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A training corset is generally a corset used in body modification. A training corset may be used for orthopedic reasons (such as to correct a crooked spine) or for cosmetic reasons (to achieve a smaller waistline, commonly called waist training or in more extreme cases tightlacing.)
In addition, the term "training corset" may simply refer to a corset which is used to acclimate the body prior to wearing a full corset as an everyday undergarment, or to any corset worn by somebody undertaking training (achieving a desired body shape).
The redresseur corset was a form of training corset used from the mid-19th century into the early 20th century, designed specifically for young adolescent girls who had not worn stays from an early stage. In addition to moulding a pronounced waist, it served as a back harness and was intended to improve posture.
Corsets may be worn for orthopedic reasons, such as correcting a crooked spine or straightening the back and shoulders.
Waist training corsets
No structural features distinguish a modern waist training corset from a corset worn as an external garment for special occasions. Training corsets are always made from strong fabric (or leather) and with relatively inflexible boning (not all corsets are strong enough to mold a body). A training corset is designed to be used every day, and will generally be hidden under clothing, so it is likely that the practical aspects (comfort, ease of laundering, etc.) will have been prioritized in its construction over aesthetic ones.
Any style of corset can be used for waist training, although some styles are more popular and suitable than others. However, as the corsets necessary to maintain a body modification are no less rigid than those first worn to achieve the modification, there is no effective structural difference between corsets worn during training and those worn once the desired body shape is achieved. The term "training corset" can therefore be used for any corset worn by somebody undertaking training.
History of Waist Training Corsets
The earliest forms of waist training corsets can be seen as the tight lacing corsets. Corsets are said to have been worn by the people of Crete. Their use didn't become popular until the 16th century when they were considered characteristic of fashionable dressing up until the start of the French Revolution. These corsets were designed to shape the torso in the desired way. They squeezed the waist into a cylindrical form and had shoulder straps which finished at the waist. The torso was flattened, with the resultant pressure pushing the breasts upwards. The aim of these corsets was to create a perfectly flat midsection while allowing for the curvature of the breasts. There is no record of tight lacers in this time period. Corsets subsequently went out of fashion for a few decades, until the 1840s and 1850s when the use of waist training corsets was first recorded.
The corsets from the Victorian and Edwardian era were different from the corsets that appeared earlier in a number of ways. These corsets were longer, flaring out and ending quite a few inches below the waist. These corsets also emphasized the classic hourglass figure rather than the cylindrical shape of earlier corsets. New technology enabled the construction of more rigid corsets and spiral steel stays were incorporated to shape a curve based on the figure of the wearer. Though a lot of corsets were still being hand-stitched and custom-made to the wearer's measurements, there was growing demand for less expensive, mass-produced corsets. Tight lacing was widely practiced at this time and a few corsetiers were well known for attaining particularly small waists.  Some men developed an obsession for smaller waists which was considered quite normal.
In the late Victorian era, women were reportedly giving up corset-wearing due to adverse health effects. In the early 1900s, corsets started to become less fashionable. A number of feminist and dress reform movements gave rise to looser clothing, with a natural waist becoming more fashionable. Corsets made something of a comeback as fetish-wear during the 1960s to the 1990s. Rather than traditional undergarments they were quite often worn as underwear. Around the twenty first century, corsets - especially waist training corsets - have reappeared, though they are by no means common. Some women desiring slimmer waists see corset wearing as a suitable means of achieving this.
Bondage and discipline corsets
A training corset is also an alternative name for a discipline corset or bondage corset. A bondage corset is used as a tool for punishment. It is constructed to place severe limitations on the wearer's movements. A bondage corset generally extends to just above the knees, and is constructed to be laced very tightly. These corsets are often designed to be worn for long periods of time, e.g. overnight and during sleep.
During earlier times in western countries a corset was an everyday item of apparel. In some periods, children were put in stays as soon as they could sit upright or walk. It was believed that the young body was too soft to grow upright on its own. Boys stopped wearing them once they were breeched (began to wear adult clothing) at about 4-7. Girls continued to wear them for their whole lives. It was not until the late 19th century that this practice began to fall away.
It was primarily in the 19th century when corsets were used to noticeably reduce a woman's waist in order to achieve a fashionable hourglass figure. The corset was laced progressively tighter, forcing the floating ribs upward and compressing the soft tissue at the waist. This could lead to many negative health ramifications, including difficulty breathing, problems with digestion, and permanent deformity.
The actual prevalence of this practice is difficult to ascertain. It was most likely practiced by only a small portion of the corset-wearing population.
Most of the more dramatic stories of tightlacing reputed to have come from daily Victorian life actually come from fetish magazines of the period.
- Watt, Gary (2013). Dress, Law and Naked Truth: A Cultural Study of Fashion and Form. London: Berg. p. 115. ISBN 9781472500434.
- Summers, Leigh (2001). Bound to please : a history of the Victorian corset (Reprinted. ed.). Oxford [u.a.]: Berg. p. 81. ISBN 9781859735107.