Shirtwaists and skirts are often seen in women’s fashions of about 1895-1910. Layers of undergarments were worn under voluminous blouses that billowed above long skirts. A corset gave definition to the waist. It was worn over a loosely fitted slip called a chemise which provided some skin protection against the corset’s hardware. The corset reached from the bustline to the hipline. It laced up the back or the front or both. Every season new corset models made their appearance usually in the Spring. By 1908 some corsets extended to the thigh to give a longer line to the silhouette. Over the corset was worn a blouse-like corset cover which concealed the inner workings of the corset. Sometimes the fronts of the corset covers were flounced in tiers to augment the bustline of the outer bodice. These are the styles that my grandmother and her older sisters would have worn.
Here are a few examples of corset styles all from 1908. The corset molded the body’s mid section by means of the vertical supports of stays and held the cage-like contraption in place with laces, buckles, and snaps.
The metal hardware and rigid framework of a corset could be concealed with the extra fabric layer of the corset cover. Corset covers, drawers, gowns, slips and chemises, were often for sale at January White Sales. Combination undergarments such as chemisette and drawers or corset cover and slip became more popular around this time.
Corset Covers could be embroidered or enhanced with lace. These Corset Cover Designs are from the Philadelphia newspapers 1907-08.
When cutting out the corset cover allow about one inch beyond the scallops to be cut out after they are worked. Baste the cover together before the scallops, which go all around neck and armholes, are stamped.
Here is an interesting pattern for a Circular Corset Cover. There do not appear to be any seams at the sides. I tried to figure out what the pattern may have looked like if it had no seams at either the sides or the shoulders. I first thought it may have been a full circle. I made the full circle pattern up in muslin, gathered the neckline and waist. It is very bubble-like, but now my doll model has something to wear besides a paper towel held in place with a rubber band. I thought the pattern could also be more of a semi-circle. I found a pattern like that from the 1700’s and traced it. When the Center Fronts are joined, it resembles a cone. The pattern description states that a piece of material 27 inches x 54 inches is needed. Half of 54 is 27, so that would be 27 inches square. I haven’t finished thinking about this.
If low on funds or just thrifty, one could always downsize a blouse waist into a corset cover. The clip about how to make a corset cover (or sleeveless blouse) from a long sleeved waist interests me. I think I might use a casing and drawstring neckline closure rather than the beading and lace suggested.
A few pincushion embroidery designs from 1907 that might come in handy for use on a corset cover.
A couple interesting videos from the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center in Carson City, showing the undergarments for a 1860’s costume. Forty years later in 1900, undergarments and the sequence of preparing to be dressed for the day was very much the same. Another sequence of this four part video shows a dress form from about 1900 showing the form with the mono bosom or pigeon breast silhouette popular at that time.
It would appear that a corset cover was not only a useful everyday item of clothing, but the simple sleeveless design was probably one of the first garments that could be sewn easily by a beginner. The opportunity to embellish the surface with embroidery, tucks, gathers and buttons allowed for creative expression. Very little of the corset cover probably showed when viewed from the outside so the embroidered scallops or other fancy work wouldn’t have to be perfectly excecuted. Clothing construction and design techniques were likely passed on from generation to generation during the making of a corset cover.
1908 was the beginning of the end for corsets. That was the year “Freedom in Fashion” arrived in the States from Paris and was introduced in the major departments stores of NYC. The New Styles would change the silhouette and eliminate the need for restrictive undergarments. I plan to write about that event soon.