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 if you received two notifications on it. Mysterious, indeed.
This corset is stiffened by many rows of parallel channels. A busk can be inserted in the center. Parallel rows of diagonal cording flatten the midriff, which, to me, suggests a date after the 1810s.
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.
Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.
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.
Back detail of the corset near shoulder.
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.]
Inside of the corset. An occasional thread knot implies hand stitching.
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.
Channel stitching, detail of right midriff front. The busk channel is at right of photo.
Detail of front of corset. The midriff area is stitched from below the bust to just below the natural waist. I think the channels hold cording. I do wish I’d had time to photograph the inside!
The corset has a dropped shoulder in the back, tiny close-fitting bound armholes, and an extended shoulder line.
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.
Empire dress, early 1800’s, with wool embroidery at hem in three shades of brown.
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.
Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed.
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.
I looked online for Regency Era reproduction patterns; I didn’t find any pattern for this corset. A yahoo search turns up several images of Regency Era corsets. Click here.
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 i little above the wearer’s natural waist. The front straps are spaced as far apart as possible.
Corset from the 1820’s in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.
corset met 1815 to 1825
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.
Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fot a child, but no child would have a bust like this.
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:
April 1811, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblee, Casey Collection. A ball dress.
However, not every woman immediately adopted the lower waist, as this mourning evening dress from 1818 shows:
Evening dress for a woman in mourning, 1818. From British Ladies’ Magazine, December 1818. in Casey Collection.
The mourning dress and the Parisian evening dress below might have been seen at the same ball, although one has a much lower waist.
A high bust and a descending waist line, from La Belle Assemblee, January 1820.
These dresses from 1822 show a high bust with a lower, fitted waist, which is still above the natural waistline.
1822: a plate from the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, October 1822. Casey Collection. The shape of the midriff is becoming important, no longer concealed by fullness in the dress.
Bodices from La Belle Assemblee, December 1822. Casey Collection. The trend for wider shoulders and a narrow below-the-bust area is beginning. Belts accent the waist, which is still higher than nature designed.
Fashion plates from 1825 show higher necklines and lower waists, with a widening (and highly decorated) hem.
January 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames. Casey Collection.
February 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames, Casey Collection. The silhouette is wider at top and hem, emphasizing a tiny waist.
November 1825, Ladies’ Magazine. Casey Collection.
By 1829, a tiny waist, rather than a high, full bust, is the focus of fashion:
September 1829, La Belle Assemblee. Casey Collection.
April 1830, La Mode. Sleeves are enormous, the shoulder is widened and extended over the upper arm; a woman is wider everywhere — except her waist. Casey Collection.
So: where does our mystery corset belong?
High neckline, relatively natural bust, flat midriff, slightly dropped shoulders.
Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed. Notice the line of the shoulders.
I can imagine it being worn under this dress — but that’s only my guess.
high qual repro pattern http://www.songsmyth.com/underthings.html
The top of page 28, Delineator, July 1926. These are Butterick patterns for women.
Bright colors were on view in the July issue of Delineator for 1926. The colors are not necessarily what we think of as summery hues, but they’re a nice reminder that the clothes we usually see in black and white photos were not colorless at all.
The colors of the left, Butterick pattern 6883, seem rather autumnal. The brilliant blue dress on the right, Butterick 6914, has a white smocking, a white collar, and a lively necktie which matches her hat. July, 1926.
Detail of Butterick 6883. The bib effect — like the bib on a man’s formal shirt front — is seen in many 1920’s dresses. The fullness at the front of the skirt is controlled with rows of ruching.
Detail of Butterick 6914. White smocking decorates the bodice and keeps the dress snug over the hips.
The necktie is not shaped like a man’s tie.
Left, Butterick 6914; right, Butterick 6906 in a very lively abstract print fabric. 1926.
The sleeves of Butterick 6906 are wide below the elbow and hang open. The tucks at the top of the skirt panels give a slim fit over the hips but allow the skirt panels to flare out. I don’t think I’ve seen this detail before.
Detail, Butterick dress 6906. The collar is not the dress material, but solid white. The print suggests flowers on a trellis.
These dresses appeared on the bottom of page 28:
Dresses featured on the bottom of page 28. (I moved the one on the left to make the image more compact.)
Butterick 6922 is shown made in lavender-blue striped fabric, cleverly turned to use the stripes horizontally in the center front, on the decorative pockets, and inside the skirt pleats.
Butterick 6916, shown in dark yellow material, is another “bib front” dress. Butterick 6922, in red, is accented with white smocking and worn with a gray and black scarf and matching hat. 1926.
Butterick 6916, in yellow, has a small pocket above the hip belt.
Butterick 6922, in red, has a gathered front skirt panel (like No. 6883 on page 28) and smocking on the bodice and skirt, like No. 6914.
Left, No. 6922; right, No. 6914. Both dresses have white smocking, but in different smocking patterns. Women who didn’t want to do this hand sewing could always substitute machine ruching, but the liveliness of a contrast color would be lost.
