Iolanthe Dechantagne held onto the bedpost with both hands while her dressing maid Yuah pulled with all her might on the lacings of Iolanthe’s new Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset. When the two sets of lacing holes reached as close a proximity as they were likely to, Yuah jerked the lacings down, pulling them into the crimping holes so that they would stay tight until she managed to tie them into one of her patented infallible knots. Only when this knot, immotile as any which anchored a battleship to a dock, was tied, did Iolanthe let out her breath. Though still able to fasten her own bustle around her waist, the beautiful young woman was now helpless to bend over and pull on her own stockings, so Yuah carefully rolled each of the expensive silk garments up a leg, fastening it at the top to the several suspenders hanging down from the corset. Then Iolanthe stepped into her shoes, which were alligator skin high-tops with four-inch heels. The maid kneeled down once again, this time to fasten each shoe’s twenty-four buttons using a buttonhook.
“The white pinstriped dress today?” asked Yuah.
“No. I wore that just last week.”
“The chantilly dress?”
“Yes I think.”
Yuah brought over the dress. Yards of sheer black lace overlaid a pink silk base that was as smooth as lotion. The dressing maid helped Iolanthe put her arms through the sleeveless shoulders and then fastened the dress up behind her. Then she helped her on with the matching jacket. Though the dress was sleeveless and had a fairly low neckline, the jacket had long sleeves with puffs of black lace at the end, and fastened all the way up and around Iolanthe’s long thin neck. The hat that went with this ensemble was a black straw boater, which like so much of Iolanthe’s hat collection, imitated a man’s style. But in addition to the black lace veil hanging down to below her neck all the way around, the top of this boater was decorated with a dozen pink and black flowers and a small stuffed bird. She wore no rings on her fingers or ears, but draped a cameo necklace carefully across her bosom.
Iolanthe turned and looked at herself in the floor-length cheval glass. The cameo necklace, the hat, jacket, dress, shoes and stockings, and the Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset were only the finishing touches of a process that had taken the first two hours of the morning. A hot bath and shampoo had come first, followed by shaving her body (with straight razor), and then applying four different types of body lotion and body powder. Next was a careful facial, culminating in the retouching of her very thin, carefully arched brows. Styling her long auburn hair into a bun and constructing small ringlets with a curling iron to frame her face, had next occupied her. Then she had donned her panties, her bloomers, her underbrassier, her brassier, and her camisole. Yuah had carefully manicured her fingernails and pedicured her toes. Finally came rouge, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick—just enough to look as though she didn’t need any and thus had worn none—painted on with the care and attention to detail of the finest portrait artist.
“You look beautiful, Miss.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Will there be anything else, Miss?”
Yuah left and Iolanthe continued to stare at herself for several moments in the mirror. Once she had decided that everything was perfect, she hyperventilated for a minute before leaving. Doing so allowed her to make it all the way down to the steam carriage without having to gasp for breath, despite the small inhalations allowed by the Prudence Plus fairy bust form corset, though doing so exacerbated the possibility of her fainting. Women frequently fainted in Brech. It was just part of the cost of fashion.
The house that the Dechantagne family owned in the Old City was a large square four-story building occupying most of a city block. It was so large in fact that two thirds of the rooms were unused, the furniture covered by white linen drop cloths and the doors kept locked. Iolanthe had been tempted to sell the house, as she had much of the family’s other city properties, but then finding a new place to live would have occupied far too much of her time, and she doubted that any place she found would have been appropriate for entertaining the class of people that she had needed to entertain during the past year. Since she had been essentially forced to keep it, she had spent considerable money modernizing the portions that she used. Houses built three hundred years before did not have the benefits of indoor plumbing and there was no way that she would go without her bathtub, or for that matter a modern flushing toilet. Stairs were fine as well for making a grand entrance, but for the everyday up and down of three flights, an elevator was a must. Then there were the dumbwaiters, the gaslights, and the upgraded kitchen. The only things that hadn’t needed to be improved were the servants’ quarters, which were more than adequate.