Stays and Corsets through the Regency Years.
The word ‘Corset’ comes from the French word ‘corps’ for body.
Through the centuries, body wraps, stays, and corsets created varied silhouettes, sometimes flattening breasts and accentuating rounded hips.
Or, as in the Regency years, pushing up breasts and showing off bustlines beneath square-cut and low-cut necklines.
Pottery paintings in Crete, Rome, Greece, Assyria and Egypt showed women wearing body wraps, so we know wrappings of some sort had been used for body support through many centuries.
In the early 16th century, stays were simple bodices stiffened by horn, buckram, and whalebone. Center front busks were made from ivory, wood, and metal and stays were laced at the back. But the need for assistance with lacings, the expense of boning, and the fact that it would have been hard to do physical work in a stay or corset meant that only the aristocracy wore them at first.
In the 18th century, stays were supposed to create a V shaped form and support a woman’s back so whalebone was used to put in more boning and backs were longer. Eyelet holes were stitched and staggered in spacing, so stays could be spiral laced. Stays were strapless or had straps attached in the back and tied at the front sides.
Later, they began to support the bust, give a fashionable conical shape, and draw shoulders back. Eyelet holes were stitched and staggered in spacing, so stays could be spiral laced. Stays were strapless or had straps attached in the back and tied at the front sides. Later, they began to support the bust, give a fashionable conical shape, and draw shoulders back.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, corsets changed to become an undergarment mainly worn to support the breasts and show a slimmer torso under Empire style gowns.
Gathering information on corsets used through the Regency Era is difficult as underwear wasn’t shown in British publications and only occasionally seen in French magazines so most of our knowledge is through
actual garments, especially those donated to museums. But rare stays/corsets have survived that show front fastenings so our heroine
After the Regency, corsets created the typical hourglass silhouette we associate with the Victorian Era, with a full bosom, rounded hips, and waists that were laced tighter and tighter over the years. Like previous corsets, Victorian corsets were cotton, boned with steel or whale bone, laced at the back, and with tiny hooks and eyes up the front.
Formal portraits show that not all women wore a corset, though for those that wore tight corsets there were physical and medical dangers.
Ribs were displaced and in extreme cases overlapped or might break and damage the liver. Ladies ate in tiny bites, as their compressed stomachs didn’t cope well with digestion and ladies were often constipated.
Fainting was often from increased pressure on the heart and lungs that could never inflate fully and hence the naming of a ‘Fainting Couch’.
And though women from these eras didn’t realize it, they were jeopardizing the very functions that women were supposedly made for and married for: pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation.
Tight lacings damaged the uterus, caused miscarriages, and suppressed nipples so lactation was difficult, or impossible, and breasts became infected. No wonder ladies employed wet nurses!