The Purpose Of Boning In A Corset History Essay

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The purpose of boning in a corset varies era to era. The corset and shaping put strain on the fabric so the boning was put in to give the desired shape and to prevent wrinkles in the fabric.

In the 17th and 18th century corsets were heavily boned with little or no space between the bone channels. At the time the most popular materials used for boning were giant reeds or whalebone.

In the early 19th century the natural form returned. It was the first time the bust was separated. In corsets the boning was made from wood, bone, ivory and baleen. Baleen is where whalebone came from but it isn’t actually made from bone it’s the same substance that nails and hair are made of, it is bristles from the upper jaw. Baleen is what whales have instead of teeth.

The corset in history

The purpose in the corset

The corset has been around for hundreds of years. It original purpose was to push up or flatten the breasts, to hug the waist into shape or both.


The first trace of corsetry was discovered from drawings at the Neolithic archaeological site at Brandon in Norfolk, England. They showed women wearing bodices made from animals. The bodices were moulded to the body while the animal flesh was still fresh. The bodices were fastened with the tendons of birds and other small animals.

The ancient civilizations

Egypt women wore a band under their bust.

Cretan women wore rings around their waist and a bolero jacket to give their breasts support.

Grecian women wore bands called zona.

Roman women used corseted tight lacing.

There is a reference to corsetry in the bible in the third chapter of Isaiah “instead of a girdle, there should be a rent and instead a stomacher of sackcloth and burning instead of beauty”. Early Christians used rope to bind their waists until the binding cut into their skin for penance.

Gowns known as kirtles which were made from thicker material to give them more structure to give the corseted effect were made to replace the free flowing gowns in the thirteenth and fourteenth century.

Charles v of France threatened to excommunicate anyone who dared to wear a overcoat.

The earliest known busk was made in 1556 made from iron.

The word corset comes from the word corpus which is Latin for body.

egyptian corsetry.pngEgyptian corsetry.

16th century

In the 16th century Italian born Catherine de madici influenced the French court and instructed ladies in waiting to clinch their waists to thirteen inches around it was in this court that steel framed corsets came about they were made up of four plates connected at the sides and front leaving the back open to get in and out of the garment.

17th century

In the 17th century people was using too much fabric in their clothes. So politicians across Europe demanded that people use less fabric so people used more embellishments etc in their clothing for a less is more approach.

The busk came into play in the 17th century which would fit inside in front of the corset and was made from metal, ivory, wood and whalebone. Men at the time would buy a busk for a woman that they would like and have carvings put into them. The lacings that supported the corset would be separate from the lacings that that held the busk in place. Women would flirt with men by showing their busk or busk lacings. Women from the 17th century would have their busks carved into daggers to use as a weapon to protect themselves from unwanted admirers.

18th century

In the 18th century doctors were concerned about the new and improved the new corset because it was too rigid because of the whalebone it was made of. The new corset had over the shoulder straps and was worn over a blouse.

19th century

In the 19th century a doctor from the French army invented metallic eyelets. Which were added to the corset which allowed the corsets to become tighter around the waist without damaging the fabric in the process. At the back of the corset was loops of fabric at each side, a bar of whalebone was threaded through with lacing which meant all of the pressure for supporting the garment wasn’t on individual points anymore it was only on the bar instead. There was also some adjustments made to the corset, there was an opening at the front of the busk that closed with hooks and eyes which was created by jean-julien josselin. In the late 19th century suspenders was added to the corset to hold stockings up. It was in the 1820s when the wasp waisted corset was introduced.

20th century

In the 20th century a lightweight corset was made for athletics there was less boning and most of the time they used cording and quilting for support. In the 1920s the corset was pushed aside.

In the late 20th century the corsets came back into the picture, but they were used as outwear instead of under garments.

In 1998 Ethel granger was listed in the Guinness book of world records from having the smallest waist on record at 32.5 centimetres (13 inches) but she wasn’t a living person so the rules of the category changed to smallest waist on a living person which was Cathie Jung with a 37.5 centimetre waist (15 inches) other women made an achievement of a 14 inch waist but the woman who achieved it wasn’t alive so she didn’t make it in the Guinness book of world records.

The advantages of wearing a corset

The corset is a good support for people with medical problems such as back, muscular and skeletal problems. Andy wahol wore a corset after he was shot and never fully recovered from the injury and had to wear a corset for the rest of his life. The corset is good for big breasted women to take the strain of the weight of the breasts off of the back. The corset is also good to get a slim figure without going on a diet, slimming drugs and having cosmetic surgery.

The disadvantages of wearing a corset

A corset that is badly fitted can cause chafing impede digestion and even the pinching of the nerves.

effects of lacing.pnga medical drawing that shows what corsets do to the body.

What people think about corsetry

“a woman in a corset is a lie, a falsehood, a fiction is better than the reality.” – Eugene chapus.



With the corset being an under garment it was originally made out of linen fabric because the fabric is a breathable fabric, it resists strain on the fabric better than wool.


Silk satin and taffeta was used by the rich people. The queen Elizabeth had dozens of corsets made out of taffeta, satin and velvet. People in the past used silk because it was a very strong fabric, it breathes and the corset was sometimes worn as an outer garment to show off the fabric.

Cotton canvas

Cotton drill is the strongest fabric for a corset and can withstand the boning and washing.

Words and there meanings

Busk; a long stiff bone that was fitted at the front of the corset the keep the corset rigid.

Busk hook; a busk hook is an upside down hook used to hold down the waistbands of a petticoat and the under garments to stop them from riding up.

Cording; cording is a thick thread of material that would be stitched into the fabric of the corset to create a more flexible piece of boning.

Coutil; coutil is a heavy weight fabric that is a stiff fabric made of twisted yarn and cotton.

Curved busk; the curved busk is made out of metal which starts at the waist line and flares out over the abdomen that gave a place for the displaced flesh to go.

Eyelet; the eyelet is a hole in the corset to thread the lacing to fasten the corset.

French holes; French holes is a eylet made from ivory or bone.

Flossing; flossing is embroidery on a bone casing.

Girdle; a girdle is a control garment that is similar to a corset but only around the waist.

Grommet; a grommet is an eyelet but made of metal.

Plush; is a piece of furry fabric that would have been sewn on the back of the busk for comfort.

Ribbon corset; a ribbon corset is a short corset that was made up of strips of ribbon which was common in slim women who did not need the full support of the full corset.

Sateen; sateen is a cheaper alternative to satin made from closely woven cotton, it was a popular fabric.

Spoon busk; the spoon busk was a more comfortable busk for larger women, it was a pear shaped busk that flared out over the abdomen.

Stays; is an old fashioned name for a corset and another term for boning.

Straight busk; the straight busk is a busk that goes straight down the abdomen and doesn’t crush any internal organs.

Straight front corset; also known as the s-bend corset, it is a corset that would use a perfectly straight busk that goes diagonally down the front of the corset and diagonal seams that moulded the body into a s shape by making the bust thrust out forward and the hips backwards.

Summer corset; a summer corset is a corset made of light weight cotton or a linen mesh.

Trapunto work; is a form of quilting which was used as decoration to the corset.

Waist tape; waist tape is used to take the strain of the corset and keep it from misshaping. Waist tape is also known as stay tape and was made out of twill and often found around the waist.

The history of the corset

Gemma Kennedy

Ba hons fashion and textiles





The corset in history

16th century

17th century

18th century

19th century

20th century

The advantages and disadvantages of wearing a corset


Words and there meanings

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