Did Victorian Women Season/Break in Their Corsets?

Did Victorian Women Season/Break in Their Corsets?

It’s difficult to think of an instance where seasoning is a bad thing.  It helps to enhance the flavor of your chicken, steak, or grilled veggies, and it’s an essential part of keeping your cast iron skillet in good condition.  Seasoning is also an integral part of molding your steel boned corset to your shape so that you can comfortably waist train and ensure the greatest longevity from this support garment.

Have women always seasoned their corsets?  Does this tradition date back to the Victorian era, when corsetry was a standard component of daily dressing for women?  It might seem like a no-brainer that women of any era would take the time to secure a singular fit for corsetry, especially when wearing a somewhat restrictive garment every day, but as it turns out, ladies of the Victorian era did not season their corsets, at least not the way we do today.

Why is this the case?  Were these women gluttons for punishment?  Or was it merely a matter of convenience because they didn’t have the money for multiple corsets or the time to break them in before daily wear?  In fact, it has to do with how corsets were constructed.  Here’s the skinny on why Victorian women didn’t bother to break in their corsets.

Single Layer Construction

The corsets of today are built for comfort and longevity, whether you’re waist training, tightlacing, or simply emphasizing an hourglass figure.  They include a number of innovative features for these purposes, including, most importantly, multiple layers of fabric to contain boning channels (preventing chafing) and keep body oils and sweat from permeating the outer layers of the garment.

Victorian corsets, on the other hand, were generally just a single layer of fabric with boning channels added or worked into the seams.  Considering the layers of clothing women wore, including an undergarment between their skin and their corset, they didn’t really need an extra layer in the corset itself.  Of course, this made for garments that were much less stiff and conformed more readily to the body from the very first wear.

Baleen Boning

Modern, steel boning is meant to be strong and rigid, which makes for incredible longevity, but also requires an extensive period of seasoning to conform to an individual’s particular body shape.  Although steel has been around for centuries and has long been used in weapons, architecture, and more, it didn’t start to gain popularity as a boning material for corsets until around the 1850s.

Before that, boning was mostly made from baleen, which is a strong, keratinous material (not bone, per se) harvested from the jaws of baleen whales.  This material was cut into long, thin strips and inserted into boning channels to add flexible rigidity to corsets.  The major difference from steel boning was that baleen was easier to mold, especially with heat, so that when women wore corsets, their body heat would naturally help the boning conform to their shape, hastening the seasoning process.


Because corsets were such a popular item of clothing in the Victorian era, it’s not surprising that there was some competition for sales.  The result was a number of processes designed to create a comfortable fit from the get-go.

For example, some manufacturers steamed corsets prior to sale and molded their shape on a mannequin to create a seasoned, hourglass fit off-the-rack, so to speak.  Of course, the wearer still had to get the garment to fit her specific proportions, but as noted above, this just didn’t take as long as it does today.

Minimal Compression

Although every generation has the odd extremist, tightlacing wasn’t a common practice in the Victorian era.  Corsets were meant to be tight-fitting and create a certain shape (which changed over time), but they weren’t necessarily worn with waist training or tightlacing in mind.

They were practical, everyday garments that simply complemented the popular fashions of the time.  As a result, women didn’t necessarily need to season corsets for the purposes of lacing them more tightly over time.

Different Expectations

If you’ve ever worn vintage clothing, you’ve probably noticed that it’s stiffer and more restrictive in general.  These days, pretty much everything has at least a little stretch thanks to Lycra, but in the Victorian era, clothing was close-fitting and unforgiving.

From a young age, children learned that clothing was not necessarily designed for comfort.  As a result, women didn’t really expect corsets to be comfortable, and so seasoning simply wasn’t a consideration for wear.

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