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Breasts Revealed: The History of Breasts in Fashion

Female breasts are often seen as highly taboo. Even innocuous activities such as public breastfeeding can garner controversy and public disapproval. Society hasn’t always had such a prudish take on this natural, necessary body part. In fact, delving into history, they were used as a sexy fashion accessory or political statement.

The Cultural Significance of Cupid’s Kettledrums

Breasts have been turning heads just about as long as women have had them. The practical function of breasts, feeding babies, is often ignored due to the weighty cultural significance they hold.

Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Breasts signify the onset of sexual maturity, symbolize motherhood and embody the beauty of the female form. In religious art, they play a prominent role. There are numerous paintings of Madonna nursing the Christ child. And more of nude statues of ancient goddesses concealing their genitals but displaying their breasts proudly. Even legends offered a nod towards the incredible natural power of a woman’s breasts. Such as the legend of Pero keeping her own father alive when he was sentenced to starvation.


Thanks for the Mammaries!

Breasts have often been associated with motherhood and religion. But they have also been a flirty fashion statement for centuries. Ancient Egyptian women, for example, wore elaborate jeweled dresses designed specifically to show off their breasts. As time passed, social and cultural norms changed, especially in the Western world.

By the 15th century, fashionistas were increasingly showing off “nature’s fonts”. In fact, some of those most stylish ladies, especially at court, became quite well known for their fashion derring-dos.

Madonna


While Western women didn’t necessarily have a “let it all hang out” attitude, breasts were definitely on display more.

Early modern Europeans and Americans had a bit of a Madonna-Whore complex when it came to breasts. Mothers and queens could bare their bosoms without fear of social judgment. For them, breasts signified purity and the nurturing relationships between mothers with their babies and queens with their countries. Mistresses and prostitutes were also known to share their “three-penny bits”. These women however, had somewhat fewer notions of purity and a lot more implications of fun.


Courtly Cleavage


Whether a woman was a queen, mistress or courtier, court fashions tended to expose a considerable amount of cleavage. Possibly far more than we’re used to seeing even today. Agnes Sorel, the darling of King Charles VII’s court and the first officially titled mistress, made many bold statements. She made cleavage a hot commodity in the rarified style world of the 15th-century court.

Agnes Sorel

Royal mistresses weren’t just “the other woman” in those days. The mistresses often played important political and personal roles at court and were considered trendsetters. As the maitresse-en-titre, Sorel was no exception. She’d deliberately wear her bodice open with glittering jewels to better frame her shapely breasts. Her daring couture coups set tongues wagging and shocked the more buttoned-up courtiers. It also ignited a trend however. One that continues today with models on the runway and celebs at awards shows.

Renaissance fashion

By the 16th century, women were wearing low-cut dresses as a rule rather than a flirty exception. An extra dose of titillation was added with specially made cosmetics that would deepen the color of their areolae. This could heighten their sex appeal. Stays, later known as corsets, were used to flatten and support the torso during this time period. Later on they had the added benefit of creating an alluring swell of breasts above the stays.

While French and Venetian courts were more open-minded regarding partial nudity, English courtiers were a little more reticent. Women who wanted to get in on the risque look could soften the dramatic effect. A peek a boo of their exposed bosoms could be displayed by adding a gauzy scarf. Over time, even these modest adjustments were left by the wayside as women embraced the trend.

Busts and Bustiers 

A simple “nip slip” or flashing carried with it a certain daring but was still considered socially acceptable. This was particularly seen in the elite and aristocratic classes. The right garments made breast exposure not just possible but highly desirable. Although generally considered an undergarment, corsets were often just as decorative as the dresses worn over them. Many displayed luxe brocade, decorative embroidery and other beautiful details. Corsets can create curves which not only emphasize the breasts, but also nip in the waist and create robust hips.


Earlier corsets tended to be long with shoulder straps. This ensured a straight posture and high breasts. These corsets were prized for the contrast they created, with a flat torso and rounded breasts. The style was equally effective whether women had large or small breasts. Eventually,
near the end of the 18th century, corsets began to shrink into something resembling bustiers. This created the alluring shape so many women still crave today.

Victorian era

By the Victorian era, breasts had become a little more outré. Even the slightest hint of decolletage being considered risque in the extreme. Women covered up more with their dresses often reaching their necks. Still, that didn’t mean women were moving away from their natural shape. If anything, they had found new ways to emphasize their curves, using sleek styling, cinched waists, and voluminous bustles. 

From Bubbies to Boobs

Women’s bodies have come a long way over the years. Today’s women are just as stylish in sleek yoga pants or workout wear as they are in business suits and formal wear. Shapewear has taken the place of busks and girdles for many women. But corsets will continue to enjoy a certain amount of popularity and sex appeal.

Emma Watson

A corset can create out-of-this-world curves and offer strong support for good posture and day-to-day activities. A stunningly sexy corset can be worn on the top of your clothing or undercover. An intimate environment calls for a corset in place of your clothing.

Charliz Theron

 

Maybe it’s time to start channeling your inner Agnes Sorel with your own daring, vintage-inspired, breast-emphasizing corset!

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The Clothing We Wear-Part 1

The Clothing We Wear-Part 1

Are we emotionally affected by the clothing we wear? Does it reflect the inner workings of our mind, or is that taking things a little too far? Why does it matter what we wear? We know that people have been fashion conscious for thousands of years, so what has led us to the all-out obsession we have with fashion today?

I have always loved fashion myself. My motto is “fashion is my passion”. No matter what I work at in life I always seem to go back to fashion as my first love. It’s the inspiration that gets me excited. It is my way to feel and display my moods and emotions on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. In my lifetime I have been in awe of the intricacies of clothing, astounded by various styles, and repelled by some trends. Why do people wear what they do? My mind is full of questions! My goal in this 4 part blog is to not only pique your interest but to educate as together we take a journey through time.

Tarkhan Dress- 5,100 to 5,500 years old

Let’s start with the Earliest Known Evidence of actual clothing.

As far back as man can date the presence and existence of our species on this earth we assume that clothing was worn. “There is very little archaeological evidence (however,) to determine the date that clothing (actually) started being worn”. [1] The findings that are based on theories, calculate it to be between 40,000 to 170,000 years ago. That’s a pretty wide-spread of time.

Proof of clothing

Eyed needles and various tools have been found which lead us to believe that clothing may have been fashioned from animal hides to cover and protect the body. Why do they think these tools were used for clothing instead of shelter? Scientists observed lice! “Scientists observed that clothing lice are, well, extremely well-adapted to clothing. They hypothesized that body lice must have evolved to live in clothing, which meant that they weren’t around before humans started wearing clothes. The findings of the study are significant because they show that clothes appeared some 70,000 years before humans started to migrate north from Africa into cooler climates.”[1]. The timing here would put a man in the era of the Ice Age. Ian Gilligan, a lecturer at the Australian National University, said: “Modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions.”[1]

Clothing as protection

Okay, so we have determined that people have worn clothing for a very long time. Artifacts were found and the type of clothing or coverings, such as they were, were simple and basic in the beginning. They were initially made from the skins of animals and held together in a primitive fashion. These animal skin coverings served as protection against cold heat and rain.

