Unmentionables !

The 1800’s was a boom time for corsets. For the first time there are recorded advertisments, cartoons and writings for male corsets. The Dandy appears on the scene, placing great importance on physical appearance, and leisure. The Dandy often wore a corset to help his figure and to create the smooth lines that were seen as most fashionable during that time. The probable truth is that many a man wore a corset or body belt to keep the smooth lines of men’s clothing in the late 1700 and early 1800’s.







 But for the lovely ladies….


Steam-moulding helped create a curvaceous contour. Developed by Edwin Izod in the late 1860s and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets, the procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam heated copper torso form until it dried into shape.












At the beginning of the 1800’s until 1810 the fashionable style of corset tended to be short. During this time the demi-corset is thought to become widespread with the middle classes, it was lighter and shorter, allowing women to have shaping support while doing housework.

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I mean we CERTAINLY wanted to look good under our working 

house dress !











"Tighter Mammie… I don’t HAVE to work…”

Otherwise I’m assuming we would just crawl around on all fours…..

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 How all those wires work under there !

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Summer corsets

A one piece petticoat & corset cover

In the 1900’s the corset shape differed from the earlier stays in two major ways; first, the corset no longer ended at the hips, but flared out and ended several inches below the waist, and secondly, the corset was exaggeratedly curvaceous rather than funnel-shaped. Spiral steel stays were used that curved with the figure.



Beautiful wedding ensemble

The Edwardian corset came along by 1902. It’s new straight front, made the shoulders upright, formed a long sloping bust and ended with a graceful curve over the hips. This silhouette popularised by the American artist, Dana Gibson, and portrayed by Miss Camille Clifford, gave rise to the Gibson Girl by 1905. However, by 1907 the corset shape had changed again, trying to disguise the hips instead of accentuate them.

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 Another wedding ensemble








Between 1902-1905 several “Bust Improvers” came on the market. The Neena bust improver was made of cup-shaped perforated metal disks ( !!!), which promised to give all women the bust of Venus de Milo (or Madonna!). 

The other was referred to as a bust bodice and was worn over the corset and resembled the modern bra

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Between 1910-1919 rust-proof boning and rubber coated spring were introduced, changing corset construction for the modern era.

The 1900’s called for an elongated torso, upright shoulders, long sloping bust and graceful hips. We would recognize this look as “The Gibson Girl”. When the exaggerated shoulders of the late 1800’s went out of fashion, the waist itself had to be cinched tighter in order to achieve the same effect. The focus of the fashionable silhouette of the mid and late 19th century was an hourglass figure.



It is during this time when tight lacing may have been used to achieve the hourglass figure the concern over the health of corsets became a rather large issue. Doctors proclaimed that wearing corsets caused a number of ailments; damage to the heart and lungs, tuberculosis, circulatory damage, indigestion, enlargement or displacement of liver, constipation, undeveloped uterus, prolapsed uterus, gallstones, and muscle atrophy. Sadly, many people still believe that many of the items on that list were actual side effects of corset wearing, and not a lack of medical understanding and product propaganda.

At the time new products popped up to fight the horrors of corset wearing -  Health Corsets. In 1884, Dr. Jaeger came up with wool sanitary corsets, described as flexible and elastic. Dr. Jaeger claimed that the wool had curing capabilities and that it had cured him of his chronic health problems: excess of weight and indigestion.  

Brothers and Doctors, Lucien and Ira De Ver Warner who lectured about the evils of corset, sold the Coraline Health Corset. Made with flexible fibers from the Coraline plant. Their factory of weavers were making 6000 corsets a day, by 1894 they were millionaires.

In 1916  a new undergarment was advertised to take the place of the old-fashioned camisole, called the brassiere.

 Ahhhh… I think I like the 1880’s better….

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By 1918 the corset rested well under the bust and extended to mid-thigh. By this time the corset is beginning to transform into the girdle.

By 1920 the corset as it had been known in years past had mostly fallen out of fashion, it was replaced by looser clothing and the bra. Though many women still wore long line girdles and restrictive compression bras, they were rarely laced and supported by stays. 

The bras of the 1920s were very tight, compressing the breasts to produce the straight, shapeless form that was fashionable.

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And as the corset drove off into the sunset… it would seem women would stop having to be cinched and tightened… but alas… it was not to be. 

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And we end with….  The Dowager !
















 For those ‘stout’ figures !!!

And as a last resort…  :-)

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                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012