Date: c. 1880-1900s
Origin: Great Britain
Fabric: Cotton lawn, machine lace, silk ribbon
Brand: The Excelsior
This is a series of seven half samples of cotton corset covers from the 1880s-1900s, manufactured by the brand Excelsior. These samples are each the right half of the front of a corset cover, which would be worn over the corset and beneath the bodice of the dress to mask any seams or colors of the corset from showing through (similar to this example, shown mounted with split drawers, also from the late nineteenth century). These samples could have been created for the benefit of seamstresses or manufacturers, to see the necessary construction & ornamentation detailing, without wasting the materials needed to produce a full piece.
The embellishments on these half samples range include simple pintucks at the center front, with small ruffles along the neckline & shoulders, filet lace insertion, and slotted ribbon within the insertion lace. All of the examples are somewhat fitted at the waist, and two half samples (which seem to be two halves of the same cover) include waist darts for shaping. This example from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows embroidery and lace insertion for decoration, with tucks serving both an aesthetic and a shaping purpose.
Richard Cooper & Company, founded in the 1850s in Derbyshire, England, used Excelsior as their corset and undergarment brand. The Excelsior brand continued well into the twentieth century, even making traditional nineteenth-century corsets alongside more modern girdles & brassieres into the 1960s, with the slogan “for a slender figure on a slender purse!” Changing consumer tastes caused the brand to shutter in the 1980s.
Many thanks to Katherine Shark for the object description and research.
From the collection of Karolina Laskowska