Punishment Dress

In the span of history, until relatively recently, a beating was given across the bare flesh, and dress had a significance limited to the procedures and drama of its removal. Before the great change, the chances were that a victim would be crudely stripped and flogged without more ado, but, if dress played any part at all, it was as an agent of humiliation rather than as a layer of protection: a soldier was the more shamed by being stripped of his full-dress uniform, and, by the same token, many a principal `of a girls' school would choose an occasion when the girls were in their 'Sunday Best' to take out one of their numbers for the enforced exposure that proceeded a bare bottom birching.

The 'great change' was scarcely more than a hundred years ago — in the middle of the nineteenth century — when a supposed Victorian morality, and an even more suspect claim to compassion, led to the retention of a school-girl's drawers during punishment or, just as probably (in an age when drawers were not generally worn) the ritualistic adornment of the culprit's buttocks in a special form of dress that would cover them — but emphasize rather than hide them.

Any reading of nineteenth century descriptions of punishment dress suggests a cynical hypocrisy rather than a sense of mercy, for, at earlier times, when the naughty girl was stripped to the flesh, propriety had required a mistress to attend to the matter, but, thereafter, the new 'decency' of dress was deemed to permit a male to flog his own female victims. School-masters, work-house masters and even male officers of the law could respond to Victorian prudery by inventing the 'whipping drawers' that are celebrated in 'Nell in Bridewell' and then personally apply the newly fashionable canes or traditional pizzles to the tightly clad bottoms so ceremoniously presented.

One speaks of school-girls in connection with dress — as opposed to boys — because the progression from the bare flesh to the covered bottom was relatively unremarkable for boys and men: for the ordinary dress of the male — trousers, breeches or shorts — was the basis of design for most punishment dress in any event.. Up to a certain period of history, a boy in a reformatory dropped his trousers and was birched, whereas later, in similar circumstances, he would wear trousers or shorts and be caned across them. But the garments in question were part of his ordinary dress. A girl however, in like circumstances, had no such garment in her wardrobe. In the earlier days, any under-wear in the nature of drawers was unusual and, where available, would have been of loose fit and often of the slit variety so that a punishment across drawers for girls required an element of specialness that was absent for a boy. A boy bending in public for a caning would be in dress that was normal to him, while a girl was exposing herself in a manner that would, in ordinary circumstances be deemed immodest (prior to the age of tight clothing!) and that was, above all, abnormal to her. Drawers privately worn under petticoats were one thing. Drawers stretched tight for a whipping and made theatrically prominent were another. They would be special.

The chapters of "Indeed", in which Miss Carter describes the many types of flogging at her school, show that even at the turn of the century, when drawers were usual wear, a girl being prepared for a public beating would, as likely as not "be re-fitted in that back room from a stock of freshly laundered pairs kept in a wicker hamper. There was a full range of sizes so that each pair of buttocks could be certain of a tight fit." Much more simple was the ceremony or lack of ceremony for boys: the school-boy changing into thin cotton gym shorts, the borstal boy merely removing his under-pants from under his khaki shorts and the navel cadet horsed over a capstan in his white cotton duck trousers!


The earliest dress specifically related to corporal punishment of which we can find descriptions are dresses (as opposed to drawers or trousers) which culprits were made to wear prior to the physical punishment in order to advertise what was to happen to them and to humiliate them before their peers.

Generally the reference is to women and girls in this connection, but one famous boys' school chose to have its victims led through the assembled school and up on to a stage wearing only a shift "like a dress for a girl but of such short length that it left his seat bared as soon as he knelt over the block for the birch."

Many women's institutions and girls' schools had special dresses to disgrace the transgressor. Sometimes the wearing of it was regarded as punishment enough, but more often it was worn for a set period of disgrace as a preliminary to a public beating. We read that they were often black as emblematic of sin and sometimes red — perhaps to be a colourful hint of the stripes to come. Here is a passage from a description of life in a residential convent school in Ireland. The culprit has run away and is now to be disgraced and punished.

The black habit made her appear ugly and much open to taunting and abuse from the rest of us, and, after three days of its disgrace the time came for the inevitable beating about which most of the girls were openly excited. There were few enough events to break the boredom of school life and it is regrettable but true that the promise of an exceptional flogging caused bright-eyed speculation and chatter throughout the school.

Generally a girl was made to put on 'the sack' as the black dress was called, during morning prayers and was then punished before us all that same evening. To wear the dress for two days always meant a more severe fustigation so you may imagine the excitement when this girl was called forward on the second evening only to be told she would be punished on the third!

Such prolonged disgrace had been quite unknown before and the other girls speculated with some relish that it would be matched with exceptional severity at its termination. And the fact that she was of strong build and already of seventeen years gave us high hopes of hearing a goodly number of stripes.

As I have noted, evening prayers were said in the hallway owing to the lack of a proper place of assembly — it being regarded as inappropriate to whip girls in the chapel. The juniors were assembled in rows in the entrance hall and the seniors lined the stairs. The staff stood on the landing of the first floor with the Reverend Mother reading the roll-call and prayers and announcing the events of the day. There was only one event of that day that any of us had ears for!

