A Mini Dictionary of Corset Terminology
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Tidbits : A Mini Dictionary of Corset Terminology

In response to the many letters and emails I get from people asking about corsets and what things are, I have prepared a little corset dictionary containing most of the terminology you will come across when dealing with antique corsetry or making your own period accurate corsets. I have not included modern corset terms like "hip spring", corselettes, etc, everything is datelined to pre 1920.
It is by no means complete and will be updated as I think of new terms. By all means, please feel free to send me some more or correct any that I have listed!

In the meantime, I hope you all find this useful....

Bone(s): Also known as a stay or stays. Used for stiffening the seams of a corset. This generic term can be apply to "bones" made out of any material such as whalebone (baliene), watchspring, steel, spiral steels, featherboning, etc.

Types of bones:
  • Featherboning: A trade name for a patented boning manufacturing process made since 1884, and was a substitute for whalebone. Featherboning is literally made from feathers by using the shaft or stem of a feather or several feathers to make a long continuous "bone" which can be cut to whatever length is needed.
  • Spiral steels (or boning): A flexible steel bone or stay invented in the US in 1904 by Mr. "Pa" Beaman, where the metal is literally arranged in a flat spiral pattern.
  • Watchspring: A specially tempered steel which was very flexible. Due to it's flexibility, it became a popular material to bone corsets with. Also used to make cage crinolines with.
  • Rustproof Boning: Before stainless steel, women in the late 19th and early 20th century had problems with the stays in their corsets rusting. As a soulution, manufacturers such as Warner's, came up with the idea of "Rust Proof" or "Rustless" stays whereby a normal watchspring bone was covered in thick paper

Busk: A long stiff bone at the front of the corset that helps to keep it rigid. Early corsets up to 1860 used a straight rigid busk which could be made out of whalebone, ivory, metal or wood. These were sometimes ornately decorated and were inserted down the center slot of the corset. Later 19th century corsets and onwards use a "divided" busk, which although was invented during the 1830's, did not come into general use until the 1860's. The divided busk is made out of spring steel with loop fastenings on the right side and studs on the left side.

Busk Hook: An upside down "hook" found mostly on the busks of late 19th century corsets from France or French made corsets. The hook was used to anchor the waistbands of petticoats and other underwear down to prevent it from riding up and creating bulk at the waist. Another use for the busk hook was for those who tied the excess ends of the corset lace around their waist, to anchor it underneath the hook to stop it from digging in and wearing the fabric at the waist.

Cording: A method of stiffening a corset in which a cord made from cotton or other fibres is inserted into a corset instead of traditional bones. Each line of cording would be stitched into it's casing. Cording provides a firm yet flexible alternative to traditional boning and was often used as a "healthy" alternative in 19th century corsets. Warner's patented their own form of corset cording in 1873 when they invented Coraline, a cord made from the fibers of the Mexican Ixtle plant. (See Trapunto Work)

Coutil: A very sturdy and crisp fabric with a marked herringbone pattern. Made from twisted yarns of cotton. A traditional and common corset fabric.

Curved busk: A popular spring steel busk in the second half of the 19th century. A curve creaties an indentation in the upper stomach at waist level, then flares out and over the abdomen. A curved busk gave a place for the displaced flesh from the waist to go to.

Eyelet: A small hole, often handworked, on early corsets up to 1860. Used for lacing up the corset. (See French Holes and Grommet)

French Holes: An ivory or bone reinforced eyelet hole sometimes seen on early 19th century corsets.

Flossing: Embroidery found on the bone casings of a corset. Flossing reinforced bone casings preventing bones from fraying and working their way out, and provided decoration for a corset.

Girdle: Although most associated with later 20th century figure control garments, it was also a term at the turn of the century for a short corset which controlled the waist only.

Grommet: A metal reinforced eyelet hole used for lacing up corsets. First used in the late 1820's on corsets and then in common use for the Victorian era. (See French Holes)

Plush: A soft, furry fabric sometimes found at the back of busks, espeically in silk ribbon corsets for comfort.

Ribbon corset: A short corset popular at the turn of the century made out of strips or ribbon. This style of corset controlled the waist only and was popular amongst slim women who did not need or want the support of a full corset. Silk ribbons were popular for negligee use while sturdier ribbons made out of twills and linens were used for sporting use. Another variation on the Ribbon corset is the Skeleton corset which still uses ribbons as the main body of the corset but has them spaced further apart.

Sateen: A cheap, alternative for expensive satin made from closely woven cotton. Has a lustrous, smooth satin-like appearance. A popular fabric for corsets in the 19th and early 20th century and was sometimes used with coutil in corsets as a lovely contrast.

Spoon Busk: A pear shaped curved busk invented around 1873. The curved pear shape flared over the abdomen giving it more support and was favored by larger ladies who found it more comfortable.

Stays: Another term for "boning". Also the old fashioned name for a corset. Generally, corsets up to the mid 19th century are know as "stays" although the term was and is still used to describe corsets in general. Stays prior to 1800 were conical in shape, extremely stiff and heavily boned. Stays of the first half of the 19th century were soft and high waisted.

Straight Busk: A perfectly straight busk which became popular around 1900. It was thought to be healthier than a curved busk as it did not press on any internal organs. (See Straight Front corsets).

Straight Front corset: Also know as the S-bend corset. A style of corset which became popular about 1900. The straightfront front corset used a perfectly straight busk and diagonal seams to mold the figure into an "S" shape by thrusting the bust out forward and pushing the hips backward.

Summer Corset: A corset made out of a lacey lightweight cotton or linen mesh. Popular with Victorian and Edwardian ladies, the mesh provided some ventilation during the hot weather.

Trapunto Work: A method of quilting in which a pattern is outlined with a single line of sewing, then filled in with cotton or wool to give it a raised effect. Trapunto work is often seen in late Georgian and Regency corsets, and was a popular way to decorate a pair of stays, giving it a corded affect. Trapunto work also stiffened the corset slightly and gave some degree of figure support. (See Cording)

Waist Tape: Also known as a Stay Tape. A horizontal tape sometimes made from a twill often found at waist level inside a corset. This is used to take some of the strain of the corset and prevent it from stretching out of shape.

All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic