A Retreat

Classic Original Fiction by Tes Staylace ©2002


The courtyard beyond the large, impressive gate seemed welcoming.  It wore an air of comfort, indicative of a place where a young girl could retreat into the arms of a caring mistress.  It was a place to prepare one for the world outside, whilst encouraging a trust of that same world as expressed within.  The large stone walls were protective, the towering trees embracing.  A hidden place, where the rigors of modern life were tempered by the knowledge that you were amongst family.   Over the gate, a sign: "NEAT WAISTS MAKE FOR NEAT MINDS."

How do I impart this feeling to you, kind reader?  How do I convince you that this hidden world of girls and their guardians was as no other place?  A place foreign to the average male?  For, really, that is the way is was, so special, so yielding, while at the same time, so rigid.  How else could one maintain that softness of girls, and still brace them for the future?  To wrap the strictness of their training in the cocoon of beautiful feminine finery?

Oh dear, the life of a woman can be difficult.  So the prime philosophy of the Garrett Finishing School for Girls (of Portland, Maine, USA) was couched in the concept that girls deserved gentleness whilst being prompted into the strictured clothing and mannerisms required by Victorian society.  So prompting, rather than forcing, was the method.  Encouragement rather than belittlement.  Loving kindness rather than institutional regimentation.

The girls who graduated from this fine place were all reticent to leave, for they knew that, on the outside, they would never find a place so kindly.  It was a womb that nurtured their relatively newly-acquired womanhood.

*  *  *  *

A typical day, kind readers, started at eight o’clock.  Each of the twenty coupled girls (there were two in each pleasant little room) was awakened gently by the House Mother with a soft shake and, in some instances, a light little kiss on the forehead.

The rooms were well-appointed, decorated in feminine tones of pastels and white.  Each bed was canopied with ruffled splendor, which echoed the décor of the curtains and vanities.  The furniture was of rich and light wood, and dollies appropriate to the atmosphere were evident everywhere.  All in all, the rooms were extremely cozy and comfortable, a place to retreat from community living, to experience privacy and solace.

So to awaken in this environment was almost always a pleasant experience.  Warm, safe and loving.  Even the girls’ night stays were beautiful, lavishly decorated with the finest of lace and silk.

Corsets were a large part of the students’ life, and a significant part of life at Garrett revolved around corset training and care.  I suppose they could be looked upon there as a sort of icon, the invisible symbol of life there.

So it should not surprise the reader to learn that the first activities of the day involved the change from night stays to day corsets.  We shall describe the details of night dressing later, but for now, let us assume that our representative student, Gwyenth, aged 16, has been relieved of her night dress and stands naked in front of one of the House Mother’s assistants, Miss Milford.

Our young student has been here for six months.  A rather average-figured  girl, her parents had previously not been too severe as regards her figure training, so her waist stood at about 22 inches upon her arrival.  Now, she sports a corsetted waist of 18 inches, and is, as is every girl here, very proud of it.  As for her awareness of the garments, she would feel naked without it.  Now, in 1896, it is merely a part of her life.

So, first off, she dons a chemise, and Miss Milford encircles her waist with her favorite everyday corset:  pale blue, with a little floral pattern, and embellished with antique lace, Gwyenth literally purrs like a kitten as the first tightening adjustments are performed.  She manages a little smile and winks at her room mate across the room, who is similarly being robed in her stays. “Oh! Catherine!  I just adore this corset.  It is so… ah… delicious!  I just love the way it feels - and it is so pretty!”

“Yes, and the color is so delightful!  I want one like that for The Dance!  How do you like mine?”

“The yellow one! So bright! To match the day!  You haven’t worn that one in a while.  It will go wonderfully with that new dress your mother bought you.”

“All right, young ladies, you may attend to your hair,” said Miss Milford.  “You look so pretty!  I would vouchsafe you are the prettiest girls in school!”

As the girls each go to their vanity, the assistants arrange their “tools” on a nearby table, and then, after the girls are settled in, begin working on their hairdos.  The final corset-tightening would wait until later.  It is a small opportunity to relax a bit as their bodies adjust to the rigors of confinement.

That is not to say that all is pleasant in this idyllic atmosphere.  There are times when a girl misbehaves, such as loosing her stays after a particularly delicious dinner where she might have overeaten; this calls for a tightening of the stays, perhaps as much as inches in severe cases.  More grievous infractions call for caning, backboards or, in some cases, elbow to elbow fastening.  But, all in all, the girls are remarkably well-behaved and love their environment.

Gentle “encouragement” toward tightlacing is accomplished by the fit of the clothing:  If a girl’s dress is of a certain size, well, if her waist is too thick, of course the only way she can dress in the morning is to tightlace!

Then, of course, there are the boys. What girl wants to look less trim than her “competitor?”  Now, there’s an inducement to lace!

