Like we mentioned in our article exploring the Victorian belly curve, corsetry throughout the second half of the 19th century emphasized a nipped waist with a rounded bust and hips, but there was a significant amount of variation over the span of 50 years. Fashions changed rapidly, and a typical corset from the 1850s did not look like a typical corset of the 1890s. There was a wide variety of styles and shapes in the period, with contemporary patents and advertisements often touting the last corset innovation.
But if you are looking to make or buy your own 19th century corset from Redthreaded, what is the difference between our 1860s Victorian Corset and our 1880s Victorian Corset, and how do you choose the best one for your project?
Both styles are made from English cotton coutil and white cotton sateen, with spiral and straight steel boning throughout, but it is the cut, seaming, and boning placement that gives them their distinct shaping. Each pattern was created by studying historical examples from the period to create an corset that would combine the hallmarks of each period and provide a foundation to best suit the fashions for that specific range of years.
Magasin des Demoiselles May 1, 1852, Los Angeles Public Library
Peterson's Magazine, July 1865, Los Angeles Public Library
The 1850s and 1860s were all about soft, sloping shoulders mirrored by full, bell-shaped skirts, with the large skirt creating the illusion of a small waist. The bust was low and wide, and the waist moved from being pointed and slightly lowered, to its natural position, and finally to slightly raised by the end of the 1860s and the very early 1870s.
1870 La Toilette de Paris, Thomas J. Watson Library Digital Collections
Often corsets of this period used bust gores and hip gussets, with little or no boning over the hip since the fuller skirts of this period didn’t require as much hip shaping. Our standard 1860s corset features bias cut front panels, in addition to bust and hip gores. Compared to our 1880s style, it has a lower bust height to achieve that low, wide shape, and a higher hip line to best suit a full-skirted silhouette.
As the 1870s progressed, there was an emphasis on a more slender shape, with the skirt fullness gradually migrating to the back of the body, leaving a flatter front and sides.
Unknown woman, 1878
Eventually, the fashions favored an elongated waist with a smooth hip line, and styles like the princess-line and cuirasse bodices of the mid to late 1870s are the perfect example of this new silhouette. Where in the earlier decades the skirt fullness had started at the waist, now it flared gradually from the hip. Even when the overall skirt shape widened again in the 1890s, it remained fitted through the hip. To compliment these changes, the bustline rose slightly, but it still remained soft and rounded.
Unknown woman, 1890s
With a higher, mid-bust height, and a longer hip line, our 1880s corset is made with shaped pieces, rather than gussets or gores, and has boning over the entire hip. This gives a smooth line, with a nipped waist, an important foundation for styles from the mid-1870s to the 1890s that hugged the torso and hips.
We carry both corsets ready-made in standard and plus sizes in our shop. Or, if you want to make your own versions, we have individually sized paper and print-at-home digital pattern options available.
If you're most interested in fit, rather than specific period, the 1860's style tends to suit folks with a shorter bust-waist measurement, while the 1880's is a good choice if you're long waisted.