Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Should An 1860's Corset Fit

Well, I finally got corset strings. I ended up finding some 100% strong cotton cord in, of all places, the jewelry section at Jo Anns. It's a little bulkier than what I'd like (kinda the same thickness as shoelaces, which, I admit with shame, I have used in the past) but it will work for now and saves me the cost of shipping. And so, I tried on my corset!

Excuse the truly horrible picture. I promise I'll get nice ones when my other undermost garments are done! I tried it on over a thin t shirt and a skirt since my chemise isn't done yet. (But it's cut out. And ready to be sewn.) It fits a bit differently than I expected. Last time I made this corset it fit quite well all over. It still fits well through the waist and bust but the hips for some reason came out very loose. Since two more babies have made their appearance since my last version of this corset I was not expecting this slightly odd predicament. If anything I expected the corset to fit a big snugger. Now I gotta decide if I ought to fix this problem or live with it.

So, how did corsets fit in the 1860's? Were the hips loose? Did they skim the body? Of course, hips that are fit too tightly are not ideal, since that kind of fitting can force the corset to shift upwards when the wearer is seated.

I found this 1859 image from the Hope Greenberg Website that shows a corset that is undoubtedly loose over the hips.
This image depicts a corset from 1862. This was pinned to Iconographique's board on pinterest and I do not have an original reference to link it back to.

It shows a corset very flared at the hips and the shape is very similar to mine. However, without it being illustrated on a body it is impossible to know exactly how this was meant to fit. 

The following illustration can be found, along with others, at Costume Fashion History. It shows a very flared hip, that appears loose if one looks at the shadow the edge seems to cast on the skirts. 

However, these are illustrations of corsets on an ideal figure of the time - not a true representation, per se, of how corsets fit a real, live woman of the era. 

What little time I've had to search for images of real women wearing corsets has turned up nothing. And not terribly surprisingly - it likely was not common that women would have posed for a photograph in such a state of undress. Even "adult" images from this period don't turn up any good visual clues as to the fit of a corset. Darn.

I don't particularly want to have to take in my corset. It fits well every where else. I guess the only way to know if it works for me is to wear it around the house for a while. The only problem I can foresee is chafing, if the hips are loose enough to cause friction between the skin and the chemise. Otherwise, the hips will be unseen anyway beneath the layers of petticoats, skirts and a cage. 


  1. If it makes you feel any better, I've seen several period corsets in museums that were clearly off-the-rack, that had been darted and taken in to make it fit better. I think you could probably take a dart along the seam at the front point quite easily. :)

  2. Put a "modesty petticoat" under it and it won't look all that flared ;)

  3. at least later in the 19th century, there is padding being used in conjunction with corsets to fill out the bust and hips. i wouldn't worry about it, though. the corset gives you a stunning silhouette and is really a beautiful piece! i never seem to get /enough/ "hip flare" in my 1860s corsets, but i'm hoping this next one will be better!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!