Category Archives: Corsets & Corselettes

Maternity Corsets

Detail, ad for an H & W maternity corset, Delineator, March 1912. Are they kidding??? No.

Traditionally, fashion rarely made allowances for pregnancy.

Delineator article, April 1912, p. 341.

“New models … have the effect of the uncorseted figure”? Well, not exactly….

Ad for American Lady Corsets, Delineator, March 1912.

That American Lady corset ad above (showing the corset which is under her dress) shows the fashionable figure for 1912 — obviously not a good year to be pregnant if you were a slave to fashion.

Ad for an H & W maternity corset, Delineator, March 1912.

“Gives a trim and stylish figure — without the slightest endangerment to the well-being of either the mother or the child…. Particularly desirable in convalescence or after surgery.”– H&W maternity corset ad, 1912.

My grandmother, born in 1875, was still wearing a long corset like that fashionable “American Lady” when I shared her bedroom in 1950. It was true that women who had grown up wearing corsets did not have well-developed “core” strength — and they certainly couldn’t do sit-ups in one of those corsets! So, they did experience backaches if they tried to go without the support they were used to.

Even when pregnant, they thought they needed a corset. And maybe they did…. I’ve never been pregnant, so reader comments are welcome. You can still buy a stretchy support garment — does it help that aching back?

Lane Bryant (actually, the woman behind the stores was Lena Bryant) was an early — but not the only — company catering to pregnant women in the 1910s.

An ad from Berthe May, January 1914. Delineator. “Allows one to dress as usual and preserve a normal appearance.”

Ad from Lane Bryant, Delineator, April 1914. Lane Bryant specialized in clothing that allowed for an expanding waist.

This 1917 Lane Bryant ad from Ladies’ Home Journal emphasizes that the dress could also be worn after pregnancy. It was “so adapted as to successfully conceal condition.”

There was still a suggestion that pregnancy ought to be concealed — imperceptible — as long as possible.

Lane Bryant maternity corset ad, Delineator, February 1917. “Makes the change imperceptible.”

Maternity corset from the Ferris Waist Co., May 1910. Ferris specialized in corsets made without very much boning — they used more flexible cording instead.

Ad from May, 1914, featuring a maternity corset.

Ferris maternity corset from 1920. Delineator March 1920.

This H & W maternity corset from 1920 promised a “stylish appearance” and “safety for the little one.”

This H & W maternity corset from 1920 shows a more realistic image than the H & W corset from 1912:

H & W maternity corset ad, 1912.

In 1924, you could buy a Butterick pattern and make your own maternity belt / abdominal supporter.

Butterick pattern 5342 for a maternity belt. Delineator, July 1924.

In 1927, Vogue magazine was recommending these:

A bust binder brassiere and maternity corsets shown in Vogue, Oct. 1927.

The Sears, Roebuck catalog for 1930 showed several maternity corsets — in keeping with 1920’s styles — and, yes, a supportive “breast binder.”

A maternity corset and a maternity girdle from Sears, Spring 1930.

Elastic maternity/nursing breast binder and “accouchement band” for post-delivery abdominal support. From Sears, Spring 1930.

They were still around in 1938:

Sears, Roebuck catalog, Fall 1938. Cotton knit binders for breasts and abdomen.

Maternity corsets from Sears, Fall 1938.

In a 1935 article called “Heir Apparent,” Vogue explained the choices in maternity undergarments; by then, corsets were only recommended for women who “habitually” wore girdles or who had weak abdominal muscles.

Advice from Vogue magazine, November 1935.

Maternity corsets from Sears, Spring 1940.

Corsets for abdominal support were also sold for women whose jobs required heavy work — “war work” for many women in factories and munitions plants.

In 1945, Sears was still selling posture supports for women working in “house, farm, or factory.” Sears catalog, Spring 1945. But these are not maternity belts.

Support belts for working women. Sears, Spring 1945.

I didn’t find many maternity corsets in Sears catalogs after 1945 — but perhaps I didn’t look hard enough. Or perhaps in the Post-War baby boom, women no longer felt they had to hide their condition from public view.

Simplicity 4979, 1954. No mention of maternity use on this pattern.

Simplicity 2562, maternity tops from 1958.

Simplicity maternity tops from 1958.

McCall’s 4936, maternity tops, skirt, pants and shorts, 1959.

Quite a change from this “maternity skirt” from 1907:

Maternity skirt ad, 1907.

 

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Prudery in Advertising Used to Confuse Me

Girdles from Sears Catalog, Fall 1958.

Costume researchers of the future, given only this image, might deduce that girdles were worn on the outside of our clothes…. And that the stocking suspenders/garters were purely decorative. There was a time when manufacturers who wanted to use the same ad in “family newspapers” and in women’s magazines had to be careful how they showed women’s underwear, lest they incite lustful thoughts and corrupt the young….

I’ve mentioned before that I was a “motherless child” — raised after her death by a loving father. We managed very well, except when it came to my clothing. Luckily my Aunt Shirley, and old (female) friends of our family, and sometimes the mothers of my school friends stepped in. Mrs. Betty P., who helped me sort through my mother’s closet when my father couldn’t bear to do it, eventually told him that it was long past time for me to start wearing a bra. (Fathers are often reluctant to admit that their little girls have grown up.) She was right. She took me to a department store (along with her own daughter) to have us fitted. My first bra (age 11) was a 34 B.
However, Betty’s daughter Janie and I used to puzzle over the lingerie ads in the backs of magazines, trying to make sense of them.

