Corset

From Academic Kids

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Hourglass corset from around 1880. It features a busk fastening at the front and lacing at the back.

A corset is a garment worn to mold and shape the torso into a desired shape for aesthetic or orthopaedic purposes (either for the duration of wearing it, or with a more lasting effect). Normally the corset support the visible dress, and spread the pressure from big dress as Crinoline and Bustle. Sometimes the corset been supported by a corset cover.


Both men and women have worn and still wear corsets.

The skill of making corsets is known as corsetry, as is the general wearing of them. Someone who makes corsets is a corsetier (for a man) or corsetière (for a woman), or sometimes simply a corsetmaker.

The most common use of corsets is to slim the body and make it conform to a fashionable silhouette. For women this most frequently emphasises a curvy figure, by reducing the waist, and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips. However, in some periods, corsets have been worn to achieve a tubular straight-up-and-down shape, which involves minimising the bust and hips.

For men, corsets are more customarily used to slim the figure. However, there was a period from around 1820 to 1835 when an hourglass figure (a small, nipped-in look to the waist) was also desirable for men; this was sometimes achieved by wearing a corset.

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Woman having her corset laced tight, from an 1899 stereoscope card. Original caption: Reducing the Surplus. "Now, Pull Hard!" A small waist between a full bust and ample hips, such is the shibboleth of fashion, and the poor girl that relies on her figure to make a good impression, is sorely put to it, if nature has denied her the shape of a wasp or if she has not learned to rely on physical exercise to model her frame. A vigorous walk of ten miles a day, supplemented by ten minutes of lung gymnastics, would do wonders for her.

A corset encloses the torso, usually extending from under the arms to the hips. Some corsets extend over the hips and, in very rare instances, reach the knees. A shorter kind of corset, which covers the waist area (from below the ribs to just above the hips), is called a 'waist cincher'. A corset may also include garters to hold up stockings (alternatively a separate garter belt may be worn for that).

Corsets are typically constructed of a flexible material (like cloth or leather) stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels in the cloth or leather. In the Victorian period, steel and whalebone were favored. Plastic is now the most commonly used material; spring or spiral steel is preferred for high-quality corsets. Other materials used for boning include ivory, wood, and cane. (By contrast, a girdle is usually made of elasticized fabric, without boning.)

Corsets are held together by lacing, usually at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing produces corresponding changes in the firmness of the corset. It is difficult — although not impossible — for a back-laced corset-wearer to do his or her own lacing. In the Victorian heyday of corsets, a well-to-do woman would be laced by her maid, a gentleman by his valet. However, many corsets also had a buttoned or hooked front opening called a busk. Once the lacing was adjusted comfortably, it was possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and take the corset on and off using the front opening (This removal method does not work if the corset is not sufficiently loose, and can potentially damage the busk). Self-lacing is also incompatible with tightlacing, which strives for the utmost possible reduction of the waist. Current tightlacers, lacking servants, are usually laced by spouses and partners.

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Corset_us188007.png
A woman putting a corset on. She is wearing a chemise underneath, and the corset has bosom pads.

In the past, a woman's corset was usually worn over a garment called a chemise or shift, a sleeveless low-necked gown made of washable material (usually cotton or linen). It absorbed perspiration and kept the corset and the gown clean. In modern times, an undershirt or corset liner may be worn.

Corsets and waist reduction

By wearing a tightly-laced corset for extended periods—a practice known as tightlacing—men and women can learn to tolerate extreme waist constriction and reduce their natural waist size. Tightlacers usually aim for 40 to 43 centimeter (16 to 17 inch) waists. The Guinness Book of World Records records two instances of women reducing to 15 inch waists: Ethel Granger and Cathie Jung. Other women, such as Polaire, also claim to have achieved such reductions.

These are extreme cases. Corsets were and are usually designed for support, with freedom of body movement an important consideration in their design. Present day corset-wearers usually tighten the corset just enough to reduce waists to dimensions that range from 18 to 24 inches.

Corset comfort

Moderate lacing is not incompatible with vigorous activity. Indeed, during the second half of the nineteenth century, when corset wearing was common, there were sport corsets specifically designed to wear while bicycling, playing tennis, or horseback riding, as well as for maternity wear.

Many people now believe that all corsets are uncomfortable and that wearing them restricted women's lives, citing Victorian literature devoted to sensible or hygienic dress. However, these writings were most apt to protest against the misuse of corsets for tightlacing; they were less vehement against corsets per se. Many reformers recommended "Emancipation bodices", which were essentially tightly-fitted vests, like full-torso corsets without boning. See Victorian dress reform movement.

Some modern day corset-wearers will testify that corsets can be comfortable, once one is accustomed to wearing them. A properly fitted corset should be comfortable. Women active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and historical reenactment groups commonly wear corsets as part of period costume, without complaint.


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