westminster-corset

“Westminster-corset”, the QE1 Effigy corset (not from the Sittingbourne cache)

I had absolutely no intention of writing a post this evening, but a post on the importance of independent labels and locally made goods (specifically in lingerie, but really in any goods we consume), led to some interesting lingerie sites, which led to a fitting guide, some Elizabethan corset history and eventually to a rather detailed image of an early 1600s corset from the Sittingbourne cache.

The Sittingbourne Cache is the collective name given to a large group of artifacts found within the fabric of an old public house in Sittingbourne, Kent, in the south-east of the UK, shortly before the building’s demolition. The cache, consisting of over 500 artefacts, is the largest reported to the DCGP [Deliberately concealed Garments Project].

via http://www.concealedgarments.org/2010/10/sittingbourne-cache/

More after the jump (more…)

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Bridges on the Body logoI’ve shared some info in the past from the Bridges on the Body blog, but I’d forgotten about their great logo. Basically it’s a visual timeline, from the Elizabethan era to the 1920s, of the way corsetry has changed through history, with the waist line as marking point. Take at the blog sometime. This post offers links to the Kent State University Museum’s Pinterest board for historical undergarments.

I’ve been enjoying Fashion Revealed’s Tumbler page of corsetry, hose, shifts, slips, early bras, bustles and hoopskirts from (mostly) various museum collections. You might too!

2001.373.1ab_FThe above corset is a lovely silk number in the Met‘s collection.

In honor of Downton Abbey’s advance into the 1920s in Season 3 (though not quite in their wheelhouse) and the upcoming May 10, 2013 release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (totally in their wheelhouse), I’m shamelessly reblogging Come Step Back in Time’s great post on the Gosport Gallery’s Roaring Twenties exhibit. There are some fabulous images of stunning twenties dresses any flapper or modern girl would love to have. I love the attention to detail like the hand painting on the lower part of the heel one the white slipper.

Come Step Back In Time

Modernistic effects in furniture and architecture are being used with a vengeance by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Joan Crawford’s new picture.  Weird beds, almost on the floor, have little woodwork frame save foot-high boards which conceal the springs and do away without the conventional legs of a bed.  These are set against a wall whose only ornamenting is the shape of the doors.  Black statues set against gold papered panels from the ornamental note. The whole thing is being photographed under the huge new incandescent lights.

(Extract from a 1928 Studio Press Release for MGM’s Our Dancing Daughters)

Our Dancing Daughterswas the first in a trilogy of films designed under the auspices of Head of Art Direction at MGM, Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960).  The other films in the trilogy being Our Blushing Brides (1928) and Our Modern Maidens (1929). His high style, Art Deco inspired, set designs were befitting to the…

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Warning – spoilers below the jump.

I would be remiss if i didn’t mention last Sunday’s first season 3 episode of Downton Abbey. The whole cast is back for more drama, a wedding, (more…)

Corsets come in many shapes, from long line, to gusseted, to modern and many variations between. The universal point of corsetry is to shape the body and provide a foundation for the garments, whether that shape is flattened and lifted, the cylindrical shape of a Renaissance corset or the slimming, bulge free, pointy breasted look of a Merry Widow. This  image gives you an idea of the variations in just a 20 year period, from 1900 – 1919.

Not all corsets are created equal. Not by a long shot. There are some specialized materials and techniques that go into the making of a corset. Most corsets require a busk, which is a particularly shaped front piece that holds that part of the corset flat. There are spoon busks, wooden, horn and split busks with knobs and loops for front opening corsets. The corset will have some kind of boning or stiffening. This can be spring steel bones, plastic, whale bones, reeds, or cording. Some people substitute heavy-duty zip ties with the end parts removed. Farthingales is one of the most complete sources for corset making supplies.

When I look at corsets people have for sale one of the first things I look at is the fabric. A corset that is meant to actually alter your shape and survive the strain will be made with at least one layer of coutil. Coutil is a dense herringbone weave fabric. The directions of the weave do not stretch and this is key to a corset that alters your shape without its own shape being altered over time. No, denim or duck won’t do; they are plainweave and will stretch. It’s not the thickness of the fabric you are after, it’s the weave. Would some other herringbone that is not strictly coutil work? Possibly. That could be something to explore. If the corset is to be pretty it will usually have a layer of fashion fabric over the coutil. A corset may also be lined with a third fabric, but only the coutil is strictly necessary.

Coutil is expensive. A look at Farthingales today shows that it can be in the $45/yard range. I’ve purchased their coutil and know they sell excellent quality. Recently I found a non-pre-shrunk coutil elsewhere and have decided to give it a try as the prices was very attractive. Below you will find the inexpensive sample on the left and the excellent Farthingales stock on the right.

Notice the difference? The herringbone weave on the right is much smaller. The one of the left almost looks like it has alternating stripes of denser and less dense weave. I’m not entirely sure how the one on the left will perform. That said, it may perform marvelously. After pre-washing it, where it will lose roughly 5% of its size (which means the weave will be tightened), I’ll have to see how it fares. I am planning to make either a waist cincher or (my approximation of an) Elizabethan corset with this.

The Rogues have just returned from the annual SLO Renaissance Festival where bras were definitely not in fashion! We were trussed into our bodices (and in some cases also a corset) that were designed for maximum cleavage, not modern bra separation.

Corseting may have been the norm, but there were apparently exceptions. Anthony Castellano at ABC News writes:

“… four linen bras [were found] in an Austrian castle dating back to the 1400s, proving that women wore bras more than 600 years ago. It’s such a revolutionary find because fashion experts thought the modern-day bra was only about 100 years old after women became tired of tight corsets.” (more…)