Fully coifed now, the girls sit in preparation for the donning of their shoes.  They are rather pretty, belaying their extreme tightness and relatively high heels.  The custom here is to match the shoe color to the corset, a rather pleasant feminine refinement.  Coming to a point, they squeeze the girls’ toes no end; but, then, what is a little pain to train for a small foot on a young beauty?  The heels are a bit high in order to accommodate the balance necessary to wear a corset appropriately (center of gravity).  The girls soon grow accustomed to them.

It always takes a bit of time to get them on, so, while this is happening, a girl is helped into shoulder-length gloves.  Depending on her skin’s condition, they may be filled with softening cream. This, too, takes some doing, as they are also fairly tight, in order to hasten a smaller hand.  Being so snug, it is difficult for the girls to grasp items, but, with practice, this becomes easier.

Miss Milford says, "I have news, girls. Today you are to begin your tight skirt training."

This comes as a surprise to the girls, since this is something that usually takes place after a girl is at the school for about a year.  Gwyenth and Catherine have only been there for six months, having met on arrival, and are becoming fast friends.

Miss Milford notes the look on their faces.  "Principal Marlow has been noticing with pleasure how well you have adjusted to your corsetting regimen.  She feels that two of you can be accelerated in your ladyhood training. So, beginning  today, you will have the distinction of being the first to "graduate" to this level before the eight months!  Isn't that exciting?"

The girls are unable to be quelled.  "Wonderful!" yells Catherine.

"SShh, girls. Don’t act unladylike."

I just can't WAIT to see the look on the other girls' faces!," purrs Gwyneth.

Catherine lets out little squeal.

"All right, girls. That's enough. Let us get you into your training petticoats."

The girls watch with smiling faces, looking at each other, as Miss Milford leaves the room to get them, immediately returning with them over her arm.   She hands one of the white garments to each of them.

"My, it is heavy," said Catherine.

"Yes, they are made of unyielding, un-tearable leather.  But take solace in the fact that the white leather is covered on each side with these beautiful while taffeta ruffles!  SO pretty and feminine!" she says, as she fingers the fabric.

As she helps Catherine into her petticoat, she says, "This will keep you from taking unladylike steps."  She pulls the petticoat up over her hips and fastens it with the pull string.

"Oh!  This is tight!"  Catherine tentatively takes small steps around the room.  "But it is so pretty!  I adore it!"

The petticoat comes to her ankles, and allows but a six-inch stride.  That, coupled with the height of her heels, makes it difficult to walk, but it can be managed with practice.

"Now, remember, this will affect not only your walking, but your sitting.  Since it is so tight, it will stretch over you legs and make it a bit uncomfortable.  As a result, you may not want to sit too long, if you can sit at all."

"I know," says Gwyenth, "that's why the second year girls are allowed to eat standing at those special tables."

"Correct, my dear."

The girls try sitting, and, realizing how difficult it was, decide to remain standing.

"Now, listen, girls.  Remember this rule:  You are not permitted to go to the leaning room more than every two hours, and you can stay there for a maximum of fifteen minutes each time.  Understand?"

"Yes, Miss Milford," they say in unison.  The leaning room is a place for girls in tight skirt training to rest.  It is almost a status symbol, because it means that a girl is "advanced" if she has permission to use it.  However, there is a "catch."  In order to "encourage" a girl not to stay too long, a gag is inserted upon entering.  But it was not an ordinary gag:  It is shaped like a pear, and jams the girls' mouths into a completely open position as far as her jaws can go.  It has to be forced into the mouth, and need not to be secured by straps, due to the fact that it is wedged behind her teeth and requires the assistance of the room attendant to disgorge it.  Very uncomfortable, and it makes it very difficult to swallow; but, after a couple of hours in high heels and not being able to sit down, a welcome respite. Of course, the gag also serves the secondary purpose of keeping the girls from whiling away the time talking.

After about ten minutes, Miss Milford states that it was time to complete their dressing.  A matching corset cover is put on, and, then, two more petticoats to cover the leather one. The inner petticoat is of cotton, the outer of taffeta and silk.

Then, the girls get to choose their dresses and, after donning them, and adjusting any accessories (ribbons and the such), they are finished!

"You girls look beautiful!  All right, let us go down to breakfast."

Breakfast is always a light affair, considering the fact that the girls are tightly laced.  It is one of six small meals each day.  With difficulty (since they are just adjusting to their new hobbling petticoats), the girls proudly walk over, for the first time, to the standing tables.  They note the pointing of fingers and muffled exclamations amongst the seated girls.  Many are most certainly jealous!

Gwyenth and Catherine take their time eating, acting nonchalantly about their new position and making small talk with each other.  Of course, from the corner of their eyes, they can see the commotion they are causing, and they surely revel in it.  The more tenured girls who are eating there already regard them as seniors would freshmen in a four-year college, treating them quite casually.  After they finish their milk and oatmeal, the girls slowly shuffle (have they a choice?) out of the room, waving behind them and giggling under their breath. 


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