NOTE: I thought this post was published on Sept. 16, 2017; I even received helpful comments and updated it — but it’s not listed as published on my dashboard — so, forgive me if you received two notifications on it. Mysterious, indeed. I added links and categories in October, 2017.
When I first saw this corset in a collection that was being readied for sale, I was fascinated by its beauty and its fine state of preservation. At first, I couldn’t believe it was not a reproduction.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I took a few quick photos and sought advice, but the collection was sold before I realized that I needed more pictures. I can’t even find detailed notes — just the letter I wrote asking for advice — so apparently I never had a chance to return to this garment, or to photograph several other intriguing corsets.
I believe it was completely hand stitched with shiny brown thread. The stitching is so regular that it looks, at first, like it was done by a machine; however, I believe it is perfectly spaced back-stitching, with visible starts, stops, and knots on the inside of the corset. [Update: it is not back-stitched; Cynthia Baxter suggested that is was stitched with a running stitch, and then stitched on the opposite side with running stitches using the same holes. I have seen this technique used by shoemakers and leather workers, so it makes sense for a corset.]
The state of the fabric, except for a few spots, was remarkable — if it is as old as I think it is (before 1840.) It could have been collected anywhere.
In general, the collection did not include many items of this rarity and quality. However, the collection did include a fine 18th century man’s vest, as well as this dress, from early in the 1800’s.
An early 19th century dress from the same collection as the mystery corset. The chemise under it is unrelated.
The corset worn under a dress like this created a very high bust, but a woman’s waist and hips didn’t need to be re-shaped.
Back to the mystery corset: I only took one photo of the back, with a gigantic, modern black lace obscuring the eyelets.
Were the holes hand worked or were they metal grommets? In my ignorance, grommets would have been a red flag to me; if there were metal grommets, I would have assumed that the corset was a reproduction or had been altered to be worn in modern times. But — I would have been mistaken. This English corset from the Museum at FIT is dated 1815. It has metal grommets down the back.
There’s a nice overview of early 19th century corsets at Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion. Click here.
A Regency style corset made by sidneyeileen.com has similarities to our mystery corset.
A corset (1830 to 1840) in the Los Angeles County Museum has a similar high waisted (but not Empire) silhouette.
This corded corset, with a channel for a front busk, is at the Metropolitan Museum: it is described as 1820’s. The waist is a little above the wearer’s natural waist. The front straps are spaced as far apart as possible.
I was going to leave it at that, but couldn’t resist trying to relate the shape of the corset to the clothing that would have been worn over it.
All the following fashion plates are from the online Casey Collection of Fashion Plates at the Los Angeles County Museum.
The neckline of our corset is too high for these fashions — and it does not push the breasts up this high.
Early in the 1800’s, the Empire waist was very high and the dress was often gathered in the front. The fullness moved to the back a few years later, which would call for a smoother midriff area. By 1811, the waist was moving lower: