Victorian Bodices ,choosing the right waistline for your cheats guide corset or bodice

I thought a post on bodice lengths and waistline styles might be useful to go with my “cheats Guide to making a Victorian gown”.This is a very quick run through the Victorian era and gives a quick rather than extensive guide to styles for those wanting to make gowns and trying to match bodice or corset tops they have bought to gowns they can recreate.

Its not always possible if your making a cheats gown at short notice to find the ideal bodice for a “typical” Victorian gown .Sometimes you may have to settle for a higher waisted one than you might want or  more rarely one which is perhaps lower .However its also possible that your corset might seem unsuitable when it is in fact the ideal length .Many Victorian bodices were quite high waisted by modern standards ending just a few inches below the bottom   ribs but having very low points at the front .

Here then is a quick gallery of Victorian waistlines.

Firstly the very early Victorian /Romantic era Gowns.

Approx 1830 to 1839

These are the highest waistlines of the Victorian era as they have gradually evolved from the high waisted regency gowns.


checked 1830s dress

Almost any modern clubbing /Evening/prom  corset top will be long enough to make one of these.

The gowns below were made using this style of  wit and wisdom boned bodice

wit and wisdom bodice

1830s dress



st ives bluebells 1830s gown

Me carissa and A sumners

The bodice works fine without any modification and the waistline of the recovered Wit and wisdom corset  looks very like the gown below which is from the Victoria and Albert Museums collection

1838 v and a

The same wit and wisdom bodice can also be used for slightly later 1840s gowns if you add a point v shaped piece of fabric to the centre front.White the 1840s gowns look like they have longer waisted bodices many actually only have lower front waists while the sides and back are still quite high

Below are several views of Queen Victoria’s Wedding gown .It has a very low centre front but if you look carefully at the lower photos mirror views and the photo of the bodice and skirt laid flat its clear much of the waist is actually quite high.This high waisted back allows the gowns to billow out and will later accommodate the wide swept back skirts of the 1860s

queen victorians wedding gown on


queen victorians weddding dress


qv weedding bodice

By the mid to late 1840s and during the early 1850s ,the Victorian waistline has got slightly lower and is about the position of modern high waisted skirts ,for these gowns you will need to buy a slightly longer bodice to recover,ideally this shape ,these are just marginally  longer ,the front  of the bodice will need to be cut to a point

wit and wisdom denim bodice

This bodice can used to used for later 1840s gowns an all of the cage Crinoline gowns

The age of Hooped skirts all the gowns below used some version of the same shaped bodice as that above

Mrs rochester3

purple victorian gown

red tartan dress

green dres


The late 1850s bodice is quite long  as can be seen in the  Gowns from the V and A shown above  and its hard to find long enough commercial bodices to use but it begins to creep higher until by the mid 1860s is it again almost at the just below rib level it began the 1840s .The gown below is a wedding gown in the V and A  collection dated 1865

1865 wedding gown

1869 gown

The gown above is from the end of the 1860s and  shows the elliptical hoop at the point it begins to change into what will become the typical  first era bustle shape.

1870s gown

These bodices  are fairly easy to make with most corset tops however there is a brief period of very long line tailored bodices which are more or less impossible to recreate using  the cheats guide process of recovering bodices .It may be possible to create a gown in this style using a bought steel boned corset recovered but I have never yet managed to personally  create a satisfactory version

bustle dress long

The closest I came to creating this style was achieved by using a longer than average evening bodice that came to navel level and adding long lengths of fabric to give the impression of a longer bodice as seen in the green gown in the photo below ,unfortunately I dont have a front image of the gown.

haworth scrog

The second bustle era of the 1880s is the style of bustle gown most often reproduced and these are thankfully very easy to recreate using recovered bodices .

red bustle dress

bustle red

While the gowns seem to have long bodices the standard bodice /corset top used for hooped skirted gowns will easily adjust to use from bustle gowns,again this style of bodice is the style used from the bustle gowns I made.The backs of bustle gowns need to be quite high waisted but the front should be lower than these bodices are so you will need to sew a panel of fabric to the centre front it isn’t necessary to make major changes as the skirts drapery will create the impression of a much lower waist.

wit and wisdom denim bodice

green fit bustle gown

back claudia gown

For the black gown below I created the impression of a longer bodice by adding to long flaps of fabric to the back of the gown at either side of the lacing panel

becks dress back

I also added side lengths of fabric to create the impression of a longer fitted style bodice ,It was based on the Gown from the Met Museum here

1880 wedding day dress satin applied beading chenille tassels needle lace whalebone V&A


Often the focus of bustle gowns is the bustling rather than the bodice shape so there is quite a bit of leeway in the shape of bodice you use.

The red gown bodice was actually a short bodice I restyled to make a georgian gown then reused to make a bustle gown  incorporating the skirts into a draped polonaise style bustle ,many bustle gowns were made from recycled earlier gowns so it seemed fitting to do the same thing with my own costumes

back heb


I repeated the process with the pink Laura Ashley fabric polonaise gown

kathy gown

me and john full length

Other gowns used the standard shaped prom bodice


green cotton bustle dress

The green gown probably most clearly shows the shape of the bodice which was clearly one of a similar shape to the blue wit and wisdom one shown


hunter green bustle dress

baskc wgw

The final years of the Victorian era and into the very early Edwardian era create a slightly more complicated bodice but one which can be loosely recreated using the same basic bodice recovered I was in a rush to make the red gown below and used a standard evening bodice without changing or modifying its shape .I added panels of lace to cover the rather low neckline but many late Victorian ball gowns were extremely low necked


french met


About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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