Common modern corset materials
Corsets were originally conceived to give the body the fashionable shape of the time. Over time they have evolved based upon the style of the day and the materials available. Today, they are worn for both body molding as well as a pure fashion statement.
Corset materials were at one time limited to linen for a purely functional under garment. In fact, linen was the fabric of choice for most under garments because it was light weight, breathable and most importantly inexpensive. The upper classes, on the other hand, had their corsets made of silk, velvet and taffeta. All of these fabrics were strong and could therefore do the work required of them as body shapers.
Today commonly used corset materials unfortunately no longer include linen, primarily because it is now so incredibly expensive. Instead a cotton fabric that has many of the same characteristics offered by linen provided is used. It is breathable and strong enough so the corset’s boning won’t poke through. In addition it is stiff and lays flat instead of crinkling, so the corset line remains smooth under clothing. Corsets worn on top of clothing as a fashion statement are ususally lined with cotton, but the outer fabric is much more decorative. Some of the fabrics used for corsets today include velvet, brocades, satin and silk.
Other corset materials used to complete the look include boning, busks, lacing and grommets. The stiff material used for boning has changed over time from glue-stiffened fabric, dried reeds, stiff pieces of rope, and perhaps the most memorable–whale bones, which aren’t actually whale bones at all but another substance that comes from whales. Today boning materials are much less interesting and are usually made of either plastic or steel.
As far as corset materials go, the busk is the piece that makes the bust and torso so flat. Busks were made of wood, ivory or whale bone in the past and today modern materials are used as with boning. Lacing has always been some type of string ranging from a very simple cotton string to much costlier, and prettier options.
The grommets or eyelets on today’s corsets were not a part of early corsets materials. These are a modern addition that helps reinforce the holes through which the lacing is inserted. In the past, the lacing was simply inserted through small holes in the fabric which may have been reinforced with a button hole stitch.
The quality of the corset materials used to make the garment is directly reflected in the cost. Because corsets are no longer strictly undergarments they don’t always consist of the same materials. Corsets worn to be seen may zip close instead of needing to be laced and many fabrics have elasticity which provides additional strength that was not previously available.