But let’s delve a little further as things are bound to get interesting.

Beauty in the garments

The scientists dug a little more and extended their search. They determined that about 25,000 years ago, give or take a millennium, the clues and artifacts they found pointed to a weaving technology. Dyed fabrics made from various plant fibers and the wool from sheep has been discovered as well. “The earliest dyed flax fibres have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Georgia and date back to 36,000”. [5]

This meant that people were concerned with what they wore and how they looked. For that reason, they wanted variety and beauty in their garments. Their coverings may have been draped over the shoulder and secured with a belt at the waist, while they made a statement with their style. We have always been concerned about the clothing we wear.

Advances in Fashion

Then around the mid-1300’s big advances in fashion were made. Fashion began to get interesting. “For instance, clothing started to be made to form fit the human body, with curved seams, laces, and buttons. Contrasting colours and fabrics also became popular in England. From this time, fashion in the West began to change at an alarming rate, largely based on aesthetics, whereas in other cultures fashion typically changed only with great political upheaval, meaning changes came more slowly in most other cultures.” [1]

Fashion is now coming to the forefront. It’s not just a cover-up anymore. Different parts of the world are beginning to make a statement about who they are. “Look at me. I am different from you”, they say as they present themselves.

So Do the Clothes We Wear Reflect What’s Inside Us?

Kat Rectenwald, an anonymous writer in Germany states her opinion on a writers’ forum named Quora. “No, Your clothes reflect how you want to see yourself and be seen by the world around you. It reflects parts of your self-image, your social identity, your class and often your education, too. But don’t confuse any of this with what may be “inside” of people. Apart from your aesthetics and the above mentioned it doesn’t say a thing about who you are. You can’t draw any conclusion on a person’s intelligence, morals or character from this.” [2]

Good point Kat! But just because we can’t actually determine a persons’ “intelligence or moral character” from the clothes they wear, does that mean that we won’t form an opinion? Absolutely not. Many studies on fashion and clothing style have shown that it is human nature to form an instantaneous opinion of someone based on the way they dress.

 

Does Our Clothing Define Us

In an article by Phil Coomes, Picture Editor September 28, 2016, titled ‘Do the clothes we wear define us?’ we are presented with various people in different clothes which “Explores the way in which our clothes shape us, that outer shell we use to accentuate or sometimes hide who we are. The aim is to see how a viewer responds to the uniform and how it shapes their perception of that person – how we prejudge based on a uniform or a certain look and style.” A few of the photos which were shown at the No Walls Gallery as part of the Brighton Photo Fringe Festival are shown here:

FirefighterSarah, Midwife

Dani - Opera SingerBarrington - Entertainer

Our Observations

We observe a firefighter, nurse, entertainer and an opera singer in uniform and casual dress. All photographs courtesy Strand Collective.

So do you have a different opinion of the people in uniform as opposed to their casual dress? I think it is safe to say we all would draw our own conclusion based on the clothing style.

THE UNIFORM

At the blog site International Branding, the whole world knows your name, we observe the comment; “The uniform, although broadly defined, is not just confined to the military. It signifies what apparel is appropriate, practical, or preferable for different occupations and social groups. For that reason, our clothes define the role we are taking at any particular time. This certainly applies to both business and pleasure.  For instance, always dressing for work, would be regarded as eccentric, to say the least. In fact, our clothes say so much about who we are. Even refusing to follow trends gives a signal indicative of a way of thinking, which wants to be free and not conventional.” [3] We can see a very important consideration here. The mere refusal to follow the current trends can also be a way to define ourselves.

Opinions and Assumptions

In an article in Psychology Today magazine by Ben C. Fletcher D. Phil Posted Apr 20, 2013 entitled: What Your Clothes Might Be Saying About You, he writes; “our clothes say a great deal about who we are and can signal a great deal of socially important things to others, even if the impression is actually unfounded.” “It is important to choose our dress style carefully because people will make all sorts of assumptions and decisions about us without proper evidence. We are unlikely to know what these assessments are too, so it is quite possible that our clothes reveal more than we thought.”

The research found in published studies clearly shows that “What we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Dressing to impress really is worthwhile and could even be the key to success.” [6]

our clothing and our thinking

So we’ve determined that our knowledge of the clothing and coverings that people have been wearing since the beginning has advanced considerably. We’ve gone from the wrap-and-stick-it animal skins to form-fitting clothing produced en masse by the factories of today.

But the questions remain unanswered. Do the clothes we wear emotionally affect us? Does it reflect the inner workings of our mind and why does it matter what we wear? We have proven that a simple animal skin would cover our bodies just as well as an haute couture designer dress. It would be warm and soft although certainly a bit smelly in the rain.

Continuing Our Quest

I ask that you stay with me as I continue the quest of why people wear what they do and how it affects us. In the next blog, we will venture more into the types of clothing worn during different time periods. Finally, we will follow the journey into the varied dress of different cultures from around the world.

When was the corset introduced and why did people seek out such a restrictive garment? And most noteworthy, why has the existence of the corset continued across the span of time.

Life is an amazing journey. The more you know the more interesting it gets.

Elie Saab Designer Dress

References with links:

[1] When People Started Wearing Clothes by Emily Upton September 12, 2013,

[2] Quora Forum

[3] International Branding, the whole world knows your name

[4] Fashion History – Clothing of the Early Middle Ages – Dark Ages 400 – 900 CE by Dolores Monet, Bellatory-Fashion and History

[5] History of clothing and textiles-by Wikipedia

[6] Psychology Today magazine, What Your Clothes Might Be Saying About You, Ben C. Fletcher D.Phil Posted Apr 20, 2013

[7] Letzuploadit displayed on YouTube: Do your clothes make a difference?! (RICH vs POOR) SOCIAL EXPERIMENT 2018

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The Time of the Medieval Corset

Medieval Corsets

Many things were happening during the time of the medieval corset. “Centuries of Roman rule in Western Europe came crashing to an end in 476. The emperor was driven from his throne by barbarian invaders from the north. Soon after, hundreds of tiny kingdoms began to form in once Roman lands. Subsequent invasions by Vikings, Goths, Moors, and infighting between neighboring kingdoms began to change the nature of European life”.   From Medieval-Life.net

Clothing Worn During The Medieval Period

The medieval time period is known as the Middle Ages, and the Dark Ages. This time period lasted from approximately 500 AD to 1500 AD. By all accounts, this was a thousand years of war, famine, rigid class systems and rampant superstition mixed with religion. These were serious times, and accordingly, women of stature wore serious clothes. The fashion attire had many layers which included, a smock, hose, kirtle, petticoats, gown and surcoat, girdle, cape with hood and bonnet.

Mary Queen of Scots lived and died in the 16th century, but her wardrobe style was still medieval. (Did the Renaissance skip Scotland?). Mary was a threat to the throne and a staunch Catholic besides. Mary was beheaded on the order of  Queen Elizabeth in 1587. She was reportedly wearing only her undergarments. These were said to have been a velvet petticoat, a pair of sleeves in crimson-brown, and a black satin bodice with black trimmings.