If the garters attach to your stockings, and you wear the garter belt over your bouffant petticoat…. How could that work? Sears catalog, Fall, 1958.

Full circle bouffant petticoat from Sears catalog, 1957. Janie and I knew you couldn’t bunch that up to make your garters reach your stocking tops….

This was 1957 or so — when huge crinoline petticoats were all the rage. Girls wore them in layers –preferably two bouffant petticoats at a time.
But this was also before pantyhose were available — women wore stockings held up by a garter belt, if they didn’t need “more control.”

Garter belts, 1958. Sears Fall catalog.

If you were going to wear a very fitted dress, a girdle or panty-girdle was needed so you would have a (relatively) smooth line from waist to thigh without bulges that outlined the garter belt.
But: my 11 year-old friends and I looked at ads like this one …

“How could this work?” my 11 year old self wondered.

… and asked each other how the garter belt could reach your stocking tops, if you wore it over your bouffant petticoat?

Advertising Undies Without Offending….

In the 1920s, advertising underwear was a tricky business. What did you do about that awkward top-of-thighs area at the bottom of the corset? Should the advertiser show the long bloomers (sometimes called knickers) which most women wore?

Ladies’ bloomers (also loosely called knickers or drawers), 1925. Butterick pattern 5705.

Would a family newspaper run an ad showing underpants? Or worse, a woman’s thighs or crotch? And isn’t it possible that, however they were shown in corset ads,  women sometimes wore their long underpants over their corsets, so they could be pulled down for a visit to the toilet (or outhouse, or chamberpot?)

Corsets illustrated as worn over bloomers, as shown in Sears catalogs, From Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1920s.

Well, 19th c. bloomers or drawers were often two separate legs, attached only at the waist. You could say Queen Victoria wore crotchless panties….

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing's Fashion in Underwear.

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear. You could wear these under a corset and still answer the call of nature.

 In the 20th century, many women’s underpants/drawers/knickers were made with an open crotch, or a crotch that opened with tiny buttons, so those could be worn under the corset/girdle.  Awkward, but do-able.)

1917 underwear choice: open-crotched drawers (left) or a long “envelope” chemise with a button crotch. Delineator.

Pretty vintage lingerie with a button crotch.

Lingerie from Delineator, June 1924. Left, a “step-in;” right, a button crotch “chemise.”

Keep in mind that the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code in the U.S.A. had been written by men who said, “If it’s objectionable to a child, it’s objectionable, period.” (My 12th grade term paper was about movie censorship — so I’m quoting from memory.) Among other forbidden things (as reported): the inside of a woman’s thigh could never be shown in films. (An idea parodied here.)  For context, here’s the article accompanying that image.

Too hot for the Motion Picture Production Code? Corset illustrations from Delineator, 1929

That nervousness about female anatomy made it difficult for advertisers show exactly how corsets and stockings were worn. Often they were shown as if the garters were purely decorative, and had nothing to do with holding up your stockings.

Message: “There are suspenders attached to our corsets.” Women would know the suspenders were for holding up stockings, but the ads didn’t show how.

Some advertisements showed the corset superimposed on a clothed figure.

Corsets over clothing, in ads from 1912 and 1924.

Note to the future: Ordinary 20th century women did not wear their corsets over their dresses. (Although a few performers and young women with a desire to shock eventually did….)

For corset ads, a nebulous frill or draped fabric was also useful for propriety.

Sketchy lace frills or a delicate drapery avoid showing bare thighs between corset and stocking.

Some ads did show suspenders attached to stockings — but, does this mean women tucked their underwear into their stockings, as shown?

Thighs covered by long bloomers or drawers. 1926.

More voluminous undergarments tucked into stocking tops, 1922.

This company went bold — The photographer blurred out the crotch area: (Yes, photos were being altered almost as soon as they were invented.)

The area at the top of the model’s thighs has been blurred in this photo. 1926. She may have been wearing tight knit undies to start with.

Remember, in the Fifties,  TV wouldn’t allow a married couple to occupy the same bed (see The I Love Lucy Show.) (And Lucille Ball, who really was expecting a child, was “Enceinte,” not “Pregnant.”)

But the 1958 Sears catalog wasn’t censoring its pages — some photos are realistic, with bare thighs appearing between girdles and stockings, as they were worn in real life. I suspect that it was up to the manufacturer to decide whether his customers were easily upset by women’s bodies…

Sorry, boys. Nothing titillating to see here!

… or not:

Models wearing bras and girdles, Sears catalog Fall 1958.

Girdle worn over bare skin, although the photo is poor quality. Inside of thigh visible! Sears catalog, 1958.

A Sears model shows how a girdle and stockings were really worn. 1958 Sears catalog.

 

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Versatile Butterick Patterns from February 1912

These “dresses” are really made from separate bodice and skirt patterns.

This “evening gown” is also made from a waist pattern and a skirt pattern.

Butterick waist 5188 and skirt 5189 made a lovely evening gown or a chic day dress, depending on your fabric choices. Delineator, Feb. 1912.

In 1912 you could buy “dress” patterns, but Butterick still sold many separate “waist ” and skirt patterns — a combination that allowed for enormous variety and individualization. These eight patterns featured in Delineator magazine in February 1912 show how you could make a day and evening wardrobe from just a couple of waist (bodice) and skirt patterns.

To start with the evening look:

Butterick waist pattern 5188, made in soft, sheer fabrics and embroidered or beaded.

Back view of waist 5188 with knot embroidery (or beading) and an optional high collar for formal daytime occasions.

