Ethel Granger, the woman with
the smallest waist in the history of mankind, was a product of
fashion and sexual fetish. Her husband, astronomer William
Arnold Granger, believed that fashion influenced the structure
of our most intimate thoughts: women that he found “flat chested
results” of 1920s fashion were the byproduct of a perversion far
more grave, according to him, than his obsession with
Both William and Ethel were
born in the early 1900s and throughout their married life
William expressed distaste for woman’s fashion that strayed from
his wasp-waisted ideal: he was also fiercely contrary, for
example, to the empire line that emerged in 1958. Indeed he even
believed that “during times when women are wasp-waisted, the
Before their marriage Ethel
was a plain, unsophisticated twenty-three year old girl who wore
the shapeless 1920s dresses that William despised. William told
Ethel about his appreciation for corsets, and expressed his wish
to feel one around the waist of his wife. One epochal day, when
William put his arm around Ethel’s waist she asked “darling, can
you feel any difference?”. He could: a pair of corsets that tied
Ethel into 24 inches, more or less her natural waist line. The
process of Ethel’s waist modification began. Initially Ethel was
satisfied with wearing a corset only during the day, but William
convinced her to keep it on while sleeping.
After several years the
result was Ethel’s legendary 13 inch waist, the smallest waist
ever recorded on that 50s institution The Guinness Book of
Records. One cannot deny that William Arnold Granger was one of
the harshest taskmasters in the history of fashion, on woman’s
efforts for style he wrote: “if she can outshine other members
of her sex in some way, this is a victory worth any amount of
William referred not only to
the efforts necessary to shrink one’s waist, but also to the
hardships of high heels and piercings, both equally fundamental
in his symbolist vision of fashion and femininity. On clip-on
earrings William wrote “nothing is more repulsive to the faddist
than to see a feminine ear squashed flat with a clip or screw.
How can this compete with the dainty piercing from which jewels
It would be inaccurate to see
Ethel and William Granger’s story simply as the sadistic wishes
of a demanding sexually perverse husband who wished to cripple
his wife: they were a couple that expressed themselves and
embraced a subculture that in that period, the late 20s, 30s and
40s, had magazines such as London Life as a point of reference.
One could say that Ethel and
William were the Art Deco Leigh Bowery and Trojan, who knows.
Certainly if Vogue Italia is dedicating an editorial and cover
to the Peterborough faddists it must mean that, like Leigh
Bowery, the Grangers are going to “inspire” fashion designers
for generations to come.
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