The term "corset" was adopted in Britain from the early nineteenth century, originating from France, and surplanting the older term "a pair of stays". The garment remained basically similar, aiming to transform the female figure by moulding it within a boned structure. However, whereas the eighteenth century stays had produced a rigidly flat front forming a canvas to display costly silks, and pushing the bust upwards; the nineteenth century corset was far more waisted, resulting in a curving "hour-glass" shape. This scarlet sateen corset dates from the 1860s and shows the typical styling, with shaping over the hips. Having used the lacing up the centre back to fit to the wearer's individual figure and to achieve the correct degree of tightness, there are hooks and eyes centre front for much speedier daily use.
It must always be remembered that the corset was worn over the chemise or shift, not next to the skin, thus ensuring that the unwashable corset would remain shielded from the body. Corsets could also be a variety of different colours, as seen from the red, yellow, charcoal and cream examples pictured here. They were worn by all women, at whatever level in society, as illustrated by the line drawing showing a typical "common cheap stay" which appeared in a woman's magazine in the later nineteenth century.
Full item descriptions:
"corset" [1947.1645], Worth Ltd, S & A Pearce (Bath)
"corset & stays" [1958.108]