We note a variety of devices that were made specifically for posture correction. These devices appear most common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We notice them in America, Canada, and Japan and assume they were used in other countries as well. These posture devices probably existed in Europe as well, but we have no information at this time. The design of these devices varied, but the purpose was essentially the same, to promote an erect posture and discourage "rounded shoulders". There were also other garments such as hose supporters that were more commonly worn that puportedly had a positive impact on posture. Some of the ads for these garments included statements saying that they were beneficial for posture. There were also back supports for actual physical deformities or other medical disorders.
We have noted doctors expressing concerns over posture in the 19th century, although often without real insights into the underlying medical science. We have noted a variety of posture corrective devices in 19th century publications. Some seem rather extreme. Some 19th century doctors and parents were very concerned about posture and willing to take aggressive steps to force children to develop better posture. This continued in a less aggressive manner into the early 20th century. The waists suits worn by children in the ealy 20th century offered referred to benefecial posture. An example of a an ad for these waists that referred to bebeficial impacts on posture is a Wards Fall-Winter 1941-42 catalog. Parents today in most cases seem less willing to intervene to improve threir children's posture with the exception of occassional mild oral comments. A British reader in the late 1960s describes rules at his school forbidding boys from walking about with their hands in their pockets. It was believed to cause the boys to slouch. Here there may be some differences among countries. We note that posture correcting devices are currenhtly used in Japan. We are not sure how common they are.
Most of the devices that we have found are American and Canzdian. This probably reflects our greater access to American material. Most of the devices loaded on HBC are American. We also note very similar Canadian stocking supporters which claom posture benefits.
A 1901 Eaton's ad is for a "Shoulder Brace and Hose Supporters Combined". The term "shoulder brace" of course stresses the posture correction design of the garment. Another example is the Eaton's 1918 catalog. There were devices for men, women, and children. This Canadian Eaton's page (1918) advertises a "shoulder brace with hose supporters" (this is the boy wearing the shoulder garters in the center). Such posture devices probably existed in Europe as well, but we have no information at this time. We also note the modern Japanese shoulder brace.
The design of these devices varied, but the purpose was essentially the same, to promote an erect posture and discourage "rounded shoulders". The most common type of device was thus the shoulder brace, but there were others. There were also other garments such as hose supporters that were more commonly worn that puportedly had a positive impact on posture. Some of the ads for these garments included statements saying that they were bebeficial for posture.
The most common type of posture control devices was thus the shoulder brace. The main purpose of both braces is to correct or prevent "round shoulders" (We can make out this phrase in the text for the male brace). In the early decades of the 20th century there was a great deal of concern about "round shoulders" and keeping the shoulders back. This was especially emphasized as a desideratum for boys, but it was more general than this, so that shoulder braces were advertised for adults (men and women) as well as for children (boys and girls). These braces are meant to be both corrective and preventive in nature. A reader writes, "I can recall that as a boy in the early 1930s my father was always telling me to "keep your shoulders back." Many of the garter waists that were sold from about 1910 to 1945 promoted the idea that wearing a garter waist with shoulder straps was good therapy for the posture and that posture improvement was a secondary advantage of such garter waists." See for instance "Kern's Dandy" garter waist sold by Sears in 1937 which claims that the waist acts also as a "shoulder brace". We believe that in most cases such claims were specious. Tape shoulder straps for stocking support (as shown on the models of stocking supporters advertised on this page as well as on many other garter waists) would have little actual benefit in keeping a boy's shoulders back. This would be like prentending
that wearing modern suspenders rather than just a belt to hold up trousers would benefit a person's posture--a basically untrue claim. But the obsession with posture, especially in growing children, is a culurally interesting phenomenon.
