Saturday, August 27, 2011

Corset and Petticoat

Last week I visited the Mütter Museum. I know for sure I was not meant for any part of the medical field--I gagged several times and within five minutes of walking in I really wanted to get the visit over with. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience (one I hope not to repeat), and there was a fashion-related takeaway. In one of the displays there were two skeletons, and between them there was a dress form that displayed a corset. The two skeletons: one was shaped in a form of how your organs shift when wearing a corset, and one when you are not. Interesting, and pretty gross all at the same time.

What this illustration does not show is that while wearing a corset, your liver shifts down and your heart shift up. Your lungs can never expand fully, in turn creating shortness of breath and frequent fainting [one of the prevailing side effects on women during Victorian era]. 
Then of course there are the petticoats [unrelated to the museum adventure]. Corsets and petticoats work together, often giving the impression of a smaller waist while accentuating the bust and hips. The corset is a customized garment, made of separate pieces which are stitched together to mold the torso into a desired shape. Early corsets were made of two layers of linen, and held together with a stiff paste. The resulting rigid material held and formed the wearer's figure. From the sixteenth century on, corset makers began using thin pieces of whalebone, shaped like quills or knitting needles which were sleeved between two layers of fabric. The whalebone was shaped with steam and then inserted into tailored pockets in the corset to provide structure. Whalebone was also used in some corsets in a front piece called the busk. The busk gave a smooth line to the front of the corset. Alternatively, boning was made of wood, horn, or steel. 

The whalebone corset was much more confining than the paste-stiffened one and was often worn in conjunction with other undergarments that further exaggerated the female figure. In Elizabeth’s time, courtly fashion dictated corsets paired with large, whale bone-stiffened petticoats.

The petticoat is a skirt-like undergarment worn to give a skirt or dress a desired shape. The petticoat, if sufficiently full or stiff, holds the overskirt in a desired shape. Petticoats have appeared in many forms since their arrival at the end of the 15th century including the structured variety.

Elaborate petticoats were worn under silk dresses in the eighteenth century in much of Europe and America, often supported by whalebone frames which were slipped into pockets in the garment and detailed with bustle-like structures made of down-filled pads. As fashion dictated larger volumes, stiffened petticoats helped give added support. The most popular type of stiffened petticoat was the crinoline which was made out of horsehair and woven with linen threads.
*all information was collection from various sources.

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