Question: Notice anything missing from these lists?
Answer: Underpants! That’s right, medieval women actually went commando.

Considering the sheer number of layers worn at the time, going bare from the waist down beneath the medieval corset and petticoats was a practical idea. There was nothing to get in the way of a quick in and out, with the cuckolded spouse none the wiser. After all, secret trysts by their very nature have to be brief.  Just think about how long it would have taken for the eager lover to peel off all those layers!

The Medieval Corset

Medieval women sometimes wore “cotes,”. This was made of two stiffened layers of fabric and worn as an outer garment. Sometime around 1300, women’s styles began to be more revealing; the medieval corset was still in use but changing. Clothing was beginning to fit closer to the body. Fashion changed, necklines were lowered and the desired silhouette now had more curves.

In the desire to show off the waistline, steel, wood, whalebone or cane, were slipped into the seams. This part of the medieval corset was the ‘busk’. A busk is a piece of hardware placed into the center front of the corset that could be made of steel, wood, whalebone.

These busks fulfilled another function, as well: they served as love letters. The wooden or bone busks were often inscribed or carved with messages of heartfelt love. These busks were then given as gifts from the men to their lady loves. The ladies returned the favor by giving the laces from their medieval corset to their lovers. So far, we’ve got no underpants, wood stays inscribed with sexy messages and long laces to work with – hmm. . .

Factoid: a 12th-century illustration shows a demon wearing a medieval corset.

The outerwear medieval corset would end under the breasts, whether the corset was a straight, bust-to-waist design or an outerwear one that had shoulder straps and looked like a tight little vest that laced beneath the bust. Fabric choices for the medieval corset grew so that women of stature could choose ermine, taffeta or brocade and colors such as crimson and purple which denoted aristocratic lineage.

Petticoats in Medieval Times

Petticoats – the more the better – came into popularity sometime in the earlier 1500’s. These petticoats, worn under massive skirts to expand them outward,  were often attached to the medieval corset by laces. 

Around this time, too, the farthingale became a popular shaper. The farthingale was a hoop skirt made of metal banding. This metal skirt served to expand the outer skirt being worn.

“The French farthingale was introduced in England in the late 1570’s. Modern costumers conjecture that it probably consisted of one or more large hoops with horizontal stiffeners which radiated from around the waist in order to produce a flat platter-like shape when supported underneath by the “bumroll” or “French farthingale”.  these rolls were made of: they were stuffed with cotton and rags and stiffened with hoops of whalebone, wire or ropes made of bent reeds. Buckram (stiff canvas) is the most commonly mentioned material. Other references describe the rolls as being starched with a form of stiffener.” (Wikipedia Farthingale, post-2018)

Eventually, this style led right into the increasingly, impossibly tightened waist. 

Edmund-Leighton-God-Speed-medieval fashion

The Dark Ages

“Medieval times often evoke images of knights battling on muddy fields, dank and dreary castles, hunger, plagues-in general, a lot of rather depressing scenes. But these Dark Ages also witnessed the birth of a romantic movement. 13th Century conventions of chivalry directed that men should honor, serve, and do nothing to displease ladies and maidens. 

Secret rituals of Romance developed where women-long the loser in a double standard of adultery condoned among men-found champions who would fight in their honor. Courtly love became the subject of some of the most famous medieval poems, and where we get today’s word, “Courtesy.” Through these centuries, Europe was slowly waking from a harsh slumber, and begin to sow the seeds of a Renaissance”. Medieval–Life.net

Scotland Medieval Castle

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Burlesque Dance Costumes

What are burlesque dance costumes? Is it some kind of Middle Eastern dance costume you ask?

Well let me give you a little insight:

1840 London, England:

Close your eyes for a minute. Imagine yourself in the year 1840 in the city of London. It is late, and the night is dark. You find yourself walking down a small alleyway off a busy street. Finally, you spot a red door, therefore you have arrived at your destination.

You knock and the door is opened.

You are escorted by a host to a dark room inside. There is a small stage against one wall. Scattered around the room are small round tables with 2 or 3 chairs at each. You choose your seat and wait.

Now skip ahead to later on in the evening. The room is full of boisterous people, laughing, smoking and drinking alcohol. Suddenly the lights dim dramatically and conversations stop.

Lively music begins to play from the side of the room. A spotlight comes on and a lady in a brightly colored outfit moves seductively towards the stage.

She slightly drags her foot in time to the music as she begins to sway and then skip onto the stage.

Her outfit has many layers, some heavy and opaque and others transparent and flowing. Her makeup is bold and somewhat gaudy, accentuating her facial movements.

She begins to speak. Her remarks are witty and sexual, her skits entertaining. She pokes fun at Shakespeare and opera and can pull laughter from the biggest sourpuss.

Burlesque Dance:

Burlesque dance can be dated back to 17th century London. It began as a way to poke fun at “serious” theater productions. It was promoted to an art form early on and continues in that tradition today.

The working class now had a way to poke fun at the upper class through laughter and lust. Using their social habits and traditions they ‘spoofed’ in a bawdy way. The distinctive look of burlesque costumes and the sly satire of the dancers’ routines are unique.

Famously performed in Paris at the Moulin Rouge theater, the burlesque dance began. There, dancers combined elaborate costumes with detailed stage sets to establish their own unique identities.

Burlesque in the United States:

Burlesque dance evolved and migrated to New York in the late 1900’s. Singers, comics, acrobats and a motley crew of other entertainers shared the stage with the fetching and scantily clad dancers.

In the 1920’s burlesque became known as the modern-day striptease show. Some performances started with an exotic dancer and ended in a boxing match. In New York City the boxing match performance was banned for a time. As a result of the ban, it stopped completely.

Did They Get Naked:

Historically, the style of burlesque costumes and how much a dancer removed depended largely on what she could get away with. Sometimes a little stripping was involved, and sometimes the performer removed all of their clothes.

The obvious fakery was used to suggest nudity. This led to a comic effect. And sometimes the dancer really did remove much of her costume, one piece at a time.

Burlesque dance costumes are ornately designed to titillate and tease. Most of them are based on a corset.

First of all, the dancer may choose a flirty little skirt, opera gloves or mesh stockings. Many dance performances include accessories like top hats and cigarette holders. Furthermore, the dancer can then choose which items to remove in an arousing manner.

Why Corsets:

Corsets as the foundation of burlesque costume served a different purpose. They give the burlesque dancer that classic, hourglass shape.

A corset defines the ultimate femininity. They are sexy, glamorous, and cheeky without being tacky or vulgar. They have attracted the eye of the socially elite man from past centuries to modern times.

This opened the door for burlesque dancers to appear on the arms of noblemen, artists, and the aristocrats.

The Artists:

Many talented women have donned their burlesque costumes and taken to the stage. Often actresses got their start in burlesque, including Mae West and Fannie Brice. The 1930’s saw the emergence of such iconic dancers as Gypsy Rose Lee and Josephine Baker.

