Corsets are synonymous with 16th-century dressing. They represent a fundamental milestone in the evolution of the concept of tailoring. Through medieval times and the Renaissance, clothes had been shaped to the body. However, when corsets began to grow in popularity, the trend was to conform the body to the form of the clothing worn, to get the desired fashionable shape.
Corsets have a long and fascinating history. In the Victorian era, the corset was designed to create a cylindrical shape rather than the hourglass figure that was popular in later years. Its purpose was also to raise the bust line while keeping it somewhat flat to achieve the flat-torso shape that was on trend at the time.
A History Spanning 500 Years
Corsets have been a part of western society for the last 500 years. They are fabric garments that are reinforced with stiffeners and fit tightly to sculpt the body into the desired shape. This was originally an architectural shape, molding a woman’s torso into a straighter inverted cone, a popular look during the reign of Elizabeth I. This type of corset hampered the movement of the chest, although it left the arms and hips free. It was popular until the early 1800s and was considered the mark of an aristocratic woman.
After the French Revolution in the 1800s, corsets and other symbols of the aristocracy were rejected by fashionable women of the time to fit in with the new ideas of political and personal freedom. However, this was short-lived, and corsets were soon back in style.
When corsets came back in fashion, there were two significant changes. Firstly, the signature hourglass shape that many of us recognize became popular. The corset became a way to accentuate a woman’s figure, by compressing the waist. Secondly, they were being used by more and more women from different walks of life and were not reserved for the aristocrats.
Over the years, corset forms became tighter and more exaggerated. In the quest for the ideal female shape, more extreme corsets that squeezed the body became the norm. Young girls were trained to start wearing closets at an early age. This posed serious risks and eventually led to concerns for women’s health. Gradually, corsets began to lose their appeal and were phased out of fashion.
Today’s corsets are flexible and less constricting while still providing the classic hourglass shape. They are made from steel or plastic boning and are used to shape the waist, adjust the figure and even as a form of weight loss. With the recent revival in corset wearing, modern day corsets are starting to push the boundaries and rapidly gain fans.