The high-collared chemisette was optional (as was the body lining). “Sleeves are in full or shorter length, and with or without the cuffs.” Above, the collar is a sheer fabric, but other soft, drape-y fabrics (even wool) could be used.

Two back views of Butterick waist 5188.

Three variations of Butterick waist 5188 with skirt 5189.  At right, it has a “clearing length” skirt, one of three possible lengths.

The variation on the right uses the chemisette and long sleeves (probably attached to the body lining,) but is made of a fabric appropriate for daytime, like linen or wool serge.  Buttons add interest to the “day” look, and the soft collar is omitted entirely.

Evening, day, and afternoon looks from one waist pattern, Butterick 5188.

The same skirt, Butterick 5189, in sheer evening and solid daytime variations. (The evening coat covers part of the skirt.)

These two patterns were clearly meant as a set and could be made as one garment; but not all Butterick waist and skirt combinations close in the same place!

Left: Waist 5196 is more blouse-like and could be worn with different skirts. Right: Waist 5180 has a side closing like its accompanying skirt.

Alternate views of waist 5196. Optional CF seam, optional body lining (to control the fullness,) optional long sleeves and optional peplum as seen in the color illustration.

Skirt 5197 is softly pleated, and could be worn with other waists.

Right: waist 5180 with skirt 5181. The side closing exposes an underskirt.

Waist 5180 could be plain, as in the color illustration, or enhanced with embroidery or soutache braid. Buttons could be visible or the closing could be concealed. Long or 3/4 sleeves were another variation.

It’s possible to attach a skirt like this to the bodice with hooks and bars, but most women probably sewed the waist to the skirt, at least part of the way around. The side-front closing would make it hard to use the bodice with other skirts, although the skirt could be combined with other waists.

Butterick waist 5176 and skirt 5177. 1912.

Alternate views of waist 5176 with skirt 5177.

Waist 5176 and skirt 5177 are another set of patterns that could be made in day, afternoon, or evening versions. The long “sash” or back panel is an optional part of the bodice. Bordered fabrics are recommended for the skirt.

Detail of skirt 5177. For evening, you could stop at the second tier and let an underskirt show. The back-closing skirt “may be made separately or attached to a waist in semi-princess style….

This skirt description offers many fabric and construction options, and also suggests that other waists can be used with it, allowing for even more variety.

Waist 5176 could have a high-necked chemisette, or a lower, round neckline, as in the color illustration, or bare the throat entirely as in the evening version at the right.

Here waist 5176 has a “French round neck.” You can see how easily this waist might be adapted for evening by omitting the fill at neckline and using sheer fabric or lace for the “frill sleeves” and bertha collar.

Waist 5176 in day and evening versions.

Tricks of the Trade

Seeing all these variations should give hope to the overworked costumer: you could dress an entire chorus with variations on three or four bodice patterns and three or four skirt patterns. Fabric and trim variations will multiply the looks without having to draft a new pattern for every costume. In fact, character recognition would be aided by deciding that sophisticated Mme X always wears dresses with assymmetric side front closings, sporty Mlle Y always wears sailor collar variations, and gentle Mlle Z favors lace and soft fabrics. If you do one “waist” pattern fitting and one skirt pattern fitting per actress, and design three costumes for each that are variations on those patterns, you might get 15 costumes from five first fittings…. Hours and hours saved!

P.S. 1912 was the year the Titanic sank; Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912. The best production of Love’s Labour’s Lost I ever saw was set in 1914 (Royal Shakespeare Company, 1993, directed by Ian Judge with costume designs by Deirdre Clancy.)

Under These 1912 Clothes:

American Lady Corset ad; corset cover/petticoat for mature lady. Both: Delineator, February 1912.

Brassieres, Delineator, February 1912.

Corset cover and drawers, Delineator, February 1912.

Combination corset cover and drawers; narrow petticoat. Delineator, February 1912.

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From Curved to Straight and Back Again: Corsets 1917 to 1929

Ad for Bien Jolie Corsette, an all-in-one bust flattener and corset. Delineator, March 1926.

Corsets, 1907 and 1926. The garment on the right is a “corsette,” very lightly boned — if boned at all.

I took a detour from corsets to brassieres before writing this post, because brassieres became necessary when corsets became so low that they couldn’t offer bust support.

The female shape as seen in corsets advertised in Delineator: 1907, 1917, and 1924.

American Lady corset ad, April 1917.

In 1918, this Kabo corset and brassiere ad pairs a corset with a brassiere. The two were often worn together. Kabo made both.

Most brassieres of this era did not have two “pockets,” or “cups” as they were later called; they did not lift the breasts, but “confined” them. Click here for bust confiners.

Ad for the Kabo “Flatter-U” brassiere and bust flattener. Delineator, November 1920. “It makes a flatter you.”

DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1920. Delineator. This mesh brassiere (some would call it a bandeau) produces a low bust with a very gentle curve.

Warner’s Rust Proof Corset ad, February 1922. These corsets are being worn without a brassiere.

These dresses from 1922 are nearly unstructured, like a tube with a belt and sleeves. Butterick patterns. Low busts, slouching posture.

[How were those busts possible? Read on.] The smooth, tubular lines of the Twenties demanded a smooth, all-in-one garment, brassiere plus girdle, and the corsette or corselette was born.

Article in Delineator, February 1924.

This Treo “brassiere girdle” — “a combination garment” appeared in May, 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, October 1924, Delineator.

Some women (especially young or slender ones) wore a girdle without a brassiere. Below, left: a “hip-confiner” of glove silk.

