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Silk, cotton, probably steel

Sykes, Josephine and Co., London, UK

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Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, a smooth hourglass figure was regarded as the ideal shape. A slender waist was considered a symbol of status, youth and beauty.

This corset was designed by Sykes, Josephine and Company, an established corsetières of the late 19th century. Based on Regent Street, London, they were praised by contemporaries for their sensitive understanding of the female body.

Social Culture

A corset’s strips of whalebone follow the contours of the body, creating a rigid structure to mould the figure into a fashionable line.

By the 1890s, the popular association of beauty with severe waist curvature was regularly challenged by medical practitioners and reformers. This corset is relatively lightly constructed. Rather than constraint, it was probably intended to preserve the natural curvature of a woman’s waist through supportive emphasis. In fact, its straight busk relieved the pressure on the internal organs, while supporting the stomach.

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The latter half of the 19th century began with the prescriptive notion that respectable middle-class women’s corsets should be white. However, the advent of chemical dyes in the late 1850s gradually led to bright colours being fashionable in all aspects of dress. The magenta of this corset would have been seen as desirable and feminine, without morally negative connotations.

Craft Skills

Sykes, Josephine and Company were known for their innovations in corsetry and lingerie, winning awards at the 1876 Philadelphia International Exhibition and showing at the popular 1884 International Health Exhibition in London. Their used of ‘Krutoid’ is said to have made their corsets particularly comfortable.

Described by The Sketch in 1906, Krutoid is ‘silk woven so tightly as to give the appearance of very thick, soft suede. Cut in a certain way, ‘Krutoid’ is ideal for […] corsets […] it is made in several degrees of thickness, and while soft and supple, is by no means pliant or yielding, for in corsets that have been worn two years it is found not to stretch a hair’s-breadth.’

Bust and hip gusset inserts give this corset its distinctive shape. The neat rows of machine stitching are also characteristic of corsetry, creating a channel that encloses the strips of whalebone. A hook at the centre front is designed to attach to the petticoat, preventing it from riding up and ruining the smooth line.

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Learn More

To find out more about corsetry in the Victorian era, try Leigh Summers’ Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset (Oxford, 2001)