Year 2 First Term: Victorian Corsets

So I am a second year now, and there is no waiting around we are straight in to two weeks of course practice work where we learn essential skills that will help us to develop as practitioners.

In the autumn term we will be making a made to measure corset for one of our class mates.

This term specifically there is a focus on the style of corset seen between 1870-1890 Victorian England.

After these two weeks my class will be split in to two groups one group will work on a project, the group that I am in will work on public productions that will be performed by acting students at my university (Yes you can buy tickets at a reasonable price from the website).

We have yet to be put in to our groups and told what public production we will be making costumes for, as it is very dependent on the costume designs that come in before a costume is selected for us to make. (I am sure I will change this as soon as I find out which production I will be working on)

The public production will involve the development of a complete costume or outfit for a theatre show that will take place at the University. We will receive final costume designs, made by a student or professional designer, and from there we will start to have a conversation with the designer, as well as out costume supervisor and tutors. We will have to under take appropriate research that will help us to understand the character we are making for as well as how to technically make the costume.

We will also be required to sample fabrics, draft patterns, make toile, attend fittings and cut and construct the final costume.

As part of the public production we will also be tasked with the full dressing and maintenance responsibilities for the show.

Research Task

To begin with however it was on to the course practice and to get us in to the right frame of mind to get back to hard work and concentration we were given a research task.

We were given eight questions to research and answer, from this we would then feedback the information we found to the class.

Female Undergarments from 1870-1890 (England) Questions:

-What were the main features of corsets within this period?

During this period there was an emphasis on the waist and hips and so the corsets needed to pull women in a lot, the corsets needed to mold women to the desired shape.

These corsets were longer than before, ending several inches below the waist, were made of many shapes of fabric and had incredible numbers of wale bones, cords or leather to reinforce the shape, averaging 30 bones per corset.

The corsets were more constricting and the excessive boning prevented the corset riding up or wrinkling at the waist.


-What materials were used to create the shape?

During this time corsets were made from cotton coutile, sateen, silk, jean, batiste and were often beautifully decorated.

Wale bone, watch spring, coraline, and chicken feather boning were all used to give structure to the corset.

-What is a busk? How have they changed?

Busk/ busque is a ridged part of a corset that is placed at the centre front of the corset, mostly between the 15th to 18th centuries.

They could be made from rood, ivory or wale bone, and some were carved with the initials of the woman’s lover before it was slipped in to place.

In the 19th Century, the year 1848, the front opening busk was created and two pieces of steel were used, one with loops the other with posts, almost looking like a hook and eye fastening. This new busk made the corsets easier to put on and take off.


-What impact did industrialisation have on the production of women’s clothing?

Industrialisation introduced the making of mass production but it was still more favorable for corsets and women’s clothing to be hand made and so despite the ability for mass production it was no where near on the scale that we see it today. Hand made garments still controlled the majority of the production of clothing.

In the 1880’s large mills were producing fabric, coats, petticoats, shirts, trousers, gloves, hats and foot wear.

Industrialisation did however encourage the creation of the department store. These enormous shops would show case consume goods and helped to open the eyes of the public to contemporary design and technology.

The women ran the clothing industry as they still do today. Clothing makers, drapers and cloth merchants needed to understand the tastes and buying power of women to be able to succeed.

Industrilisation did however impact the fabrics that were being produces. The invention of the mills meant that cotton could be produced cheaper and quicker than other fabrics. Cotton began to eclipse silk, wool and fustian fabrics.

-What date was the bustle in fashion?

The bustle was in fashion around 1884, coming in all shapes and sizes, and begin changeable depending on the activity that the women was undertaking.

In newspapers women were ridicules for looking like beetles due to the size of their bustles, although that could now be greatly exaggerated.

By the end of the 1880’s the bustle shape was no longer desirable and a small bad was enough to create the desired shape for women.


-How were the skirts and dress adapted to suit the new fashion?

Women’s dresses were sculptured with large numbers of pleats and ruffles that could be taken up and let loose with a number of long ties on the inside of the skirts.

Skirts began to be narrower and flatter at the front to put a heavier emphasis on the hips and waist.

-What undergarment predated and post dated the bustle?

Crinolines and crinolettes predated the bustles. The Crinoline was an all round cage, the crinolette was an evolution in to the separate bustle as it was a full cage but it had begun to flatter down at the front with the same emphasis on the back of the dress.

post bustle there was only a very small pad used to create shape, instead an a-line shape, heavy material, stiff petticoats and firm interlining help to shape women’s clothing without the use of artificial aids.



-Victoria and Albert Museum

-National Gallery

-Tate Britian








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