The name "hourglass" comes from the shape it gives to the wearer's figure, like an hourglass — the waist is thin, with the rib cage below the breasts tapering sharply to the waist and the hips flaring outwards (wide shoulders, wide rib cage, narrow waist, wide hips)
Hourglass corsets first became fashionable in the 1830s. In contrast to empire waistlines or Late Georgian (1790s to 1810s) styles, which dictated that the waist should lie just below the bust, Victorian fashion accentuated natural waistlines, further constricting and slimming them.
The hourglass corset achieved immediate waist reduction, as it acted mainly on a short zone around the waist. Rather than attempting to slim the torso around the ribs, tissue could be compressed, squeezed, and redistributed above and below the waistline.
The hourglass has become the iconic corset shape, in part because these Victorian era artifacts have survived the test of time far better than their Late Georgian precursors. They are also prominently featured in the media; often the image of the corset shown is the quintessential "woman clutching a bedpost while their maid pulls and pulls at the corset strings". The hourglass corset accentuated slim waists and optically broadened the bust, shoulders, and hips by contrast. These elements worked in tandem 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 styles evolved. In England, France, and America these corsets were mainly worn by aristocrats and in some cases royalty.
As skirts and sleeves shrank, Edwardian era fashions began to favor 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 newer styles which emphasized the long lines of the body, and attempted to slim the torso above the waist as well.
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. Corsets were still the norm, but they no longer had the exaggerated wide-narrow-wide silhouette of the hourglass shape.
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 compressed for a distance above the natural waistline. 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 rib cage as ribs are pressed inwards can be uncomfortable.
Reports of nineteenth century pipe-stem waists on corsets often cite a height of up to 15 cm (6 inches).
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.
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Criticisms of corsets are that they were detrimental to the wearer's health, as well as a general shift towards less layered clothing, have diminished their popularity over time. While some argue that corsets can be used to amend posture, as well as alter the body without any negative side effects when used with care, many health care professionals advise against the use of constricting body wear for extended periods of time.
The shape of the rib cage could be altered by tightly laced corsets. Also, tightly laced corsets can irritate skin, reduce lung capacity, and weaken muscles that support the back and the chest. Some of the long-term effects that are thought to be caused by tight-corset wearing include reduced pelvis size, constipation and digestive issues, and reproductive problems ranging from miscarriage to uterine prolapse.
- "A Short History of the Corset". www.marquise.de. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
- "Corsets & Crinolines in Victorian Fashion - Victoria and Albert Museum". www.vam.ac.uk. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
- Kotz, Deborah. "Rise in health problems from Spanx, corsets, and shapewear". Retrieved 2015-11-16.
- Valerie Steele, The Corset: a Cultural History. ISBN 978-0300099539
- The Corset: Questions of Pressure and Displacement. 1887
-  - this page gives a clear idea of what a modern pipe-stem waist looks like.
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