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A drawing of a luxury hourglass corset from 1878, featuring a busk fastening at the front and lacing at the back

A corset is a support undergarment worn to hold and train the torso into the desired shape and posture. They are traditionally constructed out of fabric with boning made of whalebone or steel, a stiff panel in the front called a busk which holds the torso rigidly upright, and some form of lacing which allows the garment to be tightened. Corsets were an essential undergarment in European women's fashion from the 17th century to the early 20th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries they were commonly known as "stays" and had a more conical shape. This later evolved into the curvaceous 19th century form which is commonly associated with the corset today. By the beginning of the 20th century, shifting gender roles and the onsets of World War I and II (and the associated material shortages) led the corset to be largely discarded by mainstream fashion.

Since the corset fell out of use, the fashion industry has used the term "corset" to refer to undergarments or shirts which, to varying degrees, mimic the look of traditional corsets. While these modern corsets and corset tops often feature lacing or boning, and generally imitate a historical style of corsets, they by-and-large have very little, if any, effect on the shape of the wearer's body. Elasticated garments such as girdles and waist trainers are still worn today and serve to compress the waist or hips, although they lack the rigidity of corsets. A corset brace is a type of orthotic resembling a traditional corset, used to support the lower back in patients with mild to moderate back pain.


The word corset is a diminutive of the Old French word cors (meaning "body", and itself derived from the Latin corpus): the word therefore means "little body". The craft of corset construction is known as corsetry, as is the general wearing of them. (The word corsetry is sometimes also used as a collective plural form of corset). Someone who makes corsets is a corsetier or corsetière (French terms for a man and for a woman maker, respectively), or sometimes simply a corsetmaker.

In 1828, the word corset came into general use in the English language. The word was used in The Ladies Magazine[1] to describe a "quilted waistcoat" that the French called un corset. It was used to differentiate the lighter corset from the heavier stays of the period.



As the form and purpose of the corset was continually evolving throughout its time as a standard undergarment, there is no way to definitively state how it was worn. While the original purpose of stiffened undergarments was founded in the avoiding of creasing to costly, highly adorned outer garments,[2] the most common and well-known use of corsets is to slim the body and make it conform to a fashionable silhouette. For women, this most frequently emphasizes a curvy figure by reducing the waist and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips.

Pair of stays, c.1780s. Fashion Museum, Bath, England.

However, in some periods, bodies (Tudor-era corsets) were worn to achieve a tubular straight-up-and-down shape, which involved minimizing the bust. Bodies, also known as a pair of bodies, for women's and menswear into the 16th and 17th centuries achieved their stiffened shaping through materials including steel, wood, or whalebone, and were constructed of two parts and fastened at the sides.[3]

Prior to being known as the corset, bodies were referred to as stays from the 17th century,[2] though the term corset was used to refer to this structured undergarment from around the end of the 18th century.[3] Stays were an integral part of fashionable women's underclothing in the west. Shaping the body to fit the desired silhouette, which, for example, in the 1780s resembled a conical shape, stays of the 18th century ensured good posture – the central aim of such undergarments of this period, rather than accentuating the bust, for example.[4]

During the late 1700s up until the 1820s, in reflection of the neoclassical style of dress, the demi-corset or short stays were popularised,[3] as the empire line of fashionable gowns did not require support or shaping to the waist.

Advertisement of corsets for men, 1893

For men, corsets were sporadically used to slim the figure. From around 1820 to 1835—and even until the late 1840s in some instances—a wasp-waisted figure (a small, nipped-in look to the waist) was also desirable for men;[citation needed] wearing a corset sometimes served to achieve this. However, by the mid-1800s onward, men's corsets fell out of favor, and were generally considered effeminate and pretentious.[5]: 227 

An "overbust corset" encloses the torso, extending from just under the arms toward the hips. An "underbust corset" begins just under the breasts and extends down toward the hips. A "longline corset"—either overbust or underbust—extends past the iliac crest, or the hip bone. A longline corset is ideal for those who want increased stability, have longer torsos, or want to smooth out their hips. A "standard" length corset will stop short of the iliac crest and is ideal for those who want increased flexibility or have a shorter torso. Some corsets, in very rare instances, reach the knees. A shorter kind of corset that covers the waist area (from low on 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.