The procedure was always the same. Sister O'Flynn who had charge of the floggings would call to the Matron to bring the offender's ordinary dress and this, which had been confiscated for three days, was born forward and up the stairs as a sort of symbol that, after the beating, she would be allowed back into ordinary uniform and ordinary life. Next, the girl herself was called forward and proceeded up the stairs between the other girls weeping and stumbling with all eyes upon her. I think it was impossible at this stage not to look at her seat as she ascended above us. The formless habit disguised her body but, as she stepped upwards, the lifted leg pulled the black stuff to momentary tightness across the buttocks: first the one, then the other, and one could not help but be reminded of what was now to be done to her.

The double doors off the landing were now opened and the offending child and her tormentors progressed into the staff room, which always served as the place of execution. Those of us on the stairs could not see inside but the doors were left open for us to hear the sounds of justice. Many of us however knew the scene within from painful experience: the big padded stool, the staff encircling the room and the culprit's own clothes so neatly arranged before her. So near were those emblems of forgiveness — yet so far!

From outside we heard the girl ordered to raise her arms and we knew that the servants would be beginning to strip her naked. Then we would hear the quiet authority of further instructions and renewed weeping as the girl is positioned over the stool. All is ready! O'Flynn comes on to the tending so that we all see the sticks in her hand and she ushers in the four prefects who will hold the girl down for the nuns with the canes.

There is complete silence as everyone wonders how long it will be before the girl cries out: a communal holding of breath. We hear a murmuring: the Reverend Mother no doubt telling them the number of strokes. We wish we could hear! We hope for a lot.

In the silence a wretched girl next to me whispers to me "imagine her bottom now!" And, at that moment, we hear the first cut. Almost immediately the victim screams and my neighbour says "lovely!" No doubt she, and the little girl of fourteen across the hall from me, who smiled with apparent satisfaction at this first thrash of the cane, both enjoyed the whole of the long and noisy drama as the girl suffered a full two dozen lashes.

Afterwards, it was the rule that the school held their places until the beaten pupil emerged to show her contrition. A rustle of fabrics would mingle with the child's whimpering as, at last, she was allowed to dress her disgrace in her own uniform. This done, on a sign from the Principal, she would leave the satisfied circle of the teachers and we below saw her come before us to the edge of the balcony: her reddened face wet with tears, her hair awry but immaculate as regards her dress — newly laundered and ironed.

"I am sorry I disgraced the school" she had to say. It was not much more than a whisper but it was deemed to atone for her sin. She rejoined her school-mates. "The matter is now forgotten" the sisters would say after a beating, but, as I know from the excited talk that always follows, a major flogging is always remembered!

In this example, punishment dress was purely for the disgrace and humiliation of the offender, marking out a girl to be ostracized by her colleagues who, it was implied, she had let down. The fundamental point being underlined by the ritual was that the girl had disgraced her uniform, which was removed from her until her sin had been expiated by flogging. It will be noted that the restitution of the uniform was formalized to imply that a girl in her uniform was in "a state of grace."

More typical of punishment dresses of this period were those that, as well as disgracing the wearer, were designed to facilitate the whipping and were worn throughout the procedure. By unbuttoning, or by slits, the relevant flesh was exposed and, by hiding the rest of the body, these dresses placed a particular emphasis on the part to be thrashed. When, as was usually the case, it was the bottom that was to receive the blows, the effect must have been more shaming than the full exposure of nakedness, and few can doubt that the vision of a girl thus presented had an erotic appeal to many of those who watched or participated. Evan at its simplest, dress lifted to expose is more titillating than a dress removed. At a time when fashions dictated skirts reaching to the ankles the girls at a school in Bristol expressed dismay at having to don a smock that "hung its hem some nine inches above her knees." And at the back of that hem buttons matched to button holes in tabs at the shoulders.

When the whole school was seated the girl to be punished was brought in at the back of the hall accompanied by the under-mistress with the rod. The punishment dress was now buttoned up at the back so that, as she passed forward between us, we all saw that her legs were entirely naked with her posterior framed within the bunched cloth, all bare for the rod.

Often such dresses had slits at the sides or at the back of the skirts to allow the relevant part of be hoisted clear — or to fall away. In Hungary we read of an orphanage where, on being ordered a flogging, a girl was taken away by a servant who made her strip and then put on a heavy woollen dress that extended to her calves. On each side there was a slit from the hem to well above the waist and, as the girl was led back to the Mistress's room, the other girls would glimpse the naked legs as she walked "and note the absence of under-linen."

Once returned to her tutor the girl would be ordered to lie at full length on a tall bench with her backside uppermost and, in this position, the servant would secure her at the waist with a broad belt before kneeling in front of her and holding her wrists. For a particularly severe beating a girl's hands would be tied to the frame of the bench and sometimes she would be additionally tied at her calves. Thus prepared the girl would feel the back of her skirt being rolled up her thighs and over her bottom to rest in the small of her back And then she would feel the birch-rod, which was thrashed across her bottom and thighs 'until she had had enough!'

