Once upon a time corsets were an everyday, have to have it on, not able to breathe but make it tighter kind of thing. A woman who didn’t wear a corset might as well have been naked! It gave them support, curves (where a woman might not have had them naturally) and an uncanny ability to learn to live without breathing or eating just to stay cinched in one. A sad departure from today where a corset is now used as a prop for the bedroom, a taboo tool for pouring liquid latex onto your willing and suspecting victim or as a naughty party costume when you’re a desperate 20 something college student determined not to leave any party all by their lonesome. Very rarely is it used for the purpose it was created for! But…what was that purpose exactly?
A marvelous question indeed! The corset, whether worn as an undergarment or over the top of a bodice, was made to “enhance the figure”. It was not meant to tantalize or victimize but to express the beauty of the female figure…and later the male figure but that is for a whole other paragraph! It just so happened that it showed off the…positive aspects of womanhood, mainly the breasts. Which does tantalize but then what else was a woman to do before women’s rights but to nab a prospective spouse’s eye with her…charms.
The first popular corset introduced in the 1500’s did just that! With a flat front it forced the breasts up and, just like all changing beauty trends of the day, due to the proportion of the elevated breasts and the flatness of the cone of the corset…yeah, it’s just complicated what people thought beautiful back then…just know that it was the bee’s knees to a male passerby! It was all about the favored silhouette.
So how to get that marvelous figure: why with steel and whale bone of course! Shaped into knife-like pieces and laced into the corset front. But not everyone was a fan of the corset and soon the fashion moved up to just the bust instead of supporting the waist as well. This was the Regency Era corsets and were worn strictly under the clothing!
The Age of the Corset
As many of you who read this blog, it is mainly a 19th century history lesson that I hope not only to make educational but amusing as well. So the next section is dedicated to the time when the corset made it’s biggest impact and met its most dedicated and awkward fan base! Those Victorians! When the subject of corsetry is mentioned many people immediately think of the tight lacing that is associated with the Victorian era, and the grim horror stories of practices that took place at that time in order for women’s shapes to be molded to the accepted norm. There is even literature stating that a girls waist in inches should equal that of her age when she marries!
Before, corsets only supported the bust and went straight down the waist. With Victorians we have now moved onto the hourglass shape. This look mingled with the ballooning sleeve and skirt fashions of the day made the waist look small even if it wasn’t laced tightly. So Victorians introduced support, the thinned waistline, and pronounced the cleavage for women of all fashions! But wait! We’re about to get a little kinky!
The Perfect Hourglass
This was the, and still is, fashion for corset silhouettes! This is the goal form, the one to meet, the ideal posture and look…and it got a little ugly in some cases! This was introduced in the mid 1800’s and is still the strongest design for a corset today. As with many fads, the corset lacing got a bit out of hand. One lady saying “Ms. Pompadour has the smallest waist size ever seen!” while the over hearing Mrs. Jawkins decides to change that by lacing her young daughter’s corset tighter and tighter until finally…we have a serious life endangering fashion trend of extreme corseting known as tightlacing.
It still surprises me that woman still endure this type of corsetry (my I do hope that’s an actual word) but one can never downcast others tastes! Tightlacing is a practice that essentially alters the shape of bones (the ribs especially) and the repositioning and reshaping of internal organs! And eventually, the waist will permanently be altered. In very extreme cases the corset is almost necessary for keeping the body straight after tightlacing exceeded just a few inches in circumference!
The unique feature that had always stood out for corsets is the fact that it was mostly used by women. If men used them it was discreet and vague as opposed to women flaunting the fashion! But I suppose you could say they had their own fetishes just as much as the ladies. A few men even participated in tightlacing because…they felt…pretty? I don’t know. It was a fad and with all fads sometimes men jumped into action.
The Wasp Waist…Oh Good Heavens!
This was the most extreme fashion for the corset ever and we owe it all to the French! I mean…normal corset fashion…not the tight lace! That’s right! The wasp was a totally different corset going under the breasts. Looking at some of the advertisements I’m surprised no one realized that the back was virtually breaking in the cinch! Ever look at a wasp and thought “Hey! What a sexy looking insect that is?” Yeah, me neither. But leave it to those kooky French to come up with one of the most bizarre corset fashions ever!
This style, according to many historians, is closely if not directly related to tightlacing. For my part, as tightlacing was a practice the wasp waist was more of a short lived fashion trend that involved the bustled bottom for added effect. However, I do see the connection quite plainly. In both styles the waist needed to be the smallest it could…until it slowly disappeared!
Wait! Where’s Your Waist?
It was the fashion during the turn of the century that the corset is lowered below the breasts and then straightens down past the hips to the mid thigh! Technically, this was the corset that left no figure at all and instead made women look like trees…flat, stick-like trees. Even though it was not King Edward who wore the thing, these Edwardian corsets did more for the flatness of the hips than to accentuate the waist. Quite modest really. However, with all great periods in history you have to accept and notice the bad seeds. Enter the infamous flapper!
Undergarment Becomes Outergarment
With the 20’s and 30’s came the era of physical freedom. No more constriction, just straight up loosey goosey! So after the flapper cast aside the confinement of their mothers (seriously, I prefer the corset over floppy…assets) and undergarments were replaced with elastic and Howard Hughes push-up bras in the 40’s the corset was widely forgotten…until sexual freedom! Don’t get me wrong, there has been bursts of kinky fetishes explosions throughout history yet none can compare to the mid 20th century!
The sexual revolution of the last 60 years or so covered this great nation like syrup on waffles caked with whipped cream wearing a lace blindfold while being pleasantly slapped with a bull whip! Soon, newer generations discovered corsets as a novelty and were soon using them in risque magazines and shame walking night clubs.
No longer confined or hidden beneath a dress, corsets became their own fashion statement! Many entertainers consider the corset to be their signature look and fashion designers are dedicated to making sure these unique pieces of fashion are going nowhere!
The corset has gone through so material a change that they are impossible to ignore. Indeed, there are museums and history lessons at college level educating encouraging onlookers at the importance corsets used to have. I myself love wearing corsets albeit without whale bone (tricksy animal rights laws and all) but steel boning is still found in well made types. Have some respect for the women of yesterday for they endured more suffering for the art of beauty than even the high paid supermodels of today do (and looked a hundred times more amazing too)!
Personal Note: This might sound a right bitter of me but there seems to be a horrible miscommunication with many people claiming to have copyright problems on the site. Very well. I have no problem taking an image off this site at all. I am a non-profit site…since I’m not earning anything off this blog I am very confused when a person (a few really) notifies me (quite angrily by the by) and threatens me, my dog, my house, the birds in my trees with thousands of law suits and legal proceedings just to get the image off since they didn’t give me permission. Please note that all the images I have found, if I can give credit with PROPER copyright, has full free promotion here if they desire. But just to say an image is yours with only words…well, let’s just say I promise to keep it under wraps and seethe in private at your rude hatred. But as a hint for those who might have seen it, the image was removed. It was a nice image, very lovely indeed. So sorry that none of you will see it again and if this is your first time to the blog just image in your mind how nice it was. I’m not naming names nor will I mention them…my blog is classy and I can’t waste anymore time on being bitter. Thank you and sorry for the rant.