The Grecian Bend was a stooping fashion that first made its appearance England in the 1820s, although it did not reach the pinnacle of popularity until Victorian times (somewhere between 1869 and 1880). It supposedly acquired its name from the graceful Venus de Milo as she inclined slightly forward. The stooping fashion was also imitative of a physical affliction. Because physical afflictions often could not be corrected or because famous people had the afflictions, people copied them and adopted them as a fashion statement, just like they adopted the Alexandra Limp. Moreover, the Grecian Bend seemed erotic to Victorians because a woman’s breast and rear jutted out. Also making the fashion more appealing, was the belief that any woman who adopted the Grecian Bend was bold and daring.
Women who adopted the Grecian Bend quickly discovered they were more than bold or daring because they soon found they were in severe pain. Being stuck in such a strange position caused back aches and was said to be “wearisome” for those who had to maintain the position for hours. However, despite the aches and pains, thousands of woman embraced the Grecian Bend. At its peak it was seen regularly at watering places, such as Bath. But Bath was not the only spot where the Grecian Bend became popular. Soon the fashion spread across the ocean to America.
Supporters of the fashion said the best way to achieve the look was with an “S-like curvature of the upper figure, caused by thrusting out the chest, bending forward the head, contracting the stomach, and elevating the hips.” There was also an arrangement placed upon the hips called a bustle. There were also no shortages of descriptions about the type of bustle needed to achieve the fashionable warped look. One reporter described a certain type of bustle stating:
“Immediately in the rear and just below the waist the steel hoops are combined in to a broad belt, which when covered, looks like [a] pillow bunched. This is the bump. To give the bump due prominence on every possible occasion a steel combination tongue of about three inches in length is fastened in a peculiar manner to the belt or waist of the skirt. This tongue rests on the small of the back and is an admirable contrivance for causing spinal disease.”
In addition, very high-heeled shoes also helped with the position as they tended to tip the woman’s body forward.
As the Grecian Bend required women to maintain a strange, awkward position, sometimes for hours, supporters looked for contrivances to help them achieve the look. One contrivance was described in this way:
“A belt is fastened about the waist, under the skirts. From this belt, down either side of the hips, two straps, furnished with buckles descend, and are attached to the strong bands made fast around the lower thighs. As the buckles of the straps are tightened, the hips are drawn up and held in ‘position.'”
The upper part of this contrivance was then kept in place by stays, and, in addition, the woman also wore a corset, laced as tightly as possible.
Because the position was so unnatural, critics argued that permanent spinal damage would be done to any woman adopting the fashion. However, that did nothing to deter women. Women who adopted the Grecian Bend claimed they were more worried about how they would sit than spinal damage or permanent injury.
Many women who adopted the fashion also seemed unconcerned about the restrictions imposed by wearing bustles, contrivances, and tightly laced corsets. They did not care that they could not bend properly at the waist or hips. However, they did find it annoying when riding in carriages or coaches. This was because women could not sit upright. For many of the Grecian Bend adopters, it seemed the only solution was for them to stand all time or to walk everywhere. Of course, such a solution was highly impractical.
Despite all the problems related to sitting, the Grecian Bend remained fashionable for some time. Perhaps, that was because there was an abundance of humor associated with women vain enough to embrace such a laughable fashion. One writer noted that any woman who adopted the Grecian Bend resembled a “lame kangaroo … [and was] too exasperatingly ridiculous for laughter.” Another nineteenth century newspaper reporter wrote:
“There are few stout women who could bear the addition of a hump anywhere without looking all the worse for it. The slim damsel may be able to add a trifle or two of the kind here and there without great detriment to her personal appearance, but for a woman of from twelve to eighteen stones to assume the ‘Grecian bend’ is to do a palpable injustice to her charms.”
Numerous nineteenth century poems and humorous songs also mentioned the Grecian Bend. For instance, a burlesque produced at St. James’s Theatre in 1869 included an ode titled “Britannia’s Bend,” which poked fun at the fashion. Here it is:
- “The latest style, that now the rage is,
- Going down Piccadilly, ’tis said,
- Derived from classic Grecian ages,
- Turns each modern lady’s head.
- They look so neat,
- With turn-out feet,
- As down the street their way they wend!
- The steps just suits
- Your high-heeled boots,
- And I’ll teach you the Grecian Bend.
- The Grecian Bend! Attention, ladies!
- Fashionable promenade is.
- Fashion never can offend;
- The style is now the Grecian bend!”
- –, in Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 March 1869
- Brougham, John, La Belle Sauvage, Burlesque in Five Scenes, 1870
- Fitch, Samuel Sheldon, Six Discourses on the Functions of the Lungs, and Causes, Prevention, and Cue of Pulmonary Consumption, Asthma, and Diseases of the Heart, 1853
- Scientific American, Vol. 19, 1868
- Supplement to the Courant, Vol. 35, 1862
- The College Courant, Vol. 9, 1871 The Masonic Trowel, Vol. 6, 1867