3

I found a free source of the German women's magazine "Der Bazar" which often contains patterns for sewing various items of clothing or decorative items.

The issue Der Bazar Nr. 37, 1. October 1865, 11. Jahrgang contains the following image of a "Corset for children of 2 - 4 years of age":

enter image description here

The instructions for sewing this corset (see link above) include (machine translation abbreviated for shortness):

The present corset comfortably fits the delicate forms of a child and at the same time gives the body the necessary support; the original is made of white fine drill and lined throughout with white shirting. At the sides it is provided with inserted elastic and at the back is arranged for lacing.
[...]
Following the indication of the pattern, stitch through fig. 24 and 26 along the dotted lines to accommodate the whalebone, which must be very fine and flexible, and provide the back with lacing holes according to the draft.

Figure 24 (half of the front) contains 5 whalebones right in the center front, figure 26 (half of the back) contains 3 whalebones right next to the lacing holes. In total, 16 "very fine and flexible" whalebones are supposed to go in there.

Another issue (Der Bazar Nr. 19, 11. Mai 1896, 42. Jahrgang on page 224) contains:

jacket, blouse and bodice for babies

The translation of the image description is:

jacket, blouse and bodice for babies

Unfortunately the actual pattern paper where the detailed description would have been is lost. It's unclear whether there would have been whalebone, cording or any stiffening at all in the bodice.

I found more examples of a corset or stays-like item intended for babies or infants, but non of them are clearly dated. Please notice the reoccurring vertical stripes which indicate a posible stiffening of the garment using whalebone or cording.

enter image description here
Image source

Bottom row: corset for infants from 6 months to 3 years and from 6 months to 4 years.

enter image description here
Image source

I'm well aware that corsets were an indispensable item of clothing for women at that time - to shape the fashionable silhouette and support the bust, but until now I assumed that girls would start wearing corsets with the onset of puberty or a few years before that.

Why would parents in the 19th century make their infants wear stiffened bodices? I'm particularily interested in the fact that you were supposed to add whalebone to the first example. If it were just an item to keep the child warm or to attach the skirts or other clothing items, it would suffice to sew the bodices out of sturdy fabric.

So I assume they had some practical reason or false medical belief for stiffened baby bodices, but the magazine doesn't mention it with even a single word. The magazine also mentions that baby boys would have worn clothes identical to baby girls, so I'm not sure if this type of bodice was exclusively for girls or not.

7
  • 2
    It seems to me not to follow that this is indeed 'stiffened'? Clearly, none of the other items are in such a way restrictive. That the item is near the label "Leibchen" corresponding enWP "liberty bodice" makes this even more dubious. Same time children's health clothing Perhaps before asking "why" we need to ask "what" this is? Apr 8 '21 at 19:38
  • 2
    Perhaps, despite the assertions of the magazine (who likely had advertisers for said products to placate), there wasn't really a solid practical reason. Its quite common for modern parents to put tiny sneakers on babies that cannot yet walk. I've seen even parents who had put hair bows in the hair, painted the nails, and pierced the ears of their infant girls. And then there are the small dogs that some (usually childless) people put sweaters on just because it looks cute. Some people are just really into playing dress-up.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 8 '21 at 20:10
  • 1
    Likely just an attempt to make poor posture a bit uncomfortable. Apr 8 '21 at 22:55
  • @LаngLаngС I'm very much convinced that the vertical lines indicate a stiffening because I saw almost identical items for older girls in other sources. I just stumbled upon a modern reconstruction of an 18th cent. stays for very young children that links to original sources and cites "upright posture" as the reason, but without supporting that claimby any sources. These old stays were even stiffened with baleen, not just the much softer cording.
    – Elmy
    Apr 9 '21 at 5:28
  • 1
    This is different from swaddling, in that the baby's movements don't appear to be restricted at all. Apr 9 '21 at 16:09
4

I think I will have to correct my earlier post. Both Grimm's dictionary and modern dictionaries make it quite clear that a Leibchen is a sleeveless upper garment* which can be used to suspend other garments (e.g. stockings) below. In fact, the "Good Sense" image in the OP shows examples of just that. One can think of it as the upper part of a dress. An example from the 1930s can be found here.

Another source that mentions Leibchens as a means to suspend other garments from can be found here (Brücke, Wie behütet man Leben und Gesundheit seiner Kinder, Wien 1892, p. 150, HT to @LangLangC):

Im frühen Kindesalter, wo die Geschlechter noch nicht unterschieden sind, haben die Schultern als Träger zu dienen, so dass die gesammte Kleidung mit Ausnahme von Stiefeln und Strümpfen an einem Leibchen aufgehängt ist, das mit seinen Achselstücken auf den Schultern aufruht. Nichts muss in dieser Zeit so fest um den Körper schliessen, dass es denselben irgend wie einengt.

