Origin: United States
Fabric: Cotton coutil
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century, womenswear saw dramatic changes. The ideal silhouette began to shift from the hourglass form of the Victorian era to the Edwardian ‘S-curve’: a silhouette that saw a heavily emphasised ‘mono-bosom‘. Women’s undergarments began to include pieces that explicitly shaped the bust, such as structured ‘bust-improvers’ or ‘bust-enhancers’.
The Sahlin ‘Perfect Form’ was a radical patented innovation in foundationwear, offering not only a garment that combined a bust improver with a corset, but offered a much more flexible and less compressing fit than previous corsets. This piece is extremely atypical as a corset in a number of ways. Rather than fastening in the back with traditional eyelets and lacing, it uses a number of adjustable tabs and buckles, with splits in between the bone channels allowing the tabs to wrap around the body. The top half of the garment is boned horizontally and vertically, holding its shape by itself even when it is not on the body, and offering an extremely dramatic change in silhouette without any need for padding or multiple layers. Some women would wear extremely voluminous layered corset covers to achieve a similar silhouette in this period, which would have been relatively cumbersome.
The garment is constructed in a single layer of cotton herringbone coutil, with a mix of cotton coutil and twill bone channels. Interestingly, the grain of the herringbone coutil goes horizontally on the body of the corset and vertically on the channels. An interior waist tape is made of a channel of cotton twill. Edges are bound with a narrow cotton tape. It is entirely machine stitched. The majority of vertical boning around the body of the garment appears to be a combination of flat and spiral steel, with the bust supports made of either cane or featherbone. The shoulder straps are sewn fixed in place, but have extra length so can be unpicked and adjusted as necessary. The neckline has a flounce of silk machine-made lace trim, with a silk ribbonslot detail.
The garment is fastened with four buckles and cotton tapes. Two of these buckles are at the waist line, with the coordinating tapes extending on from the interior waist tape. The left side of the garment has a slit in between one of the bone channels, allowing the right hand tape to pass through to the buckle. The buckles fasten with sharp teeth that pierce the cotton tape. Two smaller buckles can be found on the top and bottom hip on the left of the garment, with the tapes and buckles all sewn into a bone channel seam.
The interior left centre back of the garment has a number of stamps in a light purple ink. They include the style number 5432, the size 34-24 (corresponding to the bust and waist measurements in inches), as well as the brand logo and style name: Sahlin Perfect Form Nd Corset Combined Patented’.
The corset has four garter tabs which are fascinating in their own right. Each garter tab has a top panel of two layers of herringbone coutil, fully enclosing the raw edges and the end of the garter elastic. As the shade of the herringbone coutil and thread used to stitch it are slightly different shades to the main body of the corset, it is likely that these were attached to the main garment retrospectively. This is also supported by the fact that each individual garter panel is printed with the full product brand name and patent information.
Each strap has a metal adjuster branded with ‘Nemo Rip Proof’, and ends with the unusual patented garter clip. Unlike most garter clips, these are made entirely with metal and fabric, not using the usual rubber tab to hold the clip in place. This had the benefit of not using rubber, which at the time was a relatively unstable material that was prone to rotting. The ‘Rip Proof’ element of these tabs likely comes from the fact that the clip doesn’t rely on pushing through the fabric of stockings (as with traditional clips), but rather sandwiching it between two layers of metal.
According to the embossed stamps on the interior of the metal clips, the design was initially filed for patenting in 22nd August 1905 and later in 12th May 1908. The black ink stamps on the interior fabric of the garter straps reference patents filed in 31st December 1907 and 12th May 1908. The text of these stamps states ‘Nemo Rip-Proof Hose Supporters Made With LastiKops Webbing, pat. Dec 31 1907, pat. May 12 1908’, followed by the style number 26 or 27.
From the collection of The Underpinnings Museum