Advertisement of corsets for children, 1886

Traditionally, a corset supports the visible dress and spreads the pressure from large dresses, such as the crinoline and bustle. At times, a corset cover is used to protect outer clothes from the corset and to smooth the lines of the corset. The original corset cover was worn under the corset to provide a layer between it and the body. Corsets were not worn next to the skin, possibly due to difficulties with laundering these items during the 19th century, as they had steel boning and metal eyelets that would rust. Light linen or cotton shifts (also called chemises) were worn beneath corsets to absorb sweat and protect the corset and wearer from each other, and also to function as underwear and protect other garments from the wearer and their sweat. The corset cover was generally in the form of a light chemisette, made from cotton lawn or silk. Modern corset wearers may wear corset liners for many of the same reasons. Those who lace their corsets tightly use the liners to prevent burn on their skin from the laces.


Aside from fashion and medical uses, corsets are also used in sexual fetishism, most notably in Bondage/Discipline/Sado-Masochism (BDSM). In BDSM, a submissive may be required to wear a corset, which would be laced very tightly and restrict the wearer to some degree. A dominant may also wear a corset, often black, but for entirely different reasons, such as aesthetics. A specially designed corset, in which the breasts and vulva are exposed, can be worn during "vanilla sex" or BDSM activities. Dress historian David Kunzle argues in his work Fashion and Fetishism that historical usage of the corset had a fetishistic dimension as some wearers reported feeling sexual pleasure from the use of the garment, and the corseted waist was highly sexualized by men and women alike.[6]


A corset brace is a lumbar support that is used in the prevention and treatment of lower-back pain. They can also be prescribed to patients healing from spinal surgery. A corset brace resembles a historical corset, but is typically made with elastic fabric and plastic boning to allow for more flexibility. Metal boning may be used if more rigidity is needed.[7][8] Artist Andy Warhol was shot in 1968 and never fully recovered; he wore a corset for the rest of his life.[9]


Corsets are typically constructed of a stiff material, such as buckram, structured with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels in the cloth or leather. In the 18th and early 19th century, thin strips of baleen (also known as whalebone) were favoured for the boning.[10][11] Plastic is the most commonly used material for modern corsets and the majority of poor-quality corsets. Spring and/or spiral steel or synthetic whalebone is preferred for stronger and generally better quality corsets. Other materials used for boning have included ivory, wood, and cane.

Corsets are held together by lacing, usually (though not always) at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing produces corresponding changes in the firmness of the corset. Depending on the desired effect and time period, corsets can be laced from the top down, from the bottom up, or both up from the bottom and down from the top, using the bunny ears lacing method. Victorian corsets also had a buttoned or hooked front opening called a busk. If the corset was worn loosely, it was possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and take the corset on and off using the front opening. (If the corset is worn snugly, this method will damage the busk if the lacing is not significantly loosened beforehand).

Manufacture and design[edit]

In the 1660s, the manufacture of stays, as they were known during the period, began to emerge as its own profession in France. These craftsmen were known as staymakers. The work was specialized and generally considered men's work, although women often assisted in the construction process sewing together pieces cut and fitted by men. Women were excluded from staymaker's guilds, and the work was considered too strenuous for women to do correctly.[12]

By the 19th century, corsets became one of the first garments to be manufactured in factories via assembly line. Each step was performed by a different group of people, often children. Heavy or messy work was done in house, such as cutting the fabric pieces and japanning the steels to prevent rust, and lighter work, such as sewing the bones in place, was taken home by piece workers, generally women who enlisted their children to help them. Workers in corset factories were among the most poorly-paid in London, and frequently could not make enough to meet their daily living expenses.[5]

