Corsets in the 19th century

Okay, Amy. What's happening with you and Charlotte the maid in the 1800s. You've been too quiet the past few days.


Did you tell George, the gentleman who's interested in Charlotte that there's no way he should see her again because she's a maid and below his accepted social class?  No? Okay. Figured as much.  Surprise me.

Charlotte made herself a beautiful  corset?

And she's styling her hair differently?

Yeah, and she told me today that she had a dream about George. About kissing him. And in the dream her hand had all its fingers, just as if the injury in the factory in England never happened to her.

But it did. And now you have both Charlotte and George interested in one another. Gotta give it to you, Amy ... you've gotten them connected (with lies upon lies). 
What did the lady of the house say about George kissing Charlotte's hand when they were in the parlour the other day? When she thought Charlotte was just going as your chaperone?

She thinks he was being super forward, but polite.
I know I have to talk to her soon. I figure I'll tell her the truth when George is so hot for Charlotte that he'll never let her go. No matter what.

Tomorrow, me, Charlotte and George are going to the theatre in George's carriage. I'm looking forward to it cause I'm like, so sick of reading and doing needlepoint and stuff. Maybe I'll talk to the lady of the house when we get home. You gotta stop worrying so much.


It's so much more than that. You could end up making Charlotte lose her job with the family you live with. She would lose her room in the house. It could damage her reputation, and that would be a terrible thing for her to deal with in the 19th century. 

It was in the 16th century when corsets first became a fashionable undergarment, increasing in popularity until the Victorian era, where you now live. In the early 1800s, the corset was worn mainly to support the breasts, but around 1830 it also became a waist narrower.
It won't be until 1890 when machine-made corsets become popular, most being handmade until that time. In the mid 1800s, the silhouette of the time is a definite hourglass shape for women. And it will also be during this time that concerns of too-cinched waists will come to the forefront, including concerns by doctors. 
It will be during the First World War (1914 to 1918) when the U.S. War Industries Board will ask women to stop purchasing corsets due to the need for metal at the time. (Corsets were being made using steel wire). 

From around 1920 to 1960 girdles will become important as a means to enhance the shape of a woman's body, most extending from the waist to the upper thigh area. Especially around 1950 when a wide skirt is popular with a narrow waist, the demand for girdles will increase incredibly. 
Even though body shapers are worn in the 21st century and corsets are still available, the uncomfortable constricted waist of days gone by have fortunately gone out of style for every day use.

What to wear to a masquerade ball

Hi, Amy. Since it's only a few days to the big event, the masquerade ball, I'm wondering how everything's going. 
Charlotte, the maid (turned full-time seamstress) has finished all three gowns? One for the lady of the house, one for you and one for herself? Wow. What a lot of work. So, you did it; you totally convinced Charlotte to let you sneak her, an uninvited domestic servant, into the ball. 

Sure. I'd love to take a look at the gowns.


This is what the lady of the house will be wearing? Very pretty. Love the fan. And Charlotte the maid WHO IS TOTALLY NOT INVITED? What did she create for herself to wear?

Beautiful. Simple, stylish and, tasteful. I think I'm ready to see what you coerced Charlotte into making for you. Let me take a long breath first. Okay ... ready.


Maybe I'm not as ready as I thought.

Excuse me for a sec while I get that image out of my brain.

What's the matter with it? Doesn't it seem a little Drama Queenish? Everyone will be staring at you.

That's what you're hoping? Okay, I give up. We'll see how it turns out. I can hardly wait.

Masquerade Balls


Honestly, Amy, how many times have I told you that it's not a good idea to read a scary book late at night? What is it this time?

The Murders of the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe?
You found the book outside?
Okay, put in down for a minute and let me know if you've uncovered more information about the upcoming ball.

It's a masquerade ball? You've devised a plan so both you and Charlotte can go? 

I'm not sure how dumb you think I am, but I know for certain that Charlotte, the maid, will in no way be going to this masquerade ball.
A domestic servant in the 19th century would simply not be invited to a popular ball. 

Sounds to me like you’ve been reading Cinderella. Maybe you should stick with the scary stuff.

Okay, so you spoke with the lady of the house. You told her you would absolutely luuuv to go to the ball? You practically begged? And she finally agreed to hire a new maid temporarily so Charlotte will have the time to complete the gown for her ... and then sew a whole new ballgown for you?
Wow. I'm sure that took some pretty "creative"  persuasion.

And then you're planning on convincing the lady of the house that the new maid should stay permanently? Then, you're going to suggest that Charlotte become a Lady's Companion just for you? And the cat?

First of all, you're thinking way too far ahead - Charlotte can't possibly go to the ball. Yes, I realize she'll be wearing a mask so no one will even realize who she is. What's that? She'll be wearing gloves so no one will even notice she's missing two fingers on her left hand? You'll stuff something into the two finger shafts of the gloves? You have it all figured out? 

