Edwardian tips on how to be be graceful and why you should exercise to become more graceful.
‘The girl who knows how to sit, stand, and walk gracefully possesses a beauty asset of a very desirable kind, while the appearance of the prettiest woman is spoiled by a slouching deportment. A plain girl who holds herself erect, moves easily, lightly, and gracefully, has a “presence” of which many of her prettier sisters may be envious.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Only a healthy woman can be graceful: Drooping shoulders, slouching, a poking chin, a leaning posture and shuffling steps – all minimize a woman’s attractiveness. In the Edwardian era it was recommended that a woman who isn’t naturally graceful and wants to correct her posture should do regular exercises instead of wearing shapewear. She should practice how to sit, walk and stand gracefully. The traditional walking with a book on the head is good too.
Poor posture is bad for the health: Slouching compresses the lungs and in consequence produces a bad complexion and even lung diseases. Tight clothes, an ill-fitting corset, some games, such as hockey, short sight and occupations with much sitting, reading, writing or sewing are the reason for rounded shoulders. And as soon as her muscles begin to feel tired, an Edwardian woman should take a short walk outside. Additionally, outdoor exercise is a good way to fight depression.
How To Be Graceful In The Edwardian Era
How To Become Graceful
‘For health reasons, also, it is exceedingly important that every woman should try to acquire a good carriage and graceful deportment. Although it is true that some women are more blessed by nature than others in this respect, a good deal can be done by physical culture.
Carelessness is the real cause of slipshod walking, slouching attitudes, and round shoulders. If you hold yourself badly, if you are aware that your carriage lacks the desirable quality of grace, and your figure droops in the wrong places, you can alter the fact if you like.
How is it done? In the first place, realise your defects. Look at yourself carefully, critically, and with unbiassed mind in a full-length mirror. Notice if your chin pokes forward, if your shoulders droop, if you stand straight or tend to rest on one or the other foot, to assume a lop-sided position unconsciously. Probably you shuffle your feet in walking, or take mincing steps. Perhaps you sit huddled in a chair, and have got into the habit of lying in the wrong attitude whilst asleep. Each one of these defects will have to be corrected.
Every bad habit you have formed will have to be replaced by a good habit, and that means a great deal of concentration of mind and self-control. By carelessness and neglect, the habit of slouching has established itself. By care and culture it must be replaced by the habit of unconscious, graceful, and erect carriage.
A certain time each day should be devoted to physical culture exercises, in order to tone the flabby muscles, to practise poise and balance, and to improve the general health.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Gracefulness & Health
‘The woman who slouches compresses her lungs and prevents expansion of the chest. The capacity of the chest is markedly diminished if the shoulders droop and the head inclines forwards. This means that less fresh air is taken into the lungs, less oxygen passes into the blood, and the nutrition of all the tissues suffers in consequence.
Thus, a slouching gait in itself tends to produce anaemia, a bad complexion, and an appearance of ill-health. The lungs themselves are less healthy than when the shoulders are kept braced and the chest expanded to its fullest extent. The round-shouldered woman, therefore, is more liable to consumption and other lung complaints, because enfeebled lungs are less able to resist the microbes of disease. […]
Many a delicate, nervous woman subject to depression and worry would be cured if she would only take steps to improve her carriage and physique. From the point of view of appearance nothing further need be said upon the importance of a graceful deportment.
It […] remains, therefore, to advise the reader not to lose her valuable acquisition of graceful carriage and movement. Bad habits, alas! are like weeds in their facility of springing up anew. It will not be a tedious or a lengthy matter to retain what has been won by a brief daily practice. Such should be, indeed, a pleasure.
This is a commonsense age. The idea that most of the ills of mind and spirit can be prevented has spread to all sorts and conditions of people. In the realms of medicine, common-sense preventive treatment is gradually taking the place of remedies and drugs. The mother in the nursery who knows how to prevent illness gives her children a better chance in life than any money or educational endowment.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Causes Of Poor Posture
‘The commonest type of ungraceful carriage is associated with round shoulders, and attention should at once be directed to any such condition. First ask yourself if there is any cause for the stooping attitude you have adopted.
Short sight, for example, will encourage round shoulders unless proper glasses are obtained for correcting the error of refraction. Badly fitting corsets, or tight clothing, by pressing upon the muscles, and interfering with the action of the lungs and heart, encourage stooping. Occupations, such as reading, writing, or sewing, that entail constant sitting, will produce an ungraceful carriage unless a woman is careful to counteract the condition by exercise and outdoor games.
Apart from stooping, an ungraceful carriage may be caused by high heels and ill-fitting boots. High heels throw the body forward, and produce a jerky gait. They interfere with the natural swing of the leg from the hip, and make a graceful carriage well-nigh impossible.
