Historical Corsets

A tumblr collection of historical corsets, stays and other parts of historical underwear.

A fashion plate from Journal des dames et des modes.
Corset sans busc lacé par devant.

Video: Revealing Garments: A Brief History of Women’s Underwear

Underwear takes the stage in this talk by H. Kristina Haugland, associate curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The history of feminine undergarments—corsets and drawers, bustles and brassieres, stockings and shoulder pads—reflects changing ideals of women’s figures and societal roles, and reveals that ideas of beauty, hygiene, modesty and respectability are both remarkably transitory and enlightening. Drawing from works of art, advertisements, cartoons, literary sources and surviving garments, this generously illustrated lecture enhances the understanding of past and present attitudes and aesthetics. Supported in part by the Art Institute of Indianapolis.

Tight Lacing, 1777. The lady’s maid has wound her mistress’s stay-laces around a poker and is pulling with all her might, one foot braced against her skirt, which has been extended by a “cork rump.”

Was it necessary for a woman to hold onto something while being laced up? In the eighteenth century, yes, it would have been helpful: the corset lace “was put in starting at the bottom, and was zigzagged through the staggered holes to the top where it was tied off”, explain Peter and Ann Mactaggart, who are authorities on the subject. “When such stays were tightened the wearer was liable to be pulled off balance if she did not hold on to something. This arose partly because she was at the other end of a ‘tug of war’ and partly because when one short section was pulled up after another, the pull was likely to have been first from one side and then from the other.” By the nineteenth century, corsets were constructed differently: there were more holes, “the holes were placed opposite to one another, [and] the lace was put in so as to form a series of crossings,” with the result that the corset could be “tightened without any oscilation in the pull… because the pull could be applied to both sides of the opening at the same time.” By the nineteenth century, there was “no reason, except perhaps tradition, for her to hold onto anything.” 
Extract from The Corset, A Cultural History, by Valerie Steele (pages 22-24).
Betrachtung im Neglige by Johann Baptist Reiter.
Wien, Österreichische Galerie

Corset of brown cotton twill with shoulder straps that tie at front with cotton (linen?) twill tape; holes down centre back for closure. 


ID no: 49.91/1

(Source: collections.museumoflondon.org.uk)

Corset from 1876, from an exhibiton called "La méchanique de dessous". 
Photo: Patricia Canino