Corset Terms Dictionary

Dictionary of Corset-related
Words and Terms

(Including those concerned with petticoats, crinolines and certain undergarments - dessous)

This list is continually augmented--Defining images may appear in the future

 
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Historical corset style examples

Time Periods

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Austrian Belt (see Viennese Belt) A leather-clad metal belt, about two inches in width, featuring turn screws, which go about the corset. The turn screws are then tightened in order to render the waist a perfect circle (or oval, dependent on the application).

Balayeuse A removable ruffle attached to the inside hem of  a skirt

Baleine (baleen) French Whalebone of the type used for corsets.

Basque Section of bodice below waist, shaped to hips; late c20th name for corset.

Basquine (vasquine) (c16th) Close-fitting bodice with tabs, or a basque, but in England the word has been used for a petticoat.

Batiste Fine cotton material similar to cambric.

Belle Époque The French refer to the period between 1890 and 1914 as "La Belle Époque", or "the beautiful (happy) era." During this period before the World War I, pleasure reigned, and daily life was characterized by "la joie de vivre", the joy of living life to its fullest. La Belle Époque was a wonderful time for fashion, a time when clothes showed off the female body with great elegance, wit and style.

Bend (c19th) Leather, about ¼" or more thick such as is used for shoe soles, used by poorer women.  No stays were necessary because the leather was so stiff.

Bents (c16th) Stiffening for stays made from bunches of hollow-stemmed reeds.

Bodies, bodys, bodyes, boddice (a pair of) (c16th, 17th) Rigid covering for the upper body made in two halves laced together. The outerwear of the whalebone-stiffened c17th bodice becomes underwear in the c18th when this garment is termed "pair of stays."

Bone Pockets/Casing/Strapping  Separate strip of material sewed over the lining or outer fabric of a corset the create a gutter into which boning is placed

Brocade Fabric, usually silk with a raised pattern, sometimes with silver and gold threads.

Brayette   A steel petticoat, similar to a baguette; a lappet of mail.

Broche Silk or cotton fabric with a satin pattern on the surface.

Buckram (jean) Coarse linen or cotton cloth (or canvas) stiffened with paste or gum.

Bumbast (c16th, 17th) Paddings in garments that alter the wearer's natural shape.

Bum roll (Vertugadin - French) Roll about the waist to substitute for the farthingale.

Busk (busc, buske, busque) Piece of wood, whalebone, ivory, horn or steel slotted into front of stays to hold the torso erect. The integral front section of c19th corset shaped to control the abdomen, and also its steel stud and eye fastening. The removable types were often given as gifts of endearment by men to their women, many times adorned with words of poetry.

Busk Point The lace which tied the busk in position.

Bust Bodice (c1890) Covering for bust, usually with straps and sometimes lightly light boned at side and/or front for "mono-bosom" effect.

Bustier (c1947) A long-line brassiere, often strapless, usually worn as outwear.

Bustle (Tournoure) An artificial shape, made of wired frames or stuffed forms that were attached to the waist to enlarge the shape of the female's posterior.

Cache Corset Camisole (earlier: petticoat bodice)--see "corset-cover."

Calico An inexpensive, plain weave cotton, often printed. A toughly woven fabric, off-white in color--used for pattern making.

Cambric Very fine white linen used for linings and corset bodices.

Camelot (c16th) A heavy weight brocade.

Camisole (Petticoat Bodice) A loose bodice worn over the corset (to protect it from soiling).

Cane Hollow stem of giant reeds, or solid stem of slender palms, used as a substitute for whalebone in corsets. Extremely fine round or flat strips of cane are found in corsets and petticoats until the end of the c19th.

Case (casing) Strip of material, usually satin coutil, stitched to another along both edges to make a slot to contain bones and the such.

Collar canvas Used for theatrical corsets in give a strong character quality.

Considérations Hip pads.

Cord (cording) Strands of twisted or woven threads stitched between two layers of material for stiffening (used in corsets at the end of c19th, and petticoats in the first half of c19th).

Corps (c16th, 17th, 18th) Body, whale-boned body, stays.

Corsage  Stiff, boned bodice, predominantly used 1875-1883.

Corselette (c1921) Occasionally a term for a diminutive waist encircling corset (corselette 1893), but generally the term for a garment combining the functions of a brassiere and girdle.