Left, a glove-silk hip-confiner was almost not there. Right, a corset for those who needed more control. Delineator, February 1924.

Some wore neither.

Some slim women wore a girdle or corset with a brassiere…

Brassiere patterns from Butterick’s Delineator, July 1926.

…  or a bandeau.

Bust-flattening bandeaux from Sears catalog, 1928.

However, for those larger women who wore a bust-flattening brassiere with a corset, the brassiere needed to come down over the corset to prevent an ugly bulge between them:

Long Brassiere. From fashion advice article in Delineator, February 1924.

Ad for the H & W brassiere with diaphragm control. March 1924. It won’t “Push up” the “flesh.”

Dress patterns from Butterick, April 1924; Delineator.

Those who wanted a completely smooth, no curves, flexible shape under their dresses could wear a corselette.

This corsette gives a perfectly flat silhouette in front. 1924.

(There were many spelling variations: Corsette, Corselet, Corselette, Corsolette….) Most corselettes did not use metal bones, but depended on seams and elastic to shape the body into something resembling an oblong test tube — the “boyish” shape suited to Twenties’ fashions.

Left, a corset; right, a bust flattening bandeau over a waist-high corset. April 1925. DeBevoise ad.

Article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

This corsette is trying to turn a mature figure into a boyish one…. Bien Jolie ad, February 1926.

Corselette for large figures, “boned in the modern manner.” The bottom may be boned, but the top is soft silk jersey! Warner’s ad, April 1925.

A very flat posterior was as important as a flat bosom:

Back view, Bon Ton Corset ad, April 1925.

More corsettes/corselettes from 1925:

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, April 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, June 1925.

Casual dresses from Butterick patterns, June 1925; Delineator, p. 29.

Although you might not see it in these ads, (perhaps because corsette ads were probably aimed at women old enough to have “figure problems”) by 1926 a change was taking place.

Article in Delineator, February 1926. p. 24.

“The younger woman who can keep slim and firm… either wears no corset at all or a tiny girdle of satin or glove silk with an equally ephemeral bust-supporter of lace or net.” Interesting that in 1926 1) the bust is supported, not flattened; and 2) the girdle supports a curve under the bottom. (The illustration does not quite match this description.)

Illustration for article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

Research by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1924 and 1925 discovered that younger patrons, dubbed “flappers” by buyers and the JWT staff, “were looking for uplift styles of brassiere, in contrast to older women who wanted the flattening styles.” (Uplift, p. 40.)

Curves gradually returned. For me the interesting thing about these Butterick brassiere patterns from 1926 is that both the flatteners and the brassiere with breast separation are on the same page:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/1926-july-p-38-500-undies-top-left-bras-flattener.jpg

At top, two bust flatteners, pattern 6964. At bottom right, pattern 6961 for a brassiere that separates and does not flatten the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38. [It does not offer any support, just coverage.]

Bien Jolie corset ad, July 1926, p. 80. Delineator.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, September 1926. (Quite interesting fabric!)

Gossard corset ad, February 1927.** Note the curvy hips and the division between the breasts.

The bust was being worn in a more natural position:

Couture evening dresses by Boulanger and Paquin, illlustrated for Delineator, February 1927. p. 18. Note the high bust.

Modart’s combination, March 1928. Notice her curved bust silhouette. (Not helped by that garment!)

Modart ad, March 1928. Bandeau and girdle, bottom of same ad as above.

This brassiere isn’t even mentioned, but it has separation and a supportive band. Modart ad, March 1928.

Transition: two “foundation garments” featured in the same corset advice article; Delineator, March 1929.

The return of the curve, 1929:

Fashions that show off the female shape: (Butterick patterns) September, 1929. Delineator.

Light, non-restrictive foundation garments, October, 1929. Delineator.

Soft, flexible undergarments from Nemo-flex. Illustration from Delineator, October 1929.

Improvements in elastic, made possible by new Lastex fabrics, came just in time for the change to 1930s fashion.

** Gossard corsets had an ad campaign praising the curve (Hogarth’s “line of beauty”) as early as 1924.

Ad for Gossard “Line of Beauty” corsets, praising the curved figure, Delineator, February 1924.

If you’ve read all the way to here:  sorry this post was so long, but there was a lot I needed to get off my chest…!

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 3, 1912 to 1914

The corset of 1914 is well below the bust, and is not intended to make the waist look smaller.

There were two big changes in 1914. The corset is no longer expected to support the bust, and the days of the wasp waist are over.

American Lady corset ads from 1912 and 1914. Right: No tiny waist here.

The 1912 corset was higher and longer, and it made the waist smaller; the corset of 1914 is below the bust, and does not constrict the waist. These are both advertisements from the same corset company, less than 3 years apart.

Delineator ran an article about the corsets of 1914, and it may surprise you (as it did me) to see these early references to the natural, girlish figure.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914, p. 38.

“The corset of former years gave a woman a mature, well-developed, matronly figure. The corset of to-day makes her look like a very young girl.” [I find the 1914-1918 figure very un-girlish, but….”fashion writing.”]

“This is the day of the …drooping, boneless pose,” the body “as straight and yielding as a very young girl’s.” That sounds like the 1920s, but it was written before World War I. “The silhouette … for 1914 … is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust.”

One big change is that the tiny waists of the Edwardian era are no longer fashionable.

These corsets “compress the hips as much as possible,” “leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its normal size….” “Practically unboned, …The softness of the material follows the natural curve of the abdomen, …and in many cases there is even a slight curve in the front bone.”

