Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Corset, 1890-95 England, the V&A Museum
Improvements in design, equipment and materials meant that corsets could mould the figure to suit the latest fashions. The straight busk on this corset creates a vertical line from bust to abdomen which complemented the less rounded, more angular silhouette of the 1890s. It was also supposed to relieve pressure on the internal organs while supporting the stomach. Shaped pieces (five on each side) have been seamed together and bust and hip gussets inserted to give the corset its distinctive shape. Strips of whalebone follow the contours of the hourglass silhouette, creating a rigid structure to emphasise the smallness of the waist. Each strip is enclosed in a bone channel formed by neat rows of machine stitching. The decorative embroidery stitches (flossing) visible towards the bottom and back of the corset prevent the whalebone from forcing its way out of these channels. A hook is attached at the centre front to prevent the petticoat from riding up and causing extra bulk at the waist.
One of the most distinctive features of 1890s fashion is the huge sleeve. This festive bodice boasts rather large puffed sleeves, perfect for a holiday evening party. The holly ornamentation and rich red silk ensures that it is just the right thing for Christmastime. The Museum does not have the skirt, but it likely would have been matching red, long, full but smooth, with perhaps a train in back. The bodice is lined with cream cotton, has 14 sewn in stays for a perfect fit and an inside 20” waistband of red and white striped ribbon. Both the band and the bodice fasten with hooks and eyes.
It was given to the Museum in 1922 by Mrs. John Julius LaRoche (Virginia Marguerite Tupper b. 1898). Perhaps the garment was worn by her mother, Mary Ramsay Bellinger Tupper (1866-1903) of Charleston.
The Charleston Museum Archives has issues of The Delineator, Butterick’s fashion magazine, from the 1890s. The evening dress shown here, from May 1896, shows bouffant sleeves and artificial flower adornment similar to our holly-bedecked bodice. With the short sleeves of evening wear, long gloves would have been appropriate, and a feather fan would have added just the right touch. The Delineator encouraged home sewing, giving the pattern number, directions and yardages for current fashions.
Holly has long been associated with Christmas, wrapped in Christian symbolism. But even before that, the Druids believed that holly, with its evergreen leaves, kept the earth beautiful during the bare winter. The Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland adorned their homes with holly to utilize its mystic and healing properties. And it was the sacred plant of Saturn, the Roman sun god, used during the Saturnalia festival to honor him.
TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection. Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our new Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday