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Black Velvet Beaded Bodice

Full Description

by: Denise Ann Dietrich Chukhina

This bodice, c. 1905, is a lovely example of the S-shape typical of the time period; it is made from velvet flat-lined with cotton and has three layers of silk center front forming a pouter pigeon silhouette. This bodice is in the University of North Carolina’s vintage costume collection, Costar. A lot of attention to detail and care was used when this bodice was made.

Figure 1: Bodice Side

Figure 2: Bodice Profile

Fig1A.jpg Fig1B.jpg


The bodice, dating from around 1902-1907, has a bolero shaped front, as seen in Figure 1 above. By about this time there was a "...bewildering assortment of variations in cut, plus a range of decorative treatments..." as observed by the authors of the second edition of The History of Costume on page 554. Despite the variations in cut and decoration there are several elements to this garment that can place a more specific date to it. The element that stands out the most is the pouter pigeon front draping; bodices with a blouson, or "pouching" out in front would be emphasized by wearing an S-curve corset. “Whereas the aim of corsets in the Victorian period is to smooth out the line of the body, the early Edwardian corset emphasizes the waist and hips” according to Jean Hunnisett on page 154 of Period Costume for Stage and Screen.

Another area that has elements indicative of the time period is the sleeve. Sleeves by 1900 had lost the majority of their previous fullness to create a slimmer appearance and "... by 1904 wide sloping shoulders could be seen..." as observed by Jean Hunnisett on page 166 of Period Costume for Stage and Screen.  In about 1905 wide belts and cummerbunds would mark the waistline of bodices. This bodice has a band around the waist made of satin that has been pleated to emphasize the waist. This bodice would have been worn with a trumpet shaped skirt. After 1903 skirts were sometimes set onto a shaped hip yoke so there was less gathering around the waistband and more "fluting" around the hemline.

Bodice Details - Interior

The bodice has a bolero-like front with a cut out design at the side front pieces. The bodice is fitted in the back and has a pouter pigeon silhouette. The majority of this bodice is made of velvet that has been flat-lined to patterned gray cotton. There are eleven bones in total on seams; on the center back and back seam lines five bones measure at 8", two bones on the side seams measuring at 7 1/2", two bones on the side front darts measuring at 7 1/2", and two bones encased in the front darts closest to center front measuring 5 1/2" (see Figure 3 below). The sleeves are two piece sleeves and are tighter fitting with a slight amount of gathering around the armscye, the sleeve length is 23". There are cuffs on the sleeves that have satin turned to the outer edge measuring at 3" at the tallest point. Shoulder to shoulder back measures at 11 1/2". There are two padded pieces attached on the inside front, into the armscye, made of cotton batting and brown cotton with edges that have been bound. The pads measure 11 1/4" at their widest and are 9 1/2” tall to fill in the gap that would be caused by the corset (see image 3 below).

Figure 3: Interior with pads and boning


The bodice has been constructed of thirteen pattern pieces. The center back has been cut on the fold and the length of center back measures 18". There is an interior cotton bodice that is made of the same flat-lining material as the rest of the bodice. The interior cotton bodice acts independently from the rest of the bodice from the side seams to the center front and closes independently from the outer bodice. The underbodice has four (total) shaped bust darts that have been boned. There are fourteen metal hooks and eyes that keep this underbodice closed. The underbodice would have put less pressure on the outer bodice and protect it (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: Interior Bodice and Closure


Bodice Details - Exterior

There are three layers to the front plastron.  It is comprised of one base layer of a glazed black linen that acts as a foundation for the top two layers and allows the draping of the topmost layer, the next layer is made of pleated black China silk and the outermost layer is made of black silk gauze. This blouson at the front of the bodice would be more pronounced when worn with the S-curve corset. The plastron closes on the left side with six hooks and eyes; there are also three hooks and eyes that attach the plastron piece at the left shoulder just under the lapel. There are also four lace bow appliques on the outermost layer of silk; the four bow appliques match the two lace bows on the lapels of the bodice.

There are lapels that are quite pointed on the front of the bodice, as shown in Figure 5 below. The lapels have been flat-lined with a stiff material, perhaps buckram like the collar, and have satin on the underside that matches the belt and cuffs. The edges of the lapels have been outlined with braided trim that measures at 3/4" at its widest and 3/8" at its smallest and a lace bow applique in the center that measures 3 1/2" tall by 3" wide (see Figure 5 below).  The cutout detail in the side fronts has also been outlined with braided trim and it allows the outer silk layer from the plastron to show through.

Figure 5: Lapels


The fabric of the front of the bodice hangs over the belt (see Figures 1 and 2 above), which is made of a 5" wide satin ribbon that has been pleated twice and matches the cuffs. The belt sits at the natural waistline at the side seams and dips down both center front and center back. In the back of the bodice this ribbon forming the belt extends from the side seams to the center back where it has been mitered for a lovely pointed effect. The satin ribbon has been attached to the center front plastron piece so when the bodice is closed the edges meet up with the back ribbon pieces for a continuous look around the waist. The waist measures 23" when closed.

The center back velvet panel has been cut on the fold, but the flat-lining cotton piece has a seam line down center back inside the bodice that has been pressed open and the edges have been bound. The interior center back seam line allowed for the placement of the bone center back.

The sleeves are cut in one piece with slight gathering into the armscye. The sleeves have been lined with the same patterned cotton material as the rest of the bodice. The hem of the sleeve has been cleaned with a bias binding of the velvet material and has a large cuff made of the velvet and lined in satin. The satin is turned up so it faces outward.

The bodice has a collar that is detachable from the bodice and closes center back with two metal hooks and eyes. It is shaped so it can fit snugly to the wearer’s neck. It measures at 2 1/2" center front and center back, but 3" on the sides. The collar is made of velvet that matches the bodice. There are jet beads on the collar in bow shapes to tie in the lace bow appliques on the lapels. The collar has buckram in it to keep it stiff; there are also remains of a satin lining, but most of it has deteriorated.

The bodice has been carefully constructed and reflects a quality garment. The interior seams have been finished by a bound edge (see Figure 3). The hem has been turned up and finished off with the same silk tape as the seam binding. The seams at the armscyes have been bound with an overcast stitch and the four layers (sleeve bodice and flat-lining) have been basted together. The seaming at the waist have been clipped to allow for better movement and also bound.

One of the more interesting details of this bodice is the cutout designs on the side fronts. The cutout is open 3 1/2" at the side seam and comes up at a sharp angle that reflects the shape of the lapels. Figure 6 below illustrates this shaping and the cutout.

Figure 6: Bodice cutout design



Much of the exterior of this bodice is deteriorating. The velvet has been flattened or is missing in several areas, mostly where there are seam lines. The left sleeve in particular has slashes in the velvet due to age. The seam lines of the velvet have been crushed and overall the velvet pile rubs off when the garment is handled. The satin sections are badly deteriorating and delicate to the touch. The satin lining of the collar is mostly missing. The braided trim is deteriorating, but mostly intact. The top two silk layers of the front plastron are ripped and are also delicate to the touch. The inner cotton bodice is in much better condition.

© Denise Ann Dietrich Chukhina, 2014