The Fat Reenactress

The Fat Reenactress

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Post #2   A long Regency Corset                                Sunday, April 20, 2014

Foundations. It's what we build upon. That is why foundation garments are important in order to get a "period correct" look. We build our look over our foundation's what lets the fabric flow right, hug the right spots, and maybe even smooth out the bumps we'd rather not have.

I've always been told that the foundation garment in the 18th century was referred to as stays, or a body of stays, or bodies while in the 19th century, they were referred to as a corset. For ease of understanding, I will stick to those terms through out this entire blog process. If I muck up...please point it out...and I'll correct it.

This posting will discuss Regency corsets and the fluffy woman, particularly the long corset.  There are quite a few examples of early 19th century corsets in the Kyoto Collection....found in the book Revolutions in Fashion.  There you can find the wrap corset (bra styling almost)  which I classify as a short corset of sorts.

                                                               Photo from Kyoto Collection

You will also find the long corset...which is what I will be discussing more in depth. Here is an image, again from the Kyoto collection, of both a long corset, and a shorter set...transitional stays. I use the word stays for these since I believe they are late 18th century.
                                                      Photo from the Kyoto Collection

Many women opt for the short corset for use in the Regency period since 1) they're easier/quicker to produce, and 2) they give enough support while producing and enhancing the more natural form that was made popular during the Regency/Federalist era. These are great for many women who are younger and "perkier". Also, those women without a lot of  top shelf  "assets"  are able to produce that "top shelf" that many ladies (and gents) look for.  And even for the heavier woman....depending on her body shape, this shorter style may work, provided that your bosom is bigger than your belly. bosom has always been sadly lacking, while the belly has not. Thus, my love for the longer corset.  The short corset seems not meant for the lady of the "vegetable" variety (i.e. those of us shaped like an eggplant, tomato, potato or even pear). Something more is needed. Big guns need to be brought out....this is where the long corset comes into play.
fashion plate of the era.

My first long corset that I made, I used the Mantua Maker's pattern. This worked out well, except that it would  "creep up" on me. No matter how tight I laced them, the corset always seemed to end up almost touching my chin! It turned out,  because of my body shape, I didn't need to include the hip gussets that the pattern called for. They allowed my corset to move too much, not anchoring down onto my hips since my waist and hips are almost the same measurement (I DID say I was eggplant in shape, right?). The other problem that needed fixed was that I had completely sewed the busk into the corset, not allowing it to "float" in the pocket as it should. The busk is the flat piece of wood that slides down the front of the corset or stay. It serves two purposes. 1) it keeps the front of your corset flat and 2) it bears most of the the stress that is put on the corset or stay. By sewing the busk into the corset, it didn't allow it to "float" meaning, while sitting, if my belly pushed the busk up, I could then push the busk back down into its pocket, without the entire garment of the corset moving.   You can see the outline of the busk sleeve in this original corset.
original corded long corset.

In 2010, I ended up signing up for a Regency corset workshop with Burnley and Trowbridge, in the Williamsburg, Va. area. We did a corded corset instead of ones with bones. (I ended up adding a few bones in strategic places, to help with the cording in smoothing out the rough edges).

While the corset was very similar to the Mantua Maker's pattern I had previously used, the main difference was that it was corded, based on original examples, and without the hip gussets. Instead of using rigid cane or boning, most of the support comes from the soft cords that were pulled into stitched channels, similar to the boning channels in earlier stays.  A group of 12 ladies got together for the workshop and we were then put into groups of  3 to assist each other in the measuring. Of course, I was placed into a group with two very LOVELY girls...two very PRETTY girls....two very THIN girls. After taking one of the girl's waist measurements, I HAD to satisfy my curiosity. I measured my thigh. Yup. EXACT same measurement.  The real topper was when she told me "you're actually not the first person to do that". Sigh.

By the end of day one of the workshop, we all had the majority of the bodies and the bust cups done. I believe we even had the pockets made for the custom length cut busks that Angela provided for the class. (Just FYI, a heavy duty paint stick from the Home Depot, cut to your desired length, also works great).

