Nowadays, when people want to buy a corset, they either surf the web
looking for their perfect corset or have to find a shop in their
town which sells them. This can often be an embarrassing affair as
it seems the only shops that sell corsetry these days tends to be
"adult" themed fetish stores. In past decades, this was not the case
and specialist corset shops were found in everywhere as every woman required one.
The golden age of corset shops and corset departments in large department stores
was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Beautiful glass sided wooden cabinets
showed off 18" waist corsets on silk covered display busts, there were seats beside long wooden
counters where women could sit and examine model after model of corset in comfort and in elegance.
So come and step back in time and visit
The Old Corset Shop
A c. 1908 photo postcard showing the corset department at The Broadway Department Store
(Los Angeles, California). This light and airy corset department had a very long counter
lined with chairs in which a lady could sit while the salesgirl showed her corsets.
Behind the counter are hundreds of boxes of corsets with Kabo corset boxes taking up
the first four sections of shelving. Eight corset display forms with the brand names
embroidered on the busts, line the top of the shelves, four of which are encased in
glass display cases. The corset display form on the far left has Kabo embroidered on
bust and shows a straight fronted S-bend corset. The back of the postcard states that
The Broadway Department Store were the "agents for the celebrated Nemo, Kabo and American Lady
Corsets" which were the "three of the greatest corset makes in America" and to "ask to see the Nemo
self- reducing and figure building corsets" as well as "The American Lady corsets for comfort, style and
satisfaction at a small price".
A c. 1909- 1910 stereoview photo showing the ladies whitewear department of the T. Eaton Co.
department store in Toronto, Canada. Most corset departments in stores incorporated
regular underwear into them as well so that you could buy your corset, corset cover,
chemises, pantaloons and petticoats all in the same place at the same time. All the whites are
neatly folded on wooden counters while petticoats are displayed on half forms mounted on the counters.
Although the corset display forms are only just visible on top of the counters at the back,
Eaton's also used life sized and realistic mannequins to display underwear as well.
The prices of underwear shown at the front of the photo ranged in price from 65 cents to $1.22!
A photo postcard of Bluems corset department (Lima, Ohio) dated November 26, 1912.
It shows a large underwear department with high ceilings and with much greenery displayed amongst
the underwear! Hundreds of corset boxes can be seen lining the shelves on both sides of the room
although the glass cabinet seem to be reserved for "soft" underwear like petticoats and corset covers.
The typical rows of customer chairs are present along with the long wooden counters with beautiful
tall corset forms displayed on them for up close inspection. The corset display forms shown in this
postcard are taller than the ones shown in the earlier Broadway Department Store postcard and
would have shown off the longline corsets of the early 1910's to the best advantage.
All the display forms have the brand names of the corset manufacturers embroidered on the busts
with Kabo, La Parisana and two R&G forms being the most prominent.
To show off a corset to the best advantage, the smallest size available in a corset was usually put on display
just like modern shops where the small sizes are always put on the mannequins. The corset
manufacturers often supplied stores with their own corset display forms which resembled
a normal dressform in shape but were often covered in silk with the brand name embroidered
across the bust to advertise that particular make of corset. Some manufacturers in the late 19th century
like Warner's, created beautiful lifelike corset display forms out of plaster in the shape of women which
resemble somewhat, ancient Greek statues. The date on this cabinet card photo is 1881 and although the
manufacturer of this heavily boned silk spoon busk corset is unknown, the corset must have been
special enough to warrant being worn by such a beautiful display form!
All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic