A Turn Toward the Bust: Early Twentieth Century

The ideal figure in the early twentieth century was more statuesque than its Victorian predecessors. Rather than focusing on the waist, more attention was paid to the other parts of the body--smooth long hips and a swelling chest. By 1910, corsets were cut so long that they reached well over the thighs. They also tended to be shaped very low around the bust line so women would need more support on top--if at least to preserve decency with the low-cut evening dresses of the time.

[Image] Source unknown
Royal Worcester Kidfitting Corsets',
printed advertisement, 1911.
[Image] Source unknown
Miss Camille Clifford,
photograph, c.1906.
[Image] V&A
The Symington Corsetry Collection
'Lemon cup' bust improver,
c.1890.

[Image]
The Symington Corsetry Collection
Bust bodice, c.1902.
[Image]  V&A
Bust bodice, pale blue satin and machine lace and ribbon.
Cups supported by a whalebone structure.
French, c.1905

Women's journals of the time were replete with advertisements for pills and potions to correct flaws in the female appearance. Bust cream applied as a massage, claimed to 'permanently develop and enlarge the bust, cause it to fill out to nature's full bearing, give that swelling, rounded, firm white bosom, that queenly bearing, so attractive to the opposite sex'. Widely advertised in France, 'pillules orientales' were supposed to have a similar effect. If pills and potions failed there was always the 'Princess Bust Developer' which exercised the muscles of the bust by suction, restoring the capillary action and getting rid of flabby tissue.

[Image] V&A

Summer day dress, white lace and embroidered lawn with macramé fringe and bobble trim. Worn with a black ribbon belt, c.1910, French
Bust bodices were less intimidating and also became more common. These were lightly boned and tended to conceal the cleavage, creating the monobosom, a long, sloping sine-curve. Some could be worn over the corset to complement the structure of the dress and create the desired silhouette. Padded camisoles were also popular and 'Pneumatic bust forms' are also referred to which claimed to be as light as air and promised to give the wearer 'the admirable and superb proportions of the ideal figure'.

These devices probably led to the development of the brassiere a few years later, as the basic concept and design is quite similar. The bust bodice you see above, for example, is styled like a bra beneath its frilly flounces. Although it is laced up the back like a corset, vertical whalebone strips run down the inside of the front section, creating two cups.

By 1910 designers were beginning to reject what had been the starting point for dress design--the full figure with a constricted waist. Leading new lights of the fashion world such as Paul Poiret, Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) and Doucet reacted against the artificially exaggerated Edwardian curves, promoting a slimmer, less restricted silhouette. They designed clothes that defined the more natural contours of the body. Blouses and high-waisted dresses made of delicate, soft, flowing materials did not require rigid corsets, steel hoops and bustles to give them their shape.

[Image] V&A'Tango' corset made of peach cotton, silk and lace. French, 1914

Of course corsetry did not disappear overnight but the desire for the natural uncorseted effect resulted in the development of lightly boned and flexible corsets or brassieres. The 'Tango' corset, for example, was made for dancing in. It would have been worn over the hips freeing the waist from the restriction of a tightly laced corset. The wide criss-crossing ribbons which comprise the front panel added to the overall suppleness, ensuring freedom of movement. The First World War hastened these changes and helped bring about fresh attitudes. The increasing number of women going out to work or helping with the war effort needed to be able to move more freely. There was no place in their lives for sweeping skirts or S-shaped curves moulded by heavily boned corsets. Source: http://www.fathom.com

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# Secret History of the Corset and Crinoline # Flamboyance and the Crinoline Craze
# From Crinoline, to Crinolette, to Bustle # Over-Structured Opulence to the 'Healthy Corset'
# A Turn Toward the Bust: Early 20th Century # All Tied-Up: The Corset in Contemporary Fashion

# Fashion | Page 1 # Charles Frederick Worth # Court Fashion # Fashion Plates
# Dress, Fashion and Modernity # Corset Controversy # Bloomers and Reformers # Bicycles

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