It often provided a path to respectability for women who were having a rough time of things. For some, it enabled them to earn their way out of harsh circumstances and hobnob with society.

 

Burlesque Timeline-1920’s-1940’s:

In the resurgence of the early 1900’s, the chorus girls of the Ziegfield Follies skirted the edges of burlesque. They performed in fabulous costumes that showed a lot of legs.

By the late 1920’s we were entering the industrial revolution. The rising popularity of movies had burlesque stage shows shut down and more women arrested for indecencies and revealing their breasts.

It took WWll in the 1940’s to bring back the burlesque shows. The servicemen needed entertainment! It faded a bit again after the 1940’s. The resulting moral arguments against it began to have a suppressing effect.

 

Burlesque Today:

At the beginning of the 1970’s, the dance began to regain its popularity. Today it is enjoying a full resurgence. Perhaps the most famous performer of the modern style is Dita Von Teese. Ms. Von Teese knows exactly how to work burlesque dance costumes and props with stunning effect. Corsets, stockings, hats, gloves, and her trademark pale skin and raven hair are instantly recognizable.

 

Play your Part:

Does the style and sass of burlesque appeals to you? Join the revelry!

You do not need to be a professional performer to join in the fun.

At Sultry Lady Corsets, we can make the perfect custom corset for you. Play out your private fantasies of flirting and teasing in the glare of the footlights.

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The Impact of Industrialization on Fashion

garment factory workers

 

What has been The Impact of Industrialization on Fashion today? There is no historical record of the name of the first woman to drape herself alluringly in the skin of an ancient beast, but she seems to have started something. Humans have been adorning themselves with clothing, paint, jewelry, and fabric ever since. She wanted to make a statement.

It is self-evident that until modern times all clothing was made from natural products. The skins of animals, their hair and wool were used.  Plant elements like linen, cotton, and silk have also been available to humans for millennia.

The prehistoric artists pulled their materials into a corner and went to work with their pots of pigment, dye, and paint, printing early art forms. A few quills, a few feathers, and a few shells later, fashion was born. Early garments were typically made from rectangles that were draped and tied, held together with pins, or roughly sewn with needle and sinew.

The Skills needed for making and embellishing materials were several steps ahead of construction techniques. The early technicians learned to spin fiber, then weave or knit it into a fabric. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the use of curved seams finally gave clothing a more fitted look. Buttons and laces which came later provided more sophisticated closures.

Early Fashion:

Clothing and fabric cloth continued to be almost exclusively handmade by individuals for their own use until the Industrial Revolution. In the 1700’s, the lower classes made durable fabric clothing out of homespun fibers. They had neither time nor money to waste. Garments were patched, resized, remade and handed down until there was nothing left to use.

The upper classes had access to luxurious imported fabric, intricate adornments and the labor of skilled artisans. Fashions became ostentatious, with hoops, wires and stays for the women and matching three-piece suits for the men.

The fabric corset was part of a woman’s wardrobe during the 1700’s, but it was rather practical. It provided back support and gave the breasts a cheeky lift. It didn’t interfere with breathing or comfort of the fabric at that time.

The Industrial Revolution:

The Industrial Revolution changed everything. It ushered in the factory production of textiles and clothing. Machines could produce knitted and woven cloth that was a finer gauge than most women could produce with home methods. The invention of the sewing machine enabled the rapid, high volume manufacturing of fabric clothing.

Improved transportation meant that this clothing could be shipped cheaply and easily. Improved communication allowed women and men to see what the fashionable set was wearing in their own country and abroad. All of these factors made manufactured fabric clothing desirable and widely available at an attractive price.

A number of interesting developments occurred in the world of fashion in the late 1800s. Corsets took on their familiar tightly laced hourglass shape, and mass-produced versions began to arrive in the stores.

At the same time, though, women began to be sporty. Their newfound interest in sports did not mesh well with tight fabric undergarments. A second style was needed. Those clothes were made of lighter more flexible fabric.

The Arrival of Haute Couture:

Haute couture made the biggest splash in the fashion pool of the 1800’s. Introduced by Charles F. Worth, haute couture was born in Paris. Worth was the first to show a collection on live models, allowing private clients to choose a style and have it custom made to suit their bodies and their tastes.

This sort of handmade, bespoke clothing with unique adornments, custom fabric, and impeccable quality is still the standard of luxury today.

Fashion Today:

As fashion has continued to evolve into the 21st century, discussions of quality and craftsmanship have come to the fore. There was a time when almost every woman owned a sewing machine and knew how to use it. They often created beautiful, one-of-a-kind, fabric garments that could last for decades.  The pendulum has now swung to a time when women embrace manufacturing. The general population now prefers to buy inexpensive, disposable clothing that allows them to follow the latest trend.

Recently, we have also seen a return of a timeless style. Women are again beginning to value quality over quantity. Some search for vintage couture in resale shops, some are learning to sew, and some are seeking out skilled tailors and seamstresses for bespoke apparel.

A few pieces, such as an embellished evening wrap, a tailored wool jacket or a perfectly fitted corset, will always have a place in any woman’s wardrobe. These classic garments are worth the investment in fine fabric and skilled construction that come with custom tailoring.

The sophisticated woman knows that the secret pleasure of wearing beautiful clothing that was made just for her. Inexpensively manufactured clothing has its place.  But the firm fabric, soft linings, finished seams and exquisite fit of bespoke garments have undeniable superiority.

 

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What Is The History Of Washing Clothing

What is the History of Washing Clothing?

Wash Day on the Farm

So What is the History of Washing Clothing anyway? Since people began wearing clothing, we have needed a way to wash and clean the clothes they wear; for hygienic reasons, if not to keep down the body lice and distasteful smells. The commoners throughout history were accustomed to the mutual bad smells among themselves.  The wealthy upper class however at least attempted a modicum of dignity by masking those smells through candles, rosewater, potpourri, and handkerchiefs scented with perfume. But how did we go from river banks with rocks, to an electric washing machine?

Clothing of the Early Time Periods:

From 1400 to 1500 A.D., wool was sheered from sheep to be woven into lengths of cloth. This was the most popular fabric used for clothing people at the time. It provided warmth and protection while not creating a suffocating barrier from the elements. This also meant that the fibers retained smells, and would hang on to stains.

Following this was linen, made from the fibers of flax and hemp plants. Cotton pulled from a cotton plant was also used, but the process for making fabric lengths was much more detailed and time-consuming. These natural fibers have the ability to allow air to pass through, or “breathe”. This does cause them to shrink from their original size easily, however.

Care must be taken with the washing that isn’t just simple surface cleaning.  The fibers that we have available today are numerous and varied. The original natural fiber sources still remain the favorite among fashion designers and wearers alike though.

 

Wash Day From The Past:

Before the time of washing machines, the project of wash day was often done in rivers. At that time it was considered “women’s work”.  Because it was associated with women in the home, it often became a group activity complete with children playing. Laundry could be found draped everywhere to dry. Women could be observed heading to the river bed, manned with boards to scrub on and sticks to pound the cloth with. These laborers headed to the stream to beat the offending articles into submission. If they didn’t leave with a better smell they would hopefully have less crawling pests.

