- 16 Lost ground
I had seen an advertisement from a Mme Verneau, in which she stated, "Old Fashioned Wasp-waisted Corsets a Speciality." The French name gave us the idea that she might have some new ideas on corsets. It may be true, as we discovered, many years later, that the French become hysterical over tiny waists, but that may be because they are extremely rare over there. I wrote to her and she replied that she had all the skill necessary to design and cut corsets for wasp waists to any size required. Also patterns from which to choose for our order. Her address was in Baker Street, but I noticed that all her letters to us came with Selfridge's heading to the paper and appeared to have been written there, but we never established any definite connection, although I suspected she might be working as a corsetièère there.
Anyway we finally decided to proceed as Lenton's corsets had been a disappointment in some ways, so we though we might like to try a change, perhaps for the better. It is, perhaps strange but true, that every corsetièère we tried had their own ideas as to how a corset should be cut. Some were more successful than others, but few could be called perfect. Mme Lorette had been the best, but she had gone, so we had to find someone as good, or better if possible. Lenton's corsets were good in some ways, but he did not like making repairs and would not accept any guarantee to our legal complaints. The customer was always at fault it things did not turn out right.
So from Mme Verneau we ordered a pair of pink satin corsets, long and high busted, with a 15 inch waist. As with all new corsetièères we called for a fitting, so that she could get a real appreciation of Ethel's figure, to see it was NOT a fake. So one day we called at her place in Baker Street. We had our very young daughter with us at the time, and I thought it a bit peculiar that she requested me to take her outside and would not let me or my daughter stay to see Ethel fitted. As her reason she passed some remark about not wanting trouble with the police. What the police could do about the fitting of corsets was beyond me, but as she asked I took my daughter for a walk and later returned.
Mme Verneau had gone into ecstasies about Ethel's waist and said she had no other like it on her records. While we were there Madame had a lady visitor and she exhibited Ethel's figure to her. She too, went into encomiums of praise about that very tiny waist. As I had not seen them fitted, I asked Ethel, who said that the corsets appeared to be very comfortable, so I concluded that they were all right.
When they came they were revealed to be a beautiful shiny pink satin, with heavy, wide lace trimming at the top and 3 pairs of suspenders. Ethel put them on and I laced them up without any trouble. That should have made me suspicious, but I thought we had found the corsetière we had hoped for. She wore these new corsets about a fortnight or so, with loose fitting dresses over them for it was summer time. Then one day she put on her tight fitting costume. When we came to the waist band we found it would not come together, nor would her belt. This was, strange and required an explanation. I rushed to the tape measure and tried it round her waist and received a horrible shook. The corsets were 17 INCHES at the waist and not 15 as ordered. No wonder they had been so easy to lace and so comfortable.
I was furious, for we had lost, or perhaps I should say GAINED a full two inches. Then we put on the old 15 inch ones it took a lot of hard pulling and not to say suffering, and a week or more of time before they were closed and comfortable again. We tried to take the waist of the pink satin ones in to 15 inches with a wide waist band, but it was not a success, so they were never worn again. We had wasted our money and our time. It was one of our most disheartening experiences.
I heard about Mme Verneau many years after, so I think she still operated. In fact the writer told me that she still went into ecstasies about that tiny waist, to this friend, whom we later met. She told him that Ethel's waist was quite out of this world, almost impossible to believe, the smallest she had ever seen. Whether she was unable to cut so small a size, or whether she misunderstood the size, I do not know. I only know that I just barely saved Ethel's waist from obliteration.
After this fiasco with Mme Verneau we tried one more pair from Lenton, as I have indicated. These were at 14½ inches, in lovely bronze satin, short on the hips, for reduction. They were a lovely little pair of corsets, but alas they were again too tight above and below the waist, and the material, while lovely to look at was not very reliable in wear. So they soon wore through.
When we complained, we were told that it was impossible to expect that we could got her waist to 14 inches. It was obviously too small for Ethel to attain. A rediculous answer and assertion as we soon proved. It was not the customer that was wrong but the corsetièère who had failed.
If we had left it at that we should have given up our quest for a thirteen inch waist at that point, but I had an unquenchable desire to see such a thing on Ethel and a certainly that it could be done given the tools to do it. So we looked for still another corsetière to fill the bill.