Research Sessions: Georgian Underwear at Bath Fashion Museum
I recently went to the Bath Fashion Museum to do some research for the Georgian Polonaise that I was recreating for Salisbury Museum (post coming in the future!). I asked specifically for foundation garments because I hadn't seen any underwear on my research trip to Salisbury but I also asked for dresses to see how their construction differed to the dress I was recreating. This post is going to be centred around the foundation garments I studied which includes two corsets and one petticoat. I'll make a separate post later about the dresses I studied!
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Fully Boned Corset
Foundation garments surviving is rare because people quite literally wore these things until they fell apart, but considering how old these corsets are (over 200 years!), they're remarkably well preserved. This corset dates from around 1775-1800 and measures, from the top of the corset to the bottom, 30cm.
The first thing I noticed when handling this corset was how stiff it is. No matter what way I flipped it, the corset kept its perfectly conical shape, no doubt thanks to the direction of the bones and the sheer number of them. The entirety of this corset is also hand stitched, which is crazy to think about. It must have been murder on your hands to stitch such narrow channels and then bind the whole thing in a fabric that looks very coarse and unforgiving.
The slideshow above demonstrates how the corset was lined, something which is to be expected from a garment that you were going to wear every day, and had also spend such a long time on. When the lining broke down you could simply replace it instead of making a whole new corset, keeping the beautiful stitch work that you'd spent hours and hours on.
Under the lining you can see that there's some kind of busk, perhaps a bone cut thicker than the others, at the centre front of the corset to help with posture. There's also a thicker bone running across the top of the corset which would have helped to keep the bust in place.
I was pleased to see that the tabs were individually lined- when I'm making my own corset, I'll definitely take this period touch as it'll be easier than cutting the lining in one piece! There were seven tabs on this corset, as well as the one at the centre front.
The eyelets are also done by hand on this corset; twelve in total on either side, two closer together at the top left and bottom right. I believe that this was to make tying the laces easier because they didn't tie corsets in the 'bunny ear' style that I'm so fond of. Instead, the laces were tied in spirals to help give the conical shape of the era.
There is also one of my favourite period touches on the back of this corset; piecing! The back of this corset was obviously longer than the width of fabric as both of the bottom tabs are pieced.
The straps are also an interesting aspect of this corset, measuring 18cm and inserted into the corset lining.
I assume that beneath the lining they're vigorously stitched to the main body of the corset and the lining hides messy stitches. Because they are separate to the main body of the corset they also would've been easily altered if needed.
I'm curious- if anyone has any idea what fabric this corset is made from, especially the piping or strips that secure the seams, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Partially Front Laced Corset
Now this corset is truly beautiful. The dark brown fabric paired with white stitches, delicate crisscross pattern of bones and decorative front lacing creating a work of art. This corset dates from 1750-1800 and 26cm from top to bottom.
This corset is just as stiff as the last, holding its shape as I examined it. It has a little wear which is obvious on the darker fabric, but it's interesting to see where the fabric has been worn down, where it was chafed and under the most strain.
This corset, the same as the last, is fully lined and you can also tell from the lining that there are thicker bones at the centre front to help with the shape. Interestingly, there is a little hip gore placed into the lining. This same gore isn't on the outside of the corset, so maybe it was put in because of a fabric miscalculation or to stop the grain of the lining fabric distorting.
There are 8 tabs on this corset, as well as the centre front one and each of them have two bones running through to keep them stiff.
The eyelets, too, are very similar to the previous corset, although there are eleven eyelets down the back of this one. Again, there are two eyelets closer to one another at the top left and bottom right which must mean that it was fairly common practice to do so.
The straps are actually part of the main body this corset instead of inserted afterwards and measure 27cm. The end of the strap has two eyelets which match up with two eyelets on the front panel of the corset, meaning that a lace can be pulled through the two and kept taut.
I wouldn't mind wearing this corset, it's so pretty while still giving the right shape and look of the era. I give my highest respects to whoever made it!
Extant petticoats are so rare, it was such a nice surprise to find out that the Bath Fashion Museum actually had one from the era I was looking at! This one apparently dates from 1780-1789 and I'm assuming that it would be used for winter, along with more layers of petticoats because it's made from very coarse, stiff fabric that feels almost like horsehair canvas.
The skirt itself is 90cm long and is made from four panels of fabric, each measuring about 60cm wide.
The petticoat is made with five layers of tucks, each measuring about 5cm wide. These were created by simply pinching the fabric and stitching and would have helped the petticoat to keep its shape.
The hem is pretty much as big as the pleats, keeping the skirt stiff and away from the ankles.
The panels of fabric are pleated into a little yoke at the top of the skirt, made from slightly softer fabric, which would be worn flush with the body. The top of the yoke measures 67cm, so this was the wearers waist measurement.
It fastens with two hook and eyes at the back above a very simple placket, which is 16cm long.
Well that's all I have for Georgian underwear! I'll be back in the future with a post about the Georgian gowns, but it won't be next week because I have a little Halloween surprise coming up ;)
Until next time,