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Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets

“To be smart this season one must be more than slim. The figure must defy nature and be as flat as the proverbial flounder, as straight as a lead pencil, and boneless and spineless as a string-bean. One must be straight like a boy and narrow like a lady in a Japanese print.” – Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator Magazine.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick corselette pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator magazine.

Corselets, Corselettes, Corsolettes, & Corsettes, 1924 to 1929

Delineator writer Evelyn Dodge explained the difference between a corset and a corselet in her “The New in New York” column dated July 1925:

“Not all women need corsets. Women with young, slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassière and hip-confiner, is sufficient. It is unboned and is therefore as soft and flexible as the natural figure. It keeps the figure straight without making it rigid. It is made of soft light fabrics such as brassière material, broché coutil and fine washable satin and has elastic gores to fit in at the hip. “

“Corsets” were heavily boned and rigid. (“For the figure that is heavier… the corset becomes heavier with heavier material, more bones… and with lacings.” — Dodge) “Corselets” (or corselettes, corsolettes, corsettes, etc. — you could find many spelling variations even in the Delineator‘s articles and advertisements) were unboned, or very lightly boned, and flexible.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

The woman in this 1924 Bien Jolie Corsette is doing something you couldn’t possibly do in a heavily boned corset: she is bending at the waist. (If you do bend too far in a metal-boned corset, the bones develop a permanent crimp, a dent or a bulge.) The ad says, “The freedom of the uncorseted figure and the long, slim lines demanded by the modes of today are both attained by the Bien Jolie Corsette. . . .”

A Delineator article called this boneless garment a “brassiere corset” early in 1924:

A Brassiere Corset for slender women, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

A Brassiere Corset for slight figures, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

Butterick Corselette Pattern No. 5691, 1924-1925

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924.

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924. The corselet is shown worn over bloomers.

In her July 1925 article, Evelyn Dodge went on to say:

“You can either buy or make your corselet. It is very easily made, and if the figure is large or small at one point or another the corselet can easily be fitted when it is being made.”

You can see that there are no boning channels in the corselette, but coutil is a non-stretch corset fabric vith very little ‘give.’ Elastic in yardage wide enough for mass-produced girdles was not available before 1930, according to Ewing (Fashion in Underwear, pp. 102-107), so some corselets of the 1920s show wide bands of overlapped elastic. You can see this in the illustration on the right, below.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator. 1925.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator, 1925.

1924 p 36 corselette 5691 descriptionThe pattern description doesn’t say whether this corselette opens with hooks and eyes under the left arm . . .

Does it open along a side seam?

Does it open along a side seam?

. . . or along the side front seam, like this commercially made corselet.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Dodge continues, “These corselets have been enormously successful for several reasons — their excellent lines, their inexpensiveness, and the fact that they can be washed as easily and as often as any other piece of lingerie. They are supple enough for sports and dancing and their unbroken lines are perfect under the light fabrics of evening gowns.”

Commercially Manufactured Corselets, 1924 to 1929

Although the spellings differed, the popularity of the corselet is apparent by the number that were advertised.

The Treo company, a line available through Sears, Roebuck’s catalog, as well as in stores, called this model a “Brassiere Girdle” combination garment:

Treo "Brassiere Girdle combination garment" ad from Delineator, May 1925.

Treo “Brassiere Girdle combination garment” ad from Delineator, May 1925.

The DeBevoise company suggested that this Step-in Corsette belonged in a bride’s trousseau:

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

This Warner’s corselette for large figures is “boned in the modern manner,” although the “silk jersey top” can’t have had much impact on a large bust.

Warner's Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

Warner’s Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

This Bien Jolie satin brocade corselette dates from 1924:

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6076, April 1924. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6078, April 1924. Delineator.

By 1926, flattened busts were going out of fashion and a more natural silhouette was beginning to replace the “unbroken straight line” of Butterick #5691.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator. Note the elastic curving in toward the waist and the model’s curved silhouette.

