Thursday, June 28, 2012

A self-fastening corset

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Loretta reports:

Some while back, the 2NHG library acquired copies of Fashioning Fashion; European Dress in Detail 1700-1915.  The book, which showcases fashions from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), was a gift from our friends there.

I included one of the dresses in yesterday’s post, whose sleeve Susan had blogged about previously.  The book provided inspiration for one of the scenes in Scandal Wears Satin.

The self-fastening corset Sophy has to get into in a hurry at a Portsmouth inn was not a figment of my overheated imagination.  I discovered it in this very book.  “A new system of crossed ties allowed the wearer to lace her own corset without assistance.”  You can view extreme closeups of the corset at the LACMA site, which is what I did, to understand how this as well as other underwear worked. 

Courtesy Wikipedia
Clicking here will take you to multiple views of the corset (for some reason it’s filed under “sleeve plumpers;” if you search “corset” you get only the front view.)  You can zoom in for intimate detail.

As you can see, the corset laces up the back, but the strings come round to the front and seem to be woven into the tabs that tie in front.


Susan Bailey said...

Hah! Tortune made convenient. :-)

Fizz said...

Wow. Really Wow. It looks painful. If I thought I had neck and back problems before!

I have a whole new respect for being a lady.

Missy Hayes said...

Amazing! I found this very same system on a vintage girdle and thought it was a more modern (and genius) invention, but I have been proven wrong. This corset must have made the wearer feel much more independent since she needn't rely on an assistant to help her into her stays. :)

Julia said...

Hah, the title sounded almost scary to me - like a corset you put around yourself and it just draws itself tighter by itself. What a weird thought! And I don't even buy into all that "corsets are torture" business, I think it's mostly movies and all that "liberated modern women don't wear that (even if they are really, really curious about it and love how it looks)" stuff. I tried it and I'd choose a corset over one of those under-wired bras _any_ day.

Interesting idea with the lacing! I'm glad you linked to the close-ups, they made it a lot clearer. There must be yards and yards of string in there.

Regency Romance Author said...

Cool! I had no idea it was possible to get into a corset without help. This is great!

I doubt very much the average woman wore her corsets so tight on a daily basis that she couldn't breathe. That was probably only done either by the very vain (like Scarlett o'Hara), or the for very special occasions like portraits, or super fancy parties.

Isobel Carr said...

That is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it!

As to the whole “too tight”, that wasn’t really an issue until metal grommets came into vogue. If you look at the eyelets on this one, they’re handsewn and would have ripped out before it could be laced to tightly as to cause the kind of organ rearrangement you see in the mid to late Victorian period.

Nyxie Klinger said...

I got to see this beauty when I was in Berlin. Well I got to see the exibit that the Ff book is written about. It was amazing. I love the lacing on this one, I had seen lacing like it before on girdles and bought a few lacing fans to do it on some of the corsets I am making.

Chris Woodyard said...

The title of this blog post recalled irresistibly the old cartoon (Punch?) of the husband untying his wife's corset laces thinking, "I thought I tied a bow this morning, not a knot..."

Grace Burrowes said...

I've always wondered at those who insist Regency corsets only laced up the back, particularly when the women of the day would have had the example of jumps around (for expectant and nursing mothers), were typically accomplished at needlecraft, and didn't necessarily rise to get dressed in the presence of another (widows?) unless they could afford servants.
Lovely to see an unassailable example of a front lacing design, and such a breathtaking example, too.

Isobel Carr said...

Um, it clearly laces up the back. It merely ties in the front over the busk. And there are examples of front-lacing "jumps" from the period, but from what I can tell from period books like the ones reproduced in The Lady's Stratagem, they really are jumps (meant of lounging about the house in undress), not something you wore under a gown.

Anonymous said...

If our expert Kalen has never seen ne before I doubt they were in general use. Nevertheless, I fully expect all the heroines who have clandestine affaires to be wearing one of these whether her sleeeves need plumping or not.
They did have front lacing stays. In a family, sisters could help each other, though most families had a servant. I have no doubt that ladies went without stays around the house or else found a way to get in and out of the stays without completly loosening them.
As usual, a wonderful find.

Isobel Carr said...

Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I just had a chance to look at the high rez images, and this lacing system is clearly not original to the corset. If you look at the layout of the eyelets, the corset is designed to be spiral laced up the back, not cross laced as it is here, which is generally a later method of closure. So while the lacing method is fascinating, it is likely a later addition, imitating the ease of “speed lacing” with a 2-part metal busk as was common a decade or two later.

LorettaChase said...

Readers are entitled to draw their own conclusions, of course. But I am going to bow to the wisdom of the historical dress experts & curators of what was a major exhibition. This is the way the corset was displayed in the exhibition, and the dates given in the catalog are 1830-40. I'm assuming they had good reason for lacing the corset in this way, and giving these, rather than vaguer dates, like "19th century."

Isobel Carr said...

Date of the stays themselves looks correct, but the lacing is absolutely not original. The layout of the eyelets is unambiguous and quite specific (and it’s a feature you can’t really alter). I’m sure it’s displayed that way because at some point someone created the amazing self-lacing feature and they wanted to show it off.

Isobel Carr said...

I put up a quick post over at History Hoydens to demonstate what I'm talking about, since I've had a lot of people ask how the heck I can tell.

Miss Tarleton said...

Oh my word... this is the answer to my conundrum! I can get into my 1860's corset by myself, but hadn't figured out how to make it happen with back-lacing stays for 18thC (a necessity, since I'm the lone reenactor around my house and it scares my mom to death to lace me into things--no matter how I reassure her, she thinks she is slowly killing me!) This is just the thing I have been looking for! I usually go for accuracy, but don't much mind an anachronistic lacing system in this case, since the silhouette will be the same and no one sees my undergarments anyhow.

*dances with excitement*

Thanks so much for sharing! :)

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