Bound to Impress: Corsets from The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
For centuries, corsets contorted the female figure into the reigning ideal. Bound to Impress: Corsets from The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection highlights these unnatural fashions between the 1760s and the 1820s. Whether conically shaped with rigid backs and flattened breasts or rounded hourglasses with sloped shoulders and cinched waistlines, garment silhouettes followed the dictates of these concealed undergarments. This exhibition covers sixty years—from the Ancien Régime, through the French Revolution, during the age of Napoléon, to the era of British Romanticism.
The first aim of 18th-century corsets—often referred to as ‘stays’ or ‘bodies’—was to aid ideal deportment. Ladies were to have shoulders thrust back and down, and rigid, upright spines. Of course, these corsets also helped to achieve the fashionable silhouette: conical torso and round hips. This corset is made of sturdy wool and silk damask, and stiffened with baleen strips—a durable material cut from the mouth plate of baleen whales. Leather strips prevented fraying at the edges due to wear.