History of corsets

By: Isabelle Baidoo & Greta Johnson

The corset is a tightly fastened bodysuit; designed to push up or flatten a woman’s breasts, or to hug her waist until her figure resembles an hourglass shape.

Corsets are dated all the way back to 1600 BCE, but did not gain prominence until the Middle Ages and Renaissance era. They were worn by European royalty and were a sign of wealth and power.

“At least 60% [of American women above the age of 15] are overweight or grievously lack symmetry in the vicinity of bosom, waist, or hips […] they must — assuming they are vain enough and rich enough to care — wear some sort of corset regardless of what the prevailing mode may be.”

-The Corset

Although these tight fitting garments were appealing to the eye, they had major side effects. Over time corsets cause core muscles to weaken which leads to back pain, poor posture, poor digestion, and overall physical weakness. When the waist is heavily compressed it reduces lung capacity and presses the intestines down.

In the Renaissance Era, women would often have broken ribs from how tightly strung their corsets were tied. The lack of oxygen to the lungs is what caused women in corsets to often faint due to low oxygen.

Corsets lost their popularity in the 50s when women began to be more athletic and welcomed into the workforce. The tight fitted corsets were slowly being dropped, and girdles, and more form fitting garments, were more popular.

“If women will continue this destructive habit, the race must inevitably deteriorate.”

-Benjamin Orange Flower, 1892

Image taken from: https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/

Even though the traditional corset went out of style a long time ago, variations of the piece have recently become popular in today’s fashion. With TV shows like ‘Bridgerton’ being well known, people started wearing corsets again; pairing them with jeans and short skirts for a more modern look.

Waist trainers are also a popular trend right now, with celebrities like Kim K promoting unrealistic body standards making women feel the need to wear a waist trainer to achieve the “hourglass” figure. The waist trainer has similar negative effects as the traditional corset did, restricting airflow and damaging the rib cage. It’s basically a modern day corset; meant for fashion and aesthetics but not function, health, and safety.

The corset has been a staple of fashion for centuries. Variations and different trends have gone in and out of style since the 1800s. modernizing for the 21st century, and coming back into style in different ways throughout the years.

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