In somewhat like manner, Francois Batteau described the awful formality of corporal punishment in a French Convent school in 1905, at which punishments were given with a three-thonged whip.

If at the start of assembly, one of our number was seen to be on the stage with the staff, we most assuredly knew that there was going to be a whipping and that the dress she wore, although most proper at the front, would open behind to reveal her in a most vulgar way. For, when the time came, she would be led before the lectern and be stood on a little box, facing away from us, to give her hands to two of the younger servants. After an announcement she would then be pulled forward over the desk and, as she bent, the dress would part asunder and reveal her seat and legs in complete nakedness.

The so called punishment apron, which was used in women’s prisons and some of the work-houses was a form of dress intended to expose the buttocks even more blatantly. Sometimes they were but the ordinary aprons of serving women, with tie-tapes at the back of the waist and neck, borrowed for the occasion from the kitchens; sometimes they were elaborately made dresses — or an elaborate dress converted for the purpose. It was typical of the cynical hypocrisy of the period to claim that, as a woman's breasts and frontal view were covered, there was no indecency in the exposure, before men, of girls thus dressed for chastisement. Few however will doubt that there was indeed an exposure most indecent during the punishment described below: one friend writing to another after watching the flogging of a girl thief at the invitation of a work-house master.

I judged her to be not yet twenty years and looking as pretty as one could wish for as she was led in. Her face was sad enough 'tis true but if she had graced us with a smile, and if the label of 'thief' had been removed, it would have been as if a pretty and elegant young woman had been joining us for tea!

Little did I know what was behind her! Or what wasn't behind her! For, when she came in, the dress seemed most demure with a cut front to give us a glimpse of her breasts, a bodice that did justice to her woman-hood and a nice tightness at the waist to set off her hips. Bare feet, showing under a skirt hanging clear from the ground, were the only hints given by her front that some fashionable daughter was not offering herself on the market for marriage instead of offering her saucy arse for a whipping.

And offer the bottom for a whipping is what the dress did, for, as soon as the Master had taken the whip from her, the two harpies who had brought her in forced her to our side of the table and turned her around while they themselves went to take the creature's hands. There was no back to the skirt! A pretty bodice with ten little buttons down to her tight little waistband and then nothing! Or do I say definitely something? The most glorious arse!

When they had dragged the weeping girl across, they held her by the wrists and the shoulders with such intent that it was plain that they did not expect her to remain placid when the lash bit into her behind, and, by the earnestness of that preparation I guessed them to be knowing of John's ways. And it was so. From the first cut onwards she let loose a screaming and twisting and struggling that gave an amusing dance to her legs and bottom as they were striped and yielded indiscreet views that a shy and demure lady would normally keep to herself!

Such dramatic revelations of the flesh get recorded and remarked upon no doubt just because there is an element of contrivance — and indeed beastliness — that has been put into the organisation of such an event. The matter of fact necessity of punishment is over-worked with a gloating sense of theatre. In probability the recorded examples of such "preparation" were the exceptions and in the majority of schools at least, there was greater decorum. The birch for example began as a favoured instrument in girls' schools just because it could be used safely on parts of the body other than the buttocks. In many schools, a senior girl would be laid upon a couch and her dress would be drawn up so that she could be birched on her thighs without uncovering her more private parts. Similarly, we may assume that the birching procedure in Jane Eyre was not purely from the imagination of the novelist. Wearing a low cut dress, the children were flogged without any infringement to their modestly — but with considerable disgrace thereafter — with the marks of the birch twigs across their shoulders and upper backs.

In very few cases is there a record of women or girls receiving corporal punishment across the buttocks with an ordinary type of skirt still in position. Such garments have generally been regarded as too loose fitting and protective for the intended punishment and, we strongly suspect that the outrage to modesty inherent in their removal was too often regarded as part of the punishing ordeal. In this the fair sex — particularly in the scholastic scene — could well feel an unjust discrimination. As has been noted, the boy was often deemed to be suitably clad in trousers or shorts whereas his sister would be expected to raise her skirt to expose the much thinner material of her knickers or the bare under-flesh beneath panties.

In only two cases, both penal, have we come across accounts of a skirt covering the buttocks during a beating and in both instances they were special skirts put on as a preliminary to the flagellation. Our first quotation is from a traveler in the Gulf at the turn of the century and describes a punishment under Islamic law: a young woman being publicly whipped in Muscat.

She was brought forth fully veiled and in a white tunic that was extended also as a hood over her hair. Having been led to the back of the wagon, she was then bent forward over a pad, formed of a rolled rug, that had been placed there. Two men kneeling in the cart then gripped her wrists and pulled her well forward so that her feet only just touched the ground.

The two women who were in attendance then pulled either side at the voluminous and loosely made skirt so that there was but one layer of the stuff over the back of her legs and then held it thus, while a soldier, standing behind, threw a bucket of water over her hind-quarters. I saw then that the material of her dress was of little substance and, when wetted, clung to the flesh of the woman's seat and thighs so that the tawny colour of her flesh showed through and left only her sex screened. She was a nubile young woman.

