"the spare lace for my corset"

The corset (or ‘stays’) was an indispensable part of the Victorian woman’s wardrobe – certainly for those in the middle and upper classes. An undergarment made of cloth stiffened with boning, and sometimes decorated with lace or embroidery, the corset shaped a woman’s silhouette into a fashionable, usually curvy appearance, slimming the waist and exaggerating the bust and hips. Late-Victorian women often also wore a bustle – a framework worn at the back under the skirt to support its drapes and emphasise the hips and rear further, making the waist look even smaller. The corset was worn over a thin undershirt and fastened with hooks and eyes or buttons at the front and lace at the back. To achieve effect, the corset had to be very tightly laced which is impossible for the wearer, therefore ladies’ maids were usually in charge of lacing corsets. Wearing a corset over a long period of time can naturally reduce the waist size and, although primarily a ladies’ garment, they were also sometimes worn by men for their slimming effect. In the 19th century there were corsets made especially for activities such as horse-riding, cycling or playing tennis and a proper corset was always tailored specifically for its owner.

More information on Victorian fashion can be found here:

Fashion era - Victorian fashion

Victoriana Fashion

Victoria and Albert Museum