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Sitting in a Regency Corset July 23, 2010

Posted by ninapaules in Living Life, Writing.
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If you missed Living in a Regency Corset, posted earlier in the week, click here.  To the scads (and scads) of folks who’ve already visited that post, THANK YOU, and welcome to Sitting in a Regency Corset.

First off, allow me to say that standing and walking while laced in a Regency corset is an absolute delight. 

Sitting… not so much. 

So, if you don’t mind, let us first indulge in the delightful.

If I could get away with wearing my Regency corset everyday, I promise you, I would.  (There I am on the right, peticoat over my corset) Not only does lady-like posture become a no-brainer — shoulders back, spine straight, tummy tucked — the weight of your upper body is automatically transferred to your hips, bypassing the lower back.  I’ve spent hours dancing quadrilles, reels and cotillions while corseted (below, right), and nary a back complaint have I faced.  Gliding along is the only way I know to describe it. 

But sadly, today’s fashions brook no tolerance for the armpit level bust a Regency corset produces.  Nor do low-slung bucket seats and soft-seated chairs allow for an unbendable lady.

And that’s exactly what you become while wearing a Regency corset.  Unbendable.

The inch wide wooden (or ivory) busk is to blame, you see, running from breast to just below the navel.  That, and the six companioning lengths of boning, four running down the back with one governing each side. 

Bending at the waist is simply not an option.  

Which brings us to the heart of this post; sitting in a Regency corset.  

It is an art form best practiced in private, which is why there are no pictures.   In today’s modern world, we employ leverage to sit.  Regency ladies used their thighs.  It’s easier than it sounds, I promise you.  The key is…well, here, I’ll let Lady Grace, intrepid time-traveler, enigma extraordinaire, and handler of my 21st century heroine, do the teaching.

From Love’s Freedom (where Sara would rather believe her 19th century experience is a nightmarish dream courtesy of a fall ending with a blow to the head, than face the truth.)

     Sara shook her head.  “Quit babbling and send me home.  Or wake me up.  Or do whatever it is you need to do to fix this.”

     “I see I must speak more plainly.”  Grace pulled out the vanity chair and pointed at the round pink cushion.  “Sit.”

     Tamping down exasperation, Sara collected the yards of fabric clamoring around her bare feet, then squeezed between the vanity’s marble top and the chair, her torso stiff as a board.

     “Oh no, dear, don’t sit in the chair.  Sit upon it.  That’s right, touch the backs of your knees to the edge, center yourself, then lower straight down upon the seat.  There, much better.”  Grace flashed a smile at her in the oval mirror, added a motherly pat, then pulled a jeweled blade out from between her own breasts.  “Now, where was I?”

 A few pages later, Sara is standing in her reluctant hero’s cavernous foyer that’s been closed up for months.  Surrounded by his curious servants hastily removing Holland covers from the lavish furniture, she faces thwarted plans and lots of dust.  Another thing you might need to know.  During the Regency, shoes made no allowance for left and right feet. They had to be worn to make them comfortable.

      “Milady.”  Peg appeared at her side, a frivolously feathered bonnet in hand, and pressed a pair of lady-like gloves into hers.  Gripping the soft leather, Sara considered the sweeping staircase leading back to her rooms.  Forcing the Lord of Wayfair to face his PTSD when more desirable work commanded his attentions would be a waste of effort.  They could talk at the picnic. 

     The chocolate brown bonnet in Peg’s hands came to rest on her head.  “I am sorry for my lateness,” the girl whispered, swiftly tying the bonnet’s soft velvet ribbon beneath her right ear.  “But I returned for these.”  The girl produced a pair of slightly worn ankle boots. 

    “Bless you, Peg.”  Shucking the tortuous slippers, Sara bent to pick them up, the corset’s unyielding busk issuing a harsh reminder that Lady Ashland would do no such thing.  Neither would she be pulling on those soft leather boots for herself. 

     Her feet hurt too much to care.

     Peg motioned her to a large gilded chair a pair of footmen had just uncovered.   More dust clouded the air and suddenly she sneezed, the ruling busk making even that task difficult.  Every eye on her again, the sounds of her sneeze echoed through the cavernous room as Peg pressed a lace kerchief into her hands and she tried hard not to wring it while struggling to remember the steps to sitting upon a chair, not in it.  The backs of her knees making contact, the ensuing and highly observed effort proved more worthy of a beached whale.  Or a woman in her ninth month.  But at least her feet didn’t go flying over her head. 

As to what a Regency corset does to a well-endowed woman’s décolletage while she is sitting… I’ll leave that to your imagination.  😉

Hugs,

Nina

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Comments»

1. Linda Banche - July 23, 2010

Ah, I love it! And your dresses are beautiful, and you look great in them. I gotta get a dress like that. In one of these centuries, maybe.

ninapaules - July 24, 2010

Thanks Linda! My mom and I made the dresses. It was a great bonding and learning experience for us.

2. Annie - July 25, 2010

A big thank you to you, Nina, for your article full of interesting insights into the differences between sitting now and 200 years ago.

Middle class children at this time would have had deportment lessons – probably seen as important as reading and writing. We have lost the desire to be seen as graceful today.

Do you, (and the others who read this wonderful blog) agree with a theory that I have at the back of my head. Today you hear comments about the “tight and restricting” corsets of the past. I believe that for the most part these corsets only restricted you if you tried to do things that were not considered proper. For example, I’ve seen comments that you can’t easily reach the bottom shelf of the supermarket in a long corset. Well, the original wearer would not have even dreamed of bending that low! I can remember some my own evening dresses in the past that were similarly restricting.

We also have to remember that for young Regency children all their elder sisters, brothers, cousins etc would have moved gracefully, so there was role model pressure to act in the same way. And of course, for girls the corset imposed the “grown up” posture and movement, and what little girl does not want to look grown up.

Annie

ninapaules - July 26, 2010

You are most welcome Annie! Thanks for commenting.

You may be right that “for the most part these corsets only restricted you if you tried to do things that were not considered proper.” There was also “medical” reasoning at the time that thought the corset protected women where they were most fragile.

As for reaching the bottom supermarket shelf, I’d just “squat” down. However, reaching deep into the shelf would be another matter entirely as shoulder movement is vastly restricted. So are a few other things… , which is the next topic of this blog.

Stay tuned.

🙂
Nina

3. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak - July 27, 2010

You write beautifully…. and thank goodness this tom boy did not have to be confined in such a contraption!

Jaimie

4. ninapaules - July 27, 2010

LOL, Jaimie. I can see you as the tomboy running about, terrorizing the CA hills. 🙂

And thanks for the complement. It means a lot to me.

Hugs, Nina

5. Liz - November 11, 2010

I’m not sure how you chose your stays pattern, but I thought I would mention that full length stays were not the only option. Short stays and transitional stays (shorter than full length) were also popular and quite period correct. Sense and Sensibility.com (a pattern company) has a pattern for short stays. They give you the proper silouhette but do not confine the same way full stays do. Having worn the short stays, I will say they are still restricting, but you CAN bend at the waist. 🙂 I love my stays and I love reenacting the regency period. Thanks for these posts, they have been really fun to read.

6. Danion - March 24, 2011

I totally admire you for making such a fun corset!

ninapaules - March 25, 2011

Thank you Danion! It’s also a blast to wear.


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