Hourglass corset

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This article is about the corset. For other uses, see Hourglass (disambiguation).
Hourglass corset from 1867

The hourglass corset produces a silhouette resembling the hourglass shape characterized by a wide bottom, narrow waist (wasp waist) and wide top.


Hourglass corsets first surfaced in fashions of the 1830s. In contrast to empire waistlines or Late Georgian (1790s to 1810s) styles, which dictated that the waist lie just below the bust, Victorian fashion accentuated natural waistlines, further constricting and slimming.[1] The hourglass has become the iconic association with corsets in part because these Victorian era artifacts have stood the test of time far better than their Late Georgian precursors. They are also prominently featured in the media; often the corset of the quintessential "women clutching to bedposts while their maid pulls and pulls at the corset strings"[2] image features an hourglass corset. In accentuating slimness of waist, the hourglass corset broadened bust, shoulders, and hips. These elements worked in tandem, along with very wide skirts, large sleeves and sloping shoulders, to create the wide-slim-wide hourglass figure.

Hourglass silhouettes remained popular throughout the 19th century, though outerwear evolved. In England, France, and America, these corsets were mainly worn by aristocrats and in some cases royalty.

The hourglass corset achieved the greatest immediate waist reduction, as it acted mainly on a short zone around the waist. Rather than attempting to slim the torso around the ribs, the soft fleshy tissue could be compressed, squeezed, and redistributed above and below the waistline.

As skirts and sleeves shrank, fashions began to favour a more slender, vertical look. Princess line dresses were popular in the 1880s; these were made without a horizontal waist seam and with long vertical seams running the length of the dress, with the dress fitted closely to the body. Hourglass corsets evolved to emphasize the long lines of the body, and their shape often attempted to slim the torso above the waist as well.

Modern history[edit]

In 1900, the straight fronted corset replaced the hourglass corset in fashion.

It is one of the most common styles of corset made today, and is often used for post-pregnancy waist training.

The name 'hourglass' comes from the shape it gives to the wearer's figure, rather like an hourglass — the waist is small, with the ribcage tapering sharply to the waist and the hips flaring outwards (wide shoulders, wide ribcage, narrow waist, wide hips). Some dislike the shape, claiming that the nipped-in waist looks unnatural, and that with the aim of getting the smallest waist possible, an hourglass figure can look like "pillow being cinched in by a belt".[3]

The hourglass corset is associated with very small waists. However, it is likely that hourglass corsets were not laced as tightly as the straight-fronted corsets fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century

Pipe-stem waist[edit]

Pipe-stem waist

Some hourglass corsets may have had a pipe-stem waist; however, these have never been common, as the added pressure that they place on the ribcage can be uncomfortable.

A pipe-stem waist is a silhouette given by wearing a certain kind of corset. The corset is designed so that the circumference of the waist is extended for a distance above the natural waistline. This can put considerable pressure on the lower ribs as they are pressed inwards. Devotees of this silhouette will have trained their figures for many years and there are only a few public examples. Usually this figure is adopted for erotic reasons but also as part of the body modification movement.

Short pipe-stem waists are most often found on hourglass corsets; however, they have never been common, and reports of nineteenth century pipe-stem waists on corsets—which often cite a height of up to 15 cm (6 inches)—are likely to be sexual fantasy, rather than reality, due to the difficulty and discomfort in wearing a corset with a pipe-stem waist.

Corsets were still the norm, but they no longer had the exaggerated wide-narrow-wide silhouette of the hourglass corset.

Health effects[edit]

One natural and one corseted body.

Many people who are ignorant on the topic of corsets think back to the past and automatically assume that corsets are detrimental to the wearers health. In modern times, as in the past, that is only true in very extreme cases. Nowadays corseting is rarely taken to the extremes of the Victorian times. Corsets can be used for health reasons such as acting as back support for people with varying medical issues, such as chronic pain issues or fibromyalgia. Corsets can also be used as a sort of human thunder jacket, (thunder jackets are used for dogs with anxiety due to stormy weather) it puts a comfortable amount of pressure on the torso of the wearer that can ease certain anxieties.

The flat front panels of the "health corset" or S-shaped corset in the later Victorian/Early Edwardian period did, in fact, not force the stomach in, but did alter posture.[4]


  1. ^ "A Short History of the Corset". www.marquise.de. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  2. ^ "Corsets & Crinolines in Victorian Fashion - Victoria and Albert Museum". www.vam.ac.uk. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  3. ^ Corset Silhouette
  4. ^ Valerie Steele, The Corset: a Cultural History. ISBN 978-0300099539

External links[edit]

See also[edit]