American Lady corset ad, July 1914.

“Among smart women the size of the waistline has increased three  inches in the past three or four years. Large women still cling to their waistlines, but the corset should only measure two inches less than the waist — a twenty-four inch corset for a twenty-six inch waist.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Back lacing of a 1914 corset. Delineator, April 1914. “If necessary you can wear a brassiere with it.”

As seen in the corset back illustration above, a gap between the sides of the corset was customary, so this corset did not decrease the waist measurement at all.

Since the 1914 corset started below the bust, some women felt the need to wear a brassiere. However, the brassiere of 1914 “confined” the bust, rather than supporting it.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. There is nothing natural about this silhouette. [“Breasts? What breasts?”]

The back waist of the brassiere was much higher than the front, reflecting the posture of the period, which was changing, but not yet completely natural. (The long center front tab attaches to the corset to keep the brassiere anchored down in front.)

Back view of the DeBevoise brassiere, May 1914. You can see the vertical bones or darts in the front, the front closing, and the tab.

Less constrictive brassieres were available, offering no support, just nipple coverage..

This DeBevoise low-backed brassiere was recommended under evening dresses, which were usually made of thin fabrics. June 1914, Delineator.

Not all women wore brassieres. These fashions suggest the “absolutely free,” natural bust of 1914:

These women are showing a natural bust, probably not wearing brassieres with their low corsets. Butterick pattern illustration, June 1914.

“The uncorseted effect is produced by leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its natural size and in the hip-confining sections of the corset using a very soft, pliable, practically unboned material that leaves the figure almost as soft and supple as if no corset were worn.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Butterick illustration from April 1914. The natural, uncorseted bust line.

However, stout women were advised to wear a brassiere with the low-waisted 1914 corset:

Stout women were advised to wear a brassiere to avoid looking “slovenly.” DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1914.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. This ad is not necessarily aimed at stout women. That bust shape is an early version of the 1920s’ flattened chest.

“…Appear ‘uncorseted’ without looking slovenly…. Your corset will not make a ‘ridge’ in your gown.” Bulging flesh at the top of the corset (in front or in back) must have been a problem for many women.

La Camille “Ventilo” front-lacing corset ad, April 1917.

Three years after 1914, corsets were still higher in the back than in the front. A ridge of flesh above the corset was often a problem, except for the very slender. A brassiere helped control the back bulge, as well as a possible overflow in front.

The waistline is high and not especially small on these patterns from April 1914. “Slouch” pose at right.

Again, it’s hard to see why the corset of 1914 had to compress the hips during the “tunic” era. But the corset did affect posture. And some women chose a sleeker silhouette, without the tunic:

Butterick patterns in Delineator, January 1914.

Quick comparison 1907 to 1914:

Corset ads 1907, 1910, 1912, 1914. All from ads in Delineator.

Styles to come: The low, natural-waist-size corset of 1914 was still fashionable in 1917, but it was getting shorter and less rigid.

Corsets 1914 and 1917. The woman in the ad on the right has an almost “natural” figure.

For a previous post about the change in fashionable figures from 1914 to 1924, click here.

For corset change between 1907 and 1910, click here.

For corset change between 1910 and 1912, click here.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 2, 1910 to 1912

Left, corset ad from 1910; right, corset ad from 1912.

1912: Longer and Lower Corsets

Cover image from Delineator magazine, November 1912.

The ideal woman seemed to be elongated in 1912, and the waist of her dress was rising, while her corset extended far down her thighs.

Ad for American Lady corsets, March 1912. Delineator.

This corset starts below the bust and is so long that there is a cut-out in the center front to permit walking.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator magazine, April 1912.

Two Justrite brand corsets, one from 1907 and one from 1912, show a drastic change in the ideal figure.

This change in the fashionable figure (and corset) is extreme, and happened in just five years. (Imagine being 17 years old in 1907, and 22 years old in 1912. Your body wouldn’t have changed, but whether you had a “perfect figure” certainly would have.)

The C/B a la Spirite corset ad from Delineator, August 1912. An unrealistic fashion figure and no real bust support.

Once again, the perfect figure is an impossible ideal.

Ad for Spirella corsets, April 1912. [A flexible spiral corset bone surrounds the illustration.]

“The Corset of Style, Health, and Comfort…. The doctor and the dressmaker both endorse it. 2,000,000 Satisfied Women Wear It.” [And none of them looked like this!]

Detail of Spirella Corset ad, April 1912. [No pesky hipbones here!]

Looking at some of the fashions of 1912, one wonders why the hips needed to be so narrow:

Skirts often had hip-concealing draperies, a trend that continued in 1914.

These 1912 blouse/waist and skirt outfits do show a long-looking, high-waisted figure, but the hips are not especially slim:

Skirt and blouse (waist) combinations from Butterick patterns; Delineator, September 1912.

The waistline of dresses and suits was rising:

The suit on the left suggests a rising waistline with a seam just under the bust; a relatively natural waistline is shown at center; the fashionably high waistline can be seen in the purple ensemble at the right.

An April 1912 article on the new corsets (Delineator, page 341) showed one on a real human being:

Left: “The new corset, medium low in the bust, large in the waist, and small in the hips.” April 1912.

Notice the difference between the real (above) and the ideal (below:)

Ad for a C/B corset, October 1912. Delineator.

As corset tops got lower, the need for bust support led to the wide-spread use of the brassiere.

A “Brassier” advertisement in the Siegel-Cooper catalog ad, Delineator, September 1912.

