Corsets and Split Skirts

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Split Skirts
Julia Berreth, Alberta, Canada. Used with permission.

Everybody is curious to see what a split skirt looks like. After all, ever since Mother banned me from overalls (starting at age 13 and a half), I’ve been up to my eyebrows in split skirts. They are the closest thing to overalls I’ll ever wear again. This Andi fan is modeling one of my favorite split skirts. Thanks, Julia, for sharing your sewing project!

A little history: During the 19th century, long split skirts were invented so women could ride astride a horse using a regular saddle rather than riding side-saddle. These horse-riding clothes created a controversy because women were expected to hide their lower limbs at all times. Later, women expanded the split-skirt’s use to gardening, cleaning, and bike riding. Hurrah!

When a split skirt is worn, you can’t hardly tell that it is not a real skirt. It’s a mystery to me why some folks (like Aunt Rebecca) call them “shockingly immodest.” They aren’t immodest at all.


From Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home

Felicity threw open her wardrobe doors and examined the dark-green, silk dinner dress. She ran her fingers along the cream-colored picot trim and nodded her approval. “First you must help me with my corset,” she directed, tossing the undergarment onto the bed. “It must be laced just so.”  

Andi did what she was told. She tightened Felicity’s corset and wondered for the hundredth time why anyone would want to wear something tight enough to make breathing difficult. Melinda had just recently begun wearing one, but only for special occasions. Andi intended to avoid this particular part of growing up for as long as she could.

So, what is this “corset” that I’m moaning about not ever wanting to wear? It is a type of undergarment nearly every properly dressed girl and woman wore to give them a particular shape. 

A corset is worn under all your petticoats and skirts. It’s meant to squish a girl or a woman around the waist. Some folks say it makes women look like wasps. You know, those creepy bees that have what looks like 2 bodies connected by just a thread between them. And the tighter you lace those corsets up, the more “waspy” you look. It’s the “style,” and if you don’t go along with it, you are considered sloppy and not stylist (I guess I’m sloppy and not in style. Oh, well)

A corset is laced from the back and looks like a shoe being laced up. The girl sucks in a big breath, hangs on to something (like a post on a four-poster bed, which is what Felicity hung on to), and the other person starts pulling. Then, before the girl can breath out and relax, the laces are tied up tight. Now, the waist is ever so tiny and petite. Don’t worry if you can’t take a deep breath or eat (there is no room left inside to fit the food anyway). That doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you look stylish.  

In the early 1800s, it was believed women were very fragile and needed support to hold them up. Like . . . without a corset to hold us up, we would fall over like a boneless chicken? Worse, I’ve heard stories that even little girls ages 3 or 4 were sometimes laced up. Thank goodness Father would have none of that, and neither would Mother. They felt it would delay proper growth of little children.  

Father and Mother were right. Tight-fitting corsets rearrange a person’s internal organs. As a result, women (and girls) are more prone to fainting, shortness of breath, stomach and digestion problems, and even heart problems. Girls (especially in high society) are expected to be wearing a full corset by age 14. Some girls are forced to sleep in corsets too, even though doctors think they are a dangerous health risk. Mostly girls and women of the “upper class” wear these torture devices. (I am not kidding, but some women even die when their ribs puncture their livers. Some lose their babies, since there is no room for the baby to grow if a lady is laced up). 

Corsets are not practical for the working class (or us ranchers either). By the time you get laced up, you can’t breathe enough to get any work done. Rich folks can sit around in their beautiful clothes and tell others what to do. Needless to say, my mother is a sensible woman, even if we are rich. 

Corsets are not safe, and Melinda only wears one for very special occasions, just to be in fashion. But there is too much work to be done on a ranch, so Mother doesn’t even wear one. Everybody works, so that means no corsets for me either except maybe on Sundays. I know one young lady in my classroom who wears a corset. Patricia Newton. She’s always so pale and never runs and plays anymore. I reckon she figures she’s more attractive and might catch a beau this way (though what sort of fellow would want to marry a wasp?). 

In the South, rich plantation owners’ daughter wore corsets. In the famous movie, Gone with the Wind, the main character, Scarlett O’Hara, made her Mammy lace her until her waist measured 18 inches. Notice, she’s getting ready to grip that pillar. 

I am promoting Gone with the Wind, which is what I have to do to use this photo. Watch this movie! You will get a kick out of Mammy lacing Scarlett up for the barbeque.

Go ahead and try this, my friends. Measure your waist. Then suck in your breath as much as you can and try to get your waist down to 18 inches. I’m telling you, this is not natural. It reminds me of the horrible things I learned about foot binding when I stayed in San Francisco those two terms. 

So, I ask: who wants to catch a beau anyway? Not me . . . at least not for a long, long time. And any fella I do end up liking some day will just have to like me the way God made me . . . and not squished up like some wasp-shaped, fainting human being.

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

8 thoughts on “Corsets and Split Skirts

  1. I remember this post from the old blog. I came across it when I was writing a paper for school about dangerous things women did to make themselves fashionable. Corsets were one of the things I included in my paper as well as foot-binding. Reading this fresh now…yikes! Be thankful that we live in modern times and that girls and women are not subject to such tortures!


    Liked by 3 people

  2. That does not look coverable!

    On Thu, Sep 16, 2021 at 8:17 AM Andi Carter’s Blog wrote:

    > Andi Carter posted: ” Split Skirts Julia Berreth, Alberta, Canada. Used > with permission. Everybody is curious to see what a split skirt looks like. > After all, ever since Mother banned me from overalls (starting at age 13 > and a half), I’ve been up to my eyebrows in split” >


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