"the laces of her corset"
Corset advertisement (1896)
Public DomainCorset advertisement (1896) - Credit: Thomson

During the Victorian era, women's underwear was a complicated business.

Underneath a dress, a woman would wear drawers, a chemise, a corset, and a petticoat (or petticoats). Chemise and drawers could also be worn combined, in a garment known as combinations.

Corsets were worn over the chemise and drawers, and either above or below the petticoat/s. They were made of cloth, stiffened with boning (sometimes known as ribs or stays) which were made out of whalebone (also known as baleen*), cane or steel.

The purpose of corsets was to support the breasts and constrict the size of the waist. They could be laced at the back (which required help from someone else) or fastened at the front.

Click here to view a selection of 'hour-glass' corsets.

* material obtained from the upper jaw of the baleen whale