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Smithsonian Museum of American History

Nineteenth-century women wore corsets under their dresses to shape their figures and give them proper posture. Corsets were sewn with tiny panels that held thin strips of strong yet flexible whale baleen. Wearing a corset required that someone lace and tie it around the woman's torso as tightly as possible. The final touch was to insert a busk down the front of the corset to keep it in place and help make the woman stand up straight. A busk was a long, flat piece of wood or whalebone carved and decorated by sailors at sea for their sweethearts.

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