Kidfitting corsetry

U 18.446-9: one of those kidfitting corsets Id want advertised cheap in the Gentlewoman with elastic gores on the hips he saved the one I have but thats no good what did they say they give a delightful figure line 11/6 obviating that unsightly broad appearance across the lower back.

Molly wanted one of those kidfitting corsets advertised in the Gentlewoman (and very widely elsewhere between 1870 and the 1920s). But the meaning and syntax of the kidfitting corset has proved problematic.

A ‘kidfitting corset’ is simply a corset which incorporates ‘kid fittings’ or fittings made of soft kidskin. We can find ‘kid fittings’ used in support garments from at least the 1850s (and doubtless earlier):

Embroidered Braces. Materials: - Black velvet ribbon, ombré green, and rose silk, and small gold beads. Petersham ribbon, 1½ yards, and kid fittings.

Ladies’ Cabinet (1855) 1 March, p. 148

Kid fittings were particularly common in gloves and shoes:

Spring Shawls of the Latest Styles… Kid Gloves, a good article, Kid fitting Silk Gloves.

La Crosse (Wisconsin) Independent Republican (1856) 18 June, p. 3

It wasn’t long before they made their appearance in the construction of corsets:

Beautiful kid fitting Corsets, $1.50, worth $3… Please call and examine my stock, 70 Calhoun Street, opposite Aveline House, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Fort Wayne (Indiana) Daily Democrat (1870) 19 May, p. 5

A Gentlemanly Figure is promoted by the Shirley Brace (Registered). Draws back shoulder, expands chest, and supports trousers. Post free 3s 6d… Youths size, 2s 6d. Best web and superior calf fittings. Best silk web, with kid fittings, 5s 6d… - A R Shirley, 53 All Saints-road, Westbourne Park, London, W.

Irish Times (1873) 13 September, p. 1

But it was David Fanning’s ‘Kid Fitting’ corsets that swept the board. Fanning’s Worcester Skirt Co. had been operating out of Worcester, Massachusetts (15 Clark’s Block), on the route from New York to Boston since the 1860s. By 1870 he was announcing his new product:

Fanning’s Patent Kid Fitting Skeleton Corset. This Corset is constructed on an entirely new principle, being open, and thereby allowing the freest circulation possible, besides giving perfect ease and comfort to the wearer… Address the Worcester Skirt Co., Worcester, Mass.

Fort Wayne (Indiana) Daily Gazette (1870) 25 May, p. 2

Fanning’s Patent Kid Fitting Corset. The most easy, graceful, and sensible corset ever introduced. Sample Corsets sent by mail, on receipt of Two Dollars. For circular, prices, etc., address Worcester Skirt Co., Worcester, Mass.

Herald of Health (1871) New Series March (Advertising section), p. 18

In time Fanning’s garments became known as the ‘Royal Worcester Kid-fitting (American) Corsets’, and often the hyphen was omitted (as in Joyce’s spelling). Pim Brothers of South Great George’s Street had the Dublin contract for many years from 1904:

Royal Worcester American Corsets (Kid-Fitting), The Perfection of Grace and Comfort. Pim Brothers, Limited, have undertaken the Sole Agency for Dublin for the Sale of these Celebrated Goods… South Great George’s Street.

Irish Times (1904), 14 March, p. 3

In 1906 Pim’s secured the services of “of Madame Alexander, the Expert American Corset Fitter” to help the ladies of Dublin choose the model they required (Irish Times 14 May, p. 3). Advertisements for the kidfitting corsets appeared widely in the newspapers until the early 1920s. In 1922 Pim Bros. were still marketing them avidly in Dublin ‘for every type of figure’, including the ‘full’ (also called the ‘fleshy’) figure of Molly, for whom the ‘Royal Worcester Adjusto’ model may have been ideally suited:

Royal Worcester Kidfitting Corsets. The Corsets of Style Superiority. Light and Flexible… There is a model for every type of figure – slender, medium, or full – in the Royal Worcester Kidfitting Corsets. Pim Bros., Ltd., South Great George’s Street, Dublin.

Irish Times (1922) 3 May, p. 2

Elastic gores on the hips

Joyce does not just cite the kidfitting corset. He notes the "elastic gores on the hips" both in Ulysses and in the respective notesheets (Herring, p. 492.52: "elastic gore on hips, kidfitting corsets"). And as we come to expect, the text reflects the Worcester company’s real-life adverts. The Daily Mail of 23 September, 1913, boosts the success of the corset:

The Blue Riband of the Corsetry World! Royal Worcester Kidfitting Corsets (with the New ‘Free-Hip-Bone’) ACCEPTED as the Standard Corset Base for the Autumn Mode. (p. 1)

Its advert caption reads:

This most beautiful corset has the new ‘Free-Hip-Bone” feature, and the correct low bust. Elastic gores on hips.

A delightful figure line obviating that unsightly broad appearance across the lower back

As is often the case with Joyce, we encounter a mixture of sources. Whilst his sentence starts off with a reference to the Royal Worcester Kidfidding Corsets, it ends with a snippet from one of their bitter Old World rivals, the J.B. company’s ‘Masterfront’ and ‘Side spring’ corsets.

Back in 1914 J.B. had taken offence at the cheek of the Royal Worcester Corset Company’s advertisements on British soil:

Do British Women agree with this? Some weeks ago an American firm of Corset Manufacturers appealed to British women, through the Press, to support ‘British’ industries by purchasing their corsets.

The Times (1914), 16 October, p. 4

J.B. argued their case point by point against the American competition. By 1920 (a year before this section of Penelope was written) they opened an ad campaign for their ‘Side Spring’ and ‘Masterfront’ corsets which contained the line lifted by Joyce (perhaps from the Gentlewoman or perhaps from another source):

J.B. Side Spring Corsets. The Corsets of Distinction… The closed back gives the fashionable and delightful figure line, obviating the unsightly broad appearance across the lower back.

Irish Times (1920) 19 March, p. 2

Masterfront double front-laced Corsets are a patented exclusive feature controlling the figure on an entirely new principle [… ] The closed back gives a fascinating and delightful figure line with perfect comfort and support, obviating the unsightly broad appearance across the lower back.

Woman’s Leader (1920) vol. 12, p. 549

Both the Royal Worcester’s Kidfitting Corset and the Side Spring and Masterfront offerings from J.B. were widely advertised in the early 1920s. It would seem that Molly was attracted not just to one but to two products which offered elegance and comfort for the larger woman.

John Simpson

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