There were also back supports for actual physical deformities or other medical disorders. A reader writes, "I ran across this historical advertisement for children's back supports recently (figure 1). I don't know how to date it, but I suspect it comes from the 1950s. I've unfortunately lost the text, but this seems to be a garment for children with special back problems and may not be
intended for everyday use by normal children. The back brace could be ordered with hose supporters attached for an additional fee. I think this would limit the date to about 1960 or earlier. The firm is Spencer & Co., a maker of corsets. Although a boy is shown in the photo, I believe the garment would be for either gender." HBC thinks it might be a liitle earlier, perhaps the 20s or 40s.
A corset is a close-fitting undergarment. The word appears to have originated from light-weight medieval armor. The destinguising feature of a corset is that it has been stiffened with a variety of materials, especially whale bone (baleen). Other materails including steel have been used for the stays. Corserts had lacing to adjust the fit. The corset is similar in some regards to posture control devices, but the purpose is essentially different. The principal purpose of a corset was to shape and support the figure, especially the waistline. As a result, the corset was primarily a garment for adult women, but they were often worn bt girls as well. Some sources mention children, but here we believe that they are primarily referring to girls. We note references to both "corsets" and "corset waists" in late 19th and early 20th century magazines and catalogs. Several companies made these garments. One particularly important company is Ferris Brothers.
We also note referenmces to corset waists. An example is an advertisement for a corset waist in a Good Housekeeping advertisement (1889). We were not at first sure if there was any essential difference between a corset and corset waist. The corset is primarily an adult garment, but we have noted various references to children wearing them. This is especially true of corset waists. We notice corset waists in sizes for children in advertisements and catalogs. We are not entirely sure why children would be dressed in corsets, but believe that it was primarily to mold figures. We believe that these garments were primarily for girls, but have very little information at this time. Our initial assessment is that corset waists were in part garments that had only minor stiffening and which served some of the functions of a child's underwaists. Other corset waists appear to be really underwaists with out any stiffening at all. A
There were other devives, but we do not have much information on such devices at this time. We have noticed references to child stays.
There were also other garments such as hose supporters that were more commonly worn that puportedly had a positive impact on posture. There were several different types of stocking supporters. One of the most important was garter waists. American garter waists with shoulder straps often claim that these garments served also as shoulder braces to improve posture in addition to their function as stocking supporters. As I've said before, I think this claim is quite false. Light-weight tape straps over the shoulders are fine for distributing the pull of hose supporters to the shoulders, but they have almost no effect on posture. What is, however, quite interesting culturally is the obsession with straight shoulders that such advertising claims reveal. Some of the ads for these garments included statements saying that they were bebeficial for posture. An example is the Knickerbocker Shoulder Brace, which was advertized in The Youth's Companion (October 25, 1900). The ad illustrates the obsession with keeping children's posture erect. A latter example is the A. Stein Shoulder Brace in 1940.
Par of what HBC tries to do is to group clothing together in coherent categories so that trends can better be assessed. These devices seem best considered as a separate category eather than underwear. Stocking supporters are a little different, but posture was only an ancillery purpose for these devices primarily worn to hold up long stockings. A reader writes, "Interesting decision, to treat shoulder braces as a separate category from underwear. You are right that both the Japanese model and the Knickerbocker model are shown being worn on top of a shirt, and
are therefore not underwear. In the case of the Knickerbocker model, however, I think we are supposed to imagine that the boy would be wearing a jacket over the shoulder brace so that it would not be fully exposed. In the case of the Japanese boy, I'm not entirely sure. He wears only a blue t-shirt underneath his brace. But most boys would not want shoulder braces to show and would probably wear something on top (a jacket or sweater perhaps). And of course the Stein shoulder brace is obviously worn as underwear (as were other Stein products such as garter waists). So is the Spencer back brace, and of course all the garter waists that claim to function as shoulder braces in addition to their function as stocking supporters. I guess I would say that the
shoulder brace is sometimes underwear and sometimes not, but that it was not something that most boys would wish to display. In this respect, shoulder braces were a bit like the Kazoo suspender
waists--garments that were worn, at least in part, on top of shirts but that would have been covered most of the time by jackets, sweaters, or other outer garments."
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