Clothing was often rubbed, twisted or hit against rocks. Sometimes a wooden bat called a washing beetle, combined with a washing tub, would be used to get the dirt out.

When the washing board was invented in 1797 it became the “more sophisticated” way to clean for a time. People then began boiling water above a fire and pouring it into a tub that they would then use to wash their clothing (tub washing). This was often accompanied by soap and homemade lye to bleach the clothes white and remove the ever-present grease.

The Making Of Soap:

Before the invention of today’s laundry cleaners, soap was made from boiled animal fat and lye to clean any clothing. Salt could also be added to form a rough pumice like the texture and to produce bars easier to store and handle. Not surprisingly the laundress suffered the plight of chapped itchy hands and possible blisters because of it.

In areas where wood was plentiful, lye was made from water poured through wood ashes until it became “frothy”. People would often soak their clothing in lye to clean their white or off-white clothing. The process of soaking clothing in lye to dissolve the grease and loosen the dirt was called bucking.

Starch and bluing were also available to use for nicer clothing and linens to remove the stains, bleach them white again, and give them a good stiff gloss.

A sizing solution made from plants was also used on fabrics like cotton that wrinkled perpetually. This added body to the fabric where heavy stiffness was not wanted. This was a luxury however as the process was quite time-consuming.

Washing For Sanitation:

Enter the 1800’s and the discovery of germs brought about greater awareness and concerns about diseases and sanitation. This increased the desire for clean clothes and regular bathing. Quality dressing, and thus cleanliness, was the priority. It became associated with a higher social status as well.

In the western frontier towns of America, the women available to do laundry services were few and far between. And on the eastern shores of the country crowded apartments or confined dwellings prevented easy wash days. This was a drawback in the larger cities of the eastern shores.

At this time many Chinese immigrants were fleeing the Taiping Rebellion that affected their country and coming to America. This money making the trade was available. For the first time in history, cleaning clothes became a business opportunity.

The Invention Of The Washing Machine:

By the mid-1850’s, steam-driven washing machines were being sold in both the United States and England. The person washing the clothes still had to ring out clothing by hand until the ringer machine was created, however. This ringer used two rollers to squeeze as much water as possible out of clothing. They were originally operated by hand but were eventually created as a power attachment above the washer.

Later, after the development of electric motors, came machines called extractors that spun clothing to remove excess water. Eventually, this became one device, known today as a washing machine.

Gas and electric dryers that we use today were invented soon after. No more tedious trips to and from the clothesline.

Dry Cleaning:

Dry cleaning is a cleaning process that uses chemical solvents rather than water to clean the garments. This method was used as early as the 1800’s to clean clothing that would shrink dramatically from water washing. Due to the loosely woven fabrics of the time, this was often a major concern.

 

In past history, those who could afford it hired a washerwoman, servant or laundry service to do the laundry. Today most people use modern washers and dryers to clean their clothes. Some people take their clothing to a dry cleaner for more professional looking results.

Because of industrialization, clothing is more affordable and easily accessible than it was in the past. In this day and age, people are known to replace their clothing more often. The museums of today dedicated to historical clothing that has been preserved for our knowledge leave a legacy of the history of society.

Without the care and preservation of those garments, we would be at a loss for what they looked like, and how they were worn on an everyday basis to shape civilization. This can lead us to the conclusion that a better-made garment, of proper fit and appropriate care, will last for generations.

 

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Tight-Laced Corset With Steel Boning

“Do I really want a tight-laced corset with steel boning?” you ask yourself. Okay, so you’ve finally set down that romance novel with the beautiful heroine wearing the tightly laced corset with steel boning that trims her figure to a waspy 18” waist. She is tiny, gorgeous, and she has “the man”! Now you’ve become that damsel, swept away by the handsome rogue. “I need that damn corset,” you say to yourself! “But do I really want a tightly laced corset with steel boning? Does it need to have steel boning?” So you begin your pursuit on the internet to find something that will make your dreams come true.

You pour over all the websites offering corsets of many kinds with a very wide range in price! Some will insist that “a corset with steel boning is the only kind of corset to buy”! What’s all the hype about the steel in a corset anyway?  Your curiosity leads you to follow the trail.

You do some research. You discover that corsets have been around for a very long time! There must be something to that “waspy figure” that the heroines have.

There have been many types of boning and support used in corsets over the years. Tightly laced corsets have not always had steel boning. Other forms of corset support were used at first. Reeds, wood, whalebone, and even carved ivory were some of the options.  “Why is steel boning better for a tight-laced corset” you ask yourself?

Types of Boning Used:

Let’s delve into this subject and compare the various types of boning and their uses, starting with the most popular or well know types of boning used today. The topic of tightly laced corsets with steel boning is a popular subject today.

1) Flat steel Boning:

Flat steel strips are strips of steel that are painted and cut to a variety of lengths.  There is also steel sold in a continuous roll format, sometimes known as “sprung steel”. These can be found in basically two widths, ¼” and ½”; galvanized and fusion coated to prevent rusting. After cutting, the ends must be covered with end caps or dipped in a rubberized coating to prevent the sharps edges from cutting through the fabric and possibly impaling the wearer of the corset.

This type of boning is very strong and rigid and has a fairly flexible bend in two directions. It provides strong support for keeping the body properly confined while retaining the shape of the corset. Since it does not have the ability to curve sideways, this type of boning cannot be used on curved seams. It is perfect for the front and back openings, however, where there are straight seams, thus producing the tight-laced corset with steel boning.

2) Spiral Steel Boning:

Spiral steel boning is a type of steel boning has the appearance of wire that has been coiled in a tight loop repeatedly to form a long steel strip. It is sold in ¼” and ½” widths by the roll or precut strips. It can be cut to the desired lengths with a strong pair of wire snips. End caps are then used to prevent the sharp cut wires from cutting the fabric or poking the body. This type of boning is flexible in four directions. It can bend sideways and can also twist.

The ability of this boning to flex sideways makes it perfect for seams and curves in the corset. The emphasis on spiral steel is the flexibility, and not necessarily the ability to retain the shape of the garment. (‘The World of Corsets; Steel Boning, Why, How Many and What Does It Do’, by Another Lone Gunman)

The design and seams of the corset will limit how much the boning can mold out of shape. Because of this, there will be a “compromise between the corset and your body”. Some corsets are inexpensively made with little emphasis on actual support. Lined or unlined makes a big difference. Steel boning, the weight of the fabric and the strength of the lining all have an impact on the strength and shape of the finished corset.

3) Plastic Boning or “Zip Ties”:

Plastic boning is a type of boning that many seasoned corsetieres are getting to know and love. Zip ties that are used in corset making, however, are not to be confused with the thin, flexible, zip ties that are used to bind your stereo wires together. The only plastic zip ties that are useful can be found online through a company that manufactures heavy duty construction cable ties. Cable ties of this form are produced incorporating stabilizers in the nylon resin, giving them strength to hold up to 175 pounds each strip!

