Herstory of Corsets
By: Hella Goode
Ah, the hourglass….a symbol of passing time, and a woman’s curves. And who wouldn’t want to spend an eternity on an hourglass figure?
The best way to achieve such shape is with a corset. A corset is technically defined as a stiffened and fitted item of clothing that gives shape or reshapes a woman’s torso, usually to fit the fashion of the moment. Some women today wear corsets to help keep in what they want in, others enjoy the feeling of being bound and supported, while still others use corsets and similar pieces to help improve their posture. Jennifer Gonzalez, custom corset maker-Jupiter Moon 3 says, “Some of us wear corsets just for the sheer fact that it makes us feel so damn SEXY!”
Many people today are still convinced that a corset is torture, which is meant to impose impossibly tiny measurements on women just to please men. It makes them imagine a throwback to less free times for women, a throwback to when a thirteen inch waist, as in what 16th century French royal Katerina Di Medici was rumored to require of her helpers, with the help of a corset of course.
Some cite the corset’s origin back to the binding habits of ancient Greek women, although their binding tools would hardly be recognized as similar of a corset today.
Venitian ladies of the upper class began to wear stiff conical garments to elongate their necks and flatten their torsos in the 1500’s. This is where the more identifiable practice of corsetry is documented.
“Stays” were then developed. These “stays,” or two piece corsets enhanced the bosom. The pieces were laced together. These laces are what allow for the practice of ‘tightlacing’ or training the body to stay in a certain shape by tying it tightly and binding it for most of the day. Stays were often pretty and decorated since they would be seen as outer garments. Corsets tended to fluctuate between being underwear and outerwear as time and fashion deemed necessary.
With time this method can help create a new shape for the torso. This is also what began to alarm doctors. Doctors noticed that the extremes in corsetry, such as creating the tiniest waists possible were shifting women’s organs in their abdomens, creating strain. They began to advise against these extremes.
Busks, usually made from bone were beginning to be employed as a way of keeping the stomach straight, and eventually to support the cups that held breasts apart in the 18th century. Corsets were once again an obligatory part of fashion, a woman not wearing a corset seen to be improper. Yet, doctor’s warnings about the damage to inner organs made many worry. Thus, corsetry took another twisted turn. New corsets featured a straight front so as not to force organs back into the body. It was a valiant effort, but fashion extremists intervened again and forced the new corsets so tight that although their stomachs were straight, wearers’ backs were arched backward, creating havoc on their backs. Doctors again issued warnings about this “S-line” corset.
With the onset of the World Wars, women’s roles changed. They went from wives and mothers to workers who needed to be able to move freely and get dirty. Corsets did not make sense anymore. They did not disappear completely however. Instead they morphed into two different pieces of clothing-a supportive bra and what is more like a girdle which helped keep the tummy in. The pieces were no longer one big garment, but two separate necessities. The materials used to make corsets were also changing. They became more flexible and were given the ability to stretch.
Then Madonna came along and rocked everyone’s world when she wore a tight bodice as an outer garment for a performance. Madonna made underwear-in, by showing it off and started a new fashion craze. Leave it to Madonna.
Since most of us are not Madonna even on our best day, we tend to go for comfort. Today’s standard underwear for a woman is pretty much all stretch. So when a woman needs some control, she can find a corset, most similar to the style of the 19th century. This style of a curved bust and flat stomach is the motivation for most modern women who wear corsets. “We have the benefit of bendable steel boning now, which makes corset-making much easier, and corset wearing MUCH more comfortable,” corset-maker Jupiter Moon 3 adds.
For those of us who are a little daring, who want our curves in the right places, and enjoy being in control, the best corset is a custom made corset-one that is made to fit our specific shape and our exact measurements. A corset built for you can be as comfortable, as restricting, and as scintillating as you want it to be. Find out for yourself.
Custom made corsets:
Jupiter Moon 3