Sunday, 18 January 2015

What is a corset busk?

A selection of modern corset busks
A corset busk, or stay busk, in its original form is a solid rod made from wood, bone or metal which is inserted into the front panel of a pair of stays (old word for corset) to keep the fabric taught and straight over the abdomen.  Without a busk you do not and cannot have a true corset - the reason for this is because a corset is a garment which shapes the torso into the fashionable silhouette of the day, whether that be an 18th century conical look or the more archetypal  Victorian hourglass.  In other words, without substantial stiffening at the front in the form of a front busk, a corset cannot and will not do it's job.  Different types of busk can be used for different types of corset and to create different effects.

A beautiful carved wooden stay busk dated 1786 and carved with hearts and initials.
These were commonly given to ladies as love tokens from their sweethearts
as they were secret and worn next to the body.
A flat wooden, bone or metal busk was used in closed front corsetry right up to the mid 19th century when the split busk, or two part busk, was invented by the Victorians.  This split busk invention was at the time a revolution for women because for the first time they were able to put their corsets on un-assisted and this of course meant that corsetry was now much more accessible to women who did not have a maid and this in turn meant that the demand for corsetry grew and factories sprung up all over the world to support this demand.There are many types of split busk all of which originate from this period in Victorian history.

Here are some of the types of busk which are still available today for our corset making endeavours.
A white flexible corset busk with stainless steel fasteners
 all split busks have a  loop side and a stud side
The regular 'flexible' busk  - this  is the most common type of modern corset busk, the most widely available and the one with which people are most familiar.  They are made of powder coated spring steel and are about 12mm wide on each side.  They are very very flexible, and feel a bit flimsy but don't forget that once encased in a couple of layers of coutil which they will be in a finished corset, then the flexibility will not be so noticeable and can be quite advantageous.

A narrow stainless steel busk
slightly tougher than the white flexi steel busk

The stainless steel busk - these busks are made of sprung stainless steel with dipped ends.  They come in a variety of widths and shapes and are flexible but much sturdier than the white flexible busks.  In Victorian times of course, all busks were made of uncoated steel.  

See how the spoon busk is curved where the tummy would be

The spoon busk - this is a typically Victorian busk which as it's name suggests is shaped a bit like a spoon - the busk is curved with a wider area at the bottom which forms the 'spoon' and it is completely rigid. The Victorians liked a nice round tummy and the cupped shape of the spoon busk supported the cut of the corset and the tummy.  When ever you see a spoon busk in a corset, you know it's Victorian.

The Edwardians loved a flat tummy
The conical or tapered busk - This is the Edwardian equivalent of a spoon busk.  You have a wider area at the base of the busk but the whole busk is flat and not curved.  This gives tummy control but the Edwardians preferred a flat front and so this busk, while giving support to the flat front cut of the Edwardian corset also helped to smooth the lower abdomen into flatter submission.  This is my favourite type of busk and is very common in Edwardian corsetry.

Wide steel busks are 2 inches wide total and the least flexible of the busks
Wide steel busk - this is a wider busk made from sprung stainless steel in various lengths and a inch wide on each side.  This type of busk is not common in antique corsetry and has a more modern application in the medical corsetry of today because of it's ridgidity.  In fashion corsets, it has it's uses but is the least flexible of the straight busks,  so whilst it can give extra control over your chosen aesthetic (medical corsetry aside),  it can also hinder results by not moulding over the body and creating an overhang gap at the bottom of the corset.  This is particularly common in women who have a prominent rib cage or abdomen - the solid wide busk looks like it might flatten the abdomen very easily but what it actually does is provide too rigid a front - in fashion corsetry, this can also be very bulky and uncomfortable.   

So there we have a very small lesson on Victorian style corset busks.  These amazing fastners are still in production today and easily available from specialist shops.  They come in all the above shapes and sizes but these days you can also get them in black, or colours, and there's even a bling version with diamante studs!

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