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About Corsets

Just over a century ago, women got free of the corset. For centuries, this garment did not go out of fashion and helped to correct the figure: to acquire a wasp waist and aristocratic posture. The type of corset changed, depending on how the ideal of female beauty changed. Even though the corset claimed many lives, today it remains in the fashion world.

A corset is one of the most ancient garments. Wide leather belts were worn more than 2-3 thousand years ago by the inhabitants of ancient civilizations. Corsets helped to look slimmer and served as protection during battles.

In the Middle Ages, due to the influence of religion, the figure of women had to be completely flat and not remind of sins. A corset made of iron and wood was sewn into a dress with bolts, and over the centuries such corsets were recognized as an instrument of torture.

Corsets deformed the chest and organs, twisted the spine, caused nausea, digestive and childbearing problems, dizziness, and headaches. Women constantly fainted and often died.

In the 16th century, corsets began to be made from whalebone and fabric. The corset was a symbol of prosperity and aristocracy, only physically unemployed women could wear it.

Cate Blanchett wearing dresses with corsets in Elizabeth (1998):

Catherine de 'Medici, Queen of France and fashion trendsetter, has introduced an official waist measurement standard of 33 centimetres.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, luxurious dresses with a neckline were in fashion, corsets emphasized female forms. They were sewn from satin, silk, cotton, decorated with lace, precious stones, gold threads, ribbons, and embroidery. In addition to forming a straight back, the corset supported massive skirts, which weighed a lot. The mid-18th century corset was relatively comfortable and allowed free movement.

Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette (2006):

The corset was the main part of the ceremonial attire. In 1745, Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseevna (future Empress Catherine II the Great) was married in a dress made of silver brocade with a sewn-in whalebone corset, the waist reaching 48 centimetres. I saw this dress in the Armoury Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin. The dress is decorated with embroidery with patterns of a palm branch, carnation flowers, and fern leaves. Gold and silver embroidery of various threads' types creates the illusion of precious stones. The shape of the dress is oval, it was in fashion in the mid-18th century.

After the Bourgeois Revolution in France (1789), Empire style high-waisted dresses were in fashion. This style of dress did not need to create a silhouette using a corset. The Empire style lasted until the 1820s, when the waistline returned to its natural place, and the corset was again needed.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen in the film Little Women (2019):

Corsets were also popular among men. They helped to hide the extra pounds and have an aristocratic posture. This is evidenced by the caricatures with the dandy. Corsets also were worn by the military, hunters, and athletes. After the 1850s, men began to wear corsets only for medical reasons.

Caricaturists also adored women's corsets.

In the 1830s, there were first talks about the danger of corsets. At that time, corsets were worn not only by aristocrats but also by women of almost all social strata. To go out without a corset was considered the height of indecency for a woman. French writer Georges Sand was the first who opposed the corset.

The creator of corsets Roxey Ann Caplin was not against corsets, she said that they were simply not created correctly. And she argued this in a whole chapter of her book "Health and Beauty: Woman and Her Clothes."

Her whalebone corset with front closures is one of the most famous exhibits at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. It was awarded the Manufacturer, Developer and Inventor Medal. This corset model was widespread and had a huge influence on later corsetry products.

Video about her two corsets, which are in the Museum of London:

Almost half a century later, the struggle for the reform of women's dress took on a wide scale, and women began to listen to doctors. This helped to create the tea dress in the 1870s, which women wore without a corset.

The tea dress was worn only at home. The day or evening dresses continued to be worn outside with corsets. I've seen a lot of corsets in different museums. My favourite corset is from the Dressing the Body: Silhouettes and Fashion 1550-2015 exhibition at the Design Museum of Barcelona, 1890:

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in the film Gone with the Wind (1939) and Keira Knightley in the film Anna Karenina (2012):

In the second half of the 19th century, corsets were industrial producing and bringing their owners millions in profits.

Nicole Kidman in a regular and stage corsets in the film Moulin Rouge! (2001):

Since 1890, the S-shaped corset has been fashionable. It was developed as a safe alternative for women’s health to the earlier models. The new product did not squeeze the diaphragm, pushed the chest forward and the hips back. The corset covered the entire body, in some cases reaching up to the knees.

The S-shaped corset was worn by the heroines of the film A Room with a View (1985):

More elastic corsets were created due to the invention of new materials. They were often worn by women who led an active lifestyle. Advertisements for "innovative" corsets often appeared in women's magazines.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a French artist and trendsetter Polaire, famous not only for her stage performances and roles in films but also for her 33 centimetres waist. Of course, she was a fan of corsets.

Kate Winslet in the film Titanic (1997) and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey (2010-2015):

After the start of World War I, the corset gradually went out of fashion. The last rise in popularity of the corset was experienced in the 1950s when Christian Dior introduced the New look style. The wasp waist accentuated the full skirt, helping to create a feminine hourglass silhouette.

The corset was often sewn into the dress.

Marilyn Monroe in promo photography for the film River of No Return (1954):

Sophia Loren in the film The Millionairess (1960):

Brigitte Bardot, 1960s:

After the 1960s, the corset disappeared from everyday life, more often seen at fashion shows or on stage. In different decades, Vivienne Westwood has presented fashion looks with corsets in her collections.

Vintage models of her corsets are also worn by nowadays celebrities.

Other designers followed Vivienne Westwood's footsteps: Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen, Gianni Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and others. The corset is found on the catwalks even now.

Jean-Paul Gaultier designed the corset with cone-shaped cups, one of the most provocative stage costumes Madonna wore on the 1991 Blonde Ambition tour.

The tour`s performance:

It was not the last corset for Madonna.

The queen of corsets today is Dita von Teese. She wears corsets not only on stage but also in everyday life. Often her corsets are created by Jean-Paul Gaultier, which Dita demonstrates at his shows.

It is impossible to imagine ballerina costumes without corsets.

Natalie Portman in the film Black Swan (2010):

In addition to catwalks and stage, corsets are most often found in evening and wedding dresses these days. The materials used to create modern corsets are soft, elastic, and breathable fabrics that do not block blood circulation and do not affect health.

How modern corset dresses are created (Francesco Scognamiglio Fashion House):

Since last year, fashion magazines and fashion bloggers have been campaigning to wear a waist corset over a jacket, dress, or shirt. Loewe waist corset is considered the most fashionable today.


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