History of Corsets

History of Corsets

As any other material thing in this world, the history of corsets goes a long way back and is a mark of the change human beings make through day to day innovation. While the main purpose of corsets remains to be enhancing the figure in females, the methods and extent have evolved over and over again.

The earliest corsets in the 16th century focussed on the flatness of the body and not on the waist size. The corsets were made of stiffened linen with a pocket in front, into which wooden busks or shafts were inserted. The corsets were worn with a farthingale that was used to hold the skirt stiff in the shape of a cone. By the mid 16th century, corsets became a commonly worn garment of women which survived in this model approximately till the year 1860.

By the 18th century the purpose of wearing corsets evolved to shaping the breasts and to improve the posture by tightening the midriff and supporting the back. The shoulder were forced down and back and a very slight narrowing of the waist. This was to create a ‘V’ shaped torso. Corsets remained an undergarment and were considerably comfortable to wear. There were no restrictions to breathing or carrying about day to day work. The restriction to bending from the waist was also considered a plus point as it protects the women’s back by making the women lift any items by bending with the legs.

In the late 18th to early 19th centuries the corset was mainly used as an undergarment to support the breasts, while temporarily thinning the torso.

The period of transition to the Victorian corsets was when the corsets were remade to serve both purposes of sliming the waist and supporting the breast more efficiently. The shape of the corset also evolved from the straight front to bring out the hour glass figure.

With many medical findings in the late 19th century, that tight lacing is injurious to health; women who used tight lacing were labelled as slaves to fashion.

From the Edwardian corset to the post Edwardian period, the skirt length increased from waist to ankle. This made the position of the hip changes and showed the waist wider and higher. This was the most uncomfortable corset type in the history.

World War 1 led to a fast decline of metal corsets as metal was required for weapon production. Girdles and brassieres came into wider use. Corsets gradually fell in popularity by late 1910s.

Even today while body shaping under garments are widely marketed, tight lasing and body shaping corsets have faded away from its vast use in history. Today corsets are mainly seen in tops and dresses as part of the garment itself and not as a special undergarment.

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