Although the corsetmaking industry was dominated by men, a number of woman designers and inventors became known for their work in this field. Among them included Roxey Ann Caplin, who consulted her physician husband to create corsets with respect to modern knowledge of female anatomy. The field of corsetmaking was one in which new designs were continually submitted and patented, often with the desire to create ever stronger or stiffer corsets that were less likely to break.[5]: 26–28 


In the past, a woman's corset was usually worn over a chemise, 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, a tee shirt, camisole, or corset liner may be worn. In the late Victorian period, as anxiety around the health effects of corseting increased, the "health corset" became popularized, typically featuring woolen lining and other features such as elasticated panels or steel watch springs instead of steel strips for boning.

Waist reduction[edit]

The invention of the steel eyelet in 1827 was a major turning point in the history of the corset, and allowed wearers to lace their corsets significantly tighter without damaging the garment.[5]: 13  Dress historian David Kunzle maintains that tightlacing was largely the domain of middle to lower-middle-class women hoping to increase their station in life; he estimates that the average corseted waist size of the 1880s was approximately 21 inches (53 cm), with an uncorseted waist size of about 27 inches (69 cm).[6] A corseted waist of 19 inches (48 cm) was considered "standard" and one of 13 inches (33 cm) "severe" but not unheard of.[13][14] Statistics from 1888 indicate that the average waist size had decreased over the past 25 years, attributed to tightlacing itself as well as the lowered respiration and food intake permitted by tightlacing.[5]: 248–249  Modern wearers are unlikely to achieve the same degree of reduction that was recorded in historical usage since the corset was usually begun during the early teen years or even before. The slimmest waist sizes on record should be contextualized with the fact that they were seen in teenage girls, and may have been reserved for special occasions.[15][13]

In 1895, The West Australian published an account purporting to be from the early 1860s, the diary of a student at an all-girls boarding school which described how their school madams trained girls to achieve waists ranging from 14 inches (36 cm) to 19 inches (48 cm); the narrator herself reports a reduction from 23 inches (58 cm) to 14 inches (36 cm), and a subsequent interview with a corsetmaking firm corroborated that such sizes were not unusual during that period.[15]

Until 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Ethel Granger as having the smallest waist on record at 13 inches (33 cm).[16] After 1998, the category changed to "smallest waist on a living person". Cathie Jung took the title with a waist measuring 15 inches (38 cm). Other women, such as Polaire, also have achieved such reductions: 16 inches (41 cm) in her case. Empress Sisi of Austria was known to have a very slender waist at 16 inches.

Health effects[edit]

X-ray of a woman in a corset

The negative physical effects of corseting have become widely known, including a variety of myths. For example, the idea that Victorian women frequently underwent rib removal to achieve a smaller waist is baseless.[12] However, wearing a corset does affect a number of bodily functions and can be deleterious to the wearer's health, especially when worn regularly over a long period of time; during the Victorian era stays were typically begun at or before the onset of puberty, with reported ages ranging from 7 to 13.[5]


Moderately laced corsets have been demonstrated to reduce lung capacity anywhere from 2 to 29%, with an average of 9%, and can cause an increase in shortness of breath during moderate exercise such as dancing. Doctors warned corseted women against "everything that [was] worthy of the name exercise" to avoid strain,[12]: 70–71  although some guides were written on light calisthenics to be done by young women who would presumably be wearing corsets. Typical exercises included stretching, dance steps, and skipping, largely focusing on moving the limbs and balancing.[17] As women's social freedom increased during the second half of the 19th century, sport corsets began to be sold, designed for wear while bicycling, playing tennis, or horseback riding. These designs typically incorporated some form of elastic panelling or mesh.[5]

Corsets were widely thought to contribute to tuberculosis. Prior to the advent of germ theory, some thought corsets directly caused the disease, as women were significantly more likely to contract and die from the disease than men in this era. Others thought corsets contributed to TB deaths due to impairment of lung function.[13][12]

