Saturday, March 11, 2006

Beneath It All #2

When you think of Victorian clothing, you usually envision the hourglass silhouette. The corset was responsible for creating the illusion of the full bosom, rounded hips and that tiny waist. The Victorian corset, unlike those made by 'Victoria's Secret', were constructed of cotton and boned with steel or whale bone. Tiny hooks and eyes closed it up in front. The back was held together by adjustable lace. The top and bottom of the corset may have had a bit of ribbon or lace trim, but otherwise this was a totally utilitarian foundation garment.
But did all Victorian women wear a corset all the time?
Photographic evidence suggests that all women didn't wear corsets, since women had formal portraits taken when they clearly weren't wearing one. And it would be hard to imagine a woman working in the house or field wearing such a constricting garment.
But the corset was what molded the figure into that hourglass shape and made those fitted bodices fit smoothly. The garment also accounted for the necessity of the fainting couch. Women who had their corsets laced too tightly found it hard to draw more than a shallow breath. Overtight lacing was also responsible for incidents of cracked ribs.
But the corset was an essential garment enabling the fitted clothing of the period to fit and look good day to day.
In a romance novel where the hero puts his hands on a woman's waist, he'd feel the bones of the corset, rather than the woman's form. If she's not wearing a corset, he'd surely notice that, too.
Here's a great link containing descriptions and illustrations of all the undergarments I've been describing. The website is a guide for beginner Civil War reenactors and a fun site to visit.
My final blog in this series will cover the petticoats and crinolines that gave those full skirts their shape.

1 comment:

NicoleMcCaffrey said...


Great post! Fascinating as always. I'm jotting down all these sites you're mentioning so I can go check them out at my leisure (whenever that may be!)