compelled to put their bonnets on before attempting the painful ordeal of getting into glove-fitting dress waists.



·       “During the nineteenth century, many aspects of life were rapidly changing but some traditions, especially those surrounding women, were all the more anxiously retained. Moreover, since most women’s socioeconomic lives depended on marriage, it was understandable that their mothers and grandmothers should want to maximize both their physical “beauty and their reputation for propriety.”

Valerie Steele. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven, Connecticut Yale University Press, 2001, p. 51


·       Godey’s, maker of women’s gymnastics costumes complained that wearing athletic clothes outside the gym was going too far.  Godey’s declared, “Bloomers are too great a sacrifice for our sex ever to make, and …in skirts only can they maintain, in the eyes of men, their womanliness.”

Dressed for the Occasion, Brandon Marie Miller, page 52


 ·       The New York Herald published an editorial criticizing attendees of the NYC Woman’s Rights Convention stating:  “They violate the rules of decency and taste by attiring themselves in eccentric habiliments, which hang loosely and inelegantly upon their forms, making that which we have been educated to respect, to love, and to admire, only an object of aversion and disgust.

Women’s Rights Movement, American History Series, David L. Bender, page 85


·       Timothy Shay Arthur’s wrote a book titled Advice to Young Ladies, in which he wrote:  “To dress with neatness, taste and propriety is the duty of every young lady; and she should give just as much thought and attention to the subject as will enable her to do it, and no more.”  But then he did add “The true standard of dress for a young lady is that which happens to prevail in the present; but in adopting it, she should carefully avoid its extremes


·       The Saint Paul Daily Globe wrote

CORSETS FOR BELLES, How they Mound the form in the Fashionable Shape

There is not a single fashionable woman who des not wear a corset. Some of the slender young debutantes affect the picturesque princess bodice, with the whalebones inserted in every seam.

“Go without my stays? Never” exclaimed one of the leaders of fashion. “I wouldn’t do anything so untidy. I think a woman without corsets is most unsightly.” “You cannot look smart and have a pretty figure without stays. It is impossible.”


·       A letter to the Boston Globe reads

I myself have never felt any ill effects from nearly 30 years of the most severe tight lacing, nor have I yet found any authentic case of real harm being done by stays, even when laced to the utmost degree of tightness, both day and night.

People who write against the practice of tight lacing are either those who have never been laced and have never take the trouble to inquire into the pros and cons of the subject, or those who have, perhaps been once lace up very tightly in badly made, ill-fitting stays with the settled determination of finding them most awful instruments of torture.

Those who have been systematically laced up in proper stays from their childhood are the only ones who are capable of forming a right judgment on this subject and I hope you will allow tight lacers the opportunity of defending themselves against the enemies of trim little waist.