Can we talk about corsets?

16 Sep

You guys. I just. Can we talk about corsets? Specifically, can we talk about the difference in corset styles? “Well wait a minute, biscuit,” you may be saying, “a corset is just a corset, right?” Frankly I don’t know why you’re reading this post if that’s what you think, unless you’re my mom*, because how much interest would you have in browsing the “corsetry” tag? But I’ll answer anyway: NO, a corset is not “just a corset.”

I used to think the opposite. Many many years ago I had a conversation, which I shudder to recall, with a friend of mine who was saving  to have a new bodice commissioned for the ren fest where we both performed. We were having this conversation while she was wearing a perfectly lovely bodice, and I was so confused. “Girl, why do you need a new bodice?” I asked. “This one is super pretty and looks really nice on you.” “Thank you,” she said, “but it’s a Victorian silhouette, and not period at all.” “Who cares?” I replied with a wave of my childish, ignorant hand. “It’s all the same.”

Here is a picture of a Victorian corset:

Click to go to source

And here is a picture of an Elizabethan pair of bodies:

Click to go to source

Note how these two images are not the same. Put more simply, the Victorian torso is an hourglass:

And the Elizabethan torso is a cone:

Modern corsets (including the appalling shit they sell at Hot Topic) tend to be more or less Victorian-inspired. If you don’t know any better, this is probably what you think of if you think of corsets. If you’re going for any sort of remotely Renaissance look (here understood to mean Tudor and Elizabethan as well actual Renaissance, like it does at most faires), this is not right. I repeat:

It is several hundred years too late, and it is the complete wrong silhouette, and if you are using it as a foundation garment under any Elizabethan garments it will not work, and it is just:

There are other differences between these two garments. For one thing, the Victorian is strictly an undergarment, while the Elizabethan ids either. Furthermore, the Elizabethans weren’t saying  “corset,” but rather “payr of bodies/bodyes/bahdees” (feel free to use whatever spelling from the time before standardized spelling that you like) or “stays.” Mostly the former, as I understand. Admittedly, this isn’t a big deal–“corset” is convenient shorthand, and when used to describe an undergarment, it contrasts nicely with “bodice” for an outer garment. And I say “corset” all the time, so clearly it’s cool.

I mean, if you’re just doing what you want, then do what you want, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But don’t tell me it’s period. It’s not. And don’t wear a Victorian, or Georgian, or Regency, or Civil War era corset under your early Tudor gown and try to tell me it’s ok. It’s not. And if you’re working or vending at a motherfucking ren faire, leave your Victorian shit at home. 

There are lots of other fine points of corseting (regarding fitting, and buying off the rack, and how yes it’s going to be expensive it’s a labor-intensive process, STFU), but that’s really all I wanted to say here. Oh, except, can we talk briefly about what you’re not wearing under your corset? Because, seriously, put on a damn shift or something, you are sweating all over your expensive silk garment and you look ridiculous.

*hi Mom

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