The woman who wishes to acquire graceful deportment must wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes, with a moderate heel placed under the natural heel of the foot. She must choose well-made corsets which do not exert unnatural pressure on the vital organs, a well-cut skirt and underskirt which do not impede movements, and which clear the ground. […]
Related: Edwardian Walking Dresses
Certain outdoor games if indulged in moderately, and correctly, make for grace. Others, such as hockey, which encourage a stooping attitude and faulty positions, have the reverse influence upon a woman’s looks.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Strengthen Your Muscles Instead Of Wearing Shapewear
‘The woman who wishes to be graceful also finds time for walking out of doors as much as possible. She plans her day so that her hours of sitting for needlework, reading, or writing, are divided into various periods, and when she feels her muscles tired and relaxed she spends a few minutes in physical culture exercises.
She does not pin her faith to special corsets, supporting braces, or straps. She day after day “suggests” to herself that she will correct her bad habits, her faulty positions, and she gives sufficient time to the exercises which are absolutely essential to strengthen the muscles and increase their vitality.
By these simple means, the muscles are enabled to hold the bones in their proper place, and gradually the drooping appearance, so fatal to a graceful carriage, is overcome. The head is held erect, the shoulders are braced. The whole health is tremendously improved in consequence, and gains in nervous energy and vitality very considerably.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Exercises To Improve Your Posture
‘Simple exercises must, of course, be practised daily in order to remedy defects, to educate and tone the enfeebled muscles, and to teach a woman how to hold herself erect. Five minutes night and morning devoted to deep breathing is a simple measure, the health advantages of which cannot be too often emphasised.
Almost any simple exercises are useful if they are properly done, but the drawback to many of these is that they are performed mechanically, in a passive fashion, as a matter of routine. Now all physical exercises lose half their value if the mind does not follow the movements, and so bring itself into conscious relationship with the muscles.
For that reason, the exercises which we shall now describe are useful because the movements are varied, and the mind must be brought to bear upon their performance, in order to bring each side into co-operation. So note the first four pictures. There are four movements which follow each other in sequence, and which can be repeated for a considerable time without fatigue or overstrain.
First Movement. Stand erect easily. Close the right fist, and put it on the right shoulder with the left arm hanging.
Second Movement. Fling the right arm into the air briskly and firmly, whilst bringing the left closed fist into the hollow of the left shoulder.
Third Movement. Shoot the left arm into the air, whilst the right closed fist is placed on the right shoulder.
Fourth Movement. Let the right arm reach the side, whilst the left hand rests on the left shoulder.
Repeat these movements either with or without musical accompaniment. These exercises are very popular in Belgium, and many of the Flemish girls are exceedingly agile, muscular, yet graceful, with wonderful control over their muscles.
Practise walking correctly with a basket on the head. It is a splendid exercise for a graceful carriage. […] An immense improvement in the carriage of the head and shoulders will be observed, even in a few weeks, if these exercises are regularly practised.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
Exercises To Fix Rounded Shoulders
‘Slouching wall spoil the appearance of anyone, and the Greeks were certainly right in making physical culture an essential part of training the young. […]Any mother can avoid all the drawbacks of round shoulders if she will take the child in hand early enough, and systematically follow the few simple instructions to be given in this article. […]
(a) Let the child stand straight with the arms hanging to the side, and then slowly move the head back as far as possible. After holding it in this position for a few seconds, he may then slowly bring it to the level again.
(b) Turn the head as far as possible to the right, then slowly swing it in a circle as far as possible over the left shoulder.
(c) Let someone stand and clasp the hands behind his neck. Now make him raise his head backwards against the resistance of the clasped hands (see Fig. 1).
Repeat each of these exercises ten times.
To strengthen the muscles of the shoulder-blade (a) let the child stand straight, with the heels together and clasping the hands low down behind. Bring the shoulder-blades together by rolling the shoulders backwards until the bones nearly touch. Then relax the shoulders again, and repeat.
This exercise is quite painful at first because the muscles have so little power of contracting.
(6) Let the child stand with the arms horizontal with the shoulders and push the hands backwards at the same level ten times.
The great point about these two exercises is that the arms are not moved forwards in front of the shoulders at all, as every effort should be made to strengthen the muscles drawing the shoulder-blades back. […]
(a) Let the child lie on an “inclined plane,” which is easily enough constructed by supporting one end of a wooden plank against a hassock. A small cushion should be placed under the waist. Whilst in this position, he must raise the hands as far upwards as possible above the head, then bring them back again to the side raise them level with the shoulders, and bring them back to the original position. (Fig. 2.)
