In Part IV of The Ideal WWI Figure, let’s look at how women with full busts achieved support and the fashionable silhouette of the period.
- Part I: The Ideal WWI Figure: a range of Ideals
- Part II: Breaking Down the Elements that Made the ‘Ideal’ figure
- Part III: The Changing Ideal Figure, 1913-1921
One of the most common questions I get asked about the Rilla Corset is how to wear it/what you do for bust support if you are very full busted, as it sits below the bust.
To answer that question, let’s go back to the source, and look at period accounts, illustrations, and extant examples of bust supporting garments. There is no better way to find out how to support your bust then to see how it was actually done in period.
As we’ve seen from looking at the figure ideals in the 1910s over the last three posts in the series, the ideal WWI bust, whether small or big, was low and drooping, rather than high and perky, as is the modern bust ideal.
This makes the WWI era attitude to bust support quite different to modern attitudes. Today we try to lift the bust and make it sit out from the body, and we support the bust in part from the shoulders, to hold it as high as possible.
Keeping your bust comfortable, while letting it sit as low as possible, requires a totally different type of undergarments, and a totally different type of bust support: one dependent on compressing your bust, rather than lifting and hanging it from the shoulders.
The first important layer in bust support in the 1910s is the chemise or combinations. Some advertisements show chemises like this one: soft, flimsy little things like this, that would provide almost no support:
While the one above will do almost nothing in the way of bust support, the right chemise or combination, such as #2 shown in the advertisement below, made out of slightly heavier fabric (a sturdy lawn rather than a fragile voile) can provide a lot of support. Wearing History has a nearly identical combination pattern.
The winter alternative to a chemise was the knitted, elasticated union suit, which, just like a very firm singlet camisole of knit fabric, or a very light sports bra, will provide some amount of support.
Over the chemise or the union suit goes the corset, and that can also help a lot with bust support. The most important thing to keep in mind when making a WWI era corset is that it should NOT lift your bust. The ideal bust is as low as possible, so the corset either needs to sit completely below the bust, so it can’t lift it up, or widen out enough so that the bust sits down in the corset.
Note the description of the corset for this 1916 Gossard’s corset ad for the ‘Ideal Large Above the Waist figure’: “models with special deep gores in the front that lower bust”:
With a sturdy chemise/combination pulled snugly down into a well fitted corset, which has room for the bust to sit down into the front fullness in the corset, many women, even with larger busts, will find they have enough support to feel comfortable.
The amount of support given will definitely not be as much as we’re used to with modern bras, but that is period correct. Even as a barely-B cup I found not wearing a bra quite disconcerting for the first few days of wearing purely 1910s clothes for my Fortnight in 1916 experiment, but I quickly got used to it, and found the undergarments quite comfortable. Other women who have tried it have reported similar things, with the largest-busted women I’ve spoken to who finds just chemises and corsets perfectly supportive is upwards of an E cup (actual E, not DD).
If you don’t feel comfortable with just a chemise and corset, or if you’re trying to achieve the most fashionable figure possible, the in-period solution was a firm, structured garment which went over the corset, supporting and compressing the bust into the most desirable shape.
These could be called, variously: brassieres, bandeaus, bust correctors, bust confiners, bust forms, and dress forms (very similar looking devices for adding to the bustlines of less-well endowed ladies, like the central ‘Nature’s Rival’ model above, were also called brassieres, bust correctors, bust forms, as well as bust distenders (!), bust improvers, and bust enhancers).
I’ll use brassieres as a general catch-all term for the rest of this post.
Early-mid 1910s brassieres which provided maximum shaping and support were princess seamed garments of firm fabric, generally with flat felled seams to provide some structure, and often with additional boning.
Here is a front-buttoning example from Abiti Antichi, with back lacing which provides flexibility in sizing:
If you want to make your own, HistoricallyDressed has provided a pattern taken from an original period example, or a reasonable make-do version could be hacked from any well-fitted-to-your figure princess seamed bodice pattern.
For support with less structure, catalogues also show simple rectangles of fabric gathered or pleated into boned side seams, to provide compression and support in a different way.
In contrast to the boned and shaped brassieres shown above, brassieres from this period could be extremely delicate and provide very little additional support, even in large sizes. This example from my collection is made for someone with a 40″-44″ bust measure, but has no shaping other than that provided by beaded ribbon drawstrings, and is made of fine silk.
As the 1910s progressed and the fashionable bust became smaller, the most structured and confining brasseries changed from garments with distinctly curved princess seams, to less shaped garments which were firmly focussed on bust compression.
This example is dated to ca 1915 by Kent State, but would have been fashionable throughout the later 1910s, and very helpful in achieving the flatter look favoured in the second half of the 1910s
This very similar brassier has been dated to the 1920s-30s, but is probably from between 1917-1924. The quilted stitching on the bust bodice would assist in creating the correct shape and form:
Note the hooks on both of those brassieres, which would clip to the corset worn with the brassier to keep it firmly in place.
These would help to compress and flatten the bust, achieving the straighter, waistless, bustless figure favoured at the very end of the 1910s, while providing support to a larger bust. None of them, however, completely obliterate the bust.
From the very curved, boned early 1910s styles, to the chest-flatterning early-20s bandeaus of these examples can be worn with the Rilla corset or similar 1910s styles.
If you do 1910s impressions a lot, what do you do for bust support?
Has anyone else tried wearing just a chemise and 1910s style corset for extensive periods of time and how did you find? Did you ever get used to the bra-less feeling? It took me two days to get used to it, but once I did it felt quite natural and comfortable.