Wasp waist refers to a woman's fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle, that has experienced various periods of popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its primary feature is the abrupt transition from a natural-width rib cage to an exceedingly small waist, with the hips curving out below. It takes its name from its similarity to a wasp's segmented body. The sharply cinched waistline also exaggerates the hips and bust.
In the 19th century, while average corseted waist measurements varied between 23 to 31 inches, wasp waist measurements of 16 to 18 inches were uncommon and were not considered especially attractive feminine beauty in the period. Ladies' magazines told of the side effects of tight lacing, proclaiming that "the girl who binds and constricts herself to 23 or 21 inches will find, unhappily, that she has also acquired a red nose." (Note that 23 inches was considered tiny, contrary to modern perceptions that a 17 inch waist was fashionable.) Instead, fashions created the illusion of a small waist, using proportion, stripe placement, color, etc. Extreme tight lacing (14"-18") was a "fad" during the late 1870s/80s, ending in around 1887. 
Among the multitude of medical problems women suffered to achieve these drastic measurements were deformed ribs, weakened abdominal muscles, deformed and dislocated internal organs, and respiratory ailments. Displacement and disfigurement of the reproductive organs greatly increased the risk of miscarriage and maternal death.
- Kunzle, D."Fashion and Fetishism", Accessed June 20, 2007
- Klingerman, K.M. "Binding Femininity: The Effects of Tightlacing on the Female Pelvis", Accessed June 20, 2007
- O'Connor, E. "Medicine and Women's Clothing and Leisure Activities in Victorian Canada", Accessed June 20, 2007
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