Hello! I was wondering if you could describe the physical as well as historical differences between a bodice and a corset?
OK, let’s hope I get this right. I get the difference, but let’s see if I can explain it correctly.
The quickest way to describe them are: corsets are body-shaping undergarments, while bodices are either worn on the outside or are part of the garment itself.
When you think of a historical corset, do you think of this?
If you do, you are incorrect, this is actually a bodice. Yes, it looks like a corset because of the laces and it is very formfitting, but it is not (even I used to make that mistake when I bought a similar outfit several years ago for our Celtic festival).
A lot of the confusion, I think, comes from the fact that early corsets (or “stays,” as they were referred to for a while, which you’ll see in historical documents/literature) look very similar to the bodices:
(Notice how they’re over the chemise/shift, but meant to go under the rest of the clothing? Also note how the lacing is not in front—click on the links for more detail)
For some extra visualization on how stays/corsets are different from bodices, here is an interactive guide to a typical outfit of an 18th century gentlewoman.
Corsets were originally strictly undergarments meant for shaping the body (kinda sorta like old-timey Spanx in a way—but also for support as well, since bras only started becoming a thing by the end of the 1800s, plus I imagine the extra support was nice for how heavy the dresses could get), made with boning, mostly whalebone, but now steel is used. The Victorian era really saw the beginning of the modern corset, where it shifts the figure into that very typical hourglass shape.
Then there’s the modern definition of a bodice, which is just the upper part of a dress (the part that goes around the torso), and it causes confusion when it laces up like this
Again, because of the lacing and the formfitting style, it’s vaguely reminiscent of a corset, but it is in no way a corset (and it is NOT VICTORIAN).
There’s a whole lot to this subject I know I’m not covering, but for more information, here is thecorsetauthority (who I only just discovered because they reblogged that one ask) and thisisnotacorset (plus many others, but these are really the only two I’m familiar with).
And, as always, if anyone would like to chip in their two cents, I’ll gladly add to this.