Historic medical perspectives of corseting and two physiologic studies with reenactors

Gau, Colleen
Major Professor
Jane Farrell-Beck
Committee Member
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Textiles and Clothing

Safety of historic reenactors was the primary reason for this research. No studies of corseted subjects have been done since the late nineteenth century. Clinical observations about the effects of corsets were numerous in the medical literature; but dress reform efforts by doctors were not effective in changing fashion. Arguments by Dress Reformers did not concentrate on the medical aspects of corseting;Two historic physiologic studies were reproduced using modern equipment. Sixteen subjects took part in lung capacity and comfort assessments, and eight of the subjects had torso pressures measured. When tight-laced three inches less than their natural waist measurement, subjects lost an average of 9% of their tidal volume as measured by spirometer, with the range from 2%--29%. Shortness of breath was reported in varying degrees by all subjects, but was relieved easily with rest. No serious physiologic effects were seen with one day of corseting. Comfort was greater when tight-lacing was 10% or less of natural waist measurement; subjects with waist measurements greater than 32.5 inches [median of group] were more comfortable than those with waists less than 32.5 inches. Both small and large waisted subjects were able to carry on their routine reenactment duties with some adjustments. Torso pressure measurements were greatest at the rib position, with 56 cm. of H2O (+/-35), compared to waist front pressure of 48 cm. of H2O (+/-33), and waist back pressure of 48 cm. of H2O (+/-14). The pressures were proportionately similar to the findings of the historic study;Recommendations for reenactors were: (1) tight-lace no more than 10% of her waist measurement; (2) exercise regularly to maintain abdominal and spinal musculature and prevent serious muscle atrophy with resultant dependence on corset.