Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New season

Well, this is the beginning of the third season of work since starting this blog and I am excited about the upcoming shows and designers.
One show is being set in 1837 and with a designer new to me- so I am looking forward to this- his sketches are totally amazing- not just in depicting the clothes but also in the attention to period detail, the characterization and to the extent of being able to recognize the actor playing the part in each sketch- a superb draughtsman and artist.

I will meet with him next week and in conversation with the design assistant on the show, we talked a bit about corsets for men.
Men don't often have a lot of soft flesh to corset in the way women do, so compressing parts of their bodies isn't really as much of an option as augmenting their shape is.
Most research points to the men's corset as a posture enhancer and to some extent a vehicle for adding a little padding just where the fashions of the day dictate it- think of the full, pigeon chests charachterized in fashion plate of the early 19th century. I'm sure they also utilized a bit of wadding in sleeve support as did the women of the early Victorian period.
They also liked a nicely shaped calf and it seemed fairly common at times to wear pads on the legs to accentuate the shape especially when knee breeches were the prevailing fashion. I have made more than a few pairs of padded calves too!
I had made a corset for a very slim young man a few years ago in order to pad him up into the fashionable full chest of the era, and recently retrieved it from the warehouse to have a look at it.
I started with a pattern I have developed for a men's basic close fitting block. I think I kept this pattern and will have to look for it tomorrow....

I fit it very snugly to his body but not as tight as one would fit a woman's corset.

I wanted to keep the corset light for the actor's comfort, and it needed to be washable since it was worn over just a t-shirt. I used a single layer of coutil, and placed the spiral steel boning along the seams and used the turned back seam allowance to make the casings. The back closed with a zipper rather than lacing, and the side panels of super spandex allowed for wearing flexibility.
The chest padding was created from layers of 1/4" air conditioning foam, that I shaped and darted to give the effect the designer was after. I used the foam because it was light weight and I didn't have to worry about it changing shape after washing. The foam was covered with a pre-washed cotton knit that was serged along the edge and cross-stitched to the coutil. The corset neckline, armhole and hem edges were all finished with pre-made bias tape and I left the side back seams open for a couple of inches to allow a bit it to spread apart below the waist at the back.

Once we had a shape that the designeer was happy with, I could then remeasure the actor wearing his new shape and make the patterns for his waistcoat and coat.

I have to say that many people look on the corset as something that must be torturous to wear but in reality a well fitting corset is quite comfortable, as this actor found out and in the end was really very happy to wear it.

I'm not sure whether this new designer will be looking for a similar effect but we have a sample of something to show him when we meet next Monday.
In the meantime, I am researching medieval clothing for another show and waiting for the budget to be signed off on the third assignment so I can be assigned my full workload. Rumour has it that it may be a bit of everything so I am interested to see what that means!


  1. First, it's nice to see a men's corset. Usually, most corset patterns have to be altered before the fittings stage if it is being made for a man. Did starting from the basic close-fitted bodice help alleviate that? (If I recall, the ribs extend lower in men than in women which also ties into why men usually do not have enough soft flesh to "mold" with the corset.)

    Sorry, men's corsetry is something that is very hard to research - unless I'm not finding the right sources of course!

  2. Not sure what you mean by patterns altered before the fitting stage.
    I draft a mens close fitting block/bodice to begin with, and make my pattern from that. I am not altering a women's pattern if that is what you mean.

    I haven't run across many references for men's corsets either, but then I haven't looked too much as we rarely make them. There are certainly cartoon references and I believe there is a photo of a late Victorian men's waist cincher in the book Fashioning Fashion from LACMA