Research: Edwardian Ribbon Corsets Part III

Continuing the series of period mention of ribbon corsets. The first installment included all newspaper mentions I could find. The second included information found on Google Books from the 1890s to 1901. In this installment we continue with Google Books from 1902 and beyond.

The Royal Thames Guide, 1902. Page iv. Source: Google Books. I see this same corset model being advertised through 1904.

The Lady’s Realm, 1902. Page 166.

Before I entirely leave the subject of corsets, I must call the attention of the athletic woman to the satin ribbon corset that is obtainable at the London Corset Company’s for 19s. 6d. And which is eminently suited to riding, boating, and all outdoor sports.  What a real comfort it is to be able to get a well-cut and fitting corset without having to journey to Paris for it!

The Toe And Other Tales, by Alexander Harvey. 1913. Pages 13-16.

I include a big excerpt here, and I usually strive to obtain a “G” rating, but this somewhat racy book of the time provides a good insight into what was considered the ideal figure and explains how a woman got into her corset.

“Helen strove to fix her thoughts upon Voltaire’s views of God as she took the lattice ribbon corset from its repose upon her bed, scanning it critically.  In the human mind duplex, she asked herself, and can a beautiful wife contemplate a pair of stays made expressly for her own slender figure— lighter in weight than anything of the sort in a varied experience of these cunningly boned creations— while meditating upon her own cosmopolitan soul?  It must be so.  Helen wondered at the tendency of her mind, while pondering the circumstance that a corset should be unlaced to its fullest extent before being put on, to take refuge in enthusiasm for Rousseau against the thought of her husband.  She was trying to be shocked and was failing. She sighed as she hooked the corset at the bottom first and then hooked the top.  Having hooked the top, she undid the bottom and hooked the corset all the way down, resolving as she did so to read Nietzsche every night of the sinful life she was beginning.  How childish her delight, she reflected, in the thing of white silk now shaping itself in pink ribbon daintiness about her waistline.  To think that a waist line had more to do with the course of human history under the Roman Emperors than even economic determinism!  She resolved to discuss that theme with the brilliant young Socialist who sneered at marriage so poetically and whom she had encountered at a woman suffragist debate a few weeks ago.  Did he, too, kiss women between the shoulder blades in these revolutionary times?

She stood erect before the mirror that she might be more at ease in adjusting the corset well down, with lacings loose, while she worked her trim figure up until it fitted in well over the hips. At last she began her snug lacing at the waist line and then laced above and below, not without a fleeting thought of the proletariat in Odessa, for Helen was above all else a woman of comprehensive sympathies— what is known nowadays as an intellectual.

At no stage of these proceedings did she lose her odd sense of not being shocked at all.  She was not overwhelmed by any consciousness of sin.  She did not even think of Jack, not even of her husband.  She was thinking only of a low bust, of a flat back, of small hips, as the essentials of womanhood.  Sex is in these things.  Did her husband, in his learned monographs on the behavior of the lower organisms, ever pause to ask how the forces of sex in the primitive protoplasm of unicellular creatures had evolved a tailored waist, round and slightly accentuated at the hips, with a straight, flat, unbroken line down the front of a paneled skirt?  What biological principle could be behind the circumstance that for a woman with a well-developed figure a plain, tight-fitting corset cover is the most useful thing on earth? Did Madame Roland, Helen asked herself, think of her bust when she stood beneath that statue of Liberty and uttered that immortal apostrophe?  That agonizing but suave curve from the shoulder to the top of the bust of Madame Roland— what could it mean but a good corset?  Nay, it was not the cause of woman in the wonderful twentieth century bound up in some subtle way with that lovely, straight line from the chin to the knees which made the ladies’ tailors allies without realizing it, in a great snuggle between the sexes?  Had Mary Wollstonecraft, with all her genius, achieved as much for woman as one well-made corset?”

First Book of Physiology and Hygiene, by Gertrude Dorman Cathcart. 1914. Page 131.

The most important thing about clothing is that it should not construct the body in any way, and that it should hamper the movements of the body as little as possible.  A very simple form of abdominal belt made of woven elastic tissue or webbing makes an admirable substitute for a corset, as it does not restrict the body in any way, and yet it gives a feeling of support.  The short ribbon corset is also quite a harmless form, and leaves room for free play of the ribs in respiration.  It is quire possible, however, to do without the corset altogether;  in such cases the dress must be made all in one, or else the skirt must be made to button on to the blouse.  The suspenders can be supported by a broadband round the hips, which are admirably adapted for carrying a certain amount of weight.  It is not a good thing to suspend heavy clothing from the shoulders, as that is uncomfortable, and is apt to cause a stoop.  Indeed, clothing should be as light in weight as possible.