“Brassiers for full figures, corset cover and bust supporter combined.” But I’ll save brassieres and “bust confiners” for another post.

The corsets of 1912 still straightened the front of the body while tilting the pelvis toward the back, which made clothes short-waisted at the back. Anyone familiar with so-called “Armistice blouses” knows they are shorter in back than in front, and will pop out of the skirt if you aren’t wearing a correct period corset.

The 1912 corset still tilted the pelvis up in back, as these pattern illustrations show.

The characteristic body tilt of 1912 (and several years after…) made the back waist higher than the front waist.

To review early Twentieth century corsets so far…

Corset ads from Delineator magazine, 1907, 1910 and 1912.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 1, 1907 to 1910

Two W .B. Corsets: Left, 1907; right 1910. Both are “Reduso” corsets for stout women, pictured just three years apart.

I have quite a collection of corset ads from the backs of Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal — but it’s just a sampling. Nevertheless, there seems to be a continuing message from advertisers to women, and that message is, “There is something wrong with your body.” In addition to being re-shaped, it needs to be “improved” and “confined.”

This is a selection of corset and padding advertisements from just one source, Delineator magazine.

1907: S-Bend and Padding

Ad for Set Snug Underwear, Delineator, October 1907.

Although that ad didn’t sell padding, it shows the nearly-impossible ideal figure of 1907.

This W.B. Nuform corset was designed to give the “chicness and charm of figure” of the Gibson Girl. September, 1907.

A chic figure might well require some padding, as well as distortion and an unnatural posture:

H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms were inflatable [and recommended as a flotation device.]  In a range of shapes, including “Round… Oblong, convex and concave….” July 1907.

[Note: The H & H “before” image shows a normal, youthful figure…. There is nothing “wrong” with it.]

“Are You Thin?” December 1907. Parisian Perfect Form padding for the “back” and hips. You can see it under the corset, especially in the back view.)

“When Nature Slips a Link, Art Steps In. Don’t be Ungracefully Slender a Day Longer….”

The Hip Form Health [!] Skirt will create a bulging bottom [below an unnaturally tiny waist.] November 1907. The text describes it an a petticoat.

And although these figures were presented as ideal…

American Lady Corset ad, September 1907. Delineator.

“Any woman can find a G.D. Justrite that will bring out the lines of her figure.” G.D. Corset ad, October 1907. Delineator.

… it was always possible to have too much of a good thing:

A Nemo Self-Reducing Corset ad. November 1907.

This ad for a Sahlin Perfect Form corset for slender women seemed to offer a less restrictive garment than those which depended on tight-lacing…

Ad for the Sahlin Perfect Form and Corset Combined, October 1907.

… but on closer inspection, what it really offers the slender woman is a curved, boned bodice which produces the effect of a larger, “stylish high bust” without padding.

It’s a bust improver that improves posture as well as creating a bulging bosom by the use of curved boning.

1910 Corsets: Straightening Out Some of Those Curves

In 1910, swaybacks were out, vertical was in. Two dress illustrations from Delineator, June 1910.

Two W. B. Corsets from March 1910. A mercifully straighter spine than 1907 is combined with a full bust and tiny waist.

Another ad for an inflatable bust improver. Ad for the Nature’s Rival Air Form corset waist, March 1910.

In contrast to an artificially tiny waist, a full bust was encouraged.

Ad for National Corsets, February 1910.

The disappearance of the 1907 sway-back style left some manufacturers off balance:

American Beauty corset ad, March 1910. Apparently a transitional style.

Ad for American Lady corsets, April 1910.

If your breasts were in danger of overflowing your corset top, a “confiner” could be stitched to the corset:

Gossard “bust confiner” made to be sewn to the top of the corset, as shown here.

This J.C.C. corset from 1910 starts low on the bust, and extends far down the thighs. Notice the extension which supports the stocking garters.

These corsets are very long.

Two corsets from an ad for J.C.C. Corsets, March 1910.

Above: The corset was moving down, over the thighs, but in 1910 it still offered some bust support.

The front and back views of a Kabo Corset, March 1910. Delineator.

“The most stylish and serviceable corset made.” Kabo corset ad, March 1910.

To emphasize the change in corset shapes from 1907 to 1910:

Left, 1907 Gibson Girl shape and posture; right, a longer, more vertical corset from 1910.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. All of these illustrations come from Delineator magazines.

Coming soon: Corsets continue to change from 1910 to 1914.

 

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Time Traveling Again

This week I’ve been attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (seeing movies from the 1920s in a theater that opened in 1922!) and also visiting the Bound Periodicals collection at SF Main Library. Their earliest copies of Butterick’s Delineator magazine are July to December 1907.

One pleasant surprise: a 1907 monthly feature illustrated by fashion photos instead of drawings!

Shirt-waists and blouses (called waists) photographed for Delineator, July 1907. The article is from a series called “Dressing on Dimes.”

I’m also “visiting 1912” at the moment.

Butterick patterns from Delineator, July 1912, p. 23.

I’m trying to prioritize photographing color images, since color is what was lost when so many magazines were microfilmed (and then discarded by libraries) years ago. Even issues that have been scanned by Google and made available online lose a lot of information, because these old magazines used very small type with a serif font on very large pages; automated scanners have to make a choice between legible text, legible drawings, and accurate color illustrations — not always very successfully. [Link added 5/6/19] (Nevertheless, Hathi Trust makes many issues available that would otherwise be very rare and hard to find.) When I visit the bound copies of Delineator, I usually take 3 or 4 photos of each fashion page: whole page, top half, bottom half, and closeups of images. That allows a different camera exposure for text and images, but it’s not a fast process…. Even photographing a small ad requires an “establishing shot” with the page number on it, then a close-up.

