original corset is an interesting garment, which most people in our
modern world would think to be a strange undergarment accessory. We have
all heard about the time when ladies were encased in long, stiff
corsets, reduced to nothing but objects of beauty, unable to perform any
tasks. This is, however, only a part of the historical facts about that
“time” and about “corsets”.
corsets belong to the period of about 1840 to 1910. But, the “corset”
is actually much older than that. In Europe, it has been in general use
as an undergarment since the middle ages, though it probably dates back
several thousand years. The corset, at all times, has been used for the
shaping of the body, sometimes for compressing the waist and sometimes
for raising the bust.
course, the widespread use of corsets was in the l9th Century. A tight
corset was a symbol of etiquette and
artificial living that had dominated fashion for almost 300 years.
Contrary to common belief, almost every woman wore a corset without “class
distinction” at that time. Although fashion was formed by the upper
class, and they were the primary users of the “fashion devices” like
corsets and the crinoline; even the working class followed the trends of
fashion to a high degree and wore them!
Victorian woman was to “adorn and beautify” herself. She was to be
feminine, beautiful and the object of her youth was to “bedazzle” a
man with the intent to marry! Ladies resembled “cones of dignity”;
and their husbands strutted next to them, cane in hand, and often tried
to compete with them in fashion.
fashion for daytime was very different than for eveningwear. The day
dresses were usually quite concealing; whereas, the ball gowns were
usually décolleté, exposing the upper part of the bosom, arms and
shoulders. The Victorian corseted female’s bodice was very tight
fitting, so as to show off the shapeliness of her body.
were made of heavy satin in pastels or in black and were heavily boned
with whalebone. Steel busk front fastening became a definite part of
daily dress. Too, many laces usually fastened them in the back and drew
them tightly. The product was a “wasp waist” effect, or as some have
expressed, the “hour glass figure” and 18 inches was the envied and
desirable size of the day.
most interesting aspect of the corset is, certainly, how tightly was it
laced? Well, there are many reports of women’ waists being between 14
and 18 inches, and even reports of a 12 inch waists! Some were, however,
it is believed that most accounts of these extremely small waists are
derived from “fantasies”, and refer to measurements in museum corset
collections that indicate corsets of the “time” (1860-1910) actually
measured about 20 to 22 inches. Furthermore, size does not truly
indicate how tightly these corsets were laced; they could easily have
been laced out by several inches, and probably were because it was
prestigious to buy smaller corsets.
ordinarily, corsets were not so gravely tight after all! Also, contrary
to popular belief, the construction of the corset with its metal busks
for front closure and the lacing in the back did enable the wearer to
lace up herself. Though, for convenience, she may have used an extra
person such as her maid or husband.
severely tight lacing was practiced at times and some corsetieres
specialized in creating very small waists. Indeed, a few men also
developed a fetish for women’s small waists and this was regarded as
quite acceptable. The “kangaroo walk” was the name given by
humorists to the movement resulting from the figure encased in the
straight front corset! The small waist and corset most likely played
somewhat the same role as the full bust and the Wonderbra do today. But,
with the latter there are less health risks!
ladies, if any of you still have the desire--- lace it up!
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