I received a copy of Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques recently, and found an interesting little blurb on standard pattern measurements (in this case Butterick), for 1905.  It showed a 10 inch difference between the high bust and the waist, for all sizes, and a 17 - 23.5 inch difference between the waist and the hip.


Here's the 1898 Butterick size chart, from The Delineator, Volume 52, Issue 5:

These measures were NOT taken on the nude form, but over all the underpinnings ladies were wearing - corsets, bust improvers, hip pads, and whatever else ladies were oomphing themselves up with at the time.  You will see in the 1898 chart that a 34" high bust corresponds to any waist measurement between 18" and 24" but no greater than that "10 inch rule."

These charts are *very* interesting because they represents the ideal proportions for 1898, and 1905.  Let us compare to the modern, 2013 Butterick standard of measurements:

"Chest," indicates the high bust measurement, or just "bust" used in the Victorian charts.

So... in about 100 years we've gone from a 10 inch difference between the waist and high bust, to a 6 inch difference; and about a 10 inch difference between the hip and waist, versus a 17-23.5 inch difference.


The answer is obvious to us costumers - a little squeeze here, a little fluff there, and you've achieved the ideal hourglass figure.  Don't be deceived though - just as much fluff was added on as corseting was reducing the waist, as these items will show:

The Met, 1890 - overbust corset with extra puff added to the bust.
LACMA, 900 - this is a "bust improver."
Whitaker Auctions, 1890 - another example of fake boobs to give a girl some oomph up top
The Met, early 20th c.  This is a hip pad.
The Met, 1950s - Hip Pad, yes, mid-20th century!
That last photo brings up another really good point - the 1950s.  This decade parallels the Victorian era in so many ways - big skirts supported by crinolines comes to mind, but it also goes back to that ideal figure, best illustrated by Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn's dressmaker measurements were 35 bust, 22 waist, 35 hip.  Her studio measurements were 37 bust, 23 waist, 36 hip.  The difference comes from padding and waist control, using bullet bras, hip pads, and girdles, not so very different from bust improvers, hip pads, and corsets of the 1890s and 1900s.  Of course, everday women weren't shaped this way, just like we aren't today (unless you're lucky), but if we can take away anything from this research, it's this...

You too can easily achieve the ideal proportion of your time period through judicious use of the very same tools that women of the past employed.

Camille Clifford is *still* famous for her hourglass figure, but how much of this could be an illusion?
So in my own corset, I have a comfortable 27 inch waist, but my bust is only 34 inches, so I need to oomph it up  by 3 inches.  My natural hip is 37 inches, so if I want to achieve the correct 1905 silhouette, I'll need to add a total of 7 inches (yikes!), through the use of bum pads and petticoats.

You *don't* have to corset train or reduce your waist uncomfortably to achieve these results! Women have been adding to their tops and bottoms for centuries, to make their waists look small, and you can too. :-)