The Edwardian era of the early 1900s was a time of transition and change in the fashion world. The bustle era was long past and the fashion silhouette was now upright. By 1900, the s-bend corset with the distinct “pigeon-breast” (aka Pouter Pigeon) set the basic style and it was reflected in both formal and informal day and evening styles. But as the “early aughts” (i.e. 1900s) progressed, the extreme pigeon-breast silhouette began to soften, gradually transitioning to a looser, flowing style such as that created in 1908 by Paul Poiret with his Directoire collection.
The transition from s-bend corset to…
The distinct “pigeon-breast” (or “Pouter Pigeon” because the resulting bust looked like the puffed out chest of the pouter pigeon) was created by the mechanics of the s-bend corset which created a rounded, forward leaning torso with the hips pushed back. Compared to corsets of the 1880s and 90s, the s-bend corset had a straight front that started relatively low on the bustline. Often padding and corset covers were worn to achieve the perfect bust silhouette. Here are some examples for visual reference of the basic silhouette:
Patent documentation for a patent for an s-bend corset.
And the final product:
And here are a couple of examples of the s-bend corset:
Corset, c. 1904; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3123a–e); Made for the parisian department store Bon Marché.
From the above picture of the side profile, it’s easy to see the distinctive “s” bend. In comparison with other extant examples, this one is somewhat restrained in the curve.
Corset, c. 1904 – 1905; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.40.141.3a, b)
And here it is in action, so to say:
Advertisement, c. 1905
And more fully clothed:
Although not as extreme as some examples, one can still make out the distinct silhouette created by the s-bend corset.
Here are some examples of extant dresses:
Doucet, Afternoon Dress, c. 1900 – 1903; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.579a, b)
Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1902; Fashion Museum Bath
Day Dress, c. 1902 – 1904; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1994.192.18a–c)
Day Dress, c. 1905; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960)
Day Dress, c. 1903 – 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.
Here’s a similar type of dress on a live models:
Interestingly enough, while the s-bend corset reshaped the bosom, the bosom itself was de-emphasized and the bust was often softened by additional fabric and trim. By the end of the 1900s, one can see the shift towards a more upright silhouette. Designers such as Paul Poiret sought to create a new silhouette that more “natural,” unconstrained by severe corsetry such as the s-bent corset. Here are a few examples:
Day Dress Designed By Paul Poiret, 1910
Paul Poiret, Day Dress, 1908; Les Arts Décoratifs
But Poiret was not the only designer working towards a more upright, cylindrical silhouette. There was also the designs of Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix:
Robe de courses, Margaine Lacroix, 1909
Dress for the races by Margaine-Lacroix, photo by Félix, Les Modes July 1910.
Margaine-Lacroix, Evening Dress, c. 1908 – 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1979.346.32)
Jeanne Paquin, Walking Suit, Spring/Summer 1910; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.474a–d)
Evening Gown, c. 1910; Kerry Taylor Auctions
Finally, even the House of Worth was moving in the same direction but there’s still some structure in this dress…
House of Worth, Afternoon Dress, 1907; Manchester City Galleries (1947.4254)
Close-Up Of Front
The preceding examples give a pretty good overview of the changes in the basic fashion silhouette in the first decade of the 20th Century. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at changes that occurred in the 1910 – 1914 time frame.
(To be continued…)