The wasp-waisted lady in the above picture is Polaire, a French actress. She was famous for being quite ugly, but with her waist corseted down to a microscopic 14 inches, she was the belle of the ball. Achieving a waist like this was no simple feat (as explained in this post). To properly train their waists, a few fashion -conscious Victorian and Edwardian women didn’t just wear corsets in public; they wore them to bed, too!
“When the eventual size is decided upon, three pairs of corsets are made, one for ordinary wear, one for special occasions, and another for night wear.” –Wikipedia
During the 1890s and early 1900s, tight lacing became fashionable and some ladies opted to wear their corsets at night to achieve and maintain a smaller waist more quickly. But sleeping in a stiff day corset was uncomfy, making for a cranky Victorian socialite the next day. Night corsets had been around for decades, but they offered full coverage, similar to day corsets. Models, tight-lacers, or the fashionable elite needed a respite from the restraint of daily corsets in order to get a good night’s sleep while still looking pretty. To address this, turn of the century ladies turned to fashionable night corsets made of fine, fancy ribbon.
Ribbon Waist Cincher Corset, circa 1905
“The ribbon corset is made of pieces of ribbon, as opposed to fabric. In 1901, a simple pattern of silk ribbon, two bones, and a busk was available, allowing women to construct their own ribbon corsets.” –Wikipedia
These light waist cinchers were more like wide belts, serving to hug the figure rather than reduce it. This kept the waist from expanding too far– possibly undoing years worth of reduction work– while allowing the lady some breathing room. Ribbon corsets are also quite beautiful and were often made of fine embroidered silk or satin, elevating them beyond mere undergarments to lingerie status. I’m sure husbands appreciated the softness of ribbon just as much as their wives did!
Sultry silk satin ribbon corsets were worn in the boudoir while other made of sturdy cotton tape made sporting activities much easier. The minimal boning and flat profile also made a ribbon cincher easier to hide under filmy lawn dresses than a longer, fully-boned corset. By 1910, fashion began to turn away from the extreme hourglass to the Empire silhouette reminiscent of Regency fashions. The corset never really disappeared, though. Ladies who had trained their figures for their entire lives still used shapers to keep their waists trim well into the 1960s, until corsets were replaced by fashionable new girdles. These lovely corsettes, however, are still as beautiful as ever and are very, very wearable!
Sidney Eileen offers a comprehensive, step-by-intense-step on how to craft your own custom ribbon corset, just like Edwardian fashionistas did 100 years ago! You can find the 4 part tutorial here, with plenty of large pictures, to help you:
If sewing isn’t your forte, there are plenty of telented seamstresses that are making delightfully decadent ribbon corsets even as you read this! One fine corsetiere offering sturdy ribbon corsets is Desert Orchid Corsets. These fine creations feature heavy boning paired with soft satin ribbon to help keep your waist in check.
If you’re looking for something a little less constricting with a pop of personality, HoneyCoolerHandmade on Etsy makes lightly boned ribbon cinchers starting at $105.
Perfect for those times when you’re feeling a little saucy! Oops! My dress just happened to “accidentally” fall off. ;)
Find out more about tight lacing practices in the 19th and 20th Centuries in my post Wasp Waists: The Ultimate Thin