Minimal Corsetry – two red corsets

I am currently up North on holiday, and as part of that we stopped off to visit a friend in Manchester. He cleverly suggested visiting the Costume Gallery of Manchester, in Platt Field  Park where I got to take a look at two red antique corsets.


The Victorian corset above could be said to be “minimal” in its own way. Primarily in that it employs quite little vertical support (ie: baleen), using a touch of quilting and cleverly placed bones to help instead. In doing so, it has a few details that I personally dislike in corsetry. The main one being that bones which stop at the waist don’t tend to prove very comfortable, and once you go beyond a certain waist-reduction this becomes even more of an issue. So comfort and smoothness can be compromised. 

This much older corset, by contrast, features “tabs” and a conical line to the rib. Sometimes, people assume stays like the above to be less comfortable than Victorian corsets, due to the fact that the ribs and waist are compressed a bit without much “flow” onto the hips (ie: the waist can dig in). But as we see, in these two particular examples it would arguably be the opposite way around. The stays feature smooth vertical support all the way through the waist (and, less commonly as I understand it, inserts between the tabs almost like gores on later corsets), whilst the Victorian piece does not, so I would argue that the former would be the more comfortable of the two (if all other details were equal: waist reduction, figure type, etc,). Ultimately though, one of the easiest ways to assist comfort is to stick to a reasonably mild waist reduction, as most antique corsetry did (about 2″, according to sources like Valerie Steele). 

So in tackling this idea for a minimal corset, there is a question of retaining comfort. These two antiques were quite timely to see, given I’ve been thinking about such things, because they show two possible approaches to dealing with the laced openings of the minimal corset (1, stop steels above them at the waist, or 2, run steels down either side of the openings so as to retain an unbroken flow through the curves). The second option is certainly the one I would always be naturally inclined to follow, and seeing these two corsets reminded me why. But overall, it’s fun searching for similarities between them, given they would generally be seen as so different. 

For interest, you can also see in the diagram above how a set of stays could be patterned in as few as two pieces per side. They give a conical torso with the tabs flaring open over the hips, often with the tabs actually sewn on afterwards. It will be interesting to see if I can make something that has a similar patterning ethos but which contours/follows the hips with greater roundness, more like an Edwardian or contemporary piece. 

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