By March, 1929, Delineator showed these “foundation” garments [note the name change; they are no longer ‘corselettes’] in an article about the latest underwear styles:

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

By 1931, you could buy this Smart Model “co-ed” foundation with “new bustline, no boning” from a Sears catalog for $1.98.

From Stella Blum's Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

From Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

This is part 4 of a series about undergarments in the 1920s: to read “Brassieres, Bandeaux and Bust Flatteners” (click here), “Underpinning Twenties Fashion: Girdles and Corsets” (click here), “Garters, Flappers & Rolled Stockings” (click here.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Accessory Patterns, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Golf and Corsets, 1917

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

From an article about corsets, Delineator, Sept. 1917.

After writing about the use of golf to promote everything from laundry soap to deodorant in September of 1924, I went to the library to finish reading the bound Delineators from 1917 and found this image of a lady in her underwear holding a putter. (I may be wrong about the golf club’s name. I’ve only played golf once, over 50 years ago.) If asked to name the least flattering period of women’s clothing, ever, I would say “World War I;”  these corsets, brassieres, and bust-confiners do nothing to dissuade me.

Corsets for Sports, 1917

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

A corset for sports and dancing, lightly boned and flexible. September, 1917.

It would be fun to make up stories about why this lady is so interested in the golf club that she has just found in her boudoir, but it’s not a clue in a murder mystery; the illustrator probably put it there to indicate that this is a corset for “sports, motoring and dancing, ” “lightly boned and made flexible with rubber gores that give and take.” The corset is shown worn over her bloomers. Judging from the two pairs of straps on her shoulders, she is wearing a corset cover over either a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Her shoes are also interesting; her stockings are held up by her corset, so these straps are not garters, but part of the lady’s boots:

Ladies' boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

Ladies’ boots with diagonal straps at top. 1917.

This is a lighter sports corset — on a less substantial woman —  from the same article:

A sports corset for slender women. 1917.

“The new sports corset has a very short front bone with buttons above it. The bust is very low.” 1917.

The riding crop on the bench, plus the bowler hat — assuming it belongs to the lady — suggest she is going horseback riding. “The bust is very low” indeed, even though her arms are raised.

Brassieres and Bust-Confiners, 1917

"with a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917,  p. 43.

“With a low corset even a slender woman needs a brassiere or a bust-confiner.” This upper garment, with gathers at the side and no boning, is a bust-confiner. Delineator, September 1917, p. 43.

The brassiere of 1917 created a mono-bosom, and contributed to the sagging bustline that was illustrated in fashions for young women as well as for matrons.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

Butterick patterns for women, September 1917.

The stout lady in this illustration is wearing a heavy linen brassiere with her front-lacing corset:

A brassiere and a front-lacing corset, 1917.

A brassiere worn with a front-lacing corset, 1917.

The front-lacing corset was still new. “With the present low bust the corset only takes care of the lower part of the figure. The upper part is no longer corseted by the corset but by a brassiere or bust-confiner. The new brassieres are quite lovely. For stout figures they are made of heavy linen and heavy lace in the filet and Cluny patterns. They come right to the waistline and are boned lightly but firmly. The stout woman has to wear a brassiere. . . . Slender women wear either a brassiere or bust-confiner of silk tricot, crepe de Chine, net or satin ribbon. Under the very thin Georgette crepe blouses and dresses, with only a thin silk shirt and a satin camisole between you and your dress, the bust-confiner is absolutely necessary for even the most slender and undeveloped figures.” A few years later, the brassiere and the bust-confiner had evolved into bust flatteners and bandeaux. Click here for more about early 1920s bandeaux and corsets.

From and article by , Delineator, Sep. 1917, p. 43.

From an article by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator, Sept. 1917, p. 43.

This article about underwear was titled “First Line of Defense of the Figure.” After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, military terms were constantly used by Delineator editors in fashion coverage, in a way that I find shocking today. Of course, the World War I images of horrific slaughter which we have seen were censored and suppressed at the time, so whimsical references to “manouevres,” “holding the line,” and “going over the top” were perhaps not so tasteless then. Perhaps.

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Bras, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Hosiery & Stockings, Shoes, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes