University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

19th Century Corset

Construction of a Replica of a Late 19th Century Corset

Corset made by Professor Marcy Linton, University
of Virginia Drama Department Construction Specialist.

Corsets in the late 19th century were made to shape the torso from shoulder to thigh by tightly constricting the waist to create an hourglass-shaped figure.

They were made of stiff fabrics, usually with bone or metal inserts, and were laced tightly down the back.  A major improvement was the hooked busk, that allowed the wearer to hook the corset herself rather than relying on another person to fasten the back laces.  This corset is heavily corded and has fewer bones (stays) than earlier corsets would have had.  This did not, however, make it any more comfortable to wear.

Corsets were usually worn over a chemise (a light, loose shift, often knee length), and often a light, sleeveless corset cover was worn over the corset.  In the 1800s, women began to wear pantaloons (bloomers).   To allow a full view, the corset is displayed on the top of a corset cover rather than underneath, as it would normally have been worn.

The above corset was made in 2006 by Professor Marcy Linton, the Construction Specialist in the University of Virginia Drama Department, for the production of Sunday in the Park with George in 2006.  She made the corset from an original pattern in Robert Doyle’s Waisted Efforts:  An Illustrated Guide to Corset Making (1997), which is often called “the corset maker’s bible.”   Professor Linton made the corset to be worn under an original Charles Frederick Worth dress in the Department’s Collection of Historic Dress.

We are grateful to Professor Linton and Joshua Bond, Costume Shop Supervisor, University of Virginia Drama Department, for loaning this garment and preparing it for the exhibit.

Further Information