June 23, 2014


Today I want to talk about corsets.  This is a bit weird- because usually my posts are about the things I make.  Not usually about my opinion.
Well today you get opinion!

I adore corsets.  I often get asked if my corsets are uncomfortable.  I honestly can say no.  I love wearing corsets; I find them more comfortable than bras.  Believe me- if you are feeling pain while wearing a corset- something is wrong.  They can be tight or constricting, but not painful.  

I wanted to talk a bit about the different kinds of corsets, historically speaking.  I often will see historically based costumes with the wrong kind of corset, the wearer just assuming all corsets do the same job.  Some costumers don’t wear a corset at all!  GASP!  But that is a separate issue.  

Now I am not a historical costuming expert by any means, but I have studied a bit on my own as well as the costuming class I took in college.   So take what I say with this in mind.  

The purpose of a corset, or stays or bodies as they are more historically referred to, is to tailor the body to the time period’s ideal of beauty.  Wearing a Victorian corset with a Tudor dress- not going to work.  Why?  Because each period valued different parts of a woman’s body.  That statement may not make sense to people who haven’t studied historical costuming, so let me explain with an example!  

This picture illustrates the changing shape of women’s dresses over a 100 year period.  100 years- 16 different, drastic looks.  Where the ‘waist’ is changes, the shape of the arms changes, the emphasis of the hips and behind area changes.  As the aesthetic of what was considered beautiful changed, so did the dresses.  Make more sense now?

I’m not going to cover all the different kinds of corsets because frankly there are too many for one post, but I’ll do 5 big ones. 

16th Century- 

The Tudor and Elizabethan corsets differ, but for the sake of your sanity and the length of this post- I’ll focus on the Tudor.  The Tudor corset pushed up the girls, yes, however the second job of the corset was to squash them against the chest.  Think sports bra- but more compacting.  Although the tendency for Renaissance clothing now-a-days is to have maximum boob-spillage, from historical paintings you clearly can surmise that this was not the case.  Boobs were firmly squashed and tucked away.  

This is sew-er extraordinaire Sidney Eileen’s Tudor corset.  The woman is amazing; I relied on her tutorials heavily while I was learning to make corsets.  Her tutorials on gores and tabs are pure brilliance.  Click here to see the tabs tutorialClick here for gores!

Here are two paintings from the period: 

See?  No cleavage!!  Even in these more revealing dresses, there isn’t spillage.  The Tudor is definitely not one of my favorite corsets, but there is something so beautiful about how straight and flat their bodices are.

18th Century- 

With the drop in the corset more of the bust was exposed, resulting in a slightly pillowy cleavage.  ENTER BOOBS!  This corset’s design was to lift the breasts and bring in the waist.  

The tabs- seen on this preserved underwear set- help make the corset more comfortable.  Because…women have hips.  I loathe adding tabs to corsets- they are a pain to sew- but tabs prevent the boning from digging into the hips. 

This 18th century painting presents what the people at this time valued as beautiful.  Her skirts are extremely full, her waist is tiny, the breasts are raised but soft.  


There are two kinds of regency corsets, a long and a short.  The Regency Era saw a return to the Greek aesthetic- or at least what they thought was Greek.  Their flowing styles emulated ancient Greek and Roman clothing- it made no sense to wear a heavily boned corset underneath.  The waist of the period also moved, migrating to just under the bust, so corsets that tucked in the natural waist no longer made sense.  Instead they used corsets that lifted the breasts modestly while pulling in the body ever so slightly.  Instead of bones, most corsets were corded.  What does that mean?  They used cord to stiffen the corset instead of bones.  It provides support, but doesn’t overly pull in the body.

In this fashion plate you can see where the waist is on the ladies.  It’s quite high, the natural waist is obscured by all the fabric.  

Here are short and long regency stays.


At last! The silhouette so many people associate with the word ‘corset’.  This corset worked with the curves of a woman’s body.  It is snug against the hips, lifts the breasts without squashing, and tightens the stomach to accentuate the curves.  

In this fashion plate you can see who ladies with their walking clothes, wearing lovely gloves and bonnets.  Their waists are tiny, but unlike the 18th century, there is a roundness of breast.  The bust isn’t compacted and raised, but supported and raised ever so slightly.

S Curve- 

The ideal of this period was personified by the ‘S’ shape.  When in school I found this to be the most bizarre of the historical looks.  Why would anyone want to look like an ‘S’?  

 What…what is that in her dress?  A growth?  Fat?  Very saggy boobs?

But then look at this photograph.

Stunning.  Absolutely gorgeous.  I totally get it.

There is much more than the corset at work here to give this lovely lady her fantastic shape, but since we are discussing corsets- I’ll stick with that.  Here is a picture of a woman getting dressed.  Look how far the top of the corset has drifted, it almost is below her bust line!

And then there is this awesome ad which is promoting the new S Curve look...it cracks me up-

I find corsets fascinating- and I hope you do too!  Thank you for reading, and as always feel free to ask me questions- or even to share your knowledge with me!  

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