Can you imagine acrobatics in a corset? Neither can I. Still, there are some incredibly interesting photos out there of turn-of-the-century female circus acts who are clearly laced up (at least for the camera).
Photographed above: Emily Schadel, trapeze artist
(Scarlet Butterfly wearing a Wyte Phantom corset in one of her acts)
(Jennifer Garside of Wyte Phantom, modelling one of her own corsets)
Just curious though, we have stuff like spiral steel boning now which is way more flexible than flat steel. Would an acrobat’s corset be boned any differently back then? What would they use instead? Or was baleen/whalebone fairly flexible already?
While I couldn’t find the exact date that the original photo of Emily Schadel was taken, it was part of a collection of images between 1875 - 1940, and spiral steels definitely existed by 1890.
While at the Symington museum collections in England a couple of weeks ago, I was allowed to touch baleen and also the flat steel bones used in earlier corsets (bones of mild steel started being used in the 1830s/40s if I recall correctly). The flat bones were still remarkably thin and flexible, but I imagine they could bend/kink more easily.
One of the things that surprised me most about the antique corsets is how incredibly light they were. To modern standards they might have been called ‘flimsy’ but they were still constructed beautifully - and many came with a 12-month guarantee.
All of these things make me giddy. Also slightly envious, but even more ambitious!