Corset of the Month: The Wedding Dress

Corset of the month
Or, more accurately, the alleged corset of the month. Yes, I am talking about the much anticipated, much discussed and much guessed at WEDDING DRESS OF THE DECADE worn by Kate Middleton, AKA Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. There has been much speculation on the THE DRESS , and the internet is so inundated with information, that it is hard to separate the useless tabloid info from actual hard facts about the construction of the dress.

Kate Middleton arrives at Westminster abbey in a wedding dress that is corseted.
Wikipedia already has some information, and it seems consistent with other seemingly reliable sources:

The dress was designed by English designer Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen.

Official statements noted that Middleton wished to combine tradition and modernity, “with the artistic vision that characterizes Alexander McQueen’s work.” She and Burton worked closely together in formulating the dress design.It has a lace applique bodice with detailing symbolizing the nations of the United Kingdom.

It was made of satin and featured a lace applique bodice and skirt. The lace bodice design was hand-made using a technique that originated in Ireland in the 1820s called Carrickmacross, which involved cutting out the detailings of roses (symbolising England), thistles (Scotland), daffodils (Wales), and shamrocks (Ireland), applying them to the ivory silk tulle individually. These lace appliques were hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace. The dressmakers used fresh needles every three hours, and washed their hands every half an hour, to avoid marking the fabric.

The bridal train measured 270 cm (110 in). Hand-cut English lace and French Chantilly lace was used throughout the bodice, skirt, and the underskirt trim. With laces coming from different sources, much care was taken to ensure that each flower was the same colour. The whole process was overseen and put together by hand by Ms Burton and her team. The “ivory satin bodice is padded slightly at the hips and narrowed at the waist, and was inspired by the Victorian tradition of corsetry that is a particular Alexander McQueen hallmark. On the back are buttons of 58 gazar and organza, which fasten by means of Rouleau loops. The underskirt is made of Cluny lace over silk tulle.”

The main body of the dress was made in ivory and white satin gazar, using UK fabrics which had been specially sourced by Sarah Burton, with a long, full skirt designed to echo an opening flower, with soft pleats which unfolded to the floor, forming a Victorian-style semi-bustle at the back, and finishing in a short train measuring just under three metres.

To partially fulfill the “something blue” portion of the British wedding tradition, a blue ribbon was sewn inside the dress. The design for the bodice of the dress featuring Carrickmacross craftmanship was the “something old”.

I am, however, most interested in her very sculpted waist visible in the wedding photographs. The only mention of this is the short sentence of Alexander Mcqueen’s penchant  for corsetry and suggestions that the bodice was narrowed at the waist: “The ivory satin bodice is padded slightly at the hips and narrowed at the waist, and was inspired by the Victorian tradition of corsetry that is a particular Alexander McQueen hallmark.”

All in all a  description which strikes me as not being nearly detailed enough. So I will do some guesswork of my own. A dangerous thing, I know, but with a dress like this everyone wants to get in their two cents worth and I am no exception!

I did some sleuthing and found pictures of Kate’s waist sans wedding dress so I could compare the two.

Comparison of Kate Middleton's waistline in her wedding dress and without her wedding dress. Her wedding dress is clearly corseted to a certain degree.
The red line is Kate’s waist in her wedding dress (clearly…) and the green line is Kate’s waist in this lovely figure hugging but non-shaping pink gown. It is clear from these two lines that there is a big difference between Kate’s waistline with and without her wedding dress. Some degree of waist-cinching is definitely going on there.

Comparison of Kate Middleton's waistline in her wedding dress and without her wedding dress. Her wedding dress is clearly corseted to a certain degree.

When the lines are closely inspected, there are several indications that Kate is actually quite heavily corseted, and not only slightly narrowed at the waist. Remember that Kate is a very skinny girl. As can be seen by the green, non-corseted line it is clear that her curves are very minimalist and flowing, and not at all the kind of figure that lends itself to corseting.

When dealing with corsetry there is always the “squish-factor” to consider. In other words, how “squishy” a body is dictates how much it can be squeezed into a different shape. Women with more squishy bits can easily be corseted into Victorian shapes, whereas women with fewer squishy bits can usually only muster a small change. The reason for this is that it is easier to displace fat and muscle to create a tiny waist. Skinny women have very little fat that can be displaced and can therefore usually only achieve a small cinch on the waist.

For Kate Middleton, who is almost officially the least squishy person in the world, achieving such a big difference on a waist that is basically just bone and well-toned muscle, is quite an achievement. This not only indicates that the corset was carefully made with a specific amount of cinching involved, but also that it was laced quite tightly.

There is also a slight convex curve above Kate’s waist when she is wearing the wedding dress that is not present in the pink gown. This line is usually the result of the ribcage being compressed and straining against the boning and fabric of the corset.

Two types of corsets. The purple one is a tightlacing corset with a much more pronounced curve.

This image shows two different kinds of corset on a slim model. The black corset on the left is a regular corset designed for a modern figure. It has a nice, elegant curve that creates a waist in keeping with contemporary fashion. This corset is what most women today would buy and wear as both evening wear and support. The purple corset on the right is a tightlacing corset, designed to create a much more dramatic curve, and can create quite a severe cinch even on very slim figures.

Comparison of a normal corset line with a tighlacing corset line. The tightlacing corset creates a much more pronounced curve. When the two curves are isolated and compared, the difference is clear. It is also clear that the second, tightlaced curve more closely resembles Kate’s waist when she is wearing her wedding dress.

It certainly makes an argument that Kate was rather tightly laced or corseted when she wore her wedding dress. The big question that remains for me, however, is whether the boning was built into the bodice of the wedding dress itself, or whether Kate wore a separate corset as an undergarment under the dress.

The Wikipedia article seems to suggest that the bodice of the dress itself was what created the curve, but there are several factors that that might mean that Kate wore a separate corset underneath her dress.

Firstly, the dress is very accurately sculpted over breasts that look less that soft. In other words, the bust of the dress itself seems sculpted rather than sculpting: it exercises no pressure on the tops of her breasts or the kin under her arms (although Kate is so skinny it’s really hard to tell). The bust underneath the dress seems very clearly sculpted and kept in perfect position. This might also just be the fact that Kate has very neat, small breasts that do not need a steel structure to be kept in place. However, the softness of the material under the bust is not in keeping with corsetry. There are no rigid lines of the boning or panels of the corset (and a corset needs those to function properly). The under bust part of a corset would also tightly hug the body to keep the bust in place, but instead the line from the point of the breast slopes gently down towards the waist. It really doesn’t look like the bodice is offering any support or has anything as rigid as boning sewn into it.

Is she wearing a corset underneath her wedding dress?

In this picture where Kate is sitting down, it can also be seen how the bodice of the dress almost creates a soft fold under her breasts, definitely the sign that it is not made rigid in any way, at least not above or below the bust.

Another consideration is that the dress closes at the back with buttons, whereas a corset or anything trying to create a cinched waist the proper way has to have laces at one point or another. Corseting the bodice of the dress directly is possible, but I wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on such delicate buttons, especially if the whole world would be watching.

My (possibly uneducated) guess would be that Kate wore some sort of corset underneath her wedding dress. It is also possible that the dress was only lightly cinched in the waist area alone and that the hips were more heavily padded that we are made to believe in the Wikipedia description.

This is, of course, all wild speculation and the truth of the matter remains to be discovered.

* All pictures of corsets are from Fairy Goth Mother.