Corset (1789 Lady's Monthly Museum):  The new term for the c18th stays or c16th pair of bodies.  The stiffened garment that supported and shaped the torso.  Principally a female fashion garment, but occasionally worn for male fashion. Generally back-lacing and front fastening.

Corset-Cover (c1840) the cotton underbodies that provided the easily laundered buffering layer between dress and corset.  Less prosaically termed a "camisole."

Corset Dress A fetish costume composed of a dress laced as a corset. In practice, it is a corset designed for outwear and reaching the lengths of a standard dress, in many cases hobbling the wearer. If not worn as outwear, it could be termed a "hobble-corset."

The Corset Question A term used to describe the controversy revolving about question of whether the wearing of corsets had a deleterious effect on women's health and the fashionable practice of tightlacing While the term became generic in use, its roots are books of correspondence edited by the "Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine" and anti-corset articles.  The letters and articles were written and printed long after the practice of tightlacing subsided.

Corset Waist  American term for early long-line brassiere, and also for a type of snug fitting "liberty bodice" worn by children. Other term: Liberty Bodice

Coutil Twilled cotton fabric in herringbone weave, close textured and sometimes patterned.

Crinolette  A cage crinoline with hoops only in the back.

Crinoline  Derives it name from crin, the French word for horsehair, and lin, the French word for linen.  The horsehair was threaded through the petticoat to stiffen it. Later, cane, whalebone, and steel were inserted into graduated hoops for a similar effect (cage crinoline).

Cuirass(e) (c1870) Form of bodice that was boned and lined to fit closely to the upper body and hips, therefore resembling an external corset. Term derived from the French word for “body armor,”  which was made of boiled leather or metal.

Damask Elaborately woven linen, cotton, or rayon (originally silk in antiquity), the surface design being reversed on the backside.

Demi-corset (c19th) Corset some eight or ten inches in length, with light whalebones, worn when performing household tasks during the day.

A "Devonshire" (after the Duchess of Devonshire, who supposedly had it performed on her - anecdotal) Removal of the two lower ribs so as to make a long tiny waist more acceptable to rigid corset wearers. This left the lungs and diaphragm unprotected, and so stays had to be worn all the time.

Dimity A cotton fabric, with stripes or pattern, especially produced for the corset trade.

Directoire Knickers An early 20th-0century term for loose-fitting coverings for the upper leg, gathered at the waist and at the knee.

Divorce Corset (c1816) A corset that separates the breasts, much in the same way as a modern brassiere.

Dress Improver  The frame that formed the bustle.

Edwardian Straight front Corset ("S"-Shape) (See "straight front corset")

Elasticweave (c19th) Fine threads of rubber wrapped with silk, cotton, or, later, rayon, to facilitate weaving. Used in sports corsets.

Embroideries (flossing) Stitching method used in c19th to encase the bones in their pockets.

Empire Corset  A kind of corselette, straight line, fitted low in the bust and well down over the hips, where the waist and hips are not very accentuated (meant only for the slenderest of figures).  At its peak from 1910 to 1914, when WWI killed it.

"Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine" (1852-1879) Ladies' practical fashion magazine which many times featured articles and letters on corsets and corsetry.

Epaulette Shoulder strap.

Farthingale (c16th, 17th) A hoop formed of whalebone of other material used to extend the petticoat outward, or a skirt or petticoat covering such a hoop.

Featherbone Substitute for whalebone made from goose quills.

Fetishism The practice of using an inanimate object as the focus of sexual pleasure.

Figure Training Although largely anecdotal, the term refers to the practice, in the late c19th, of sending a young girl to finishing school, where part of the curriculum was the reduction of waist size by the use of (in many cases forced) corsetry.  Supposedly, the subject would also sleep corsetted. The concept of the subject many a fetishist's fantasies, hence published stories relating to such are thought by historians to be exaggerated.

Flossing (Embroideries) Stitching method used in c19th to encase the bones in their pockets.

Galloon Lace Any finished lace with a scalloped edge on both sides; used to finish the tops and bottoms of corsets. A silk thread was embedded in the lace for a drawstring effect.

Garde-infante 16c development that flattened the front and back of the pannier designs, and widened them to the sides.

Garter  Suspender device on the bottom of the corsets for the attachment of stockings. This is a relatively modern development.  Previously, a garter was a circle of ribbon or elastic that went AROUND the upper leg.

Gestation Stays (c19th) A maternity corset with adjustable hip gores, side lacing, and breast openings, to be worn during pregnancy and in order to restore the figure after childbirth.

