Posted by Jessamyn on July 22, 1997 at 23:45:33:
In reply to Underpinnings posted by Beth on July 22, 1997 at 18:08:33
] I know Regency women wore corsets, but I can't envision exactly what they would look like. In other eras, the function of the corset was more clearly seen by examining the shape of the dress (the late Victorian "pouter pigeon" S shape, or the tiny waisted, large hooped silhouette of the middle nineteenth century. I assume the Regency corset would have incorporated a miracle bra type feature, but would it have extended down to include a waist?
Someone just e-mailed me this very question yesterday!
I have a picture but I haven't scanned it yet for my web site. I'll let you know when I do. Meanwhile, here are the thousand words that picture's worth:
Regency corsets started out as very lightweight things, particularly for the French (who are always racier). A Frenchwoman of the late 18th century gave the following description: "A simple piece of linen, slightly laced before, while it leaves the waist uncompressed, serves the purpose of a corset. If a robe is worn which is not open in front, petticoats are altogether dispensed with, the cambric chemise having the semblance of one, from its being trimmed with lace."
By 1810, however, corsets were completely entrenched again, although not nearly as constricting as they had been 20 years earlier or would be 20 years hence. A common style extended from mid-hip to mid-bust, was laced up the back, had very wide-set shoulder straps (to accommodate the wide necklines) and not very much boning. If you picture one of those all-in-one bra-and-girdle combinations from the thirties, you won't be far off. Now substitute a straight band of fabric across the busom instead of separate cups (lift, don't separate!) and a busc from just under the busom to the end of the corset. (A busc is a stiff piece, usu. of wood, inserted in a casing down the front.)
Although it sounds somewhat constricting, I think that Regency furniture, which was thin and firm and not really designed to be leant back on, would have made me grateful for a little back support! And this type of corset makes it almost impossible to slump; nothing makes those dresses look more awful than slumping.
As for other undergarments, one would wear a chemise (long, straight, linen gown with or without sleeves) under the corset (otherwise it pinches). Petticoats came back in as skirts got fuller and fuller at the bottom throughout the teens.
Women did not wear knickers until the hoopskirt era, when they were adopted in self-defense--those hoopskirts could fly up in a wind, or descending from a bus!--and were considered pretty racy. Women wearing trousers, even as undergarments, just fancy!
Some of this information comes from Corsets and Crinolines by Nora Waugh [Routledge/Theatre Arts Books, reprinted 1991].
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