Muscular wasting[edit]

Corsets are known to contribute significantly to muscle wasting in the core and back when worn over long periods of time. Although they temporarily relieve back pain, muscle atrophy due to disuse will lead to increased lower-back pain and eventually perpetual reliance on the corset.[12] Forceps delivery was standard during this period, which could be due to atrophy of the abdominal muscles caused by lifelong corset usage.[13]

Skeletal deformities[edit]

Skeletal analyses have found that the usage of corsets had a significant effect on the form of the spine, ribs, and hips.[14][18][19] However, the consequences of this change are not fully agreed upon by researchers. Underdevelopment of the pelvic inlet may have contributed to difficulties in birth.[14]

Pelvic floor and reproductive health[edit]

A significant source of the controversy surrounding corsets was their ability to affect the reproductive system due to the downward pressure created by displacement of organs.[5] One Doctor Lewis writes in an 1882 edition of The North American Review:[20]

A girl who has indulged in tight lacing should not marry. She may be a very devoted wife, yet her husband will secretly regret his marriage. Physicians of experience know what is meant, while thousands of husbands will not only know, but deeply feel the meaning of this hint.

This quote alludes to problems with the reproductive organs experienced by women who tightlaced, and demonstrates the difficulties of explaining this issue due to Victorian taboos around discussing sexuality. Reformist and activist Catharine Beecher was one of the few to defy propriety norms and discuss in any detail the gynecological issues resulting from lifelong corset usage, in particular uterine prolapse.[21][22] Corsets were usually worn during pregnancy, often as long as possible.[12]: 76  Obstetrician and writer Alice Bunker Stockham campaigned against the widespread practice of wearing corsets during pregnancy, writing sardonically: "The corset should not be worn for two hundred years before pregnancy."[21] Feminist historian Leigh Summers theorized that some of the moral panic came from the common but unspeakable idea that tightlacing could be used to induce an abortion.[5] Doctors often attributed the difficult births many Victorian women experienced to corsets, widely believing that "primitive" women who wore less restrictive garments had less painful births and were overall healthier and more vigorous.[5][20]

Modern skeletal analyses indicate that corseting, particularly during pre-puberty (most girls began corseting around 7 or 8), led to underdevelopment of the pelvic inlet, which is consistent with reported difficulties in birth, although studies into this topic have been mixed.[19][14]


Uterine prolapse was a significant danger exacerbated by corsets, the incidence of which correlated with widespread corset wearing.[12][13] Both rectal and uterine prolapse occurred at a higher incidence during the Victorian era than today, with occurrences declining as the corset fell out of fashion.[13] An 1888 doctor reported that “uterine derangement had increased fifty percent within the last fifteen years as a result of tight clothing, corsets and high heels."[5]: 113  This era saw the development of a number of pessaries and other devices patented to support the prolapsed uterus, the insertion of which frequently led to further complications; the topic was a subject of wide professional discussion.[5][14]


Corset wearing is known to decrease the size of the stomach and disturb digestion, potentially leading to constipation or indigestion. The downward pressure on the pelvic floor can also lead to urinary incontinence, similar to that experienced during pregnancy.[12]

Chlorosis is a now-outdated term which referred to a disease thought to be caused directly by corsets, now thought to be hypochromic anemia. The illness, also known as green sickness, was associated with the onset of menarche and fell under the umbrella of "female complaints": problems attributed to the increasing demands that puberty brought onto the frail female body.[5] The physician Frederick Parkes Weber posited that the disease may have been caused by corset wearing, noting that the illness never appeared in boys, that fat rather than thin girls were more likely to experience it, and that prolonged bed rest seemed to resolve the symptoms, while trips to the sea (during which corsets would still be worn) did not.[5]: 111 


Woman's corset (stays) c. 1730–1740. Silk plain weave with supplementary weft-float patterning, stiffened with baleen; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.63.24.5.[23]

