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 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:
And the final product:
And here are a couple of examples of the s-bend corset:
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.
And here it is in action, so to say:
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:
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:
But Poiret was not the only designer working towards a more upright, cylindrical silhouette. There was also the designs of Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix:
Finally, even the House of Worth was moving in the same direction but there’s still some structure in this dress…
The preceding examples give a pretty good overview of the changes that were occuring in the basic fashion silhouette in the course of the first decade of the 20th Century. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at changes that occurred in the 1910 – 1914 timeframe.
(To be continued…)