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My visit to the Collection at the DAR

18th Century corsets Daughters of the American Revolution Georgian historical costuming history informational museums research Victorian

I'm sitting here going over photos from this past month and wondering how is it nearly May? April was full of work and travel; fast-paced projects bookended by two trips out of state. 

One of the trips took me to Washington DC, where I was extremely lucky to be part of a behind the scenes tour of the Agreeable Tyrant exhibit, led by non other than curator Alden O'Brien. Upon meeting up with us, she took us through a nondescript door into the clothing, textile, and furniture storage. 

And then she opened a drawer that held a stunning example of nearly every type of extant stays/corsets from the past 250+ years. We all gasped. It was a snapshot of corset history in one drawer.  

Here's an overview of photos, with my observations. I learned quite a lot in a very short time  

1700s stays

Early-mid 18th century stays, close up of exterior, interior with worn away lining exposing striped blue linen interlining, leather binding, roughly stitched spiral eyelets. An interesting note about these stays is that they had an almost Victorian-like flare over the hips, with very wide tabs. The whalebone held the shape of the wearer (still, after 250+ years) so that they would not sit flat. 

These stays are heavily worn, and had been altered by inserting simple linen strips between panels. Easy and practical!

 

 Stays, made in New England in the early-mid 1700's. Boned in cane or wood of a sort, and bound with what is said to be rabbit hide. 

These 1780s stays were beautiful. Linen inside and out, with very fun boning pattern. I appreciated seeing that the bones cross each other in channels, with the stitching skipping over these points. This is something we do in our own 18th Century stays to allow for simpler construction (and easier machining). Here is an example of the same technique from the period!

these also have the carriers in back for criss-cross tape straps.

Take note of the binding. It's beautifully finished on the upside, but very roughly stitched on the inside. This is a constant throughout all of the hand stitched era stays and corsets. Stitching is utilitarian and pretty only where necessary. 

By handling this range of 18th century stays (the oldest I've ever been able to examine in person) I was able to confirm that the synthetic whalebone available today really is comparable to an impressive degree  

 CURVED wooden busks! A revelation! You can bet I'm planning something based on this discovery...

1810-1830's stays. Predominantly corded, but most of them had at least 6 whalebone stays throughout. I was particularly happy to be able to examine bone eyelets for the first time.

A very early "mass produced" 1840's corset made in the United States. Lots of great detail in this one. If you look closely you can see the hand bound eyelets on the bone casings where the whalebone stays have been removed. Perhaps for replacement?

Fantastic 1880's-1890's Dr Strong's corset with cording. 

 

This busk--as is the case for a majority of extant corsets--has been bent permanently into the curves of the era. It is not a spoon busk. It has simply been worked into this shape. I've achieved similar with our 1870's Atelier corsets. 

corded corset with shoulder straps. 

Love the rounded corner at the lacing. 

We were also able to enter the exhibit rooms and examine the clothing up close. Here are a few highlights:

I owe a tremendous thank you to Alden, Taylor and Carolyn for organizing this fantastic, educational tour. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I almost teared up a couple of times! It was such a lovely treat to be able to examine extant clothing with such a great group of friends. 

Our group on the steps of the DAR Museum: Taylor of Dames a la Mode, myself, Carolyn of Modern Mantua Maker, Katherine of Koshka the Cat, and Jenny-Rose of Jennylafleur



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  • Erin C on

    I have long considered soaking my wood busk and then putting on my stays to have it dry curved, but I could never find something to back that up for HA. Now I can! Here’s to no more abdomen bruising!


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