Six more dress patterns, in more formal styles, were illustrated in color on page 29:
Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator magazine, July 1926, pg. 29. Illustrations were probably by Marie L. Britton, who also illustrated the May issue of Delineator, and many others.
From left, Butterick 6910, in green; 6899, in blue-gray, and 6893, in gold. Top of page 29, Delineator, July 1926.
In 1926, hemlines are rising toward the knee. It might be helpful to imagine these dresses on real women, rather than the oddly lengthened torsos of fashion illustrations.
Two mature women wearing Bien Jolie corsets; both ads are from 1926. [Younger women were rejecting bust flatteners by the mid-twenties.]
Fashion illustration and photo of model, 1926. The real woman is much less elongated: she’s shorter and wider. On the right, I removed a section from the middle of the fashion illustration, just for fun. It’s not perfect — the hip flounce looks too high now — but it’s more credibly human.
Fullness in the lower sleeve — or a funnel sleeve — is a common feature on these afternoon outfits.
Butterick 6910, July 1926. Scallops were a feature on many 1920’s dresses, not always on the hem.
Left, Butterick afternoon dress 6899; right, Butterick 6893. The sheer fabric is probably Georgette chiffon.
Bottom of page 29, Delineator, July 1926.
Dress 6912, in greige/tan, has elaborate embroidery on its full, sheer sleeves, which are controlled by parallel rows of gathers (ruching) at the top.
Left, Butterick 6912, with embroidery pattern 10355; right, Butterick 6920 is very formal afternoon wear.
The lower sleeves of No. 6920 seem to be one long strip of lace, open at the sides. Pale peachy-pink or tan was often used with sheer black. Click here for a vintage dress that uses these colors.
Butterick 6952 is an ensemble of a dotted dress and sheer coat, worn open down the front for a slenderizing line.
Redingote dresses like this — open down the front and often made of sheer fabric — were popular in the 1920’s and after. Next: Colorful 1926 clothing for girls and boys.
Filed under 1920s, Corselettes, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns
I’ve shown this image before, but a great dress is worth repeating.
Cover of the Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1936.
Have a happy day!
If you long for more low-backed dresses from the 1930’s, here is a post about them.
Title of a page in Butterick’s Delineator magazine, January 1928. Page 33. [From a black and white illustration.]
It was traditional for fashion magazines to show cruise or resort clothes in the dead of winter. Here are all eight “Summer Modes” and their pattern information.
Butterick 1828, from January 1928. “A typical southern frock.” Available up to size 44 bust. Soft fabric petals accent one shoulder.
Then as now, people who could afford a vacation headed south for a little sunshine during winter months.
Butterick coat 1821 and frock 1581, January 1928. I love the dress fabric, a pattern of umbrellas and rainbows in falling rain. The sheer coat has a decorative fabric flower on the shoulder.
Butterick 1824, a spectator sports outfit from January 1928. This cardigan costume — with velvet sleeveless cardigan — has two color bands at hip and wrist, the lighter band matching the cardigan vest’s color.
Butterick 1818 from January 1928. Sheer georgette chiffon in a floral print worn over a light colored slip, probably the same color as the “plain Georgette” which trims the neck and forms a long bow.
Four outfits featured on the bottom of page 33. Delineator, January 1928.
Butterick 1819, a coat illustrated in a boldly patterned striped shantung silk. It is also shown sleeveless. The dress barely covers the kneecap, and the 7/8 length coat suits it perfectly.
I love this silk coat. I think it is meant to be worn open, and is not for warmth, but I like the deep triangular pockets and that fabric! I hope it really existed and was not the illustrator’s invention.
Jean Patou had popularized monogrammed sports wear (his own monogram on couture) in the early twenties, and many stylized alphabets were available as embroidery patterns.
Butterick 1816, a sports frock from January 1928. Stylized monograms were quite popular, so that may be an “M” embroidered in thread to match the striped neckline and belt. The box pleats are applied on top of the belt.
By a happy coincidence, The Midvale Cottage blog just shared illustrated sewing instructions by Ruth Wyeth Spears for sewing exactly this type of pointed 1920’s pleat. Click here.
Butterick 1822, a three piece sport ensemble from January 1928. It is not a knit fabric, but Shantung. The blouse has a bold sun ray applique.
So, that’s one cardigan made of velveteen and one made from silk Shantung. Without the pattern descriptions, I would have assumed they were jersey knits.
Butterick party frock 1826, from January 1928. It could also be made with long sleeves, and the pattern was available for teens or small women, and for women up to size 44 bust. Notice the ruching at the shoulder, which creates a little fullness for the bust. The pattern for the slip that goes under the sheer chiffon Georgette was not mentioned.
We think of the twenties as the era of the slim, boyish figure, but all eight of these Butterick patterns were available in sizes up to 44 inches bust measurement, hip 47 inches.