From the early Nineteenth Century to around 1970, the straight – fronted corset was in vogue. The corset took its name from the very rigid and straight ‘busk’ that was used down the front of the corset. This was also known as the s-curve or swan-bill corset.
This was a most involved and complicated design, with the better corsets employing some 48 delicately shaped and curved handmade pieces. Initially intended to be more kindly to the wearer’s health than other corsets, the s-curve, because of its properties, was often over – tightened in the quest for a smaller waist. Thus it became notoriously uncomfortable and harmful. The s-curve corset is immortalised by the Gibson Girl and her impossibly small waist and ample bosom.
Inez Gaches-Sarraute was a successful corsetiere with a medical degree who popularised the swan-bill corset, who worked with several of his medical and fashion peers to develop the style. It was meant to be less constricting than its predecessors, the ‘hourglass’ corset suppressed the breasts, and the ‘spoon busk’ corset forced the organs downwards.
Gaches-Sarraute’s design was intended to free the bosom by beginning below the breasts, a result of which was the use of bust-supporters to achieve the mono-bosom effect, which in turn led to the development of the brassiere. The abdomen would be supported (but not constricted) by a very rigid straight ‘busk’ and inflexible boning.
When the straight-front corset was worn with a moderate degree of tightness, it was very comfortable, but over-tightening presented a fresh set of issues. Because of the very rigid front to the corset, greater reductions in waist size were possible over the hourglass corset. When tight-laced, the wearers hips were thrust back and the chest thrust forward. This put a lot of pressure on the lower abdomen. The result of tight lacing was breathing difficulty, lower back pain and knee problems.