Can you breathe? Does it hurt? Whats
it made of? Where can I get one?
I have been
wearing steel-boned corsets for about a year now and they have
changed not only my body but also my life. Buxom African ladies whisper
me in my university library, wanting to know if corsets exist in their
men fall off mopeds staring at my hourglass form, friends want to try
on (male and female) and endless girls in club toilets (the most ferocious
gossiping spot in the world) ask questions about them, not quite believing
what they see. People want to touch a corseted waist, not trusting their
for wearing a corset are as varied as the number of people who
lace themselves in to satin, leather, silk and lace creations.
are innumerable, designs covering all sub-cultures, from cyber creations
with UV panels to painstakingly accurate recreations of historical designs.
Lingerie, outerwear, bridal wear, tools of seduction and a means of body
modification; corsets fit into every aspect of society.
This is hardly
surprising as from the 13th century to the First World War,
when brassieres and girdles emerged alongside a more mobile and independent
woman, they were staple wear for much of womankind in the Western World.
Styles, materials and purposes have changed with the years and reflected
fashions of the day. Corsetry in its many forms has existed for 3000 years,
early records of the corset being from Crete and was a waist to hip cincher
which can be seen on a Cretan statue of a woman in a long skirt, bare
breasted and wearing a fantastic headdress. Cave paintings in the UK also
show stitched bindings to shape the female body.
and beautiful corsets available today have evolved over a very
long and intricate process. Below are some of the key points of corset
history and evolution-
Greeks used woolen bands to keep the body trim. The obsession
with the perfect human form during the period can be seen in sculpture
art from this period and it is likely that adolescent girls would have
bound from an early age.
The body, while viewed as sinful for most of the Middle Ages, was corseted
and clothes cut to fit the body tightly in the 13th Century, and the 14th
Century saw variation in style and design, creating the corset as a fashion
item rather than purely functional.
Iron corsets prevailed in the early 16th Century, a nod to the Spanish
fashions that were popular in both England and Italy. Paintings of Queen
Elizabeth I demonstrate the smooth and elongated torso these corsets
created. The Queens androgynous figure was emulated by fashionable
of the day via the use of corsetry.
Whalebone, flexible steel and wood were introduced as boning in the latter
part of the 16th Century
Softer stays enhanced full skirts and tiny waists in the 17th Century.
bodices were sewn into gowns and present day bustier tops draw from this
concept. The bust was allowed more room and was not so constricted.
In the 18th Century the waist was reduced more dramatically and the breasts
lifted with stays worn underneath the flowing dresses of the period. The
stays were often made in matching fabrics to the rest of the outfit and
exceptionally well crafted and beautiful. Shoulder straps were introduced
and waists were being laced tighter and tighter. Corsetry had become
separate from dressmaking as a skill.
The Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries allowed
for the mass-production of corsets. Whalebone was dispensed with almost
entirely and steel became the primary material used for boning corsets.
During the 20th Century, as women became the workforce of the country
the war years, restrictive garments were dispensed with, along with
luxuries. The two largest wars of the century had enormous impact upon
fashion; women wore trousers, practical shoes, forsook make-up and
particularly corsets. The huge political change that womens contribution
the war effort brought about sparked the decline in corset use.
The boyish flapper figure of the 1920s was made possible for curvier
by binding the bust and compressing the hips with girdles. Poirets
bi-dimensional hobble skirts prompted an abandonment of the corset, and
flat dresses of the period allowed for intricate Art deco designs to be
displayed, as if upon a canvass. Curves of the body disrupted this canvas
effect and so the hourglass shape molded by the corset was out of fashion.
