It wasn’t only the corsets in the late 19th Century that had boning in them. No, women’s bodices did too. You might be thinking: Why?
Well, corset boning helps hold the body in a fashionable silhouette, whereas boning in a bodice holds the bodice in place. The two garments each have their place for a stylish presentation.
If you have the Victorian Corset Workbook, you’ll know all about boning in corsets. But let’s take a look at what kind and where to apply boning in 1870s & 1880s bodices.
By the 1870s, boning in 19th C. bodices had been around for nearly 40s years (generally speaking). But as the Reconstruction Era took off, more boning was added to achieve that glorious fitted shape. You can barely find a 1880s bodice without boning!
In my research, bustle era bodices took the sparse amount of bone placement from the 1860s and added additional bones to the other seams. (By the 1890s every seam was boned. Just look in Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail!)
Bone Placement in Bustle Bodices:
- Side Seam
- Side Back/Princess Seams and/or
- Center Back Seam
Nearly all bodices had two fitting darts in front. Even the tiny sizes. Both were boned.
Some bodices had a separate underarm side piece – one or both of these seems could be boned. And frequently, the bodice back piece had bones either on the center back seam or on the two closest side back/princess fitting seams.
Types of Boning for Bustle Bodices:
Of course the Victorians choice was whalebone. But that is now illegal to sell (and also why you can’t be 100% historically accurate). If you happen to be given it, don’t use it as it’s probably fragile. They also used steel bones.
I’ve mainly only seen ¼” wide bones used in late Victorian bodices. You might come across a 3/8″ width but that’s rare. Stick to the ¼” wide and leave the others for earlier time periods such as the Renaissance.
Flat white spring steel is the preferred choice for us modern costumers and it’s perfect.
(whisper) Although…I’ll tell you my cheater method: I use spiral steel boning on my curved, side back, princess seams. Even though it wasn’t invented/used until after 1904.
I don’t know about you but I don’t like having a piece of metal poking me in my armpit. Hence, you’ll want to keep you boning at least ¼” away from the seam allowance of the armhole.
On those curved side back seams I place mine no closer than 1-1/2″ from the armhole seam line. This will vary on how your seams actually curve, where they meet the armhole seam, and how the bodice fits around your back.
Sometimes you’ll need to lower the top bone edge more than expected as the bodice may poke away from the body while wearing. (It’s perfectly ok to do this.)
You’ll also want to continue your bones past the waistline… but only for an inch or two. (You want to sit down, right?) Depending on the cut of the hem, you can carry the boning all the way to the lower edge too.
Remember: Use ¼” bones and place them on most seams but at least on the darts, side seams and 1 to 2 on the back. Also be aware how high on those seams you place them – avoiding pokeys makes for more comfortable costume wearing.
Boning is essential in 1870s & 1880s bodices. Seriously. Don’t make a bodice without it!