Image by Martin Olsson

For some reason, I had this image of an hourglass being really, truly ancient. Like Ancient Egyptian kind of ancient. I’m not sure where that idea came from…probably some movie, LOL. Or maybe just the idea of the sands of time obviously being linked to those desert places…

As it turns out, hourglasses are pretty darn old, but nowhere near ancient. The word–and the device–originated round about 1510. And so, you’d think that an hourglass shape would have come not long after, right? It’s pretty distinctive. And applies so well to the female form, that surely someone made the connection early on. Right?

Wrong. According to, no one thought to call a woman’s figure hourglass until 1897, after corsets had been exaggerating those shapes for half a century. Here’s one of the first written mentions of it:

Men condemn corsets in the abstract, and are sometimes brave enough to
insist that the women of their households shall be emancipated from
them; and yet their eyes have been so generally educated to the approval
of the small waist, and the hourglass figure, that they often hinder
women who seek a hygienic style of dress. [Mary Ashton Rice Livermore,
“The Story of My Life,” 1898] 

And since the sands are flowing and I have a book to finish writing today (woot!), I say farewell!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email