Items on medicinal clothing/apparel are something we regularly catalogue and with advertising hook lines like the one above they certainly stand out.

 Apparel designed for treatment by magnetism is interesting as many of the same beliefs and criticisms exist today. In the late 1800s and early 1900s businesses selling these items were already both well established and criticised. Makers of magnetic apparel, often decrying competitors as unprincipled quacks carrying out veriest shams, competed in their claims that their designs could increase vitality, prevent illness or cure epileptic fits, lumbago, sciatica, tumours, liver complaints, loss of hearing, physical protraction, bronchitis, spinal injuries, gout and rheumatism, etc. [1]. The ‘graceful and comforting’ outfits included body belts in summer and riding varieties for gentlemen and ladies, chest protectors, womb shields, knee caps, throat protectors (for indoor wear), spine bands and friction gloves [2]. Some worked on the principle that the magnetised steel inside the webbing of these pads would attract iron in the blood, and so improve circulation, while others charged these ‘invisible energies’ with healing properties given by divine appointment that could cure nearly all ills. Both were refuted at the time, with any success put down to the warmth of the pad and the faith of the patient.

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Less comparable to self-cures today is the slightly more disarming item of medicinal garb, the electric corset. Advertised as the ‘very thing’ for ladies, not only does ‘the most awkward figure become graceful and elegant’ but ‘the internal organs are speedily strengthened’, good for ‘any form of nervous, muscular or organic weakness’. Dr Carter Moffat’s unisex belt claimed to cure indigestion, constipation, palpitation, drowsiness, corpulence and gout etc., etc. These assertions were however already being questioned. In 1893 electric belt frauds had begun to be exposed in the law courts, the technique and design proven as ineffectual and a work of quackery [3]. Belts and corsets were lined with flannel fastened with small eyelets of zinc and copper, which touched the skin and were connected with wires. The perspiration of the body was then said to provide enough fluid to generate electricity by its action upon the zinc discs. Scientists and physicians who were then studying the impact of electrical treatments argued that this method would never generate enough electricity required for medical purposes. Electric hairbrushes were equally labelled as bunk for their lack of electric power [4].

Titles on these are plentiful and can be found under subject searches on Electrotherapeutics, Magnetotherapy, Magnetic healing and one of my favourites, Quacks and quackery.

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