One of the things that make corsets so wonderful was what lay beneath it… No, not (just!) the lady, but her other unmentionables!
For practical reasons, a simple shift or chemise was worn beneath a corset, lessening the necessity for washing the corset as well as keeping the corset from rubbing against the skin. (The word “slip” wouldn’t readily appear until the 1910s.) Chemises and shifts with boning, stays, and padding were also available for those who did not opt to wear a corset. Shorter shifts were often called shirts, and these were often paired or even sewn together with drawers or bloomer — then often called “combination” undergarments. Bloomers became a necessity when the cage skirts became the rage.
Shifts, chemises, shirts and bloomers were most often cotton, percale and muslin, or a very sheer batiste linen. Perhaps with a bit of lace adorning it — if the lady could afford it. Even if very simple shifts, these are far more lovely, in my opinion, than the “tubes” or “liners” worn beneath corsets today.
But, of course, some were so laden with lace, at least in the right places, the corset nearly seemed to ooze it. The lacy bits which frothed over the corset or were called lappets. (Although the corsets themselves often had lace at the bodice as well; in this photo it is hard to tell…)
Of course, what went over a corset could also be lovely too. These pretty but practical pieces of lingerie also protected a corset from wear. Those “tops” which covered the bodice were once called corset covers, under-waists, petticoat bodices, or cache-corsets; the forerunners of the today’s camisole.
And then the petticoats, layers of them usually, went over the corset as well. Some of these were “layers”, and others actually provided shaping, with bustles, hoops and cages.
Things would change in the Edwardian period, and more again in the era of the Flapper; but that’s another post.
Ah, but once there were so many lovely layers to slowly peel away… The literal layers revealing not only her figure but representing the figurative ones of a woman’s mysteries.
I find myself more than a bit wistful, wishing contemporary corsetiers offered such accoutrement. Corset Connection has a lovely contemporary version, Fairy Gothmother has some pretty blouses to go with corsets, and Somnia Romantica by Marjolein Turin has this stunning corset cover in black… But that’s about it unless you go with those who make period pieces.