Gibson Girl (look) Immortalized by artist Charles Dana Gibson in his "Gibson Girls" drawings, this look presented "an upright poise of the shoulders, long sloping bust, with a straight front line and a graceful curve over the hips; the waist held in well below the figure, the chest carried well forward and the shoulders down; the waist long in front and short behind."

     ...began appearing in the 1890s, and was the personification of the feminine ideal of beauty portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of illustrator Charles Dana
     Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The artist saw his creation as representing  the composite of "thousands of
     American girls ."   Example

Gigot Sleeves  A sleeve in the shape of a leg of mutton – the sleeve is rounded and full starting from the shoulder and extending to the elbow.  It then narrows at the wrist.  In the 1830s very full sleeves were fashionable, and they again came into fashion during the 1890s.

"Godey's Ladys' Book" (1830-1898) Ladies' practical fashion magazine.

Gore (gusset) Triangular piece of material inserted in a corset garment to give extra width and more rounded contours. Especially used in early c19th for a more curvaceous effect.

Grosgrain A plain weave cloth with a prominent rib effect, heavier than Poplin and rounder than Faille. Usually of silk, cotton, viscose, acetate or nylon.

Gougandine  A laced corset, partially open in the front; very popular during the reign of Louis XIV.

Guepiere A type of short boned corset, 5 to 8” in width, that appeared in the 1940's (similar to a “waspie.”)  Known as a “cincher” in the United States.

Helanca A two-way stretch elastic fiber made from nylon and polyester used in corset flexible panels. Modern applications are seen in "Merry Widow" style corselettes.

Hip Spring  Hip measurement minus waist measurement usually calculated at 9" - 13".

Hook Side  A side fastening corset or girdle

Hoop or Hoopskirt  A bell-shaped understructure to carry petticoats in a wide circumference around the body; usually made out of linen with whalebone or cane.  In some applications, allowed for fewer petticoats and, thus, less weight for the woman to carry about.  Cage Crinoline

Improvers  Spanish cone style hooped petticoat, flattened at the front and widened sideways, and using whalebone stiffeners.

Inner Busk (Underbusk) A second busk underlying the busk, adding extra rigidity (very demanding).

Jump (c18th) Under bodice similar in shape to stays but looser and without bones.

Kersey or Kerseymere   A heavy woven woolen cloth used in c16th quilted bodices.

Knickerbockers  Voluminous drawers (then open at the crotch) gathered at the waist an knee.

Lacet Corset lacing--twisted or woven cord of silk, etc. (earlier called "point" (med.-c17th)

Lacing (Lace) Twisted or woven cord used to secure the corset, usually in the rear.

Lacing Bar Horizontal bar positioned high enough above a corsettee's head that she might grab and hang from it whilst being laced in. The technique lengthens the body and narrows the waist so that extreme tightlacing is possible.

Lacing Protector A piece of the corset without boning, or with light boning, the same length as the corset, and about three or four inches wide, depending on the corset size, made of the same color and fabric. Very good for protecting clothing and/or skin from the lacings perhaps pinching or scoring. It also allows the lacings to move more smoothly and assists in self-lacing by holding the lacings firm.  In addition, it makes the corset look "finished" when the lacings are not totally closed.

Latex Raw material from which rubber is made; popular fetish material for corsets.

Liberty Bodice  "Liberty" was a trade name for corsetry produced by R.& H.W. Symington and Company.  Popular from the late 19c to the 1960s.  The "Liberty Bodice" was a boneless "training corset" for young girls (produced from 1908).

Long-Line Brassiére (Bra)  A bra that extends to the waist and is often used for figure shaping and-/or smoothing.

Merry Widow (1951) A (usually) non-lacing corset made by Warner's and named after Lehar's operetta. It had a half-cup bust support and long stocking suspenders. The term has come to be used to denote most any corset-like strapless long-line brassiere.

Metal “Mannequin” Mould (Metal Maiden) Dress stand of copper. Corsets when finished were starched and fitted on to these moulds and steamed from the inside to dry out "molded' to the mannequin's shape.

Modesty (Modesty-piece, Modesty Lace) An extra strip of material attached to the top or bottom of a corset with drawstring to adhere to contour of wearer; many times made of Galloon Lace.

"Neat Waist" Used by polite society during The Era to refer to a lady sporting a "properly" (tightly) worn corset.

"
New Look” A fashion introduced by Dior in 1947, which featured a narrow, nipped waist (often corsetted) and wide flaring skirts with crinoline propping.

