The corset was literally and figuratively the most defining female fashion of the Victorian era. The body underneath and the clothing above relied on the anatomy-shaping device to compress excess flesh or round out inadequate curves in hopes of attaining the ideal silhouette. This scarlet corset measures only seven inches tall, though it is constructed exactly like a full-scale version. Every element of a full-size corset is present, from tiny brass grommets for lacing to diagonal boning for shaping.
The origin of this petite corset is unknown. Possibly it was intended for a luxuriously dressed doll, or, more likely, it was a salesman's sample. Until the late nineteenth century, only demimondaines dared to wear colored satin corsets; white cotton was a more "respectable" choice. No matter what its original purpose, this flaming, beribboned undergarment represents the type of woman that Parisian corsetiѐre Ernest Léoty (active 1860s-1890s) praised as "a statuette of gracious fragility...but so seductive."1
Interested in nineteenth century corsets? We have many wonderful examples in our collection, including a blue satin corset and this black cotton sateen corset. Look forward to a forthcoming post on our late nineteenth century Jaeger wool corset!
1 From Le Corset à travers les ages (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1893) quoted in Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 55.