The simple definition of a BUSK is a piece of carved wood or bone inserted into a pocket in a corset or stays front, between the breasts and extending as far as the pubic bone. Busks were very common during the Tudor and Elizabethan eras, used in conjunction with heavily boned bodices and stomachers to contain and sculpt a woman’s figure into the slim waist and bosom flattened silhouette of the period. Prior to the fashion changes of the late Georgian Era, which including the Regency, the busk was triangular shaped and very narrow. The primary purpose of a busk was to maintain a straight, upright posture, and to a lesser degree help flatten the stomach.
As looser gowns gradually evolved during the latter decades of the 18th century, the overall silhouette drastically changed. Long stays remained common even as shorter stays grew in popularity, but whether short or long, the heavy boning receded until completely gone. Additionally, smashing the breasts into a sold mass of flesh gave way to the “lift and separate” ideal. Long before Playtex designed the cross-your-heart bra, a busk revamp did the trick.
Fitting the thin fabric, lightly corded Regency stays, busks during this period were much wider (up to two inches) and extremely thin. Compare the mid-18th century examples above right to the early 19th-century examples above and below. Made primarily of lightweight woods, the busk was stiff so continued to aid in maintaining a proper posture. Not all busks were elaborately carved, but as seen in the extant examples above, a great many of them were beautiful as well as functional.
Given their intimate purpose, and where they lay on a woman’s body, busks were erotically charged and therefore a special gift between lovers. Hearts and cupids were favorite motifs.