Ahuh. Maybe you should also figure out just how Charlotte will be able to afford buying the massive amount of material she will need to create her own gown - she's going to have to sew a gown for herself, right?

During the  middle ages, masquerade balls, or Carnival, began after the winter solstice, around January 1st, as part of the Feast of Fools, particularly in France.
In 17th century Italy, masquerade balls were elaborate affairs held for the upper classes, especially in Venice.
Masquerade balls existed in London, England, in the 18th century. but Carnival held in Paris in the 19th century formed the most amusing, and even political, celebrations of all. These balls had origins in the pagan festivities held in honour of the advent of spring planting season.

In the mid 1800s, when you currently exist, it is acceptable and expected during a masquerade ball for the guests to initiate a conversation with a statement such as, "Do you know me?" 

Here's something interesting for you to think about while you're stuck in the 19th century, Amy:
A prominent masquerade ball for the rich and famous will be held on November 28, 1996, beginning at 10:00 p.m., in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Hosted by the author Truman Capote, (Breakfast at Tiffany's, In Cold Blood) and planned by him, the lavish affair will be named The Black and White Ball. It will include a midnight meal for the 500 guests, including 450 bottles of champagne. Tables will be decorated with white candles secured in gold candelabras. Men will be required to wear tuxedos, and women will be required to wear either black or white formal dresses; all guests must wear masks until midnight. There will be, of course a live band. It will end in the wee hours of the next morning.

Zippers in the 19th century


You've been quiet lately, Amy.

Be that as it may, I'm wondering about Charlotte, the new maid. How's she doing with sewing the gown for the lady of the house, as well as keeping up with the housework - with two fingers missing on her left hand no less!

She gets up way before anyone else in the house?
Yeah, it's pretty normal in the 19th century for servants to get up early and work late. It's just the way it is for hired domestic staff, I'm afraid.

You walked into town with her this morning? She needed to buy a LOT of buttons for the gown? And then you laughed and told her to just to buy a zipper, dummy? And she had no idea what you were talking about?
Whoa. Remember the century you're in, Amy. 
The word zipper would make no sense to anyone. You might be considered a little wonky talking about such things.

You need to be careful about what you say or reveal about future inventions.

And I don't think friends went around calling one another dummy back then either

In 1851 Elias Howe went out and got a patent for what he called an "Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure", although he didn't put his heart into marketing it.
It won't be until 1893 when Whitcomb Judson will present to the world his invention, the "Clasp Locker" through his business, the Universal Fastener Company.

The Clasp Locker by Judson will be seen by the public for the first time at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, but will see little success.

It won't be until 1901 when Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American electrical engineer is hired to work for Judson's company (now called the Fastener Manufacturing and Machine Company) that an improved zipper will be constructed. Sundback will devote himself to create a reliable fastener and by December 1913 will have designed the modern zipper. In 1917, he will receive a patent for his "Separable Fastener".

In the years to come, Sundback, an American, will retain non-US rights and use these when he arrives in Canada, setting up a Canadian Firm called the Lightning Fastener Company in Ontario.

In the 1930s, a campaign will be launched featuring zippers in the clothing of children. Advertised especially to parents, this campaign will praise zippers to attract sales, promoting an easy way for children to learn to dress themselves.

Sewing in the 19th century

Hey, Amy. You awake? I only have a quick question for you.

Uh, yeah, sure. Funny. (Not really).


I'm just curious about this whole business about Charlotte sewing a ball gown for the lady of the house. I think that's really going beyond her position as a maid, if she has to hand stitch it and all.

I'm wondering how she feels about it. Where will she ever find the time? According to Godey's Lady's Book, it takes at least ten hours to sew the simplest of a child's dress by hand, so just imagine creating a gown.

No, I'm pretty sure sewing machines haven't been invented for every day use yet, but I'll check.

The first workable sewing machine was patented in 1790 by Thomas Saint, a British inventor.  In 1830, a tailor in France, Barthelemy Thimonnier, took out a patent for the first  sewing machine that consisted of a hook-tipped needle, similar to an embroidery needle that produced a chain stitch. 
It wasn't until 1851 though, that Isaac Singer, an American inventor, businessman and wannabe actor, made crucial improvements to the design of the sewing machine, including the first rigid-arm machine. 

sew machine 2.jpg

In the mid 1800s, when you currently live, a sewing machine in the home is considered a luxury.
Isaac Singer has already made his fortune, and has recently retired. The Singer Company, though, is on a course of mass marketing that will see it become the largest sewing machine seller in the world. 
It won't be until the 1870s when sewing machines will become more of the norm in Canadian households. Refined technology will allow for the purchase of a reliable machine at a good price.
So, it looks like Charlotte may be hand stitching the entire gown after all.