I’m finding wonderful color illustrations…

Butterick pattern illustration, Delineator, April 1907, p. 27.

Butterick illustration for waist [bodice] 5188 and [separate] skirt 5189. Delineator, February 1912, p. 105.

… accompanied by useful line drawings…

Line drawings like these are easier to “figure out” for reproduction than full color paintings. Butterick waist 5514 with skirt 5515, showing front and back views. (Hard to realize this is not a dress! Bodice and skirt do not necessarily open in the same place.)  Delineator, July 1912, p. 24.

…and I photograph those (to me) irresistible ads for corsets, bust improvers, hip padding (!) and other products for women.

W.B. Corsets ad for the Reduso corset. Delineator, September, 1907.

Just looking at that corset makes my back ache! It seems that advertisers always think women are either too fat or too thin, and in need of “improvement:”

Ad for H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms, Delineator, July 1907, page 147.

Pneumatic seems to mean “inflated”– “For bathers at the sea-shore they are indispensable; … acts as a buoy to the bather and makes swimming easy.” [Unless you want to swim face-down?

Hats are always tempting me to photograph them:

Butterick waist 5312 with skirt 5313 and a hat that would keep people at arm’s length…. Delineator, April 1912.

Hat featured in fashion article for December 1907. I think it resembles the foliage from a Christmas Cactus….

Don’t sit behind her at the movies.

I do try not to photograph everything that captures my attention, but limiting myself to color images is not easy.

A suit photographed for the “Dress for Dimes” series. Delineator, October 1907.

Being able to see clothing, accurately dated, without the distorted proportions of fashion illustrations is a treat. Delineator‘s fashion photos from the 1920s were not as good as the ones from 1907.

On the other hand, this story illustration is lovely, and I’m surprised by that low-backed gown at left.

Painting illustrating fiction in Delineator, August 1912. Men in white tie: maximum formality.

Edited  5/7/19: A closer look at that low-backed blue-green evening dress hints that a layer of whitish lace was visible above the deep V.

Detail; I think / expect that sheer white or ecru lace covers her camisole and is visible above the deep V back. I also see ermine tails on the white-haired lady.

After seeing that [illustration], I’m thinking maybe 1912 would be a good year for My Fair Lady / Pygmalion.

Ladies’ coat and jacket outfits, Delineator, April 1912, p. 297.

As usual, it’s astonishing to see how rapidly fashions changed. Just two years later:

Butterick patterns from May 1914. The slender lines of 1912 are gone.

Once I have five or six hundred photos downloaded, I have to label them all (year, month, page, pattern numbers,) which takes quite a while. Of course I want to post as many as possible right away, but an orderly process is absolutely necessary to keep images and their information together. So I may be taking a week or so off from posting blogs!

Back soon!

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Ferris Corsets for Women and Girls, 1914, 1917 and 1910

Mother and daughter both wear Ferris Corsets in this ad from March, 1914. Delineator, page 65.

The Ferris Corset Waist was often stiffened by channels of cording, rather than exclusively by steel bones. In its day, it was a sort of “reform” or “good sense” garment, more flexible and less rigid than the usual boned corset. Nevertheless, it’s dismaying to read:

“Made in more than 100 styles to properly fit all ages, infants to adults.” Ad for the Ferris Waist; Delineator, March 1914.

The full ad for Ferris Waists, March 1914.

The girls at the bottom seem to be teens. The one at left appears to be leaning forward while using some kind of exercise equipment.

The tiny waist at left seems more 1910 than 1914. It may have been a “sport” corset.

The straps help to “teach” correct posture — and hold up your stockings. Even young girls needed something to hold their stockings up… especially when they were too young to have a waist and hips.

Text of Ferris ad, March 1914. “Ferris Waists take the place of corsets.”

Two girls wear Ferris waists in this ad from April 1917.

Ferris Good Sense Corset Waists were “lightly boned and  beautifully corded” to naturally develop the growing body into a more perfect figure in later years.” Ad from April 1917. Delineator.

Ad from May, 1914, featuring a maternity corset. Maternity corsets were sold by several companies, including Lane Bryant [click here to read more about Lane Bryant;]  Sears, Roebuck; and Berthe May.

Ferris Maternity Corset, May 1914. Delineator, page 73. [Why is she wearing her slip under her corset? Because the upper thigh was not usually shown in ads even in the 1950’s, which always led me to wonder how those stocking suspenders reached the stocking tops.]

A rival to the Ferris maternity corset was this more traditional boned corset from Berthe May. January 1914, Delineator. It “allows one to dress as usual and preserve a normal appearance.”

In this ad from 1910, Ferris assured buyers that their products were made “under the cleanest conditions.”

Ferris assured women that the Ferris Good Sense corset waist was not made by exploiting women workers in sweatshop conditions or by piecework in tenements. Ferris ad, 1910.

However, this Ferris maternity corset from 1910 does show fashionable constriction of the waist:

A Ferris Good Sense maternity corset/waist from 1910 clearly was intended to maintain the then-fashionable hourglass figure as long as possible.

Ad for Ferris Waists from Delineator, May, 1910.

Ferris ad, May 1910.

“Good sense” or not, corset-wearing started early:

Ferris Good Sense Corsets for girls, starting at age 6 months. If it buttoned up the back, a girl couldn’t get out of it without help.