The same soldier then took up a cane that was in its length and flexibility almost like a whip, and began the punishment of one hundred and sixty lashes as had been announced.

It must be said that at first the caning was but of token force: the man holding the stick in such a way that only the last two feet or so of its length were flicked at the woman's rump. But, at the end — for the last twenty cuts — the soldier changed his stance and his demeanour and used the full length of the cane with ferocious severity so that the woman cried out and struggled as a score of livid stripes began to show through the wetted material.

In more recent times there have been several letters published in magazines concerning police canings in Hong Kong which were, it is alleged, given across skirts where girls were concerned. No more direct evidence is to hand and the accounts may be elaborated by, or totally imagined by, the writers. The first was in the correspondence columns of an early edition of the magazine Penthouse and we have noticed other letters referring to the practice in other magazines, but the reference below is an abstract from a long letter sent to this magazine.

When I was fifteen, my family and I were resident in Hong Kong, where my father was the manager of a bank, and my girl friend and I had a horrid experience.

We teenagers (although the phrase was not invented then) had a very free and gay life and one evening at a party at the Jockey Club for members of the Pony Club my friend Pam and I got rather tight and stole two rather posh notices in cast brass that said "For Competitors only." (We had the idea of fixing them to our own bedroom doors!) We got caught, and the club secretary took us to the police where we expected to get ticked off but where we were in fact charged with theft. Daddy bailed us out but did nothing else to help us as he was very annoyed and afraid that a scandal would harm him at work.

Two days later the Judge was treating us two girls like real criminals and, when I told him our joke as to why we took the notices, he said we were clearly potential adulteresses as well as thieves and drunkards and needed a sharp lesson while we were still young. We were each told we would be given six strokes with the cane — as was then allowed for girls under sixteen, and we were immediately taken by two women warders and prepared for it. We were made to go to the lavatory in front of them and then strip naked to be inspected by a male doctor before being specially dressed.

Each of us were given just two garments: a short woollen jersey to keep us warm above the waist and a thin cotton skirt which was very short by the standards of that time. It was probably just an ordinary slip, brought from a shop, made of very thin cotton with an elastic waistband and slits partly up the side — but with a tightish fit at the hips. At least mine had! When Pam had first put her skirt on, one of the women made her bend over and part her legs and then made her strip again and put on a smaller one.

I had imagined up to then that we would be caned on the hands but this incident made me begin to think that we would get it on the bottom like boys: a foreboding made the more horridly justified shortly afterwards by that same woman putting her hand on the seat of my skirt and saying "these skirts don't do much to keep you warm but it won't be long before we give you a good hot bottom!"

Shortly afterwards six more female warders came in together with a woman prison officer who told us it would be no good struggling as there were four women to control each of us. She then made us both turn around away from her and there was a moment's silence. Although we were not touched, it felt as if we were being inspected like cattle. I heard the woman in charge say "the little one is to get it first, there's more there for Sergeant H. to practise on, and it will do Miss Mean-Arse good to watch her chum get it!" Both of us were fifteen but Pam was shorter and, I suppose, more plump in the bottom — although I was said to have rather a good figure.

We were then both gripped and led along a corridor to a larger room where Pam was immediately stood in front of a kind of trestle, comprising two pairs of splayed legs supporting a cross-bar which was crudely upholstered with a stuffed sack tied to it. She was made to step up on to the cross rail with her legs astride so that two of the escorts could tie them to the trestle legs.

Sargeant H. then left me and went forward and took off her tunic jacket — taking rather a long time over it I thought. She loosened her tie and then picked up a wicked looking cane from a side table and went behind Pam. She poked the cane vertically into the skirt below the buttocks just above the hem, stretching the stuff downwards and sculpting the shape of her bottom. Then, on her nod, two others took her wrists and pulled her sharply forwards and downwards to grip the front legs. This bent over and spread-eagled position resulted in a stretch of the material across the girl's seat that seemed to make the cheeks of her bottom appear as one solid mass of flesh: the two parts flattened and pulled together so that the central valley was narrowed into a sharp bevel which showed as a shadow through the thin cotton. She looked very vulnerable with her bottom all raised up and prominent like that and I doubted whether the skirts were going to give either of us any real protection: the pinkness of the flesh showed through — as the cane weals were to do a little later. The only purpose of the skirts, that I could see, was that they shielded any view of our private parts when we were bent over and straddled. This was, it is true, a point on which we fifteen year old girls were sensitive.

The forms of punishment dress that are the main subject matter of this article are associated normally with the ritualization of punishment in schools and residential institutions and not with the infliction of penal floggings ordered by the courts. A distinction can be seen here between say, a birching or caning ordered for misbehaviour by a prison governor for a prisoner already in residence and, on the other hand, a flogging sentence awarded by a judge for a criminal act in the outside world. When the latter form of punishments were commonplace they were also brutal and often potentially dangerous and the only form of dress that had a relevance in the harshness of such situations was a protective harness of one sort or another to shield organs or parts of the body that might suffer from a lash delivered too high or too low or — more frequently — too extended in length.

