The 1790s "Jane Austen Goes to Ikea" Gown - The Corset

Mar 17, 2017 11 comments
Ikea does it again - Ingmarie curtains >>
This year is 1790s year.

After completing all the book projects, Abby and I can finally settle into share-able projects. Both of us are mad for the 1790s after studying and re-creating various pieces for the '90s Round Gown chapter, so we've decided to explore further.

I'm making an open robe with a gathered bodice and long sleeves, to be worn over an embroidered white-work petticoat.

My sketch for the back of the gown.

I have three new pieces to make for this costume - the corset, petticoat, and gown itself. The corset was a quick project - two layers of linen with very little boning, lacing in front. I based my design on garments shown in Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century (the KCI book), Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen, and Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh.

My simple two-piece pattern for the '90s corset
The term "corset" or "corsette" existed throughout the 18th century, appearing to describe semi-boned, quilted, or stiffened bodices worn instead of stays. In the '90s there's a shift altogether from stiffly boned stays towards softer, lighter corsets, or stiffened bodices, that created a more natural bust shape while still lending support.

World, 1789 - "The French Corsett"
"Patent and [other] riding habit, elastic stay and corset maker, to which [her] Majesty and the Princesses have been pleased to express their most gracious approbation." - The Morning Post and Fashionable World, 1797                                                                  

"Corsettes about six inches long, and a buffon tucker of two inches high, are now the only defensive paraphernalia of our fashionable belles, between the necklace and the apron strings" - The Times, 1795

Interestingly, many of the 1790s corsets were still to-the-waist and many still had tabs. In experimenting with short and long stays, I've found that the waist length actually effects the bust and how it is raised, supported, or separated (later on). It's boob engineering - the boning in the front of 1790s and early Regency corsets cantilevers off the stomach at the bottom to stay close to the sternum at the top.

A quick try-on. The bust is low and full and round, unlike the high, compressed busts of earlier and later silhouettes.

The corset is bones at the center and side back all the way down into the "tail."
The corset vs. stays has been a bit of a mind melt for me. My inner staymaker wanted this garment to be stiff, with no wrinkles, but 1790s corsets were soft, form fitting, but not *tight* the way stays were. The point is not to reduce the waist but instead to support the bust, so lacing the corset loosely is key. Additionally, the shoulder straps and bustline drawstrings both play important roles - the shoulder straps keep the corset up and pulled in at the very wide side of the bust and the drawstrings on each side pull the sides in further, to eliminate gapping. I've also constructed my shoulder straps in an 18th century posture-correcting configuration seen on several extant pairs, such as these late 18th century stays from the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Stays, late 18th c., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1998-162-50 
My '90s stays complete and laid out flat. They're not perfect, but they get the job done.
With the corset done, it's on to the gown. More on that soon...!


  1. That's fascinating! Thank you for filling us in on one of those elusive in-between transitional periods. I honestly had no idea that the word "corset" went further back than the 19th century, and your details on shape and fit give so much fun detail. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! Corset/corsette goes back even further than the couple quotes I posted. Abby has a whole folder with newspaper clips back into the 1770s, but what the term kindof shifts around with the meaning.

  2. I was just in IKEA on Sunday and saw these and said to myself, "Hey, that looks like an 18th print! I need to research that." Cn't wait to see the finished ensemble.

    1. Definitely! The print is quite large and uses grey in place of black or brown for the stems. The weave of the fabric is loose-ish, so it wouldn't work so well for 1770s or 80s, especially with the scale of the print, but it's a good '90s fabric. Large motifs came back into fashion for a bit as well, so that's why I went with it.

  3. Is it supporting the bust at all? How low is it hitting. Seems to be just hugging the ribcadge?
    I'm curious as I've modified Georgian stays to wear with my 1790s gowns but they come to the bust point. (but then I'm a 34f with a 28" waist so my fitting issues are quite extreme).

  4. Beautiful work, close enough to perfect
    Having a large bust myself, I know that support from the waist is very helpful. The longer the better.

  5. OMG I bought this back in January and turned it into a Georgian Gown to wear to The Revolution event in Huntington Beach last month! When I get around to blogging about it I'll have to share it with you! Can't wait to see how your's turned out! :)

  6. I bought an 1823 dictionary which has corslet defined as "a light armour for the breast" which I think is a pretty cool description haha

  7. Looking forward to your 1790s gowns. I was tempted to try one with the IKEA Ljusoga, but did not have an event or contingent.

  8. YAAAASSSS. So much cantilevering off the lower half of the torso. It's hard to explain, and most people look at me wonky when I try.

    1. To be fair, I get the wonky looks most of the time anyways.


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