Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What is elastic in the early 19th century?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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Loretta reports:

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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Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century offers the following quotation, which I’ve so far been unable to find online:

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.


Kleidung um 1800 said...

"Elastic" in very early 19th century fashions almost always referred to metal springs inserted into channels. Back in spring 2012 I had the pleasure to re-created a silk corset with an elastic front (from the joconde collection). I've done four blog posts about the construction. It's a very comfy garment, though the mention of 'metal springs' wouldn't indicate that.


ista said...

Until the vulcanisation process was discovered (Goodyear claims the discovery was in 1839, but the patents weren't awarded until 1844) rubber wasn't the stable elastic thing we know it as.

Even the 1837 elastic sided boots given to Queen Victoria, the elastic was metal coils in cotton (for years I thought it was rubber).

(yes I'm a nerd/geek for clothing and history of things )

Lil said...

Fascinating. I love all the odd little bits of information that come up here.

Isobel Carr said...

This is something I always try to cover in my underwear/clothing workshops. People often don't want to believe me, LOL!

HighTideBeads said...

Very interesting information. I stumbled across your blog while looking for information on the beginnings of elastic jewelry, but am left contemplating what a difference elastic must have made for the ladies of the time. Thanks for posting!

Jane said...

Love all this information! I have to make a pair of gent's embroidered braces and was researching when elastic was first available. The year of those I am making is 1843 and all the antique braces on the Internet seem to have elastic albeit not as ' elasticky ' as elastic is now. Or maybe the elastic was well worn! Enjoyed this site. Thanks

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