For nearly 500 years, bodies, stays, or corsets with boning made of reeds, whalebone, or metal were a standard part of European women's fashion. Researchers have found evidence of the use of corsets in the Minoan civilization of early Crete.[24]: 5 

16th and 17th centuries[edit]

In the late 16th century, what would later be known as the corset was called "a pair of bodys."[25] It consisted of a simple bodice, stiffened with boning of reed or whalebone.[24]: 6  A busk made of wood, horn, whalebone, metal, or ivory further reinforced the central front and created an upright posture. It was most often laced in the back, and was, at first, a garment reserved for the aristocracy. Later, the term "pair of bodies" would be replaced with the term "stays" and was generally used during the 17th and 18th centuries. Stays shaped the upper torso into a cone or cylinder shape.[26] In the 17th century, tabs (called "fingers") at the waist were added.

18th century[edit]

Stays evolved in the 18th century, during which whalebone was used more, and increased boning was used in the garment. The shape of the stays changed as well. While they were low and wide in the front, they could reach as high as the upper shoulder in the back. Stays could be strapless or use shoulder straps. The straps of the stays were generally attached in the back and tied at the front.

A garment resembling a quilted vest with ties at the sides. It is decorated with red and green embroidered birds and flowers.
A pair of quilted linen jumps, late 17th-early 18th century

The purpose of 18th century stays was to support the bust and confer the fashionable conical torso shape, while drawing the shoulders back. At that time, the eyelets were reinforced with stitches and were not placed across from one another, but staggered. That allowed the stays to be spiral laced. One end of the stay lace was inserted into the bottom eyelet and knotted, and the other end was wound through the eyelets of the stays and tightened on the top. "Jumps" were a variant of stays, which were looser, had no boning, and sometimes had attached sleeves, like a jacket.[24]: 27  Women of all levels of society wore stays or jumps, from ladies of the court to street vendors.

Corsets were originally quilted waistcoats, which French women wore as an alternative to stiff stays.[24]: 29  They were only quilted linen, laced in the front, and unboned. That garment was meant to be worn on informal occasions, while stays were worn for court dress. In the 1790s, stays began to fall out of fashion. That coincided with the French Revolution and the adoption of neoclassical styles of dress. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some men were known to wear corsets, particularly the widely mocked dandies.[24]: 36 

A colored etching of two servants tightly pulling the laces of a man's corset.
"Lacing a Dandy," a satirical cartoon of a man being laced into a corset, 1819

19th century[edit]

In the early 19th century, when gussets were added for room for the bust, stays became known as corsets. They also lengthened to the hip, and the lower tabs were replaced by gussets at the hip and had less boning. In the 1820s, fashion changed again, with the waistline lowered to almost the natural position. That was to allow for more ornamentation on the bodice, which, in turn, saw the return of the corset to modern fashion. Corsets began to be made with some padding, for a waist-slimming effect, and more boning. Some women made their own, while others bought their corsets. Corsets were one of the first mass-produced garments for women. They began to be more heavily boned in the 1840s, and the shoulder straps were eliminated. By 1850, steel boning became popular.

With the advent of metal eyelets in 1827, tightlacing became possible. The position of the eyelets changed. They were situated opposite one another at the back. The front was fastened with a metal busk. The corsets of the 1850s–1860s were shorter, because of a change in the silhouette of women's fashion, with the advent of the hoop skirt or crinoline. After the 1860s, as the crinoline fell out of style, the corset became longer, to shape the abdomen, exposed by the new lines of the princess or cuirass style.

In 1855, a woman named Frances Egbert had trouble with her corsets, due to the front steel pieces constantly breaking as a result of strain.[27] Consequently, her husband, Samuel Barnes, designed "reinforced steels" for Egbert's corsets. Barnes filed a patent for the invention 11 years later, and Egbert collected the royalties on this patent for 15 years following his death.[27] Following the case of Egbert v. Lippmann, the US Supreme court deemed Barnes's and Egbert's patent as "public".

