Who killed the corset?

Robe-Sylphide, 1899

Robe-Sylphide, 1899

This interesting article brings a new contender forward as a possible leader for the abolishment of corsetry in the early 1900s – Mme Margaine-Lacroix. As early as 1899 she was producing what she called the ‘robe-sylphide’. Advertised as being “ sans corset” (without corset) or “supprimant le corset” (abolishing the corset), her silk jersey gowns were noted for their ability to slim the figure while dispensing with the need for under-garments. Corsetless gowns had become more popular by this time as a rational dress reform movement grew. Emilie Floge and Liberty of London were both creating artistic gowns for women committed to freedom of movement at home, even Sears catalogues were selling wrappers – corset-less day dresses suitable for at-home wear.

Margaine-Lacroix produced her robes-sylphide from knitted silk, aka jersey. She also made corset-sylphide – a corset of silk jersey with minimal boning to idealize the figure. In an interview in 1908 she explained her design philosophy: “I have been patiently at work for years, educating the public to what women’s dresses really should be …only two garments cover the body – there is first a tight elastic silk jersey ….the outer garment is made to serve as its own corset, the bodice being strengthened with a little whalebone, not enough however to destroy its suppleness.”

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Silk jersey without a corset

French Actress Marcelle Yrven caused a sensation in the summer of 1908 when she appeared on stage in a Margaine-Lacroix robe-sylphide. It was reported that “the dress seemed glued to her body, and all Parisiennes worthy of the name wished to see it.” except that admirers were  banned from entering her dressing room, as “the charming artiste had decided to wear her dress without any underwear.”

Co-inciding with the robe-sylphide was the Directoire revival – a high-waisted fashion that focussed less on a small waist and more on the overall slender curves of the torso topped by enormous hairstyles and hats. This became a silhouette championed by designers like Vionnet and Lucile. Soon thereafter, an exotic Oriental influence promoted by Paul Poiret’s costuming for the Ballets Russes brought stronger colours and an even more slender silhouette to fashion. Did anyone single-handely abolish the corset? I don’t think so — it was a case of ‘Air du Temps’ — time for a change.

There are several great articles and books that outline many of the players in the death of the corset. This one by Randy Bigham Young brings up the many characters involved in the death of the corset. Daniel Milford-Cottam also looks at people like Margaine-Lacroix in his book Edwardian Fashion, who were pushing for new ways of defining the female form at the turn of the century. It’s never a simple story of one person changing the world…

It’s a Cinch!

f5fcf6a1-b672-436d-979c-747c2608bdc1Join us at the Fashion History Museum during the month of March to make your own corset. For an hour each Wednesday evening (March 4, 11, 18, 25) designer Kerri Mercer of Black Orchid Designs, will guide you through the steps of tailoring a 1904 pattern for a riding waist-cinch to your own size. This is a beginner’s class but does require basic sewing skills and no fear of using a sewing machine. Instruction and all materials are supplied (any special outer material, if desired, is extra) Course fee is due by February 18 to ensure placement in course as space is limited. $300.00. Contact us at 519 267-2091 for reserving your space now.

Fashion Myths – Rib Removal

img_corset011This is an oft-repeated fashion myth that has been around for decades. However, there is no evidence that even one woman ever had a single rib surgically removed in the name of vanity. Although theoretically possible, chest operations are still high-risk and would have been even more hazardous in the 19th and early 20th centuries when this myth is usually associated with wasp-waisted women. A more modern rumour circulated for years about Cher having had ribs removed. Although Cher admits to having been under the cosmetic surgeon’s knife several times in her life, when it comes to her waist – she’s just thin.