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100 Years of Corset History: How 8 Corsets affect the same body

Nicole Rudolph

Corsets spanned more than 100 years of history as a regular part of Western women's fashion. Their shape and proportion constantly changed in response to the fashionable silhouette and clothing needs. Despite the extreme appearances, corsets were full of technical deception based on proportions and illusion. Join me as I examine my collection of historical corsets that I have sewn over the years to see how they interact with my shape and measurements.

The origin of corsets developed out of the transitional Stays of the 1790s. Cups were added to the conical shape of 18th century stays to allow for a more natural figure as gown waistlines rose to the underbust. *Example made of linen buckram and cotton twill fabric. Based on:​

The first true corset came at the beginning of the 19th century, with simple smooth lines and almost no structure. The body was stiffened only with light cording, while the back had minimal boning to keep the lacing from collapsing. The front often had a removable wood busk to separate the bust and encourage good posture. *Example made of plain linen and brushed cotton. Based on Kyoto Fashion Museum collection.

Changes in silhouette between the 1810s and the 1830s meant that the waistline had dropped back down to its natural position. The upper body of corsets were now reinforced slightly to make sure the bodice of the gown stayed smooth. *Example made of linen and cotton sateen. Based on:​

By the 1860s corsets had acquired more structure and shape that extended beyond the natural body. With the addition of a metal separating busk and metal grommets, the speed and ease of dressing and wearing corsets greatly improved. *Example made of cotton and silk satin. Based on multiple corsets like:​

The 1880s is the stereotypical "Victorian Corset" that we are familiar with. It appears to have the most extreme curves, achieved with the proportions of a short waist and oversized bust and hips. This was the first era of corsets when outer garment fashions did not hide the hips under gathered or pleated skirts. *Example made of cotton sateen and silk satin. Based on a Symington corset pattern:​

The Sbend silhouette of the 1900s was achieved by way of padding out both under and over a corset. Both the bust and hip heights dropped. The hips were unusually long in order to accommodate the slim hipped skirts of the era, avoiding hard lines. Based on pattern in Corsets & Crinolines.

In its final form which was known as a "corset", before developing into the girdle, corsets of the 1910s were often light weight and unshaped compared to decades past. No longer used as a form of bust support, corsets were meant to help smooth the figure akin to our more modern shapewear options. They still continued to provide the back support and clothing support needed until well into the 1920s. *Example made of cotton jacquard. Based on original in my personal collection.


1890 Bust Support:​
1876 Gown:​
1855 Gown:​
Pongee Corset:​
1800s Portrait:​
1830s Portrait:​
1860s Photograph:​
1880s Photograph:​
1900s Photograph:​
1910s Photograph:​

Music via Epidemic Sound (​)

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