Night Corset Since tightlace training requires consistent wear, devotees will wear a corset at night. It is usually a larger-waisted version than the daytime corset; alternatively, a wide belt is used to keep the organs in place until the next morning. Some will use a tightlacing ribbon corset for this, and for exercising as well.

Organdy The sheerest cotton fabric made; used in lightweight corsets in the late c19th.

Pannier  Outcropping to the sides of a dress or gown (narrow Farthingale)  c18 example - court gown

Panty Corselette  A full body corselette with under crotch fastening, especially popular in the 1960s.

Paste Sticky substance, usually made from flour and water, used to stiffen material for corsets and petticoats.

Peau de Sole A satin weave with matte finish--the classic cloth of formal gowns. Used in corsets to match c19th gowns.

Pelisse (early 1800s) A kind of overcoat    1812 example

Percale Fine white calico cloth.

Perineal Strap  Often attached to the corset, it is used to anchor the corset, as well as for securing napkins/towels both for menstruation and, on children, to prevent "exploration." The "perineum" is the area between the thighs, covering the vulva and anal parts.

Petitgrain  Similar to Grosgrain (above), but with a smaller, tighter appearance.

Petticoat   Undergarment worn as an underskirt beneath a skirt or dress. It is generally made of silk, satin, or synthetic fibers. Derived from an old French term petit cote, a petticoat was originally a man's undershirt but by the Middle Ages it had become a woman's padded undercoat. As the undercoat was replaced by the chemise, the petticoat became an underskirt that was tied round the waist with ribbons or tapes. Abandoned in early 19th-century dress, it was reintroduced in the 1840s, often made of linen, cotton, muslin, or other light fabrics, although heavier and warmer fabrics tended to be used in the winter. The popularity of the petticoat has declined during the 20th century although it was briefly popularized by Ralph Lauren in the 1970s and later by Vivienne Westwood with her ‘Buffalo Girl’ designs.

Petticoat Bodice (Camisole) A loose bodice worn over the corset (to protect it from soiling).

Petti-Knickers (Pettipants – U.S.)  A term used to describe the combination of knickers (bloomers) and a petticoat.

Pipe-Stem Waist  A style of corset where, at the narrowest point (waist), the circumference remains the same running for a vertical length of one-half to four inches; as opposed to a standard hourglass shape which gradually curves in at the waist then gradually curves out over the hips again, or a wasp shape, which curves sharply into the waist, and then sharply (dramatically) out again.  While now made as a single piece, at one time, novelty models came in two pieces, the inner, shorter (pipe component heavily boned about the waist, sometimes with lacing on up to all four sides; and the outer component, which was not boned in the area covered by the inner component, and less heavily boned above and below that middle area. 

Piquè (early c19th) A fabric with raised surface used in lightly boned corsets.

Placard (Stomacher) A shaped piece that covered corset front lacing.

Polonaise  A style of gown that features the skirt pulled to the sides to reveal the petticoat underneath.

"Pregnant Stay" (c19th) A corset which completely envelopes the body from the shoulders to below the hips and is elaborately boned so as to compress and reduce to the shape desired the natural prominence of the female figure in a state of fruitfulness.

Princess Petticoat   The combination of a camisole and a waist petticoat designed for wearing under the close-fitting Princess-line dresses named after Alexandra Princess of Wales.

Quilt, quilting Two layers of material, sometimes with padding in between, firmly held together by stitching--used to stiffen corsets and petticoats.

Ribbon Corset (c1904) A lightweight corset worn for sport or relaxation. Formed of horizontal elastic strips mounted on a shaped side seam, it encircles the waist and top of the hips, to give abdominal support.

Shaping-Bones (c18th) Extra strips of whalebone, etc., placed inside stays to give shape.

Spoon Busk (late c19th) (See "busk" as well) Busk that is "spoon shaped" at the bottom to provide additional compression and rigidity. Such a busk molds the body in such a way as to present a much thinner side-view when wearing a corset.  Originally used for heavier-framed women. Click here to see some examples.

"S"-Shape Corset (Edwardian style) (See "straight front corset")

Stays (a pair of) C17th and c18th term for the boned underbodice previously known as a "pair of bodies." The term persisted into the c19th but was more usually replaced by its French equivalent, the "corset." The term was also applied to the stiff inserts of whalebone or steel which shaped this garment.

