Victorian Corset


The corset was an essential undergarment for Victorian women. The corset developed from 18th century stays, a foundation garment that gave women a conical form while lifting and supporting the bosom, in addition to, producing a rigidly flat front. 

The 19th century corset remained basically similar to the earlier stays in that it accentuated the bosom; but the Victorian corset also minimized the waist by producing a curved hour-glass shape.  


The corset laced up the center-back to achieve the correct degree of tightness to fit the wearer’s figure, thus the term tight lacing. There were hooks and eyes at the center front for easier removal.  The corset was worn over a cotton chemise and not directly next to the skin.


corsetcorsetCorsets were worn by women, young girls and children. Children wore corsets to learn correct posture.  Corsets came in a variety of colors, including white, black, charcoal gray, cream, and even red.

Victorian dress

The elegance of Victorian fashions was mainly dependent on the corset. Without the aid of the corset, no evening dress of the mid-1860s through the end of the century could be worn, unless the Victorian woman was willing to submit to the withering contempt of a merciless fashion conscious society. The illustration on the left represents a lady dressed in the elegant fashion of 1867. One glance at the contour of the figure is sufficient to show the full influence of the form of corset on the adjustment of this style of costume. In 1867, there was a strong tendency towards the short waists, low dresses, and long trailing trains.

Practical hints on corset wearing at the time were provided by the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine: “… to facilitate that desirable object, a handsome figure. Ladies, when dressing for the afternoon walk or ride, or the evening display, when putting on their stays at first, should not lace them quite tight; in about a quarter of an hour they might again tighten them, and in the course of half-an-hour or so lace them to the requisite tightness. They may fancy in this way there is no sudden compression of the waist, and the figure gets more easily accustomed to tight-lacing.”

Occasionally, in France, ladies who were very particular about their figures had their corsets made in three pieces, laced down the sides as well as behind, and cut away over the hips; the holes for the laces were very numerous and close together. This form of corset provided for a flawless adjustment to the figure, as well as the power of tight-lacing when required, and perfect ease in walking or dancing. The height and breadth of the shoulder had much to do with proportionate slenderness of the waist. A lady who was tall and wide-shouldered would appear very neatly shaped with a waist laced to twenty or twenty-one inches.


Y & N Diagonal Seam 1880's Corset


Corset photo courtesy of Meg Andrews

Front view of the corset showing the taupe-colored tape
woven with Y & N Diagonal Seam.


corsetShown is an 1880s corset of bronze sateen cotton with a spoon busk and steel supports. The buff colored casings of the corset are embroidered with terracotta, yellow and cream twisted silk flowers across the top and the bottom. The top of the corset is trimmed with a machine-made braid in similar colors.

The registration mark, The Y & N Corset in an oval with The Y & N Diagonal Seam trademark Awarded Three Gold Medals, is stamped on the white cotton inside. The front opening of the corset has steel closures imprinted with "YN" -- the center with a taupe-colored tape woven with Y & N Diagonal Seam.  The back of the corset has steel eyelet holes for a laced closing.



Side view of the corset.


Photo courtesy of Meg Andrews

The top of the corset is trimmed with a machine-made braid in shades to match the terracotta, yellow and cream twisted silk flowers across the top and the bottom of the corset.


Photo courtesy of Meg Andrews

Back laced closing of the corset.


CREDITS: Photographs of 1880's corset courtesy of Meg Andrews, British dealer of antique costumes and textiles for 22 years. Visit the Meg Andrews web site specializing in English costume and accessories from the 18th and 19th centuries; Shawls from the late 18th c - 1860; English samplers and silk-work pictures; document and decorative fabrics -- both woven and printed; English Arts and Crafts embroidered, woven and printed textiles; Chinese court costumes and accessories; and European textiles.