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 small-waists.
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 population increases”.
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 suffering”.
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 swing free?”
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.
The exclusive pictures of Ethel Granger have been kindly given by J-C Creations