Who can forget the classic scene from “Gone With the Wind” with Scarlet O’Hara being laced into her corset in time for the barbeque, which is full of suitors fawning over her? The image of a vintage corset in the mind of many people comes from these romantic images of beautiful women with slim waists, ample bosoms, and plenty of men at their feet.
The corset of the 16th to 18th centuries was very different from the Victorian style corset of Miss O’Hara. These design of these early corsets, called “payre of bodies,” slimmed the upper torso into a cylindrical shape. In the 18th century, the corset began to take on more of an inverted conical shape, creating a “V” shaped upper torso.
The purpose of the corset of the late 18th century and early 19th century, which is what most people think of when imagining a vintage corset. It served to slim the waist, support the breasts and straighten the back. When wearing a corset women attained the silhouette idealized during this period.
The construction of these vintage clothing items centered on the stays. These were original individual pieces of whalebone inserted into the corset to follow the natural shape of the female figure. Whale bone was eventually replaced with steel. The corset laced across the back, cinching in the waist and pulling the bust upward to create the hourglass silhouette. Many women in this period would buy corsets that were a size or two smaller, to give the appearance of a slimmer waist, but this fell out of fashion at the turn of the century.
In the Victorian era, the corset went from being merely a practical function of the fashion of the times to a work of art in its own right. The fabrics used were most often satin or silk and brocading adorned the material. While many of these corsets were made to measurement, there was a growing market of mass produced corsets as well.
If you purchase an item that is truly vintage, or decide to have a vintage inspired item made to fit you, you will want to be familiar with the following measurements:
1. Your neck circumference
2. Shoulder width
3. Sleeve length
5. Under bust
8. Skirt length
Because the measurements must be exact for this type of clothing, you should use a professional seamstress, rather than trying to take the measurements yourself. Taking appropriate measurements assures that your corset will fit correctly, look authentic and be comfortable to wear.