This makes them a fairly thick and definitely resilient, strong form of boning. I have found this type of boning to become more comfortable than steel with body heat, yet it retains its strength and shape without the fear of breakage. The ties can be cut with tin snips and the edges filed down with a 100 grit nail file until smooth. This means no edges to cut fabric or poke into the body.

While I continue to use the steel boning at the front and back openings, I sometimes back it up with an extra layer of the cable ties. I can ride all day on a motorcycle and then dance all night, still in comfort, without losing any support. And best of all my corsets stand the test of time. They are still beautiful and hold their shape after many years of wear. I definitely do not agree with people that say the corset is cheaper when made with “plastic boning”. It can last even longer than its counterpart while providing much more comfort in the process.

4) Rigilene Boning:

Because it is sold in fabric stores and referred to in articles on corset making, I will talk about Rigilene boning. It is made of polyester “threads” which are fused together to form a somewhat stiff, but flexible form of stiffening for a garment. Associated with Rigilene is the Featherlite or polyester boning also sold in fabric stores. Because of the scant thickness, however, it will conform and stay out of shape with applied pressure over time. It can be used for lingerie and costumes. I would not recommend this to be used in a corset of any durability that would otherwise stand the test of time. Even with many layers of fabric,s the rigilene boning will not be sufficient support for a corset.

Other Types Of Shaping Materials:

Fosshape:

Exciting products in the design world are the use of Fosshape® and Wonderlflex®. Industries such as “theatre, costumes, millinery, mask or armor making, puppetry, props, cosplay, craft work, model making, set design, and the entertainment industry” use these materials.  Fosshape® is “limited by your imagination material”.  This inspirational material can be heat shaped and formed with steam. In appearance, Fosshape is a fluffy white filler resembling quilt batting. When steamed it shrinks and becomes dense and conforms to the desired shape. The benefit is that it is durable, lightweight, breathable and you can sew through it!  Costume professionals call it the “buckram replacement”. If you have never tried this product I highly recommend it. But be careful as you may become addicted.

Item from Wonderflex® material

Wonderflex:

The other product sold by this company is known as Wonderflex ®. It is a different form of support or stiffener in that it is sold as a “thermoplastic composite sheet. Made of a unique synthetic polymer that when heated in the range of 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit, Wonderflex® will soften and activate a built-in adhesive for molding and forming”. The Wonderflex® can then be cut with a good pair of sharp scissors or a utility knife and shaped with a heat gun so is easy to use. Wonderflex® cannot be sewn through. But it can be formed to shape, and inserted into those high bust sections that would otherwise be unsupported efficiently. If you have not yet discovered these fascinating products I highly suggest you check out the website: http://www.wonderflexworld.com

In Conclusion:

So once again you ask yourself, “Do I Really Want A Tight Laced Corset With Steel Boning?” From my own personal experience, I have discovered that a combination of various types of boning in a corset provides the best form of support and structure. I use strong and durable fabrics, often having 3-6 layers in the body of the garment. And, do not underestimate an authentic coutil lining. It is perfect for structure, support and comfort for your corset. At the front and back openings, it is best to use strong steel where strength is required for support. This will prevent your corset from breaking and creating an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

If the front steel busk is not thick enough, the thickness can be enhanced with plastic zip tie boning. In the curved seams or where you wish to provide the curve in your corset, the spiral steel boning would be the best choice. For design, or to strengthen weak fabric, I have used multiple rows of cording along with boning on a separate layer of fabric. The options are endless. However personal preference should be left to the discretion of the skilled corsetiere. Not the client that is requesting a tight-laced corset with steel boning due to the internet hype.

A good corsetiere with knowledge and skill can make the corset of your dreams. It is an investment. You want that investment to last for many years to make your dream come true.

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Dressing For Status

What is dressing for status?

When you get dressed for a special occasion meant to impress, do you feel an anxiety of dressing for status? Whether applying for a job, going out with the girls or attending a special event, wearing the appropriate “uniform” has always been a signal to gain acceptance in a particular social circle.

The way we dress is more complex than just wearing the latest outfit featured in a trendy magazine. There’s a whole psychology that revolves around our clothing choices.

The First Impression

So how does clothing impact a person’s first visual impact? We only get about seven seconds to make a first impression. What you wear gives you an added boost in making the right first effect.

Clothing is a non-verbal form of communication that gives clues about a person’s background, financial status and personality. It can also be a statement reflecting your mood, culture, interests, age, level of confidence and authority.

 

The Impact of Status

Status is different than class or caste. It’s based on the cultural position, the prestige of holding certain occupations or the family background and carries with it a particular anxiety of dressing for status. Throughout history, poets and painters could be considered high in status but might be as poor as church mice.

In the industrial revolution era, wealth did not ensure moving up in status. A successful businessman could dress his wife in the latest fashion. He could entertain high society with extravagant parties, but his social status remained the same; he was a tradesman.

In Victorian times, widows could only wear black for one year and one month.

An early example of a dress code is ancient Rome. Only senators could wear garments dyed purple.

In the early Roman and Greek culture body shape and weight were also a sign of status and social standing. As early as 2900 B.C. both men and women were concerned with a slim silhouette. Artifacts suggest young men wore constricting belts that confined their waistline. And there have been periods throughout history when it was perfectly reasonable for a man to wear a corset.

In China, the centuries-old tradition of foot binding included breaking the foot and reshaping it to resemble a lotus bud. This gruesome-shaped appendage raised the likelihood of marriage among the women and increased their social status.

Society and Status

Throughout history, the clothing we wear has been capable of displaying and epitomizing a person’s culture, financial status, and social power. Perceived status gives a person power and along with that, there is an anxiety of dressing for status. Your needs and opinions along with what you say and do hold more weight than others around you and gives you more influence.

 

This carries through into a person’s career, the ability to earn and achieve wealth. These advantages may be derived simply by our gender, the way we dress, our race, age or religious affiliations. Society teaches us to conform and be part of the crowd.

Notoriety and Status

Celebrities, with their sometimes-inflated conception of self-worth, often flaunt their lofty status by ignoring social constraints and conformity. In an attempt to keep the celebrity wagon rolling, these people continually draw attention to themselves by various means. Whether it’s outlandish fashion, acting bodacious or being diva-like and ungracious. Public figures use every tool available to maintain their status.

It’s sort of an ongoing battle; if you free yourself from social constraints and conformity, you’re more likely to achieve a level of notoriety and status. If you don’t continue to push the envelope, that celebrity status will quickly wilt. A celebrity is constantly making sure their public presentation garners attention and reinforces their status.

It’s all well and good to follow fashion trends, but sometimes bucking the trend goes a lot further. If you radiate the confidence that you’re someone who already has high status, you’re more likely to be perceived as a person with high status.

Fashion can be a form of art. It encourages creativity and expression. The freedom to wear whatever you want is also a liberating experience that’s available to anyone, regardless of class or social status.

What Class Do You Fall In? 

Quietly, or yelling at the top of your lungs, everyone has at least a little concern about making an impression and rising in social stature.