Ferris Good Sense corsets for girls and teens, 7 to 15 years old. “[…Pleated] busts soft as silk. Specially adapted to growing girls 11 to 15 of slender form.”

Ferris waist for girls 12 to 17. May 1910 ad.

Those hose supporters (stocking suspenders) are really long!

An adult corset from 1910 sold by waist size: 19 to 30 inches. Ferris ad, Delineator, May 1910.

You can read more about the Ferris Brothers here.

 

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What’s Going on Here? Tops and Skirts from 1914

Almost the full page image of four outfits from Delineator, April 1914. Four outfits: eight patterns.

This is a follow-up to a post that showed this image without any explanation. In 1914, Delineator was a large format magazine, much bigger than the average computer screen (or modern magazine) so I will have to chop up that image to show details of these outfits. The opposite page gave more information about each one, so I also have line drawings and alternate views to share.

Important fact: Not one of these outfits is a dress. They are all separate tops and skirts.

Butterick pattern numbers for the brown and blue-gray outfits at the top right of the page.

It’s not always easy to figure out whether you’re looking at a dress, a skirt and “waist” [i.e., blouse,] or a “coat” and skirt in these fashions from 1914. Luckily, the old Delineator supplied plenty of alternate views.

Sometimes an alternate view  looks so different from the major illustration that only the pattern number shows that they are variations of the same garment. I’ll start by dissecting the gold-colored suit at top left.

Butterick coat 6790 with skirt 6806. Delineator, April 1914.

Coat 6790 and skirt 6806 look like a suit with a long jacket — that’s an illusion.

First surprise: the jacket only reaches the waist.

Coat 6790 with an alternate view, the lapel buttoned.

Front and back views of coat/jacket 6790.

The skirt includes a long tunic top.

Skirt 6808 with two alternate views.  The skirt, drawn in plaid with a bias cut top and two rows of buttons, looks very different.

Butterick waist 6791 with skirt 6792. April 1914, Delineator.

The height of these hats makes it hard to do justice to the entire outfit at once.

Back and front views of waist 6791. In the color version, the waist is two-toned and has a blue and white collar and “vest.”

Alternate views of waist 6791. This view, made in sheer or print fabric, has a high neckline instead of the V-neck shown in the color illustration.

Skirt 6792 has two tiers over the skirt itself.

Skirt 6792 could also be made in a sporty plaid, with more buttons, too. I wonder: were the tunics always cut on the bias, being based on a circle segment? Was the back always placed on the straight grain?

These skirts must have been very warm, if every layer was lined. The drawing of the waistline on all these skirts shows how the corset of 1914 distorted a woman’s body; the boned front of the corset forced her abdominal area into a straight line, pushing the hips and pelvis back — which caused a sway-backed effect. The waistline of the skirt is therefore higher in the back than in the front — one reason why vintage blouses from the WW I era don’t stay tucked into your skirt in back if you aren’t wearing a 1914 corset!

Ad for the Nu-Bone corset, Delineator, March 1914. You can see how the straight-front corset forces the hips and pelvis back.

This Nu-Life corset is higher in back than in front — just like the skirts’ waistbands.

Waist 6799 with skirt 6800.

Incidentally, George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion — which is the basis for My Fair Lady — opened in London in  1914. For the benefit of costumers, I’m sharing a lot of construction information.

A closer view of waist 6799. It looks very short-waisted.

Like the skirts, the waistline of the “waist” is higher in back than in front.

This skirt is elaborately draped.

Front and back views of skirt 6800.

Skirt 6800 later appeared in a feature about bridal costumes. It is very formal.  [Here, it looks like a cape, but it is a skirt.] The view on the left is the back view; on the right is the front view.

Waist 6823 with skirt 6824. Wide hips were obviously very much in style in 1914 — in spite of those corsets.

Three views of waist 6823. Again, the plaid version looks much less formal. It could be worn with a plain skirt.

Skirt 6824 is elaborately draped in a “pannier effect.” The color image gives the back view.

A skirt like this required a shorter interior lining made of sturdy fabric, which supported the weight of the “bustle.”

Description of the blue-gray waist 6823 and skirt 6824. Delineator, April 1914. A “short four-piece foundation skirt” eliminated the need for a waistband.

The surplice-style waist/blouse was also made with a “French lining” to support and control the fullness. I’ll write about French linings some other day.

Here are written descriptions of the other three outfits (I’ll refer to them by color.)

Gold-colored Butterick coat 6790 with skirt 6806. Delineator, April 1914.

Description for the gold-colored “suit” made by combining coat 6790 with skirt 6806.

This skirt also had a “short four piece foundation skirt.”

In addition to the color illustration, skirt 6806 was shown in a plaid version with a different coat on page 24.

Butterick wine-colored waist 6791 with skirt 6792. April 1914, Delineator.

Description of the wine-colored outfit made from waist 6791 and skirt 6792. “The double tunic and one-piece lower part area attached to a short three-piece foundation skirt in regulation waistline.” [As you can see, these skirts have no obvious waistband.]

Waist 6799 with skirt 6800 apparently in brown silk or taffeta.

Description of brown waist 6799 with skirt 6800. Delineator, April 1914. “A short three-piece foundation skirt is given in regulation waistline.”

I don’t think “regulation” had any legal status — it was just the usual no-visible-waistband technique for making skirts.

I can’t resist ending with closer views of the hats:

She’s wearing a wristwatch.

Whew! long post….

 

 

 

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