Constance Edwina, Duchess of Westminster (1875–1970)
In this image, the faux-rustic pose is most probably a private piece of fun, as genre scenes were already old fashioned back in 1897 and this portrait comes at the very end of this style of studied photography.
The Duchess’s absurdly small waist had been considered the very essence of feminine attractiveness during most of the Victorian era which in an earlier generation’s fashion had been accentuated even more by exaggerated and puffed shoulders.
Unsurprisingly, the efforts of diet and bodily contortion needed to achieve the desirable wasp-like abdomen caused health problems and the Rational Dress Society, founded in 1881 proclaimed that it objected to any fashion which “deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health.”
These images of Shelagh, and her sister Daisy, from the turn of the twentieth century represent almost the swan-song for the corset. Although The Lady stated in its fashion columns in 1901 that there is no “prospect of the corset being abolished; that is neither possible nor desirable,” the same magazine just eighteen months later was proclaiming the end of this item of torture and stating rather ingenuously that “waists are considered trifles to which all sensible women have said good-bye.”
Of her sister’s good looks, Daisy had the following to say: “Shelagh I have always considered to be much handsomer than I am. She has the loveliest large, deep, dark, mysterious eyes, my mother's chestnut hair now turning a most becoming grey a marvellous figure, and the West complexion, which is undeniably lovely.” Daisy also thought her sister a better horsewoman, a better dancer and a better skater than she. While pointing out that by dint of their respective husbands’ immense wealth, both sisters ended up running enormous establishments and organising complicated social events, Daisy ruefully admits: “she is cleverer than I am.”