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January 2014

Posted on 06/01/2014

Invigorator Corset advert, 1891



January marks a new beginning, it’s the time of year that we are bombarded with ‘New Year, New You’ slogans and adverts for fitness DVDs and weight loss products to encourage us to shed some pounds after the excesses of Christmas. It seems appropriate at this time of year to use a corset advertisement for this month’s archive item, perhaps an alternative to fasting throughout January! The advert comes from a copy of ‘Dramatic Notes: A year book of the stage’ published in 1891 which is part of our Roy Waters collection of theatrical ephemera.

Corsets came into popular use as early as the 15th century when they shaped a woman’s upper body into a V shape. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that they took on the hourglass shape that is familiar today. Corsets started out as something that the aristocracy would wear but with the advent of the sewing machine in the mid-19th century, working class women were able to purchase cheap mass produced corsets too.

Concern over the health implications of wearing a corset were raised by the 17th century but they continued to be popular. This advert claims that the Invigorator Corset will improve ‘the carriage and appearance of the figure without the injurious effects of the ordinary corset EVEN WHEN TIGHT LACED.’ While the health issues were know, women still wanted the figure that a corset could give them and there was money to be made from a corset which claimed to avoid those issues.

One thing that might be surprising is that the corsets are not just advertised to women – men, boys and girls and children are also catered for by the Invigorator. Children from well off families, especially girls, were often dressed in similar clothes to their parents and wore child sized versions of corsets to get them ready for the more restrictive ones they would wear in adult life.

The advert itself is reminiscent of adverts for Holloway’s Pills and Ointment, the products that made Thomas Holloway his millions and allowed him to found Royal Holloway College. Holloway also used testimonials from happy customers and claims that doctors recommended his medicines.

Annabel Gill, College Archivist


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