Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is it Really Necessary? Of Corset is!

Corsetry often proves to be a problem for museums that do costumed interpretation.  Volunteers and museum staff who are eager to teach history to the public may or may not be eager to lace up a garment that's been demonized for centuries.  It can be a little unnerving, and it can take some getting used to!

At Clermont, we do our share of costumed interpretation, and we have been lucky to be able to cajole our staff into the appropriate corsets and stays.  Actually, quite a number of our staff have been curious or even downright excited to try on their first steel-boned undergarment.  And on the opposite end of the spectrum, one or two have presented some pretty good reasons why they need to go without.  We are grateful to our skilled volunteers and staff so we try to find the best solution for each person.

So is it really necessary?  Is corsetry really worth all this effort?

Of course it is!

Presenting the most accurate costumes we are capable of means a long process of learning and replicating each detail--from the right corset to the right ruffle.  It's an ongoing process, and it's part of our commitment (and a museum's purpose) to interpret history accurately.

That means not just putting our staff in any old corset, but making sure they have the right one for their time period.  Just as the shape of the skirts changed the silhouette every decade or so throughout the past two centuries, the shape of the torso (and the foundations underneath) changed too.

Just like most women today have given up the iconic "bullet bra" of the 1950s, women of the past were conscious that an out-of-date corset would make them look out of date too, as shown in the 1901 corset ad below at left.  Much more important than just compressing the waist, corsets "corrected" the figure, pushing bust, waist, and hips into a fashionable configuration.

So for each era of costume that Clermont interprets, we have purchased or made the right gowns and the right corsets.

It's taken us 10 years to get where we are, and we've decided to share what we've learned so far.  To that end, we'll be hosting a lecture entitled Corsets: Building Fashion from the Inside Out on March 14, 2015 at the beautiful and historic Hudson Opera House at 2:30pm.  Three live models will demonstrate what a different a corset can make--even without tight lacing--in the look of an historical costume, and Clermont's costume historian Kjirsten Gustavson will give an illustrated talk about the changes corsets underwent during the two centuries that Clermont was the home of the Livingston family.

Please call early.  Clermont's costume lectures often sell out!  (518) 537-4240

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