Here's some info on early 1800's stays & corsets, a bit of "how to," a few originals from the Met to drool over & my most recent finished products.
(pictured left, 1810 corded corset that I just finished & still have to wash the pencil markings off).
1: Most stays / corsets from this era were made from cotton or linen, were simple fabrics in white, brown, cream or neutral colors. Embroidery, threadwork & cording as decoration were common. Cording also serves as a structural element.
2: They were genuinely underwear. Never intended to be seen by anyone other than the person assisting you to dress or undress.
3: Surviving examples of front & back lacing stays/corsets seem to be about equal.
4: While this style lifts the bust up it does not constrict the waist - some cuts & construction can smooth the torso.
5: Wide spaced shoulder straps have a tendency to slip off the arms - very annoying.
6: Separate busk pockets (sewn on separately) are as common as built-in busk pockets (between the 2 layers).
7: Single layer corsets were very common.
8: Divorce corsets (with busk separating the bustline) were as common as shelf-style corsets (single bust with cleavage), at least in surviving examples. Fashion commentary says the divorce corset was most popular.
9: Short Stays were more common 1790-1815... Long stays/corsets were more common 1810-1840, but both seem to have been worn throughout 1790-1840.
10: Adjustable drawstrings at the bustline seem equally common as a fixed band.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fantastic collection of stays & corsets - worth browsing.
Interestingly enough, my great grandmother used to make her living (a good living) by making corset covers. She would crochet the most beautiful designs, tat lace & sew it all on the fine linen base.
This is a great example of a nursing corset? with squared off gussets
it's listed as 1810-50, American.
(if anyone can tell me how to make a link of a picture, that would be fantastic).
Speaking of squared off gussets, here's how...
1: cut Y slit.
2: lay triangular gusset to align bottom stitching line with the base of the Y, stitch across leaving the side seam allowance open.
3. Flip gusset up.
4. Flip gusset over so right sides of fabric are together & first side of slit is aligned with side of gusset. Stitch that side.
5. Open up & flip to other side, stitch
6. Press open & top-stitch to outer fabric (not gusset) for maximum strength.
Most Awesome American Corset Ever... if you like folk art, which I do.
I love this one for so many reasons, not least of which is the simplicity of the cut. But that embroidery is just fantastic!
Anyway, you get the idea... after perusing that site - now go make something.
Here are some that I just finished making, which are currently listed on my For Sale page.
1790-1820 Transitional Stays / Short Stays
Double layer of cotton twill (it's coutil or as close to it as I've seen recently - though it wasn't sold as that). Some cording, lightly boned, laces in front. Bound with brown cotton.
Measures 34.5 bust, 30 underbust.
1810-40 Corded Corset
Double layer of cotton twill, lightly boned with cane, some cording in the front. Spiral laces in back. Adjustable front with a separate busk pocket that buttons closed.
Measures 42 bust, 32 waist, 42 hips. There should be a 2"-4" gap in back between the laces.
1810-40 Simple Corded Corset
Same as above, but it's single layer, unreinforced except for the back. It has a wooden busk in a separate pocket, adjustable top & 2 bones at center back for stability.
Measures 37" bust, 28" waist, 37" hips
1810-40 Simple Corded Corset
Same as above, but has pink binding & a waistband reinforcement. This was a fun addition that gives it just a touch of "extra."
The bustline on this is quit low, so it's suitable for the 1798-1808 era with the "I'm falling out" look.
Measures 40" Bust, 31" waist 46" hips
The nice thing about this style of stays is that the hips don't have to be "filled out" for the stays to fit.
Here's a quick how-to adjust the top of this particular style. (It's pretty self-explanatory, but I took the photos, so why not?)
1: Lace stays up the back.
2: Tighten bust drawstrings to fit.
3: Adjust shoulder straps & re-adjust bust drawstring.
Button busk pocket flap.
At this point, the only thing you may have to re-adjust are the shoulder straps as you take the garment off & on... but probably not.
Personally, I like the shoulder straps to be placed "in" just a bit farther than what is historically accurate, they don't slide down quite as much & I have full arm movement. I also prefer the adjustable vs. fixed straps because I gain & lose weight from my shoulders most often.
I also like the over-bust cut more than the 1/2 bust. It limits my evening-dress options, but I feel a bit better that I'm not going to flash anyone if I bend over the fire. My Regency Era dresses also tend to be high-necked day-dresses & informal wear, so the low-cut isn't as much of an issue... but if you attend Jane Austin balls, you may want to consider the lower cut.
I'm torn between the full length stays with the busk & the shorter Transitional Stays. I like both for different reasons. The full-length stays/corset provide nice support & structure beneath the dress for my full-figure build... but the short stays are divine on hot days.