Some folks do this by wearing the latest in fashion and spend far above their budget. Other people are into anti-fashion and make their point by wearing outrageous getups. Another group just goes with the flow and hope to fit in.

Maya Angelou wrote, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

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For The Love Of Custom Corsets

For the love of custom corsets, women keep wearing them! First Impressions: A woman walks into a room and every head turns. The glances of the crowd may flicker away in an instant or they may linger and admire.

The way a woman presents herself gives her the power to choose whether to deflect attention or to draw it. When she chooses to walk into a room and say, “Here I am,” her clothing is part of the equation.

The well-dressed woman knows that clothing conveys status. Fabric with a sumptuous hand and design with a fashionable cut, speaks volumes. And above all, a garment with an impeccable fit sends a message: high quality.

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High Concept Fashion:

High concept fashion is the product of the foremost couture houses throughout the world. The annual collections are brought out each new fashion season by talented designers with bold ideas.

The goal of an haute couture fashion show is to make the theme of the collection stand out. They strive to capture attention and turn the head with a gasp from the lips. It’s usually more of an appeal to “look at me!” rather than actual functionality. Very few designers expect to sell a look “hot off the model.” The love of custom corsets with dramatic flair has kept it on the runway.

The overall control the tailor/seamstress has over the final outcome of the corset garment is extensive. From the fitting to the refined and detailed finish, it speaks volumes to the client and overall audience. It is the highest degree of bespoke tailoring. Experienced seamstresses and tailors can produce exquisite garments that reflect a designer’s concept. They can beautifully execute any design that a woman conceives independently. The translation of the runway looks into wearable high fashion is the result of bespoke tailoring.

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How Corsets Fit In:

Over the centuries the flow of fashion is often charted by the look of the dresses, coats, skirts, and slacks. As these pieces have evolved, however, so too have the undergarments. Working alongside the tailor and seamstress was the corsetier. Corsets have been shaping, slimming and flirting from ancient times to the present day.

The function of a corset has changed through history. It has been used to support an upright posture and to hold a woman’s body in the desired shape. Often it is simply used as a fashion statement. The woman of today is neither compelled nor forbidden to wear a corset. She can choose for herself the purpose for which she will wear it.

Many women like the support a corset gives them in situations where they desire a straight posture. They feel it gives them a more elegant line that suggests high status. Some women want a corset that will nip in their waist and give them the classic hourglass figure. Still, others are not interested in the function of a corset but just enjoy the fun of wearing it.

Bespoke corset being made

Why Custom Corsets:

So does a custom fit maintain a certain superiority? A woman who decides to explore the option of wearing a corset will find many ready-made options on the market. Unfortunately, they are made to fit the average woman with industry-standard proportions, which the average female body rarely follows.

She may also find that the seams begin to pull apart and the stiffening begins to stab before she has even begun to lace the corset tightly. This will not do. In no time at all her desire will be to remove the corset as soon as possible.

For a garment as close-fitting as a corset, the only way to get a piece that is both functional and comfortable is to have it custom made by a bespoke seamstress.

Every woman’s body is unique. The bust may be higher or lower than average, her rib cage may be longer or shorter, and her back may be wider or narrower. Only by having a custom-fit corset can all of these individual measurements be taken into account.

A bespoke corset is a gorgeous creation that will last for years. It is an item that will never go out of style. The love of custom corsets is acquired when worn to an important engagement.

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Corsets and Bustiers in History

From the beginning of time, Corsets and Bustiers in History and today have been a form of outward expression. As with other clothing, it is an outward display of an individual’s personality. By the same token fashion reflects the society of which it is a part.

Fashion has always had a great influence on society. Corsets and Bustiers in History is no exception.

Corsets have long been a symbol of feminine power and beauty, dating as far back as 2000 BC.

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Although corsets have gone through many transformations over the centuries, their general appearance has remained constant. Their main purpose and appeal were to shape and flatter the female form in accordance with current fashion trends.

Corsets Throughout the Ages

Perhaps no other garment in history has caused as much controversy. Certainly, none have spawned so many fetishes or stood the test of time as corsets have.

Tight lacing was blamed on health issues. In reality, tight-lacing likely only caused constipation and indigestion.

Traditionally, the corset was actually a part of a dress. The corset as an undergarment has its origins in Italy. Catherine de Medici brought it to France in the 1500’s. Women of the French court not only embraced the corset but considered it an indispensable beauty tool commonly worn by women throughout Europe.

 

The Skilled Seamstress:

This brought about the highly skilled seamstresses that could fit the human body with a ‘second skin of sorts. They became known as the first corsetieres. From this came the literal translation of the French word ‘corset’ which came from the expression, “pair of bodies”.

From the men there came the “bespoke” tailoring. This comes from the French term, the literal translation being: “men’s clothing made to a high degree of customization”.

Leaders and Their Impact on Dress:

Napoleon hated them. His intense dislike of them influenced the Regency style, or Empire dress, at that time. This started just below the breasts and flowed loosely to the floor, eliminating the need for a corset.

Fashion then shifted from loose, flowing dresses to a more slender silhouette. This was achieved using lacing to create a tighter fitting bodice. The corset as an undergarment was not seen in Europe until the 1500’s.

 

And the Queens:

It is believed that Catherine de Medici first introduced Italian style corsets to France. However, the ancient civilizations of Rome, Greece, Egypt, Assyria, and Crete depicted women wearing Corsets and Bustiers in History for hundreds of years already before her time.

The proclamation of 1597 by Queen Elizabeth went into minute detail about the type of dress allowed for a person per position and social rank. There was strict control of everyday dress. It was essential that the Queen’s subjects know their place. This included the type of fabric, garment embellishments, the color worn, hosiery and even furs.

Corset TimelineREV.indd

 

Corset Materials Used:

The first corsets of the 16th century did not aim to accentuate the waist but rather had a more cylindrical shape. They flattened everything from waist to bust, forcing the breasts up into an alluring curve which just peeked out at the top.

Corset styles and the materials used to make them would change many times over the next centuries. Wood, whalebone and eventually steel replaced the iron cages to make them much more comfortable. Lacing moved from the front to the back.

 

The Busk:

And busks, which provided the stiffening with knife-shaped pieces of whalebone or wood, moved from the back to the front and eventually the sides. This whalebone was the predecessor to today’s boning.

Fabrics changed too, from linen to cotton, wool, leather, silk, and lace. However, this was largely a matter of personal preference and rank.

Virtually all women wore corsets, but not all could afford to commission a tailor to make them. Many corsets made at home used cheaper and more readily available materials. Sackcloth stiffened with readily available reeds was common. Whereas the nobility who could afford the services of a tailor and proper fit had elaborate corsets made of leather, damask, silk, and velvet.

Elizabethan Wardrobe:

“European aristocrats [13] were inclined to regard the body as a work of art. Their prominent reason being their display at court and physical self-control. Court society imposed its aesthetic erectness which was also a way of mastering the passions.”

