April 10, 2014

An Edwardian Ribbon Corset

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:41 pm by historywardrobe

This ridiculously pretty garment is a ribbon corset, dating c 1900 – 1905.  Two lovely ladies brought it to the premiere performance of ‘Silk’ at Macclesfield Silk Heritage Centre.  It was presented to History Wardrobe as a donation.  I’ve long had a ribbon corset on my costume ‘wish list’ but I never thought to see one for sale, let alone to be gifted such a beautiful example.


History Wardrobe ribbon corset

As my photographs show, the silk ribbons are lightly bound in horizontal fashion, with metal eyelets at the back for lacing, and minimal boning.  The corset sits under the bust and barely grazes the lower ribs.  It cinches the waist but not the hips.

Two very long suspenders would hold up milady’s stockings, using elegantly-wrought metal suspender clasps.

Chine silk was very popular in the 18th century, then revived in the 1890s and early 1900s.  The silk of this corset has shattered in places, and there are some frayed edges.  Sturdier examples survive in some collections, usually of cotton.  They were intended to sportwear, especially cycling, offering greater freedom of movement than the full S-bend corsets, or the sheath-like Directoire styles which followed. 


Ribbon corset suspenders detail

Mrs Eric Pritchard – fashion writer for the Ladies Realm magazine – did not consider satin ribbon too fragile for vigorous exercise: ‘I must call the attention of the athletic woman to the satin ribbon corset that is obtainable at teh London Corset Company’s for 19s 6d and which is eminently suited to riding, boating and all outdoor sports.’ (1902)

Provenance for this corset is sketchy. The donor’s cousin Gladys went to work as a ladies maide in Rawnsley (Staffordshire) sometime in the 1920s, and acquired the corset while in service.  Being an honest girl and devout churchgoer, it was no doubt received as a cast-off from her mistress, rather than pilfered.  Gladys gave the corset to her cousin May (described as ‘stout’) who kept it as a curiosity then passed it onto the donor, who then (shall we confess it?) kept it “languishing at the bottom of knicker drawers for decades.” 


Ribbon corset eyelet detail

To be fair, most women would be too ‘stout’ to wear it, even when it was in a sturdier condition.  Essentially, such dainty ribbon corsets were not intended to correct or confine curves too emphatically.  They were frivolous items for a slender, leisured woman, to be worn under a cobwebby confection of silk and lace known as a tea gown, or with lingerie in the privacy of the boudoir.  This example measures a mere 20 inches from edge to edge.  Naturally, it need not have been laced utterly closed.  There could have been several inches ‘spring’ at the back.


Ribbon corset interior

The corset is now nestled in acid-free tissue paper and will be on show in the History Wardrobe presentations Silk and Votes for Women.

For modern corsetieres there are several online tutorials for making your own ribbon corset.  By happy coincidence one of the visitors to ‘Silk’ at Macclesfield was just about to start this very project, and was thrilled to see an original example.


Ribbon corset Museum of Costume Bath


September 30, 2013

The Humility Bead

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:03 pm by historywardrobe



October 1st and Great War Fashion is published! I don’t yet have a copy in my hands, but I know it’s going to be so thrilling to see it for real, particularly since the designer has done such a beautiful job with the photographs and textile textures.

Researching and writing the book was an immensely intense period.  There were always more sources and stories I wanted to include.  I have been astonished at the wealth and depth of material available on the subject of fashion on the Home Front in WW1.  Since completing it my insights (and my costume collection) have grown.  I’ll be sharing the gorgeous gowns, uniforms and accessories at a hands-on workshop soon.

The topic of Great War Fashion – women’s lives in WW1 through their clothes – is irresistible and I know interest is going to be great as the 1914-2014 commemoration approaches.  And so I come to the title of my blog piece – the Humility Bead.  

It is said that in the past every beaded garment made, whether bag, ball gown or belt, would have one bead out of place.  Perhaps the wrong size, the wrong colour or wrong position.  This bead was known as the Humility Bead, to show that only God is perfect.

I have no aspirations to perfection, but I swear I read and re-read the text of Great War Fashion, scouring it for typos and errors.  Then the copy-editor set to work.  Alas, despite these endeavours, I now see my work is woven with a design containing more than one spot of humility.  As the author of five published novels I’m already aware that errors are cunning and can slip through the narrowest net.  Mostly readers don’t even notice.  Although I’m usually the sort to splutter over a misplaced apostrophe I think I’ll now do well to accept the “things that cannot be changed”.  I am resolved to wallow in what’s wonderful about the book and follow the advice of the late Steve Jobs – “Just resolve to do the next thing better.”

I know that the stories are worth telling, the images are worth admiring, and the unique research gives new life to lives long passed into history.  For every bead out of place there are thousands more that shine delightfully!

Yours humbly…