Dry Goods Economist. June 19, 1915.

Dry Goods Economist. June 19, 1915. Page 153. Image source: Google Books.

Page 133-  “The reversion to the corset made of ribbon bands is indicated in the model from Mme. Barreiros shown in No. 3 on the same page.  As some time has elapsed since the ribbon corset was in use, the revival comes almost with the force of a novelty.  Should the short corset prove popular, the ribbon girdle will unquestionably be a feature.  The trimming on this corset is pretty and feminine, showing as it does the Pompadour ribbon appliqué.  

This corset is very low in the bust, but continues long over the hips.  IT is fairly well boned.  A brassiere from the same maker, designed for wear with this corset, is illustrated in No 4 on page 161…

… In No. 4 on the same page is shown the brassiere designed by Mme. Barreiros for wear with the ribbon corset illustrated in No. 4 on page 153.

This model is developed in pink satin ribbon and is entirely without boning.  It is to be worn over the chemise.  The shoulder straps show the Pompadour appliqué of ribbon, to match the corset.”

Page 21-  “Paris corsetieres show continued interest in the lace-in-front styles.  A ribbon corset is also among the Economist’s importations.  Not in many years has ribbon been used as a material for corsets, but ribbon girdles were at one time a big factor.  Taken in connection with the advent of the shorter length corset the use of ribbon is significant.”

The Corset and Underwear Review, 1916. Page 42.

This article is interesting in that it’s a case study of how pictorial advertisements in magazines are the start of a big marketing campaign. The case study includes the first mention in America of a ribbon corset.

“We show on this page, for instance, an advertisement of a “Lily of France” front lace corset which appeared in the old Sartorial Art Journal, issue of August, 1902.  This is the first public announcement of a front lace corset which ever appeared in this country, and to the “Lily of France” organization therefore belongs the credit for originality in this direction.  In another advertisement, which appeared in January, 1898, appeared illustrations of a taffeta ribbon corset— also the first ever shown in this country— as well las a tricot corset, for which the initiative is likewise claimed.”

The Corset and Underwear Review. Page 120. March, 1921.

New York, N.Y.— Poirette Corsets, Inc., Showing Americanized French Model.—  Poirette Corsets, Inc., 116 West Fourteenth Street, are showing an Americanized model of a button French ribbon corset made of double-faced satin in pastels shades.  These corsets are hand-trimmed with ribbon rushing and lace and wholesale at $300.00 per dozen.  The same model in plain satin sells at a considerably lower figure.

Mr. Mansell, one of the proprietors of this concern, recently made a selling trip through New England and opened up a number of new accounts.  He reports that he took several orders for the French model button and ribbon corset mentioned in the foregoing paragraph.

Gathering from the information found over the last few days we can assume the following:

  • The ribbon corset began in America in 1898 as a French style.
  • There was a ribbon corset the same year which was made of overlapping ribbon on the bias, but it’s not the same as the ribbon belt corsets which we come to associate with “ribbon corsets”, though also made of ribbon. (See Part I)
  • The ribbon corset as we generally think of it was a low belt-style corset that hit underbust and did not extend to confine the stomach and hips. It held in the waist but was only boned with four bones at the sides, at the lacing strips, and had a busk with around four hooks.
  • There was also a different type of ribbon “summer corset” which had gaps between the ribbons to allow for air ventilation. These are also known as “skeleton corsets” (I know there will be another rabbit trail in my future).
  • Ribbon corsets were advertised and mentioned as comfortable, good for summer wear, for sports, and as a non-restrictive and more “healthy” alternative to the standard corset.
  • Ribbon corsets are mentioned several times as being “simple to make”, and Butterick even released a home sewing pattern for a ribbon corset.
  • Double faced satin ribbon was popular, as were pastel shades (white, gray, pink, and blue are specifically mentioned). Some had floral motifs, or other decoration, and some had lace in addition to the ribbon.
  • They were alluded in two period mentions in a somewhat risque or suggestive nature. One was the joke (see Part II), and one was the short story excerpt (see above).
  • There was a revival in 1915, which had an underbust model with a low hip (though higher, apparently, than previous years). It was a novelty because it had not been in use for some time.
  • The last mention of ribbon corsets I could find was from 1921.

I hope you have enjoyed this voyage with me through the historical accounts of the ribbon corset in all its variations. If I find more mentions in period publications in future I will add more information in a further entry.

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