Corsets: Handmade, Manmade, and Man-worn

In October, Val Mayse brought her University of Washington corset-making class to the Collections Study Center to look at and draw inspiration from a selection of the nearly 40 corsets (dating from 1800 to 1960)  in the Henry’s Costumes and Textiles Collection. (For more information about this collection, including a Google Earth tour of where the various gowns, wraps and coverings lived before they arrived at the Henry, go no further than here.)

To complete the class, Val’s  students, Anastasia Ames and Michael Bambauer, designed and made corsets of their own. Last week,  I went to the School of Drama’s costume shop to see their work.

Here’s a photo of the curiosity-inspiring costume shop. All the boxes are filled with wigs, hats, ties, you name it. This is just a portion of them.

And here is a selection of bones, the flat, sturdy inserts that make corsets (and other garments) rigid. Bones were at one point sometimes made of bone, whalebone specifically, but metal and plastic are the standard materials.

Val invited two graduate students from the costume design program, Linnaea Boone Wilson and Rachel Apatoff, to join Anastasia and Michael in demonstrating their craftsmanship. (Val’s responsible for the ace corsets Linnaea (pink) and Rachel (teal) are wearing.)

Some close-ups of the student work:

Corset by Anastasia Armes.

Corset by Michael Bambauer.

After we snapped photos, Anastasia demonstrated the fine art of sitting down in a corset – the garment requires that you sit on the very edge of your seat with your shoulders pulled back. This posture is the perfect bodily “S” characteristic of heroines in period films (well, heroines at tea). The students report that it is fairly comfortable to sit this way; the corset pretty much holds you up.

I also got a short history of the male corset, which was in vogue from around the time of King George IV (late 18th century) until the early part of the 20th century. Michael’s added a rhinestone-studded zipper to his corset (demonstrated above) to cover the metal hooks that close the garment in front. This corset is most definitely not an undergarment.

4 thoughts on “Corsets: Handmade, Manmade, and Man-worn

  1. Wow! Loved reading about Val and her costume shop. It must have been a great experience for everyone.

    I bet the whales are glad we now use plastic and metal instead of their bones. lol.

    And thank you for the link to the Henry Art Gallery. I was there for ages reading about the history of corsets, with pictures from as far back as the 1860’s. The American Lady Corset Co. of the early 1900’s was especially interesting to me.

  2. It looks like everyone really enjoyed themselves here. I am just getting started learning and being inspired by other corset-maker’s garments. Maybe one day I can move others to making corsets. Until then, I’ll carry on admiring you professionals.

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