Corset controversy and dress reform[edit]

The new practice of tight-lacing instigated widespread controversy. Dress reformists claimed that the corset was prompted by vanity and foolishness, and harmful to health. The reported health risks included damaged and rearranged internal organs, compromised fertility; weakness and general depletion of health. Those who were pro-corset argued that it was required for stylish dress and had its own unique pleasures; dress historian David Kunzle theorized that some enthusiastic fans of tightlacing may have experienced sexual pleasure when tightlacing, or by rubbing against the front of the corset, which contributed to the moral outrage against the practice.[6]

A maternity corset, 1908

The corset controversy was also closely tied to notions of social Darwinism and eugenics. The potential damage to the uterus, ovaries, and fetus was frequently pointed to as a danger to the race; i.e., the European race. Western women were thought to be weaker and more prone to birth complications than the ostensibly more vigorous, healthier, "primitive" races who did not wear corsets. Dress reformers exhorted readers to loosen their corsets, or risk destroying the "civilized" races.[5]: 135  On the other hand, those who argued for the importance of corsets cited Darwinism as well, specifically the notion that women were less evolved and thus frailer, in need of the external support of a corset.

The reformers' critique of the corset was one part of a throng of voices clamoring against tightlacing. Doctors counseled patients against it and journalists wrote articles condemning the vanity and frivolity of women who would sacrifice their health for the sake of fashion. Although for many, corseting was accepted as necessary for health, propriety, and an upright military-style posture, dress reformers viewed tightlacing, especially at the height of the era of Victorian morality, as a sign of moral indecency.

American women active in the anti-slavery and temperance movements, with experience in public speaking and political agitation, advocated for and wore sensible clothing that would not restrict their movement, although corsets were a part of their wardrobe.[citation needed][28] While supporters of fashionable dress contended that corsets maintained an upright, "good figure", and were a necessary physical structure for a moral and well-ordered society, dress reformers maintained that women's fashions were not only physically detrimental, but "the results of male conspiracy to make women subservient by cultivating them in slave psychology".[29][30] They believed a change in fashions could change the position of women in society, allowing for greater social mobility, independence from men and marriage, and the ability to work for wages, as well as physical movement and comfort.[31]

Eugène Atget, Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris, 1912

In 1873, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward wrote:

Burn up the corsets! ... No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.[32]

Despite those protests, little changed in fashion and undergarments up to 1900. The primary result of the dress reform movement was the evolution, rather than elimination, of the corset. Because of the public health outcry surrounding corsets and tightlacing, doctors took it upon themselves to become corsetieres. Many doctors helped to fit their patients with corsets to avoid the dangers of ill-fitting corsets, and some doctors even designed corsets themselves. Roxey Ann Caplin became a widely renowned corset maker, enlisting the help of her husband, a physician, to create corsets which she purported to be more respectful of human anatomy.[5] Health corsets and "rational corsets" became popular alternatives to the boned corset. They included features such as wool lining,[33] watch springs as boning, elastic paneling, and other features purported to be less detrimental to one's health.

In the 1890s, Inès Gaches-Sarraute [fr] designed the straight-front corset in response to her patients' gynecological issues which were attributed to wearing corsets. The design was intended to reduce pressure on the abdomen and improve overall health. The new S-curve silhouette created by this design quickly caught on among fashion houses in the early 20th century.[34] The style was worn from 1900 to 1908.[24]: 144 

Early 20th century[edit]

