Exploring the corset – Day 4
I adore this antique silk corset from the 18th century. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Collection. It is not on display at this time.
Items such as this are a treasure. There is not a huge collection of ancient clothing to study. The properties of textiles naturally breakdown and fall apart. Most old garments were subject to moisture and sunlight. Both killers of fabric. Most often now these items are safely stored to preserve them and only shown for special exhibits.
This is a beautiful example of the corset style of the 1700’s. It is thought to have been Spanish in origin. When corsets were first being worn they were elaborately covered in decorative fabrics. These corsets became a feature piece of a woman’s costume. It was not until later in history when the corset became an undergarment.
The corset was never worn on bare skin as they are today. The corset was always worn over a soft cotton or linen garment called the chemise. This, soft shirt like garment, would show slightly above the corset at the neck and extend to the knees. The more elaborate the details, the more wealthy the woman. The purpose of this garment was to protect the corset from the body. It was easy to wash a chemise but not a corset.
This corset style waist is long in the front and short in the back. When it was worn the small tabs at the waist would spread open to accommodate the full skirt. The purpose of this corset was to keep the front bodice flat. The corsets were fitted with a stomacher, a solid plate of wood, metal or ivory that would slide in the front panel to keep it rigid.
The stomacher would often be carved and decorated beautifully even though it would never show. The pieces of the corset that fasten with the silver hooks would have been reinforced with bars called Busks.
The corset was originally called a stay. If you unlaced the back and open the hooks the corset was in 2 pieces. For this reason the corset was often called “a pair of stays”.
All women wore corsets. Not all were as lovely as this beautiful piece.
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