At its simplest such a 'harness' comprised the broad leather belt, to protect the kidneys, allowed to the victims being flogged through the streets at the cart's tail. At the triangle for the cat, prisoners of both sexes would be fitted with a similar strap to protect the kidneys, the lumber regions and the coccyx and a further band of protection for the neck Neither of these devices however protected the sides and front of the body from the over-long lash that could enwrap the torso, and those few who have suffered such a penal flogging and have recorded their feelings tell of the terror of a whip end under the arm-pit or extending to the breast. Women whipped in public were seen to suffer this and it must be a matter of speculation as to whether, in some instances, this was not done deliberately to heighten the spectacle. We once read of a shaped copper shield used in Scandanavia to protect a woman's breasts, stomach and pubis during a public whipping.

Some institutions had leather aprons to protect the sides and front and this basic idea has been built upon by authors, dealing with fantasy rather than fact we suspect, with descriptions of leather 'flogging harnesses' that would delight the editor of a bondage magazine. In particular, it would seem from these doubtful sources of historical fact, that few girlish institutions were without a 'cunt strap' for the protection of girls suffering the birch in 'a well bent posture'!


When late Victorian prudery began to demand that the flesh was covered while it was being beaten it was seldom that the skirt or the apron — the traditional forms of female dress, were deemed appropriate. Ordinary drawers and knickers were becoming normal under-wear and shorts, breeches and trousers were adapted from traditional men's and boy's wear to serve for females. Indeed, in many instances the broader hips and hindquarters of womenwere forced into unadapted boy's garments with a resultant tightness of fit that may have been deemed appropriate to the purpose to hand but must often have seemed as obscene in relation to the period rectitude as it must have seemed erotic to the purient.

The earliest account of a girl being forced to wear men's trousers for a whipping comes from the account of a < Belgian expedition of 1870 up the River Quango in the West of Africa. At a place called Cassonga the explorers hire some new potters and the 'sight of the gold used to hire their services' corrupts one of >the native youths and he and his young wife attempt to burgle the camp that night. It's clear that the writer did not like or trust his colleagues.


The cruelty of Driache (the leader of the expedition) and several of the others and, in particular, the young Langcher was made manifest as soon as a lantern had been lit and the thieves had been revealed. The fact that a young woman had been delivered into their hands seemed to make the incident into a joyous entertainment and they talked with the excitedness of school-boys as to her punishment. The whipping of a native male porter was common enough in an expedition led by the likes of Driache and there was perhaps some justification, for, if the white man did not evidence his whips and his fire-arms, many an expedition would end in a night of murder and loot. But to have cause to whip a young wife — a girl scarce old enough to be a wife in civilized society — clearly gave them much lechery to contemplate and I have little doubt that they would have used the girl for their lust in their tents if I and Margrite had not been there to shame them.

The husband (or so we assumed him to be) was a fine built youth of some eighteen years with the girl, I suspect, several years younger. Coming from the coast he wore those unbleached cotton trousers that are made in the mills of England and then profitably sold by the coastal traders to the younger natives — who have their vanity enhanced by such civilized garments.

But the trousers availed him little the next morning when the couple were un-roped from the post at which they had passed the night and brought to a fallen tree trunk that was to be the punishment bench. Without ceremony the trousers were stripped off and the naked youth was stretched along the shaft, tethered at his wrists, knees and ankles and then whipped across his muscular buttocks with a savagery that I prefer not to remember.

The severity of the flogging of the husband, and the fact that the wife was an enforced witness, led me to believe and hope that the man (who had in all probability initiated the venture) was being punished for the pair of them. But this was not to be so. As soon as her husband had been beaten to the satisfaction of Driache, he set Langcher and Grettolle upon the girl, ordering them to strip her of her long dress so that he could "see if she (had) a seat worthy of her share." Seizing the whip, I threatened them with their own medicine if the girl was unclothed and, after much argument and nastiness, during which my life was threatened for mutiny, Driache mocked that he would pander to my sensibilities by making the girl wear the youth's trousers for her beating. They over-powered me then and Langcher and his friend dragged the girl away to the largest of the tents, handling her most improperly even while still in my view.

After much struggling, which seemed to those outside as if it would fell the tent, and much screaming and slapping, they dragged her forth again with her breasts bared and clad only in the thin cotton trousers. These were so unsuited to her feminine shape that they could not be fully buttoned at the hips. A girl in such breeches was revealed to us to be as obscene as if she was naked, for naught but the colour of her skin was hidden.

As she was dragged to the fallen tree which was to be the altar on which she was to be sacrificed, the crudest of the men sought to display their lechery. They taunted the girl as to how hard she must be lashed while pushing each other aside as they competed to feel her posterior and to pinch her.

The youth had quite simply been laid along the trunk and secured, but with her they arranged and re-arranged her as if naught were too much trouble to get her young body poised to exact perfection for their cruelty. Stretched along the length of it, the weeping child was held while her wrists were tied in an enforced embrace. Then, after much play with her thighs in various positions, they parted her legs and tied her knees astride the log with a rope looped under, before bringing back her feet and tethering them together on top.

