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Lil commented on my December 1809 fashions post:
<<One thing I noticed was the "elastic belt" on the first costume. Was what we think of as elastic available then, or was Arbiter Elegantiarum speaking of something else?>>
PickyPicky was curious about the term as well, since India rubber did not become available until later in the century—or did it?
I guessed at a stretchy knit interpretation but Commenter ista said:
<<Elastic could mean knitted, but it also could mean narrow tightly wound springs in channels, there are a couple of extant examples in collections. For example (click here).>>
<< Here's another c1805 garment with 'elastic' wire springs - which are no longer taut. From memory there's another in the Kyoto Costume Institute. (and yes I'm a clothing nerd)>>
My own sleuthing produced the following:
Among the recent inventions at Paris— an elastic stiffening of a vegetable substance has been invented, instead of that spiral brass wire now used for shoulder-straps, glove-tops, corsets, &c.: it is valuable, because it neither cuts the cloth that covers it, nor corrodes with verdigris : it is said to be made of Indian rubber, and promises to be exceedingly useful in belts, &c. The French queen was pleased to express her approbation of some useful articles of dress made in the national colours of this material, presented to her by Mad. Reybert, of the rue Louis le Grand.
—The Lady's Magazine, 1830
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Corsets. ‘A recent discovery...substituting India rubber for elastic wires, the rubber is manufactured in strong but delicate fibres which possess all the elasticity of wire without being subject to snap or to corrode.’ (1831)
Thanks to our commenters’ questions & answers—and ista gets a gold star for providing the info and links—we’ve learned that the elastic referred to in the 1809 description wasn’t stretchy knit, as I guessed, but wire springs. Rubbery stretchiness didn't happen to clothing until 1830, an invention as revolutionary, perhaps, and useful as spandex.
Upper left, Ficus Elastica illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants (1887), courtesy Wikipedia.
Lower right, Rubber Trees near Palm Beach, 1880-1897 courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.