Diors New Look of the 40s saw a return of the hourglass and
The Womens Liberation movement and an increasingly productive and
female existence have further pushed the corset to the back of our
wardrobes. For centuries women had suffered to conform to a male ideal
beauty, and so the freedom to choose how one presented oneself was one
In the late 70s Vivienne Westwood revived the corset once again
18th century designs, and Gaultier and Mugler both used corsetry in the
80s. Madonna popularized the conical bust style of corset as outwear
The ethnically inspired fashions that define the period and no-fuss garments
as designed by Calvin Klein in the 90s did not allow for corsetry
center stage, but detailing on jackets and tops hinted at the corsets
the bust, to tighten the waist, to accentuate the female form in
all its glory; the history of corsets is a history of desire, of gender
politics and of fashion.
and restricting of the body to alter its shape is a practice
that is demonstrated world-wide; New Guinea tribesmen wearing Ibitoe
(corseting belts) to reduce their waists, foot binding in China to achieve
perfect Lotus feet (which was banned in 1911), on the Burma-Thai
the Pa Dong peoples wear brass rings about their necks to create the
illusion of an elongated neck (the rings actually crush the collarbone
rather than stretch the neck) and a multitude of tribal cultures engage
the stretching of flesh using weights and piercing. The ritualistic moulding
of the body through flesh stretching originated as a spiritual practice-
endorphin manipulation to achieve enlightenment. Fakir Musafar, a body
artist and shaman, is a master of this art and one of the most prominent
corseted males in the world.
While corsetry has not been specifically employed for such spiritual
practices in Western society, the mythology and fetishism that surrounds
this most provocative of garments is something of a religion amongst its
passionate fans and followers.
So why do
corsets survive in glamorous infamy? The reasons for 21st century
men and women to wear corsets are varied.
* From a fashion perspective films such as Moulin Rouge and Pirates of
Caribbean have referenced corsetry heavily, and an air of decadence has
emerged after the waning days of heroin-chic, which can be seen in the
flamboyant designs of Alexander McQueen. In the rise in popularity of
old-style Hollywood glamour on the red carpet and exposure of corset
enthusiasts such as Dita Von Teese and the current resurgence of the art
burlesque, corsets are making their way back into the spotlight.
as outwear for special occasions and as part of a
wedding dress the corset is a symbol of decadence, rather than of
oppression. Both revealing and withholding, the corset is a perfect icon
the sexual sophistication of modern society. As fetish and alternative
culture become areas of study and interest general awareness of the power
risqué and intricate clothing grows.
the corset allows an escapism; a tribute to historical periods
idealized or romanticized. To put on a corset is the definitive dressing-up
experience; to alter ones physical appearance is to take on a new
character; comparisons can be drawn with the rise of cosmetic surgery
the increased sophistication of health and beauty treatments. In our culture
of instant gratification the corset can prove a quick fix to feel beautiful,
look slimmer and to dress up. While full-time corset training throughout
history has resulted in deformity of the internal organs, respiratory
problems and even death, to wear a corset for a party or function will
instantly boost the confidence of someone looking to feel slimmer without
damage to the body. Waist training or tight-lacing is a practice that
continues today with the gradual and permanent reduction of the natural
waist through the wearing of specialist corsets and follows careful
procedures to ensure the safety and health of the individual. Waist training
is not recommended for the inexperienced corset-wearer and most individuals
prefer to enjoy temporary waist reduction.
is as old as corsets are and the keys to it are easy to see;
the exaggerated female form, the tactile elements of satins and silks,
bondage element of being tightly encased in a sturdy and beautiful structure
and the exhibitionism of overt glamour.
of having a chosen appearance is predominant in much alternative
culture- body piercing, tattoos, scarification, hair extensions, unusual
clothes and intricate make-up have a place in many sub-cultures and are
often seen alongside corsetry. To actively take control of ones appearance
is a fetish of the 21st century and corsetry is one of the more beautiful
elements of this- much more visually appealing than surgery scars!
reason a person is drawn to corsets- for beauty, for fantasy,
for body modification- the history and iconic status of these garments
huge attraction. As fashion passes through cycles of themes and ideas
corset remains unchanged. It is a fashion of its own, an art-form and
who produce them are true artisans. The craft of corset-making is intricate
and intensive and in the days of mass-production and disposable fashion
wear something as elegant and luxurious as a corset makes the wearer feel
very very special. And isn't that the point of dressing up?
author Alice for FairyGothMother
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