by Sheryl Jaeger
The objective of corsets was to improve on the body type of every woman. Emphasis was on the waist.
By the 1880s the corset had become an elegant and desirable object in a woman’s wardrobe with much attention paid to its design and execution. Corset makers and manufacturers took great pride in promoting excellent fit in ready-to-wear garments.
The 1890s saw a change in woman from the pampered Victorian Lady to a more adventuresome woman, seen doing things only men had done in the past. Women were riding bicycles, driving automobiles and playing active sports.
Fashions began to change to accommodate new activities. To that end women’s foundation garments began evolving as well. The Victorian hourglass bone corset was taking on a new shape with the drop waist and slight hip sway; more about comfort and flexibility.
The 1900s brought Royal Worcester and Bon- Ton Corsets promoting “Princess Hip”.The Style Book for American Beauty Corsets proclaiming “A right fitted corset becomes an unconscious part of a woman” and assuring that “boning materials, corset clamps, hose supporters, trimmings are carefully selected”.
At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, aNemo Corsets ticket depicts two statuesque women flanking a Nemo sign with a caption “Bones and Steels cannot cut through” The reverse promotes Nemo Court – a beautiful exhibit of Nemo Corset Specialties and a lecture series.
A British company, Hahns Corsets presented a music series of various national anthems with promotion for their corsets on the reverse—”Made in England by British Labour—The Elite Corset of Great Britain”.
In the 1910s corsets became a “serious” business. The Ferris Bros Co in New York had a billhead putting corsets in the fore with an image from a photograph of woman dressed in a corset or waist. It also brought the advent of the Corset Hygienist certified in the Anatomy and Hygiene of Corsetry and in individual and surgical fittings—awarded by the Nemo Hygienic-Fashion Institute.
There were also regional and state specific Corset Clubs comprised of traveling corset salesman as evidenced in the Empire State Corset Club Banquet in Rochester, 1916. In 1917, Warner introduced its Rust Proof corset as seen in the lady’s pocket calendar catalog.
In Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Eva Green, the French actress (see above) is treacherous, deadly and alluring enough to turn a polar ice cap into a cloud of steam.
Her character has a name – Ava Lord – but she might as well be called simply Femme Fatale. She is just the latest in a long line of cinematic devil women who beguile viewers as surely as they beguile their weak-willed prey.
But the femme fatale doesn’t just give audiences a delectable taste of forbidden fruit. Dr Catherine O’Rawe of Bristol University is the editor of an academic survey of the subject, Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts, and she argues that such fictional seductresses reflect society’s mixed feelings towards independent women.
“The figure of the female temptress is as old as Eve,” says O’Rawe.
“But the femme fatale as we understand it emerged in the late 19th Century, when the term was applied to a range of fin-de-siècle figures such as Salome, Rider Haggard’s She and Bram Stoker’s female vampires.
What’s striking is that these figures arose at the same time as concerns about emancipated women occupying the public sphere.”
There were similar concerns in the air during the femme fatale’s big-screen heyday. The movies have always featured wicked women: in 1915, Hollywood’s original ‘vamp’, Theda Bara, ensnared and destroyed a respectable Wall Street lawyer in A Fool There Was.
Photo: Rita Hayworth.
But it was in the 1940s that such film noir classics as Gilda, The Killers, Murder, My Sweet and Double Indemnity brought us the definitive femmes fatales: Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck at their most hazardously alluring.
Photo: Veronica Lake
Sometimes evil, sometimes in thrall to a villainous male, the vamp in these films used her hypnotic eroticism to get what she wanted – up to and including murder.
She may have been a fantasy, says Dr Ellen Wright, a film noir specialist at the University of East Anglia, but she personified real issues.