Stem Waist (See "pipe-stem waist)

Stomacher (c16th) Garment consisting of a V-shaped panel of stiff material worn over the chest and stomach.

Straight-front Corset (Edwardian or "S"-Shape)  A style of corset where the front busk is perfectly straight (without bend), pushing the hips backwards  and thrusting the bosom forward.  Introduced in the first decade of the twentieth century as a "cure" for stylish tightlacing abuse, it soon was abused itself by women attempting to use IT for tightlacing and, because of its odd configuration (and thus rigorous demands), it soon proved to be more deleterious to the abuser than the standard corset! (Peak years 1904-5)

Swan-bill corset Worn under the cuirrasse bodice of 1876 and subsequent years, it featured long, front fastening busk, terminating below in a powerful curved end.

Tabs Tongue-shaped pieces of material obtained by slitting round the edge of a corset to give extra width; or separate pieces of similar shape attached to form a basque.

Tango Corset (c1914) Short, lightweight corset for dancing in, forerunner of the girdle.

Tightlacing The practice of applying corsetry to its extreme. Safe when done properly, but caution must be practiced. See "Embracing a Labour of Love." Of course, a tightlacer is one who practices such. Tightlacing was the subject of the Corset Controversy in the late c19th, as physicians and others debated the health ramifications of the propensity of many ladies to attempt to corset their way to very small waists, much in vogue then.

Torsolette  See “corselette.”

Tournure  A type of bustleBy 1869 the flounce frilled horsehair tournure dress improver or bustle was the undergarment to own to achieve the fashionable silhouette of the day. 
Example - 1872

To Truss To tighten upwards, e.g. shoulder straps on a corset.

Underskirt  A petticoat worn directly under the outmost layer and usually meant to show through; tends to be more ornate and colorful than underlying petticoats.

Vasquine (basquine) (c16th) Close-fitting bodice with tabs, or a basque, but in England the word has been used for a petticoat.

Viennese Belt  (see Austrian Belt) Usually of metal, this belt goes around the corset in order to help impose a round, rather than elliptical circle on the waist.  A variety of methods are used for tightening, but screws are the norm. Click here and here to see a modern example, and here for a schematic.

Waist Cincher  A type of corset that looks like a belt and is designed to narrow the waist with plastic stiffeners and elastic materials.

Waspie Term applied to the belt-like corsets of the late 1940s and 1950s.

Wasp Waist Small waist created by tightlacing. Term used by Mrs. Delaney in 1775, reappearing in the late 1820s and the 1890s, as well as the 1950s.

White canvas Used for theatrical corsets in order to give a strong character quality. 

TIME PERIODS

The Edwardian period occurred from 1901 to 1910, the reign of King Edward VII. It succeeded the Victorian period and is sometimes extended to include the period up to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the start of World War I in 1914, or even the end of the war in 1918.  Perhaps because of the king's fondness for travel, the period was marked by an enthusiasm for the art and fashions of continental Europe.

The Belle Époque (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in European history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I. Occurring during the time of the French Third Republic and the German Empire, the Belle Époque was considered a "golden age" as peace prevailed between the major powers of Europe, new technologies improved people's lives, and the commercial arts adopted modern forms.
In America, this approximate period was known as The Gilded Age.

The Victorian period marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Although commonly used to refer to the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901, scholars debate whether the Victorian period - as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians - actually begins with the passage of Reform Act 1832. The latter half of the Victorian era roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and other non-English speaking countries.

The Regency (sub)period occurred from 1811 to 1820, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, later George IV, was instated to be his proxy as Prince Regent. The term is often expanded to apply to the years between 1795 and 1837, a time characterized by distinctive fashions, politics and culture. In this sense it can be considered to be a transitional period between the Georgian and Victorian periods. +

The Georgian period is normally defined as including the reigns of the kings George I, George II, George III and George IV, i.e. covering the period from 1714 to 1830, Sometimes the reign of William IV (1830 to 1837) is also included.

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Rococo is a decorative era most commonly associated with very graceful age of the Marie Antoinette; largely characterized by shell-like curves and round decorativeness.

The Elizabethan (Tutor) period is the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and is often considered to be a golden age in English history. It was the height of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of English literature and poetry. This was also the time during which Elizabethan theatre flourished and William Shakespeare, among others, composed plays that broke away from England's past style of plays and theatre. It was an age of expansion and exploration abroad, while at home the Protestant Reformation became entrenched in the national mindset.



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