Sunday, 13 March 2011

Research - Hampshire County Museum Service

A visit was arranged to the Hampshire County Museum Service just outside of Winchester. It was a very useful day and a great opportunity to get some primary research looking at the 19th century clothes they had in their collection. The pieces were in very good condition, making it easier to imagine how they were worn in the period. The Museums costume assistant who ran the day was very helpful and knowledgeable and enhanced our experience on the day, being able to answer our questions and providing interesting histories about the clothes and the period.
1860's dress with gathered and padded front panel. Has later period style of  flat front to skirt with  pleats and gathering  at the back, would be worn over a crinolette. The decoration of this bodice I find is its most interesting feature, I do not find the gathering decoration particularly attractive in the colour of the fabric and the blue clashes with the colour quite a lot. The shape of the sleeve is unusual being notably wider at the elbow than at the cuff. I do not think I will use any features of this dress but it is interesting to see the different elements in their real form.

1850's corset, had few bones at centre back and was mostly corded. It has a large rigid wooden plate at centre front to help keep shape. I imagine this would have been particularly uncomfortable as the rest of the corset is quite flexible.
This corset was thought to be a young women's corset as it is small and only has a slight under bust support. It was a well kept specimen and had delicate lace decoration. 
1870's corset, this was thought to belong to an more mature lady because of its larger size and being very heavily boned, there was not much of the fabric that did not have a bone channel and it was a particularly heavy undergarment.
Here is a working class corset, it is quite a rare example as not many clothes of the working class of the period survive as they were worn out, handed down, sold or the fabric reused to make something else. The corset is less boned for flexibility, and cost, of working or manual labour, and quite thick meaning it would have been warm and generally quite comfortable to wear.

It was very informative to see some actual corsets from the period, to get a better idea of the varying shapes but also to see their construction and decoration. It was particularly interesting to see how the more heavily boned corsets, how much structure was required of the fabric and how it bumps and curves when laid flat. I would have loved to see the corsets worn to get a proper idea of their shape and what effect they had on the silhouette.
 I was most fascinated by the working class corset, having not seen one before, and how it was very functional as well as being a fashion statement. Quite thick and bulky, the corset seems very practical and I would have liked to see how it would sit under top garments. 

1835 dress, presumed to be a maternity dress as has opening at front.  Has sloping shoulders of early period with gigot or leg-of-mutton sleeves popular in the late 20's and early 30's of the century. The skirt was created with tiny cartridge pleats and fastened simply with hook and eyes without faux-fastening buttons. It had tiny, delicate piping on all of its open edges like the neck and centre front and also in the inside seam of the sleeve.

This dress I find to be one of the most engaging in its form. The sloping shoulders and mutton sleeves are classic of the period and bring fashionable elements to what should be a practical garment, as a maternity dress. I love the shape of the mutton sleeves with the gathering and may produce some in my toiles. The tiny cartridge pleats are another interesting technique that I may come across in my toile research. The pleats were sewn to the waist band of the bodice with a small stitch in each pleat. 

1870's Princess line dress. Was not boned, but heavily structured, with panels and piping in a lot of the seams. The two tone fabrics enhance the shape of these panels and the decoration. The princess line was a dress shape that had no seam between the bodice and skirt. 

This style of dress has a lot of impact and  is quite a statement, possibly being an evening dress, because of its train, of a monied ladies day dress. I particularly enjoy the way the shiny and slightly more matt fabrics are played off against each other, and accentuate the lines of the panels. This would be an interesting dress to create and no doubt a challenging one with its numerous panels and decoration.  
1878 Horse hair bustle. Wicker structure with padded front that would stand out when the bustle was bowed. This undergarment was, like many, able to be stored flat with the ties would hold the the structure in place when it was bowed. It would be held in place by ties around the waist rather like a backward apron.

It was nice to see an original bustle in its horse hair form, as the recreations I have seen have only been with ridgealine and calico. It was a lot stiffer and of rougher fabric than I imagined and didn't seem very much like a feminine undergarment, or been very comfortable to wear.
This bodice had an unusual curved pin tuck front that i thought was particularly interesting with its S shape velvet panels that run down the front. The small  pocket at the front for a pocket watch was another delicate feature.

The shape of the panels can been seen clearly in this bodice which may be useful for my pattern drafting. The decorative elements are quite unusual but really beautiful and i would like to try the panel shapes if they are suitable with what I am producing.
1860s child's bodice and skirt. Children were dressed much like the adults of the period. The bodice displays the popular V-shape of the fashion at the time with attention to detail in the double piping and matching of the stripes of the fabric. The volume of bustle at the back was created by ties, one from opposite side seams and three vertically. The skirt may have been worn over a crinoline or crinolette but also may have been worn on its own or with a petticoat.

I find the feature of the ties to create volume in the skirt interesting as it is a simple solution to an elegant decorative feature. As I understand this was a widely used technique to create this effect and I would like to experiment with it if given the chance, depending on the patterns I choose. I think the technique to create the right shape and volumes, would take a little practice, and I may produce a skirt after the project to experiment with this.
The emphasised V pelerine on this bodice has the added detail of pin tucks. It is identical front and back with leg-of-mutton sleeves that are separate at the elbow creating a striking difference in volume.
It is possibly from the 1840s although the V shape bodice was popular through the century. Although it could also be later due to its strong lines of shape and quite controlled mutton sleeve.

This is another V-shaped pin tucked bodice however the shape of the sleeves give it a very different silhouette. The tight fitting sleeves with the high slightly puffed shoulders suggest it is from later in the century, possible 1880s or 90s. It is interesting to relate the pin tucks on this piece to the blouse I shall be creating for the National Theatre, of which are the same size (5mm). The tiny pin tuck seems to be quite a fashionable technique although I do find its placement on this bodice a bit odd.
This is a beautiful example of a crinolette which would have been fashionable from 1867 to the mid 1870's, it had binding around its scalloped edge and was fastened with buttons at the front and a draw string around the waist. The lacing that can be seen inside was to adjust the shape of the structure and also allowed it to sit flat for travelling and storage. The crinolettes were interesting as they came along with the growing air of more freedom for women, and were reported as being more freeing for movement and easier to walk in than the previous crinolines.
This type of crinoline appeared in the late 1850's. It was suggested that this would be more of a day-wear crinoline as it is quite short in length. The hoops are made of sprung steel and the tapes a heavy cotton. It has much the basic shape of any crinoline and would have been worn under petticoats which would have softened the steel hoops.
This Thompson crinoline shows a different style to the hooping and was again thought to be a day-wear item because of its size and width and the amount of hoops. The Thompson company were popular English makers of crinolines.
Late 19th century liberty bodice. This undergarment had no boning but was still heavily structured with cording, however without the boning it was quite flexible. It was seen at the time as a liberating garment, freeing women from the compressing nature of corsets. This was a garment worn like a corset to give support, but was also a popular garment for children with the idea of keeping warm like a vest. It was still a very structured and probably would not be comfortable by today's standards however I imagine after a lifetime of corsets this garment was probably quite liberating
All my images are of garments from the Hampshire County Museum Service's collection, I thank them in being kind enough to assist in my research.


  1. I'm looking to make a working class corset, and hadn't seen a front tying corset until now. WOW!
    Corsets are very comfortable to wear, especially when properly tightened, because your back is in a more natural upright position, instead of slouching. Also, they should give no more than a 4-6 in difference to your (modern) natural waist.

  2. Hi Emily, thank you for this amazing post! Potentially silly question, but please can I just clarify. For the working class corset (in white with the pale blue stripes), would the three individual ties be in back and the cross-hatched lacing in front? Thank you!