Diagram of a straight-front corset, 1902
A longline hip-slimming corset, 1917

The corset reached its longest length in the early 20th century. At first, the longline corset reached from the bust down to the upper thigh. There was also a style of longline corset that started under the bust, and necessitated the wearing of a brassiere, a style that was meant to complement the new silhouette. It was a boneless style, much closer to a modern girdle than the traditional corset. From 1908 to 1914, the fashionable narrow-hipped and narrow-skirted silhouette necessitated the lengthening of the corset at its lower edge. Meanwhile, as bras began to catch on in the 1910s, fewer and fewer corsets included bust support. The fashionable corsets of this period covered the thighs and changed the position of the hips, making the waist appear higher and wider and the hips narrower, forecasting the "flapper" silhouette of the 1920s.[34] The new fashion was considered uncomfortable, cumbersome, and required the use of strips of elastic fabric. The development of rubberized elastic materials in 1911 helped the girdle replace the corset.[35]

In 1910, the physician Robert Latou Dickinson published "Toleration of the corset: Prescribing where one cannot proscribe", in which he investigated the medical effects of corsets, including the displacement and deformation of internal organs. He found that, while some women could wear these garments without apparent harm, the vast majority of users sustained permanent deformations and damage to their health.[36]

The longline style was abandoned during World War I, in part to save materials for the war effort. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was a brief revival of the corset in the form of the waist cincher sometimes called a "waspie". This was used to give the hourglass figure as dictated by Christian Dior's "New Look". However, use of the waist cincher was restricted to haute couture, and most women continued to use girdles. Waspies were also met with push-back from women's organizations in the United States, as well as female members of the British Parliament, because corsetry had been forbidden under rationing during World War II.[33] The revival ended when the New Look gave way to a less dramatically shaped silhouette.

Late 20th century[edit]

By the 1960s, the advent of hippie culture and youth rebellion led the wasp-waisted silhouette to fall out of favor. Feminist activists protested against the restrictive nature of Dior's designs.[37] In 1968 at the feminist Miss America protest, protestors symbolically threw a number of feminine products into a "Freedom Trash Can." These included girdles and corsets,[38] which were among items the protestors called "instruments of female torture".[39] The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of popular fitness culture, and diet, plastic surgery (modern liposuction was invented in the mid-1970s), and exercise became the preferred methods of achieving a thin waist.[40] The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought with it midriff-revealing styles like the crop top, and many women chose to forgo supportive undergarments like girdles or corsets, preferring a more athletic figure.[41]

Corset-style top worn in 2021

The corset has largely fallen out of mainstream fashion since the 1920s in Europe and North America, replaced by girdles and elastic brassieres, but has survived as an article of costume. Originally an item of lingerie, the corset has become a popular item of outerwear in the fetish, BDSM, and Goth subcultures. In the fetish and BDSM literature, there is often much emphasis on tightlacing, and many corset makers cater to the fetish market.

A corset from a 1902 French magazine

Outside the fetish community, living history reenactors and historic costume enthusiasts still wear stays and corsets according to their original purpose to give the proper shape to the figure when wearing historic fashions. In this case, the corset is underwear rather than outerwear. Skilled corset makers are available to make reproductions of historic corset shapes or to design new styles.

Since the late 1980s, the corset has experienced periodic revivals, all which have usually originated in haute couture and have occasionally trickled through to mainstream fashion. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's use of corsets contributed to the push-up bust trend that lasted from the late 1980s throughout the 1990s.[33] Those revivals focused on the corset as an item of outerwear rather than underwear. The strongest of the revivals was seen in the Autumn 2001 fashion collections and coincided with the release of the film Moulin Rouge!, in which the costumes featured many corsets as characteristic of the era. Another fashion movement, which has renewed interest in the corset, is the steampunk subculture that utilizes late-Victorian fashion shapes in new ways. In the early 2020s, corset-inspired tops and dresses began to trend as part of the regencycore aesthetic, inspired by television series like Bridgerton and The Gilded Age. These designs typically do not incorporate any form of boning.[42]

Special variants[edit]

Singer Rihanna wearing a modified corset along with underwear as outerwear.

There are some special types of corsets and corset-like devices which incorporate boning.