They made then as if to begin: Langcher, on the nod of Driache, picking up the whip. But one of the others begged them delay and, while the others applauded, two of them slacked the ropes, lifted her at the midriff and forced the length of a bough, like a wooden bolster, through between her stomach and the tree — forcing her seat into prominence. Driache then again felt her buttocks and smiled. "She is truly well placed for it now" he said as he nodded again. And this time the whipping began.

This nameless African girl had the distinction she would rather have avoided: becoming, as far as we know, the earliest woman recipent of a recorded flogging across trousers. But the practice was soon to spread. Prison Officers, denied the nakedness of their charges, were quick to realize that there were also erotic delights to be derived from tightly clad female bottoms and it is perhaps difficult for us today, in an age when nubile girls in skin tight trousers are commonplace, to savour the sense of erotic excitement that was engendered in an age of full skirts when a culprit was suddenly led to the whipping bench in shorts or trousers that fitted to her buttocks "like a second skin".

"Nell in Bridewell" is a novel allegedly written to be true to prison conditions in Germany towards the end of the nineteenth century and it deals in some measure with the new fashions: the new practice of publicly thrashing girls with bulls' pizzles across 'whipping drawers' as opposed to using the birch which was traditionally considered as an instrument appropriate only to the bare flesh.

Its author's poetic gloating over the girls in their 'second skins' is proof enough that he was as sexually aroused by the concept as had been those early African explorers. The celebrated passage describing Nell and two other young women being whipped across the seats of their tight drawers is however too well known to be quoted here.

Another description of a penal flogging of this sort is to be found in Edith Cantor's memoir recently republished under the title 'Indeed!' Miss Cantor apparently had the ill-luck to be an enforced witness at many thrashings, but none was more vividly described than that on the occasion when two young women were given a prison punishment when wearing boy's trousers. The quotation below is of interest in relation to our subject in that the Magistrate, as well as making his enjoyment clear, seeks to justify the wearing of the trousers as an aid to severity rather than as a concession to leniency: the flesh being held firm cannot 'retreat': the flesh being covered cannot induce compassion. Rather does the covering act as a challenge to the strength of the executioner. She quotes the Magistrate as saying:

"I regret the trousers as they deserve no such protection to their modesty, but do not imagine, Madam, that we fit them in order to protect the arse from the sting. On the contary, I believe a woman can be more effectively stung through the thin stuff of the trousers than if the lash were laid directly upon the flesh. As Madam must know better than I, a woman's bare bottom is loose and fleshy and can move and disperse itself while receiving the thong — and thus act as its own cushion to the impact. But when I get a girl in trousers — to a fit that I personally approve before each flogging — the encased flesh is held so firm for the whip that it cannot make retreat from the savagery of the attack. Madam can hear the tight surface in the noise of the strokes" — and here he was interrupted by another triple fustigation.

"See how hard he does it," he resumed, "and how those who watch approve his vigour! For that is the second truth of trousers. It would be different if her big fat bottom was bared, for the trousers remove compassion and sympathy from both my men and those who watch. Get a bare bottom on the bench and the men think of their wives and daughters! But get a pair of trousers filled to bursting point and they see a criminal with undeserved protection. It is a challenge to them! Their sense of justice demands that these dutiful fellows cut down with all their strength, knowing they have to bite through the stuff to give the Magistrate's intention its full effect."

Both in "Nell" and "Indeed!" readers will have noticed the insistence on tightness. While there may well be a functional basis for this in that the sting of a cut might well be dissipated by slack or folded cloth, few will doubt that those who were so verbally insistent on tightness were also sexually titillated by such presentations of feminine buttocks, thighs and sexual parts. "I get a girl in trousers to a fit that I personally approve before each flogging" the Magistrate gloats — and it is not difficult to imagine the beastliness to the girl of such a personal approval by the very man who had decided that she should be flogged.

If tightness has a basis in the real history of the punishment dress of the hindquarters, it is even more firmly entrenched as a necessity for the descriptive prose of punishment fiction. If a girl is not beaten "on the bare" she will be whipped across her rump (in the boudoir) silken knickers that fitted her like a glove", caned (in the Youth movement)" across the thin drum-tight cotton of her borrowed khaki shorts", or (in the American college-girl scene) paddled across the seat of jeans that seemed to have been "painted onto her bottom, by re-seaming and shrinking, until it was impossible to pass a razor blade into the patch-pockets on her arse."

For the whippings described by Miss Cantor, and in the African example, tightness came as a by-product of using cheap cotton boy's trousers on the more fulsome loins of a girl and, before trousers became acceptable wear for women and girls, we may assume that this was common practice.

Sometimes however an institution would have specially tailored versions — either by adaption, or by designing from the start for the female figure. Such particular creations might well have carefully thought out special features: a metal ring surmounting the back seam for pulling the breeches well up just before the culprit is bent; similar rings each side of the waist band for securing the waist to the whipping bench or post; a leather tab to protect the coccyx at the base of the spine and a rope 'piping' sewn down the sides to protect the thin skin over the hip bone from an 'over-cut' of a cane or a strap. Hans Braun illustrates these four features incorporated in one pair of punishment shorts whereas, in reality, they have been listed in separate accounts.

