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.
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 a 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 fit 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.
Filed under 1800s-1830s, Corsets, Costumes for the 19th century, Foundation Garments, lingerie and underwear, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing
Delineator magazine cover, March 1927. Illustration by Helen Dryden.
By February or March, those who could afford to take a break from winter weather — and those who just wanted to daydream about doing it — could read about resort wear.
In a two page spread, Delineator assured readers that all these authorized copies of French designer fashions would fit into just one trunk.
Informal coat by Paquin, Delineator. March 1927, p. 18. The mole collar is dyed green to match the cloth coat; the hat is by Reboux.
Sporty day outfits combine a skirt and lacy sweater, left, or a printed silk “jumper” and coordinating skirt by Goupy, right. Delineator, March 1927. These imported fashions could be purchased in New York stores.
A bathing suit and beach robe by Lelong. Delineator, March 1927. The ingeniously cut wrap reverses from jersey to toweling. The bathing suit is cut low in back to produce a tan the same shape as an equally low cut evening dress.
For more about the fad for suntans in the 1920’s, click here. For more about composé colors, click here.
A more formal afternoon dress and matching coat ensemble designed by Berthe are worn in the late afternoon. Delineator, March 1927. The matching mauve coat is 7/8 length. The straw hat by Agnes (left) “has the new front-peak silhouette.”
The somewhat similar draped hat on the magazine’s cover, illustrated by Helen Dryden, shows a “peak” that is pinned up, away from the face.
A rose colored outfit (or is it mauve?) is accented with emerald jewelry in this stylized image by Helen Dryden. March 1927.
A gold lamé evening wrap by Vionnet, “striped with silver” and trimmed with gold fox fur, is shown with a “bolero” dress by Chanel in white Georgette trimmed with jewels and silver. Delineator, March 1927. page 19.
An evening dress made of lace. “Rose silk lines the fur bows.” The tiers of the skirt “extend all the way to the shoulder in back.” Delineator, March 1927. No designer was named.
The Chanel evening dress was imported by Lord and Taylor; the other French afternoon and evening clothes were available from John Wanamaker.
Fashion Illustrator Myrtle Lages
The illustrations from pages 18 and 19 are by Myrtle Lages. Here are some Lages signatures, which usually appeared subtly at a lower corner of the image. I had to enhance some of these to improve legibility.
Lages (Myrtle Lages) worked as a fashion illustrator for Delineator, which often used one illustrator for most of the pattern illustrations in an issue. Lages usually squeezed her signature modestly into the lower corner of one illustration (probably magazine policy.) Delineator magazine was owned by Butterick.
Lages’ signature varied between the faint and stylized vertical one, giving last name only, to the carefully written full name, as in September 1933. When Delineator switched to black and white line illustrations plus one color, Lages had no problem adjusting her style.
Butterick patterns 1419 and 1417, illustrated in red, black and white by Lages for Delineator, May 1927.
Myrtle Lages pattern illustrations, Delineator, August 1927. Butterick 1555, 1589, 1573, 1384.
According to her obituary, Myrtle Lages (married name Whitehill) worked as an illustrator for Butterick for more than forty years. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, she died in 1994, aged 98.
Butterick patterns for ladies’ underwear, Delineator, August 1917.
In 1925, Delineator fashion writer Evelyn Dodge recommended three ways to look thinner in nineteen twenties’ clothes. Her first suggestion was to wear a corset or lightly boned corselette. (Click here to read about 1920s corselettes.)
Her second recommendation was to stop wearing the bulky underwear of the previous decade.
Evelyn Dodge, writing in Delineator magazine, July 1925.
The styles of the World War I era were not worn close to the body, so underwear did not have to be sleek or tight.
Some typical, military-influenced women’s fashions from August 1917. Delineator, p. 50.
The following images show Paris couture underwear from August 1917, followed by Butterick lingerie patterns from the same issue of Delineator magazine.
“Underpinnings of Paris” included lingerie by designers Doucet, Premet, and Jenny. Delineator, August 1917, p. 60.
Paris lingerie by Premet, August 1917. This bridal set included “Pale pink voile, pale silver-blue ribbons, and pointed net embroidered with bouquets and baskets.”
Couture undergarments by French designers Doucet and Jenny; Aug. 1917. Left, pink voile combination trimmed with lace; right, cream yellow lace on pink satin knickers, outlined with “cocardes” of satin ribbon. The crotch of the combination is very low.
The simple ribbon straps (“braces”) seem to be a new idea on lingerie. (And they were already falling off women’s shoulders, as shown.) The Butterick corset covers shown later in this post, some of which covered the underarm area, were beginning to look old-fashioned [and they were.]
Couture undergarments and nightgown by Premet, August 1917. Delineator.
Lingerie from Paris, by designer Jenny. August 1917. Left, a petticoat made of sulphur-yellow “gaze” trimmed with lace; right, a box-pleated chemise of flowered muslin.
It’s impossible to imagine these garments under a narrow 1920’s dress.
A petticoat from Paris by Premet. August 1917. “The kilted skirt is …held in by a blue ribbon” at the hem. Pretty, but bulky….
A slip by Doucet, designed to be worn under the wide-hipped styles of 1917. The ribbon-bound ruffles would keep a woman’s skirt far from her body. “Shoulder ribbons for both day and evening wear.”
Nightgowns, negligees, peignoirs, etc., were also shown:
Paris designer Doucet created this pleated nightgown and a peignoir with a classical Greek inspiration. August 1917. Delineator.
To modern eyes, the models’ nightcaps (boudoir caps) are not very sexy. More about boudoir caps later….
The August issue of Delineator also showed a selection of Butterick lingerie patterns. The combination on the left has tiny underarm sleeves to protect clothing from perspiration.
Butterick combination 9347 and Butterick chemise 9353. Delineator, Aug. 1917, p. 49.
Although called a chemise, Number 9353 has a very low crotch, probably closed with buttons between the knees. Number 9347 has an open crotch, like Victorian drawers. The top of No. 9347 is described as a “corset cover.”
Butterick nightgown pattern 9345 and combination 9343. August 1917. No. 9343 has a corset cover on top of open drawers.
The fact that not all women adopted new fashions immediately is shown by the inclusion of “corset covers;” the corset of 1917 did not cover the bust area, although it was often worn with a “brassiere.”
Bon Ton corset ad, Delineator, May 1917, p. 71.
Butterick corset cover pattern #8478, open drawers #9341, and princess slip #8973. Delineator, Aug. 1917.
About those boudoir caps….
They could be quite elaborate; probably the most lavishly decorated and well-preserved ones were from bridal trousseaux.
This vintage boudoir cap was embroidered with silver thread, which has tarnished to dark gray. Pomegranates are associated with fertility.
Butterick boudoir cap pattern 9253, Delineator, August 1917, p. 52. The “Castle cap” is a reference to dancer Irene Castle, a fashion trend-setter in the nineteen tens and twenties.
Vintage boudoir cap, 20th century.
This vintage silk boudoir cap is trimmed with “wings” of orange crochet lace.
Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Accessory Patterns, Corsets, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Hats, lingerie, lingerie and underwear, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Slips and Petticoats, Uncategorized, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Underwear and lingerie, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Wedding Clothes, World War I