In the early age of a child, when there is no difference between the sexes yet, the shoulders have to play the part of "carriers", so that the whole clothing except boots and stockings are suspended from a Leibchen, which rests on the shoulders. Nothing has to be so close fitting at that age that it restricts the body in any way.

The Grimms in one of their tales also mention a Leibchen in the context of keeping a child warm:

Und als es noch eine Weile gegangen war, kam wieder ein Kind und hatte kein Leibchen an und fror: da gab es ihm seins

And when she had gone a bit further, another child came and had no leibchen and was cold, so she gave him hers.

Here is part of an illustration of the same tale from the 1860s, the Leibchen is the darkish sleeveless outer garment on the upper body of the girl.

Sterntaler, fully dressed


Looking at the scan of Der Bazar, it seems that the Leibchen mentioned there is really that thing in the middle of the scan, with two large holes for the arms and a band to close it around the breast. It frankly looks like it could neither keep a child warm nor have any positive effect on its posture. My uneducated guess would be that it is stiffened in order to deal with higher mechanical stress due to clothes being suspended below. Think about fastening trousers to a T-Shirt instead of using suspenders - the T-Shirt would probably tear quite quickly.


Original post:

The internet offers several simple options to sanity-check suspicious translations. One good choice is google image search (e.g. for "Baby Leibchen"), and another one is wikipedia. If you look at the German wikipedia article for Leibchen, the clothes depicted there look rather comfortable and practical. They also have links to somewhat historical Leibchens, but not older than mid-20th century. E.g. this one with stocking holders.

*Although it is sometimes used today (on the internet) for garments with sleeves

2
  • Nothing in the sources you list looks like the item in the magazine. That was exactly my problem when searching for it: I was flooded with modern Leibchen that are soft and elastic and may have evolved from the one in the magazine, but don't work like it anymore. The book you linked was helpful, though, because it mentions a "Leibbinde" on page 157 that might fit the item in the magazine.
    – Elmy
    Apr 9 '21 at 6:10
  • The Leibchen is just above the out-of-scale stocking holder thing on your screenshot. It has long arms, which I admit is different from the Leibchens in my links above.. But if you google "langarm leibchen baby" you will find similar clothes, minus the frills. I will post screenshots when I am back home tonight.
    – Jan
    Apr 9 '21 at 7:31
1

I thought I found the answer by chance, but I'm not convinced anymore. I was looking for all sorts of "corset", "stays" or "bodice", but this particular item might as well have been an "infant's binder" that is still in use today in a slightly different form.

enter image description here

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article cites no sources for any of the claims about why these binders were used, including proper posture, preparation for corset wearing or to "lower the yell and squall from the baby by crushing its airways". The only claim that I could find (modern) evidence for is that the binder would keep the belly warm and thereby reduce the risk of colic.

5
  • You've answered it! This is their version of swaddling. very young infants derive comfort from being wrapped up. Modern parents are taught to make a "baby burrito" to reduce colic. I'll bet this is the 19th century German version.
    – MCW
    Apr 9 '21 at 8:50
  • 2
    Note that your WPpage says nothing about that use in Germany, that a 'binder' isn't 'tied' to transl 'Leibchen, and that your pic deviates significantly from that in Q. Bazar is archived at numerous places (the pattern sheets at Due are unreadable anyway, if present). The book linked under Q directly contradicts this interpretation (p150), and lorkande.de/Allgemeines/Kinder/maedchen.htm lorkande.de/Allgemeines/Kinder/jungen.htm lorkande.de/Allgemeines/Kinder/kinder.htm show such 'corset training' only as a later rare option? Shoulder straps important. Apr 9 '21 at 9:21
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace Swaddling or pucking would concentrate on the (lower) torso, while the item looked for clearly is 'hanging' on the shoulders, mainly covers the chest , and has only one fastener for knots? You might win the bet in the end, but so far, I'm not convinced. The time frame 1896 might lend support for a then very outdated 'posture'-thing, other med-stuff like colics I do not see there (for everday garb), but the trend was practical, free movement, unrestricted development, warmth, 'support for other garments' (lower items should be held from bodice shoulders carry the weight) etc. Apr 9 '21 at 9:30
  • 1
    Seems like it could be the human version of the dog anxiety vest Apr 9 '21 at 16:07
  • Here's a company selling sensory compression shirts for children to deal with anxiety. Apr 9 '21 at 16:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.