The ring topping the central seam, as mentioned above, is emblematic of a frequent ritual procedure adopted when the punishment is to be given with panties or shorts still in place. As one reviewer of a spanking novel plaintively recorded: "such writers can never leave a good-looking pair of knickers alone; either a girl has her knickers taken down or they are crudely pulled up!" The pulling up of briefs is likely to yield a substantial showing of bare bottom and with hoisted shorts an additional tightness can be assured by firmly cupping the undersides of the bottom, but it would be simplistic to overlook the fact that, when applied to girls, the practice also embodies a symbolic attack on their sexual organs. During Nell's punishment the overseer interrupted his labours with the whip several times to smooth out the cloth, to feel the heat in the flogged bottom and to pull up the waistband "until it hurt between the legs" and, in the twenties, we read of a girls' school where girls were bent over a table in the gymnasium and surmounted by another girl who tensioned the culprit's briefs upwards "to bunch the stuff into the crack".

Also in the twenties — and to the same purpose — were the adapted boys' shorts used at a school for the orphaned daughters of World War 1 soldiers. By wearing them the girl's modesty was essentially preserved even though her bottom was effectively bared for the cane. The hem line was cut high — almost up to her waist at the back — and boy's braces were used to hoist them until they were tightly tensioned upwards from her crotch.

In punishment fantasy literature the concept of whipping drawers has been developed with much relish. Invariably thin to the point of transparency and tight to the point Of bursting, they are also often represented as being equipped with accessories in profusion to increase the culprit's discomforture, to protect her coccyx or cunt, or to make her the more easily fixed in a fanciful posture that gives prominence to her buttocks. Sometimes the boundary between fact and fiction is blurred and we must strongly suspect some wishful thinking from the writer in this last quotation that we give. The scene was set for this so called factual account in a school for the daughters of army officers in Potsdam, Germany in 1912. (It is common to both fact and fiction that army daughters were exceptionally prone to corporal punishment, and it is of parallel interest that the setting of the well-known play 'Madchen in Uniform' — in which the whipping of girl pupils is mentioned — is also set in Potsdam — the great military centre of imperialist Germany).The account purports to deal with the < adoption of special punishment breeches after birching on the bare bottom had been prohibited for girls over sixteen years of age. In earlier paragraphs the substitution of a riding whip for the birch rod had been discussed and the authoress had mocked Frau. M. for her refusal to adopt the bent over position "so much more suited for a beating on the clothed seat". Frau. M. the Principal, was a traditionalist however and preserved the more military tradition of a girl enduringher punishment standing 'at the easle' — with the little ones standing on books to raise their bottoms for punishment.

If the intention of the new regulations was to save the girls from the shame of nakedness, that intention was certainly thwarted on this first occasion when two girls together were decided upon as being worthy to be the first to be whipped across Frau. M's carefully contrived garments. The excitement of the novelty of it attracted the largest possible gathering to watch and a dozen pair of amused eyes formed together a strong lamp to light up the shame of shy girls.

Before, when it had been known there was to be a birching, it varied from time to time as to which, and how many, of the teachers would divert themselves by attending. I myself usually went, for my meagre room was alongside M's study and if I was to be disturbed by a girl's squeals I felt I might as well disturb myself the two metres more by seeing the source of those cries! None other came regularly but I noted that an exceptionally pretty little one, due to have her bottom bared would draw a bigger audience as would the promise of an exceptional retribution for a particularly serious offence. Malice towards a particular culprit would bring a mistress to watch a whipping and, so I often noticed, would affection.

But this time they all came! Only old Renata stayed away, too lame to climb the stairs, and, to take her place perhaps, the sergeant who drilled the girls in gymnastics on Tuesdays was, on this Tuesday, allowed into the proceedings on the grounds that there was no longer an indecency in front of a man as the girls to be afflicted were to be dressed as boys!

And yet there was indecency: indecency more than before just because all of us were there (including a man) and because the girls were entered in their frocks and then watched for the longer time as they were first stripped and then, from their nudity, ceremoniously dressed in these obscene breeches.

The two culprits were aged sixteen and seventeen and the eldest was perhaps the prettiest child in the school. It was however the youngest who most drew our silent attention for it was known to be her first flogging and the fright of it took all control from her so that she had to be led and restrained in every part of the proceedings. When naked she could scarce step into the breeches held before her ankles by a kneeling servant and two servants together were needed to fasten the garment upon her. It was an elaborate proceeding.

The drawers themselves were of the thinnest cotton — scarce more than a gauze — and because of the weakness of this cloth there was much stitching, seaming and gussetting at points where a greater strength was required. At the waistband there were tall loops of a stronger stuff through which a very broad leather belt had been passed, being tightened by two buckles so that it drew in the girl's waist and bore upon her hip bones so that it could not move downwards when the rest of the harness was adjusted.