“The Elizabethan wardrobe was quite complex. Sleeves, bodice, underskirt, corset, and ruff (neck collar), all came as separate pieces, held in place by pins. The Queen loved to receive gifts of valuable garments. A pair of sleeves embroidered with pearls were among these gifts.”

 

Elizabethan Corset:

“In the Elizabethan era, whalebone (baleen) was frequently used in corsets so bodices could maintain their stiff appearance. A front stiffener, called a busk, was typically made of wood, horn, ivory, metal, or whalebone. This busk was carved into a thin knife shape and then inserted into the front bodice”.

n England stays were a part of a basic wardrobe of even working women. ‘The wives of journeymen tradesmen and shopkeepers, either wore leather stays or ‘full-boned’ stays. Worn every day for years and never washed; half laced and black as the post.”[14]

Corsets and the French Empire:

Skipping forward a bit to the 1500’s, after Catherine de Medici introduced corsets to France, the women of the French court wore them as undergarments.

Unlike bustiers, corsets come in two different styles: The under-bust corset ends beneath the breasts and requires a separate bra, while the over-bust corset covers at least part of the breasts. The word in French remained as ‘body’, but in the 17th century the term in England was “stays”.

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The French Empire in the 1700’s:

“By the 1770’s, fashionable French women began to wear a corset made of quilted linen and without bones. They were fastened in front with strings or ribbons.”[15] 

The French, ‘Ladies Magazine’ wrote an article in 1785. In this, it informed the English women that “the French ladies never wear more than a quilted waistcoat”. “The custom of imprisoning children in heavily boned stays was also disappearing”.

The Enlightenment Campaigns of Napoleonic France proclaimed “liberty and equality”. This played a role in loosening the stays. Thus high-waist neoclassical gowns came into fashion. Obviously, women still had waistlines but they no longer emphasized that part of the body. They focused on the bosom instead!

 

Victorian Corsets:

Yet, after a brief period of freedom at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, fashion for high-waist empire gowns was declining. The boned corset reappeared around 1800 and spread throughout society. The French term “corset” was first used in England about 1820. Until then, English speakers called a corset a “pair of bodies” or a “pair of French bodies”; somewhat like a ‘second skin’.

Long, heavily boned corsets continued to be worn by English women. Modesty and corsets were closely associated with sexual morality by the English.

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Corsets were also considered a medical necessity in the early 19th century. It was thought that women were too fragile to stand without support. Little girls as young as 3 or 4 years old were laced into tiny corsets. After years of being continuously laced up, however, their backs were weakened. By the time they reached their teens, they were unable to sit or stand without the support of a corset.

 

 

 

Victorian Corsets and Tight-lacing:

It really wasn’t until the 1830’s that the hourglass shape came into fashion. This gave Victorian corsets the dual purpose of cinching the waist and supporting the bust. In the mid-1800’s, the fashionable shape was an exaggeratedly curvaceous hourglass with a tiny waist.

This is when real tight-lacing became popular. These tightly laced corsets deformed the internal organs and forced shallow breathing. The results were a lot of fainting; thus the need for smelling salts to revive the fainting ladies in repose.

Tightly laced corsets and the problems that came with them were an affliction unique to the rich. Only the ladies who were higher in class and did not have to work could wear such restrictive clothing. Working class women wore looser corsets and lighter clothing that allowed for more movement.

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Edwardian Corsets:

The early 20th century brought a change in corset shape in response to concerns about pressure on the stomach area. The new straight-front corset, also known as the S-bend corset, the swan-bill corset, or the health corset.

It featured a rigid busk that ran the entire length of the front of the corset. This gave the effect of a very flat front, forcing the hips to jut out in back.

However, the unnatural posture it forced upon the wearer resulted in many back problems. It actually caused more injury than its waist-cinching predecessor. Thus the style only lasted about ten years, from 1900 to 1910.

Around 1908 fashion changed to favor a more natural waistline and narrower hips. This, along with the advent of rubber and elastic fabrics, made way for girdles and brassieres.

 

Corsets in the 21st Century:

At one point the United States government asked women to refrain from buying corsets.

It’s true… it was just after entering World War I, and this single move freed up 28,000 tons of steel for use in war production. It also gave rise to the popularity of brassieres and girdles. Women’s roles in society changed as well in this time period. More women delayed marriage to seek an education, leaving corsets to overweight and pregnant women.

Garconne fashion and the prized boyish body shape of the 1920’s saw little call for corsets, as women used girdles to minimize the hips, and bras to minimize the breasts.

Soon came the fifties and a new appreciation of all things feminine. Dior’s “New Style” celebrated womanly curves, favoring a tiny waist and wide hips. This sparked a return in popularity of the corset which lasted until the rise of flower power and hippie bra-burning sentiments of the 1960’s and 70’s.

 

Corsets and Bustiers:

What is the difference between corsets and bustiers? It’s a question we often get at Sultry Lady Corsets, where we specialize in custom made, beautifully embellished, one of a kind corsets and bustiers. The answer to the question is that while corsets and bustiers look similar, in construction and function they differ.

Corsets have more structured than the bustier. The bustier lifts your breasts to accentuate cleavage, but don’t do much, if anything, to hold in your stomach. The corset doesn’t just enhance cleavage, it also cinches you in so that your waist and torso look slimmer.

The contemporary corset is closer in style to the corsets and bustiers that were popular in the Victorian era. This is when the hourglass figure became a measure of feminine desirability. These shape-shifting corsets used back-lacing to pull the waist into some improbably small sizes. They included boning to keep the garments stiff and supportive.

 

Celebrities and Corsets:

The current popularity of corsets and bustiers in history began in 1983 after Madonna appeared in concert wearing a silk corset. The demand for corsets and bustiers took off like wildfire. The underwear-as-outerwear trend has not stopped since. Her famous corset designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for her Blond Ambition tour, later sold at auction in London for more than £30,000–about $52,000– in 2012.

Modern corsets are mostly, though not completely, a fashion statement. The shape is complementing and showcasing the natural feminine form rather than trying to manipulate or transform it. To all corset-wearing women, it is a symbol of beauty and femininity.

Corsets are a favorite way to do this. Some celebrities spotted donning corsets include Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, BeonceKeira Knightley, Kylie Minogue, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Victoria Beckham, to name just a few.

gal-sweetheart-beyonce-jpg
sweetheart corset-Beyonce

 

Corsets as a Fashion Statement Today:

Contemporary corsets and bustiers have come a long way from the extremely constrictive Victorian style. The garments are now seductive and comfortable. The desire is to showcase the assets, not change them.

Bustiers worn as lingerie are a much more recent design than corsets.  Made of flexible fabric with stretch panels, they are much less restrictive.

Bustiers often have bras built into them – with or without underwires. They are usually shorter than corsets, ending at the waist or just above it. You will often see the term long-line bra used interchangeably with a bustier.

With so many choices and so much freedom in fashion today, the corset remains a fashion mainstay. It is a fail-proof way to make a statement and honor the feminine form.

 

Informational Resources:

The Corset, A Cultural History:  by Valerie Steele

Clothing in Elizabethan England:   Liza Picard