Journal

The No-More-Fainting Ladies’ Fainting Couch

by | Dec 18, 2017 | Editorial

My grandchildren think it’s hilarious that Nana has a “real” ladies’ fainting couch, and they love to bring their friends to see it. Actually, mine is a 1920’s replica of a type of furniture that became popular in the 19th Century.
This was a time when women’s corsets had whalebone and everyday gowns were extremely constricting. (Think Scarlett O’Hara having her dress laced tighter and tighter.) The idea was to have an hourglass figure with an extremely tiny waist. And the result was, indeed, that some ladies were prone to fainting. Hence the expression, “having the vapors.” It wasn’t that our 19th Century foremothers had excessively delicate sensibilities. It was that they couldn’t breathe! Thank goodness the 20th Century brought not only women’s suffrage, but liberation from the corset and the stiff, unwieldy garments with their bustles and layers of petticoats!

And lest you wonder why women would have put up with such unhealthful wardrobe dictates, they had little option. Any woman with pretensions to being fashionable, or merely not to be considered eccentric, simply had to conform. And really, who are we to judge? Think the gorgeous, excruciating stilettos of today!

These days I can barely manage kitten heels, but I am happy to report that I am not prone to fainting. I do love my ladies’ fainting couch, however. It is my favorite place for reading, meditating and the occasional lovely nap. And, of course, for curling up with a grandchild to read or have a quiet talk, which once upon a time would have been called a “long, comfortable cose.” Some traditions are well-worth keeping!

This was a time when women’s corsets had whalebone and everyday gowns were extremely constricting. (Think Scarlett O’Hara having her dress laced tighter and tighter.) The idea was to have an hourglass figure with an extremely tiny waist. And the result was, indeed, that some ladies were prone to fainting. Hence the expression, “having the vapors.” It wasn’t that our 19th Century foremothers had excessively delicate sensibilities. It was that they couldn’t breathe! Thank goodness the 20th Century brought not only women’s suffrage, but liberation from the corset and the stiff, unwieldy garments with their bustles and layers of petticoats!

And lest you wonder why women would have put up with such unhealthful wardrobe dictates, they had little option. Any woman with pretensions to being fashionable, or merely not to be considered eccentric, simply had to conform. And really, who are we to judge? Think the gorgeous, excruciating stilettos of today!

These days I can barely manage kitten heels, but I am happy to report that I am not prone to fainting. I do love my ladies’ fainting couch, however. It is my favorite place for reading, meditating and the occasional lovely nap. And, of course, for curling up with a grandchild to read or have a quiet talk, which once upon a time would have been called a “long, comfortable cose.” Some traditions are well-worth keeping!

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