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.