For a harness it was! Made, I was later to learn, by our local saddler (who was deceived to believe it was to form part of a toy pony cart) it had a craftsman's finish absent from the breeches themselves, which, I suspect, were the result of our Principal's own handiwork. Strongly sewn to the centre of the back of the belt was a downward strap of thinner leather and this developed into a thong that hung down like a tail while the belt itself was fastened and during the next stage of the preparation — the tightening of the cloth.

Once the device was secured at the waist the front of the drawers was tightly laced closed between eyelet holes. Or not quite closed — for the drawers had been tailored not to meet at the front. On this first occasion I assumed they were made too small by ill-design but now, having seen many girls of different girth fitted with pairs of different size, I knew that the central parting was deliberate: to allow the certainty of the most extreme tension in the lacing to draw the cotton skin-tight to the buttocks. The effect at the front was obscene. At the back, the soft bottom was flattened, hardened and made solid.

But that was not all! Having laced her to a tightness of bottom that we had never seen before (even on a boy!) the servants revealed our Principal's skill by tightening the flesh still further! Once the lacing was completed, one of the maids passed a hand through the child's thighs and pulled the thong forward, adjusting it carefully to the weeping girl's underside, before pulling it upwards and buckling it to the front of the belt. I was behind the creature at this point when I heard the servant request her charge to draw in her breath. As she complied the stomach wall must have receded allowing the cotton to slacken momentarily and, at that moment, the servant put all her strength into the forcing of the strap in the buckle so that the thong tightened into the girl's rear valley. It drew in the cloth and divided the bottom into separate buttocks as hard as bullets.

The use of the riding whip on the girl thus prepared was then described — as was the similar preparation and flogging of the second girl.


In modern times it is difficult to imagine the necessity for contrivance in the fashioning of punishment dress such as we have described. Today, jeans, which serve almost as a uniform for the young, fit the bottom — and present it — as effectively as any pair of institutional "whipping drawers" from the pages of history. Bend a be-jeaned culprit across a table and the line of brief panties showing through will define the area of under-bottom where the strap can punish through but a single layer of cloth.

But the availability of suitable ordinary dress is not the only reason why the subject of special dress has faded into the realm of historical curiosity: there is also a modern knowingness about sexual motive that makes suspect any form of elaborate preparation for a beating and indeed challenges the basic concept of a beating as a punishment given disinterestedly for the culprit's good. Frau M. evolving her Potsdam breeches, would be seen — after Freud — as being engaged in symbolic masturbation just as any schoolmaster, bending his pupil over, would be seen to be placing his victim in a classic posture of sexual submission.

Beating therefore becomes less acceptable in real life but more accepted and practiced as a stimulant to sexual fantasy and sexual play. And, by the same token, 'punishment dress' becomes suspect outside the brothel or the bedroom. A modern girl ordered to put on Hans Braun's punishment shorts would judge that the motive of her tormentor was not entirely judicial!

In a women's prison in Arkansas where standard dress is jeans we come across the only special preparation in dress that we have discovered in recent years. A woman due for the strap had to present herself without under-clothing and with the patch-pocket over her right buttock removed. "After a beating the absence of the pocket from a girl's bottom picked her out from the others and, as you moved among them, you would see several inmates marked by the darker blue shape on the smooth curve of the faded background: a kind of badge, proudly worn, by which you would know that they were the girls who had been taken to the yard and had been flogged."







Punishment skirts buttoned up prior to a thrashing on the school stage

Slit skirt rolled up for an orphanage birching

French convent whipping circa 1905:The back slit skirt

Girl thief in a workhouse punishment dress. 'A pretty bodice with ten little buttons down to her tight little waistband and then nothing! Or do I say definitely something? The most glorious arse!'.

Teen-ager in punishment skirt in Hong Kong. "A stretch of the material across the girl's seat that seemed to make the cheeks of her bottom appear as one solid mass of flesh".





Leather flogging harness: Fantasy rather than fact?

Africa circa 1870. Girl whipped across her trousers. 'She is truly well placed for it now.'

Punishment shorts with accessories: A ring for pulling the back seam well up, rings for securing the waist. a tab to protect the coccyx and rope piping at the sides to protect the hips from an overcut.

'...to bunch the stuff into the crack...'

'Modesty was essentially preserved even though her bottom was effectively bared for the cane'..

Potsdam 1912. The daughters of German Army Officers in whipping breeches.




Prison jeans for the Arkansas strap. The pocket removed from the right buttock-'the darker blue shape on the smooth curve of the faded background'.


Nell in Bridewell is the story, in the form of fiction based on fact, of a young girl who experienced the horrors and indignities of a 19th Century House of Correction in Germany.
In this book, Nell describes in graphic terms the merciless floggings she witnessed—of girls and young women, as well as of boys and men—and confesses to disturbingly confusing emotions which such sights occasioned in her. She recalls the lustful expressions on the faces of the onlookers, records the fervent words of gratitude to the skillful flogger from the lips of grand ladies who “were only to delighted to see such girls whipped”, and tells of the evidently sensual appetites such cruelties incited in the torturers. She re-lives in vivid detail the dreadful whipping she herself was subjected to—the so-called “Welcome”, a public flogging with a bull’s pizzle.