19th Century, What I wear

The ‘Madame Monet’ underbust corset

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

The inspiration for this corset was Claude Monet’s portrait of his wife, Camille, in a kimono against a background of Japanese fans, reflecting the mania for all things Japanese that was sweeping Europe in the wake of Japan’s opening to the West.

La Japonaise, Madame Monet en costume japonais, 1876, MFA Boston

La Japonaise, Madame Monet en costume japonais, 1876, MFA Boston

I’ve like way the underbust corset echos both an obi and the Western fashions of the 1870s, playing on the influences in Monet’s painting.  And I love the fabric I chose and the way it also echoes the blend of East and West: using traditional Japanese motifs and weaving techniques for a fabric that was intended for the very Western practice of quilt making.

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

I lined the corset in some fabric left over from my  Ice Cream Banana blouse, and bound it with some vintage polished cotton.  I wish the front busk was gold, to match the gilding on the fabric and the gold grommets and aiglets, but gold busks are almost twice the price of silver, and take weeks to order in.

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

For the photoshoot I pinned all of my Japanese fans to the wall to mimic Monet’s painting, put on a 3/4 length black silk kimono and a LBD, and did my hair in my best  deshabille  1870s bun.

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

I’m wearing the corset quite loosely laced because I’m still finding it a tiny bit difficult to breath properly after being sick.

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

I have a newfound respect for Camille Monet after posing for these pictures.  The arm and fan angle in Monet’s painting are really awkward to hold, and craning my neck back like that gave me a terrible crick in it, and I only had to hold that pose long enough for the camera to snap a few shots!  Poor Camille, even if Monet was working from a photograph (something we know some Impressionist painters did, especially with portraits), standing in that pose for the length of time required with 1870s photographic technology would have been no picnic!

At first I played with making my photos more ‘impressionistic’, but since I photographed against the plain background, there was nothing to blur but me, which rather ruins the point of a garment post!  Instead I’ve sharpened them slightly, to give a bit of an  ukiyo-e  ‘floating world’ effect.

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric:  .5 metres of Japanese fan-print barkcloth ($5), .5 metres of cotton voile left over from the yellow challenge ($3), 1m coutil for flat lining (been in my stash so long I can’t remember what I paid for it).

Pattern:  My own

Year:  2011

Notions:  Corset busk, spring steel boning, feather boning, corset laces, aigletes, grommets, binding ($65)

And the insides?  Practically reversible

Hours to complete:  6, stretched over 6 weeks

Total cost:  $73

The 'Madame Monet' underbust corset


  1. Usually I don’t care for crazy patterned fabrics, but you have good taste in them! I have a weakness for all things oriental in style, anyway, but even with the black and white dress that you made not too long ago, I would have never thought to pick up that fabric, yet you turned it into something amazing. Also, I love your collection of fans!

    P.S. Maybe you should make that beautiful Kimono next year. 🙂

  2. Your passion for this style of sewing/clothing is faultless – I am in awe of your creativity and skill at matching fabric to style/pattern. Beautiful, and the photo shoot looks like it was challenging, but an extreme amount of fun…J

  3. Lynne says

    That corset is just so pretty! I love the idea of re-doing historical pictures anyway, and this is just such a joy. Having the pattern of the fabric being Japanese – very clever!

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