favoured the mature woman in the Edwardian era. Itexploited the curves of an
elaborately corseted figure. The Edwardian era was the last period in fashion
history when the
mature femalefigure was every man's ideal.
Buxom ladies tortured their flesh to achieve anhour-glass figure. Young orold, all laced themselves sotightly that they distorted their
figures into the exaggerated 'S' shape associatedwith the era.
corsets favoured in the 1890s and 1900s were the 'health'corsets initially designed to aid
women to breathe freely.
Mme. Gaches-Sarrauteof Paris, acorsetiere
who studied medicine, designed a corset intended to aid healthinstead of endangering it.
introduced the straight fronted busk which was aimedat leaving the thorax free, but at
the same time designed to support and raise theabdomen instead of compressing it
and forcing it downwards.
She rightly, aimedat removing pressure from the
vital female organs and dispensed with theconstricting curve at the waist
which was customary in all previous corsets.
Medical books of the era gave images like these which suggested changes to the internal organs and skeletal frame
due to wearing over tightened corsetry. The Edwardians and
Victorians were quite capable of a little artistic licence too.
would at last have been free to move and breathe easily, but the crazefor a small waist persisted and
its easy achievement was reinforced by the availabilityof a maid. Pulled very tightly the
"health" corset produced a hand span waist, butat the same time the straight
fronted busk forced the bust prominently forward, whilstthrowing back the hips, creating
the 'S' shape characteristic until1907.
generalimpression given was of an
enormous one piece bosom, referred to as a monobosom.Because
the bust was largely unsupported, ladies began to wear various styles ofbust bodices and added
other extra padding, even handkerchiefs, to increase the frontagewhich hung low over the
The bust bodice was in use by 1905 in England and was the earliest
century bra, but never got patented.One style of a monobosom health bust bodice
1907 the wasp waist became less acuteand corsets became straighter. The
corset of 1907 achieved a long slim silhouette. The corset started just above
the waist and fitted well down the thighs. They often had elastic gusset inserts
which were supposed to increase comfort level.
As ever fashion won out and to
match the new longer slimmer dress styles of 1912, corsets increased in
length and almost reached the knees, making sitting down quite difficult.
comments on the corset is particularly relevant to the Edwardian woman:
the corset is, in economic theory substantially a mutilation, undergone
for the purpose of lowering the subjects' vitality andrendering her permanently and
obviously unfit for work.... thecorset, and the general disregard
of the wearer's comfort whichis an obvious feature of all
civilized women's apparel, are somany items of evidence to the
effect that in the modern civilizedscheme of life the woman is still
in theory, the economic dependentof the man, - that,.... she is
still the man's Chattel..... '
and further on he writes:-
'Thewomen of poorer classes,
especially of the rural population, donot habitually use it except as a
holiday luxury. Among theseclasses, the women have to work
hard, and it avails them littlein the way of a pretence of
leisure to so crucify the flesh inevery day life. The holiday use of
the contrivance is due toimitation of a higher-class canon
of decency.... .it may be saidthat the corset persists in great
measure through the period ofsnobbery..... it continues in use
wherever and so long as it servesits purpose as an evidence of
honorific leisure by arguing physicaldisability in the wearer.'
theories aptly apply to the Edwardian lady, who was quite helpless inmany ways once laced into her
corset. Engagement in sports was certainly difficult,although not impossible;
engagement in housework equally difficult and undesirable.
Wearing the corset merited the
assistance of another; a personal maid who couldpull and tug at the lacing,
reducing the normal circumference of the waist from 25or 27 inches to 20 inches. The
corset was functional in that it prevented any function in everyday chores.
young body with about two years training a handspan 16 inch waist which some
dressmakers consideredideal, could be achieved. When
people wonder today how past women had such small waists they forget that those
women worked at wearing a corset daily in the same way as a woman today visits a
Gym to tone her thighs.
corset for the Edwardian woman was then, a status symbol showing she belonged to
the leisure class.
1911 elastic belts were first worn and were frequently adopted by younger women
when they were active during the First World War.
1910 the bust bodice became essential and could not be left off as less support was worn. By
darted band a few inches wide with fine straps and worn under the bust and
covering the nipples was an alternative to other
underwear. It was a forerunner of the brassiere. The exact date of the
forerunners of the official bra designed by
Mary Phelps Jacobs in 1913 is
thought to be about 1908. Obviously there was a need for a separating bust
support at that time, but several countries maintain that they had versions of
the bra before her invention. However it was
Mary Phelps Jacobs who got
the record book attention because she was astute and clever enough to patent the
1914, under the name of Caresse Crosby.
Link to Bras and Girdles Before 1950.
the First World War was over, women's attitudes and fashions shifted. There could
be no return to the heavily boned corset as it had been in former times. The
world was ready for bras and girdles.
Buy my latest ebook and learn how to recognise changes
between Paniers, crinolines, bustles, bras and corsets and the affect this
has on the outer silhouette of female costume
My How to Recognise Undergarments in Fashion History e-book has 12 chapters about the changes in under foundations in costume history found in
various articles on this website.
It also has a new chapter on the history of drawers and knickers and
one covering the chemise and petticoats. This
you to read, print and copy from various web pages of fashion-era.com all in one go.
The Undergarments ebook includes information from my
articles on early corsetry, C18th Paniers and the sack dress, stays to corsets,
crinoline styles from 1830s to 1860s, bustle styles of 1870s & 1883/5,
Edwardian corsetry, bras and girdles
before and after 1950, and a new chapter on drawers, pantaloons, knickers to
panties. A look at Rational Dress Reform, the contribution of Mrs. Bloomer and Dr. Jaeger
to the resultant
cycling and swimming dress. For
more information on the contents of Undergarments click here.
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Footnote:-This page was partially based on content I
updated from a dissertation I first wrote in 1979. The
dissertation a Comparative Study Between the Rôles of the Edwardian Hostess
and the Edwardian Seamstress looked at the symbolism behind Edwardian dress
and the rôles of women in Edwardian society. In particular it examined the rôle
and high lifestyle of Edwardian society hostesses compared with the degrading
working conditions and impoverished lifestyle of the seamstresses that made
clothes for hostesses.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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