When people think about the 16th-century dress, the first thing that comes to mind is the only corset. Corsets represent a fundamental shift in clothing and tailoring. Instead of shaping clothes to the body, the body began to conform to a fashionable shape of the clothing worn. You can find several myths about wearing a corset, many of them from Victorian corsetry rather than Elizabethan. In the 16th Century, the corset was not only for drawing from the waist and to create an hourglass figure, rather it was designed to give the torso a cylindrical shape and also to flatten and raise the bustline. The 16th-century corsets were designed as a flat torsoed shape rather than a tiny waist.
Another common myth was from the horrible discomfort of the corset. The corsets worn in the 19th century were fitted and laced correctly and it was quite comfortable. Some well-endowed women considered these corsets more comfortable than underwire bras and many people who had back problems remarked how the Elizabethan corset gave them back support. The corsets were hidden underneath the other layers of dress in the 16th century. In a German wood carving, 1520 shows a woman wearing a gown with a definite crease and gold in the fabric under the bust.
One method of creating this flattened bosom was Tudor bodice where the stomachers were stiffened with buckram to achieve the fashionable flat shape. From a practical standpoint, it can be said that it saves time and labor to have one stiffened undergarment to wear under several gowns then to stiffen every gown individually. Additionally, the tight fitted and supportive undergown is worn underneath decorative outer garments which were found in Europe for the entirety of the preceding century.
In the 15th Century, a tightly fitted outer gown was used to shape the body into the fashionable form. It was the bodice of this Kirtle which was stiffened with buckram and then with other stiffer materials such as reed or bents and the fashionable silhouette became flatter during the 1520s and 1530s.
During 1530, the decorative skirt of the Kirtle was worn under gowns. Instead of an entirely decorated underskirt, a separated and decorated Kirtle skirt was also worn under the outer gown. It can be theorized that essential stiffened Kirtle bodice was retained as a separate garment or corset as it is now known.
From the picture
There are three paintings from the period which clearly shows a pair of boned bodies. All these were date to 1600 or slightly afterward.The first was a portrait of Elizabeth Vernon, countess of Southampton dated to c. 1600 It shows that the countess en deshabille is wearing a bonded pair of bodies underneath her opened jacket. Here a very sheer petticoat is attached over the bodies at the waist and showing unboned beneath.
The second was from the 1620s, and it provides important information on corsets on the late 16th and early 17th centuries. From the 'kitchen interior with the Rich man and poor Lazarus' by Pieter Cornelisz van showed a kitchen maid dressed in smock, corset, petticoat, and apron. This corset has straps which come to a point at the front neckline and these are ostensibly tied to the front of the corset. Just like Elizabeth Vernon's corset, this corset was also very far, laced up at the front and boned with narrow, vertical channels.
Another picture ' women at her toilet,' was painted by a member of the French school of the 17th Century. It is currently at the Musee Ingres and this picture can be found in Anne Kraatz's book lace: History and Fashion. This woman is depicted as wearing a petticoat with stays worn over it. But this picture does not clearly show the boning rigid, here the angle of the tabs indicate that these are stiffened in some other way. The straps of the corset are visible beneath the sheer Cape which was worn by the woman to protect her clothing while dressing her hair.
To know the history of the corset, you need more than painting. Basically, there are two known corsets from the 16th century and you can find two stomachs from the 17th century and we can look at these as examples. The first and best-known example of a 16th-century corset is the German pair of bodies which were buried with Pfalzgräfin Dorothea Sabine von Neuberg in 1597. This corset is shown in detail on page 47 and, 112-113 of Janet Arnold's. Patterns of Fashion 1560-1639 and in Jutta Zander Seidel's book Textil Hausrat. It was made of three layers of cream-colored fabric and the outer layer was silk backed with linen and the inner lining of linen. It has tabs at the waist and small eyelets at the waistline through which the farthingale or petticoat could be fastened to the corset.
A pocket was sewn down the front of the German corset which allowed a stiff busk to be slipped into the corset and it provides a completely flat front. This was a German corset and it cannot be considered as an example of English Elizabethan fashion and it is the earliest surviving corset that we have. The busk which has been slipped into the busk was a long, flat piece of ivory, horn or wood and it was elaborately carved in later centuries which helped to give a pair of bodies a rigid and smooth shape. This stay or busk could be tied into place by a busk lace to keep it from shifting up or down. The busk lace became an intimate favor and it was given by women to the men they loved.
The second corset is English, was worn by the effigy of Queen Elizabeth in 1603. There is a photograph of this corset was found in Norah Waugh's book corsets and crinolines. This corset was also stiffened with whalebone. Unlike the German corset, it had boned tabs and a wide, scooped neck. Due to the front lacings, it had no busks and instead of this, it has two heavy strips of whalebone run down either side of the front lacing.
To sum up
During the 16th Century, the corsets were made out of linen, linen cotton blends or in case of nobility, the outer layer was made of leather, satin or silk and inner stays of linen. Whalebone, horn, and reeds were the most commonly used materials for stiffening the pair of bodies. Here the boning was slipped into channels between the outer and inner layers of the corset. Corsets could be laced at the center front or center-back, through eyelets reinforced with a buttonhole or whip stitch. It could even be fastened to a petticoat for farthingale, either tied to it with points or perhaps sewn.
Lacing the farthingale to the corset removes shifting and makes the whole garment move better and also this is more comfortable. In that case, a petticoat with heavily boned bodice is a convenient alternative to a separate corset and skirt. It also eliminates the bulk at the waist.
Corsetdeal is World's largest corset store with 1000+ designs , all our corsets are lined with 100% premium cotton for comfort and durability, Spiral steel boned distributed evenly throughout the torso to give perfect hourglass shape. From Waist Trainer , Waist Training Corsets to Bridal Corsets, we have corset for every occasion .