It was here that my biggest dilemma occurred. In order for my busk to lay flat on my belly, the top of the busk sat about 2-3 inches away from my breastbone.   To lay flat against my breastbone, the bottom stood away from my belly!! In effect, it was teeter tottering off the largest part of my belly!!! I showed this to Janea Whitacre, the supervisor of the Milliner's shop at Colonial Williamsburg, and who was teaching the workshop. When she saw this, she said "OH!"...then I teetered it...this brought another "OH!" She said with a smile "We'll get this, just start on the cording".

Janea was true to her word. On Sunday morning, she approached me and said she thought about me all night (nice to know I'm running through SOMEONE'S head) She said what I needed was some bosom buddies! They are little pillows that get sewn into the corset, just below the bust cups, on the inside, to help pad what the Lord didn't. Not only did it even out my measurements, but it "perked up" my bosom, putting them up where they should be! The added bonus was that these little pillows actually will "hook" onto my bust when my corset starts to ride up, thus keeping the corset in place!

Interior shot of my corset. you can see the bosom buddy/pillows, the busk peaking up at the top of it's casing, and also a bunch of repairs made since I've been wearing these since 2010!

Besides the cording that was the main support used for the workshop, I also felt the need to add a few metal bones in the back and to help control my back  rolls. Most of the repairs done are from boning that have tried to escape...I believe my next pair may end up being all corded...and maybe with more cording than this set.

At this point, I want to address a particular issue that comes up when we talk about wearing stays or corsets. Many people believe that the goal of these garments is to reduce measurements around the waist, when in reality,  the goal  is to give the body the shape needed for the look of the period. Think of it this's to SMOOTH the body rather than to SQUEEZE it.  I read an article back in the 1980's about stays and how much the body could be squished...stating that thinner women, with less fat to deal with, could really only squish one to two inches, safely, while fluffier women could squeeze up to four inches without hurting organs and such.  I see the main job of foundation garments is to shape, smooth, lift and round out where things need to be shaped, smoothed, lifted and rounded, not to squeeze us into uncomfortable situations.  Work for a period correct shape rather than "reducing" measurements...because ladies....if you're my size, no amount of squeezing and lacing is going to make me look like a size 8.  But a good foundation garment WILL make me look more the part of the period. I don't know about others, but I do find that when I wear the correct foundation garments, they actually add anywhere from 1 to 3 inches to my measurements. I find it's because my body is more "squishy" and that I can "cheat" with maybe a smaller size....but once you put your corset or stay on....that smoothed out fluffiness is "firmer"...and add to it steel or cane, extra fabric, and you have a different measurement entirely. Remember....those are only numbers. The end results of your efforts is in how you feel...and if you feel you accomplished getting the look of the period/era that you're working towards. 

You be the judge....


  1. Absolutely brilliant post, thanks soooo much. I will unstitch my busk and let it float as you suggest :)

  2. You look absolutely lovely! I adore your gown, btw.

    I wanted to add my experiences with long vs short corsets- I find that even with my bosom being larger than my belly I prefer a longer corset. I'm curvier and plumper in shape than those lovely model types and the shorter style seems to get weighted down by my top and pushes the bottom edge into my ribs- not comfy at all! My long corset distributes the weight of my bosom over my whole torso and helps smooth any unsightly fleshy bulges from my back and hips.

    Great post and keep 'em coming. =D

    1. Christina....thanks for the input. I always figured that the short corsets wouldn't "hold up" alot. I'm pretty well sold on the long corset. I think this is definitely one garment where body shape really does come into play.

  3. EXCELLENT post!

    I need me some bosom buddies.

  4. I remember that workshop. Interestingly, the long corset did not work for me. I have a long torso, and no defined waist ( my under bust, rib age and waist measure the same. I made the Sense and Sensibility short stays (disclaimer...I am a size 10, but Julie's writing applies to everyone) Just remember if you are using falsies not to pin your apron into the silicone-oil filled ones.

    1. LOL! My sister (who's not even an A cup) used to use the water filled ones....we joked about how she kept them in the car (long story) so that if she ever got stranded, she had a water supply.

      It IS good to know the long corset works with long waisted people. Having no delineation in measurements from bust to waist is very matter what size. I'm glad the short corset worked for you!

  5. for those of us who don't have 'fitting buddies', is there a pattern you'd recommend for a fluffy shape when you have to lace yourself (no ladies' maid nor helpful husband here)?