(b) Practise the Swedish, or Ling, movement lor exercising the muscles of the body and shoulders. Kneel on the left knee with the right foot planted firmly in front. Raise the arms above the head, and bend as far backwards as possible. Repeat on the other side with the right knee on the ground.
(c) Let the child lie face downwards over the seat of a chair, and then slowly raise the head and heels as far upwards as possible. Relax again, and repeat. (Fig. 3.)
(d) With the hands on the hips practise bending movements to both sides.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2b)
How To Sit, Stand & Walk Gracefully
‘The next thing is to practise how to sit, stand, and walk gracefully. By sitting well back in a chair, with the lower part of the spine supported by its back, and the feet resting upon the floor, comfort and support are both ensured, and the spine is held erect at the same time.
In standing, the main point is to stand erect, with the weight equally distributed on both feet, so that a straight line could be drawn from the forehead to the feet. Too many women stand with the lower part of the body protruding, and imagine that they are standing upright.
To walk properly the head should be held up, the shoulders braced, and the feet lifted, to avoid scraping the soles along the ground.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2a)
How To Improve Your Figure
‘Even a perfect figure avails little unless you have grace. When I am asked how to be graceful, I answer: “Be careful of your movements when alone and unconscious of them when you are in public.” Grace can be cultivated. […]
The correct position, one in which the balance of all parts of the body is perfectly preserved, is almost, but not quite, erect. It should incline very slightly forward, above the hips. The weight of the body should rest firmly upon the balls of the feet. The heels should be close together. The knees should also be close neighbors. The arms in standing should hang naturally at the sides with the elbows close to the sides.
One position only is proper for the chin. It should be well up. Notice any woman whose chin is lowered. Shadows fall about the hollows of the face, or create an illusion of hollows there. Every woman looks five years older with her chin lowered. Also such a pose of the head will make wrinkles in the fairest and plumpest neck. Nature designed woman to hold her head as proudly as that of a mettlesome horse.
The chest should be held up and out. Observe how a well-trained soldier stands on parade. That is an excellent model. He appears to have no abdomen, so well is it held in. His shoulder blades are flat as a knife.
If the shoulder blades are not naturally flat, shoulder braces should be worn to correct the projecting ones and to destroy the round-shouldered effect so destructive of the beauty of a figure. These can be purchased at drug stores and department stores, but can be made at home at slight cost. […] A simple exercise for sagging shoulders is to draw the arms behind you, bend them at the elbows and thrust a cane between the elbows and back.
Practice the proper posture in standing before the mirror. Study not only the front, but the profile view of your figure. If the chest sags, thrust it forward. If the abdomen protrudes, determinedly shift your weight so that it recedes. The prominent abdomen in half the cases I know is simply the result of bad habits of standing. If the shoulders curve forward, draw yourself erect until they are flat.
If you find your weight resting upon the heels, your figure will look awkward and countrified. If you rest upon the toes, it will look mincing and affected. Nature has indicated that to keep the balance of the body the weight must fall upon the balls of the feet. Try all these postures and notice how much better your figure looks when you stand correctly. It will be an object lesson you cannot forget.
Five minutes a day for two weeks ought to teach the dullest of us to stand well. […] In standing, don’t throw the hips far back. They should be straight, in easy line with the body. In walking, do not swing the arms. In sitting, keep the crown of the head up and back. To test your carriage, pass the hand across the back. If the ends of the shoulder blades can be felt at a light touch of the fingers, the carriage is incorrect. The shoulders must be drawn farther back.’ (My Secrets Of Beauty, 1914)
12 thoughts on “How To Be Graceful In The Edwardian Era”
Lina, this is so interesting. I would not have expected this exercise-not-corsetry stance from that era. More than a century later, this is still sound advice.
Thanks so much, Jean! 😀
I love this post Lina, it made me smile and also appreciate how relevant it could be today. We will feature this on the next Blogger’s Pit Stop. Well done.
Thanks so much for featuring me, Kathleen! 😀
I too found this to be quite interesting. It is hard to think of a woman in this time following the rules of the Edwardian era.
Thanks for stopping by, Elise!
This was fascinating. I found your post through Pitstop. One of my inspirational words for the year is gracious, as in being full of grace. I didn’t think of it so much as physically graceful, but as in being kind, being welcoming to others, being helpful etc. I can see how being graceful can fit into that too. The post was fascinating. It reminds me of the deportment of the characters on Downton Abbey!
Thanks, Michele! 🙂
I enjoyed reading this article. I agree! It is very important how one sits and stands. Ballet is an excellent exercise to promote good posture, too.
Thanks, Ellen! 🙂
What a fabulous and instructive post. I’m unrounding my shoulders as I write. I’ll be referencing this post on one of mine, if you have no objections (not stealing content, just putting in the link!) It is relevant to the release of my upcoming 2nd Edwardian novella.