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Corsets: From Underwear to Evening Wear

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

 A corset is a piece of women’s underwear, which fits the body tightly. Structurally, corsets have the ability to fit the body tightly since it is normally stiffened by various means in order to shape the human trunk. This actually appears to be the main concept behind the design of this piece of fashion. The exact year or periods of origin of corsets remain unknown. Even the name “corsets” is known to have undergone a series of evolution, having been known previously as stays, stiff bodice and even a pair of body. The use of the terms “corsets” to describe this sort of wear only came into effect in the 19th century.

 However, the earliest known use of corsets dates back to the era of the Greek and Rome Civilizations. During that time, corsets were actively worn by the women of classical Greek and Rome. 

The earlier forms of corsets fall into two major categories namely; the Zona and the Fascia. The Zona functions as some form of abdominal belt, it aims to structure the abdomen. The Fascia, on the other hand, is meant to support the bust. 

One peculiar thing about these earlier forms of corsets was their wide variety, apparently to meet the various figure needs of the individuals. Hence, archeological records show various forms of corsets of the 16th century. The popular color mostly used in the design of these 16th century corsets was mainly red and the material most often used is a soft kid fur or other fine leather. Consequently, in comparison with the later form of corsets, the original corsets weren’t so rigid. Initially, the 16th century corsets were created in a way that it was worn as part of a woman’s skin and was later designed as additional fashion garment that can be worn outside the robe.

During the Middle Age, a new form of corsets emerged. This was the period when the conventional types were out of vogue and the rigid types of later centuries just began to emerge. The main original concept behind the design of corsets as a rigid piece of fashion is not conclusively known. Several theories abound, and these run from early fetish accessories to brute attempts at orthopedics. However, one well-known and largely accepted theory was that these rigid corsets were aimed at shaping the women’s trunk to take the form of cones. So in order to accomplish this, rigidity was introduced in the design of the corsets.

During the 16th century, a new form of corsets was recorded. We actually have two phases here. At the start of the 16thcentury, an iron-hinged corset was predominant among the Elizabethan Ladies. The main disadvantage of this type of corsets was its heaviness and the exceptional discomfort it causes the wearer. Hence, this could actually be the main reason why this version of corsets was found mainly among the Elizabethan Ladies who weren’t doing any form of heavy work. However, this form of corsets produced the incredibly but cherished small waist and cone-shape torso. This was particularly evident in the paintings of great Elizabethan Ladies. Nevertheless, the Iron corset era was really short.

In the late 16th century, less stiff materials such as whalebone, bone wood and flexible steel were incorporated in the design of corsets. This led to the availability of softer corsets, which were widely accepted by a larger number of the womenfolk’s.

In the 18th century, corsets were designed in such a way as to serve the following purposes; to raise and shape the breasts, tighten the midriff, support the back, improve posture to help the woman stand straight and to slightly narrow the waist. By the 19th century, the primary purpose of wearing the corsets was reduced to supporting the breast and narrowing the waist. Even though corsets still slimmed the wearer’s torso, this however was no longer the key purpose. In addition, during this period, the corsets remained exclusively as underwear. Again, all through this period, flexible steels were actively employed in designing corsets. Consequently, the stiff nature of the corset was still maintained.

At the end of the 19th century, concerns about the health implication of tight-fitting corsets made of steel caused a movement for rational dressing. This made steel corsets to become less popular. Even steel corsets that exist as early as 1900 where specially designed to be less injurious to the wearers’ health. The decline in steel corsets was further facilitated by the changing of the silhouette to a higher waistline and more naturalistic form. At this period, early forms of brassieres were then introduced to the public, while the girdle soon took the place of corsets. In addition, these girdles were more concerned with reducing the hip rather than the waist. Nevertheless, despite the fact that corsets became less popular around late 1990s, some variety of body shaping undergarments, often called corsets, continue to be worn well into 1920.

Today, following the Latex revolution, corsets are made of elastic fabrics, thereby giving rise to corsets that are flexible, yet firm; lightweight but strong. These elasticized corsets can be described as new layers of muscle for the wearer, as they supplement the natural movement of the muscles below. Hence, this newest type of corsets fit itself to the new type of women’s life in other ways.  


Victorian Corset
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andralys/5619123205/
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Comments

Oct 14, 2011 4:00am
vicdillinger
Wow -- you obviuosly spent some time digging around to get this much data. Good stuff (and I particularly like your entendred last sentence). Excellent work on an esoteric subject.
Oct 15, 2011 3:53am
BohoGypsyArtist
Thank you for your compliment. When it comes to clothes and fashion I tend to be able to find time to dig around.
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