Corset dress[edit]

A corset dress (also known as hobble corset because it produces similar restrictive effects to a hobble skirt) is a long corset. It is like an ordinary corset, but it is long enough to cover the legs, partially or totally. It thus looks like a dress, hence the name. A person wearing a corset dress can have great difficulty in walking up and down the stairs (especially if wearing high-heeled footwear) and may be unable to sit down if the boning is too stiff.

Other types of corset dresses are created for unique high fashion looks by a few modern corset makers. These modern styles are functional as well as fashionable and are designed to be worn with comfort for a dramatic look.

BDSM Neck Collar and Corset

Neck corset and collar[edit]

A neck corset is a type of posture collar incorporating stays and it is generally not considered to be a true corset. This type of corset and its purpose of improving posture does not have long term results. Since certain parts of the neck are being pulled towards the head, a band in the neck, called the platysmal band, will most likely disappear.[43] Like the neck corset, a collar serves some of the same purposes. The neck collar can be worn to allow minimal neck movement after road accidents, and is more accessible and cheap than physiotherapy.[44] However, neck corsets and collars are more often used as a fashion statement or as an element of BDSM rather than physiotherapy.

See also[edit]


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  7. ^ Lumbar supports for the prevention and treatment of low-back pain
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  14. ^ a b c d e Klingerman, Katherine (3 April 2006). Binding femininity: an examination of the effects on tightlacing on the female pelvis (Master of Arts thesis). Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College. doi:10.31390/gradschool_theses.3732.
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  16. ^ Vogue cover model shocks with 33cm waist MADONNA magazine from August 31st, 2011
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  18. ^ Killgrove, Kristina (16 November 2015). "Here's How Corsets Deformed The Skeletons Of Victorian Women". Forbes. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
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  31. ^ Riegel, Robert E. (1963). "Women's Clothes and Women's Right". American Quarterly. 15 (3): 391. doi:10.2307/2711370. JSTOR 2711370.
  32. ^ Phelps, Elizabeth (1873). What to Wear. Boston: Osgood. p. 79.
  33. ^ a b c Stevenson, NJ (2011). The Chronology of Fashion. London: The Ivy Press.
  34. ^ a b Libes, Kenna (5 February 2023). "Inès Gâches-Sarraute and the Straight-Front Corset". Fashion History Timeline. Retrieved 27 December 2023.
  35. ^ Carlisle, Rodney (2004). Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries, p.102. John Wiley & Songs, Inc., New Jersey. ISBN 0-471-24410-4.
  36. ^ Dickinson, Robert L. (1910). Toleration of the corset  – via Wikisource.
  37. ^ Tomes, Jan (10 February 2017). "How Christian Dior revolutionized fashion 70 years ago". DW. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  38. ^ Dow, Bonnie J. (Spring 2003). "Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 6 (1): 127–149. doi:10.1353/rap.2003.0028. S2CID 143094250.
  39. ^ Duffett, Judith (October 1968). WLM vs. Miss America. p. 4. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  40. ^ Bass-Krueger, Maude (17 April 2019). "Vogue's fashion encyclopaedia: The history of the corset". Vogue France. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  41. ^ Bucci, Jessica (7 November 2015). "Fashion Archives: A Look at the History of the Crop Top". Startup Fashion.
  42. ^ Ilchi, Layla (29 April 2022). "What Is Regencycore? A Look at the Fashion Trend Taking Over This Spring". WWD. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  43. ^ Tonnard, Patrick; Verpaele, Alexis; Monstrey, Stan; Van Landuyt, Koen; Blondeel, Philippe; Hamdi, Moustapha; Matton, Guido (May 2002). "Minimal access cranial suspension lift: a modified S-lift". Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 109 (6): 2074–2086. doi:10.1097/00006534-200205000-00046. ISSN 0032-1052. PMID 11994618.
  44. ^ Huston, G.J. (1988). "Collars and Corsets". British Medical Journal. 296 (6617): 276. doi:10.1136/bmj.296.6617.276. JSTOR 29529544. PMC 2544783. PMID 2963670.

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