While we have some pretty broad assumptions about what wearing a corset in the height of its popularity was like, there are some common misconceptions about the corset.
Myth #1: Corset caused a ton of health issues. While they certainly have been credited with creating some less severe medical issues, like indigestion, they did not often create all of the issues that they were attributed with. The big, and most irritating, “condition” that corsets were credited with was hysteria. It was an imaginary condition of the 19th century that men applied to women in the most sexist way possible. They did move around organs and do a number on your muscles, but they weren’t really going to kill you.
Myth #2: Women removed ribs to make their waists slimmer. This is one of those urban legends of the corset. There is no record of any woman having a rib removed to fit better into a corset. People seem to forget that surgery wasn’t really a big thing in the height of the corset era. We still didn’t know a lot about the workings of the human body and don’t forget that we didn’t have medical anesthesia. So removing anything for vanity was still a good century away.
Myth #3: The goal was a 15-inch waist. Even during the height of corset fashion, waists really didn’t get any slimmer than about 23 inches. The whole 15-inch, 13-inch, rumors were actually just from fantasy fiction that had come out at the time period. It was far from reality. Corsets only shave off a couple of inches, so those tiny waists are just physically impossible.
Myth #4: Corsets were used as a control tool by men. Actually the popularity of the corset was caused by women. Since the corset and slim waist was a sign of class, women’s corsets were fashionable among themselves. Not saying that men didn’t have their part in the whole thing though. Certainly part of the appeal was to make yourself more sexually attractive and if it wasn’t working to nab the male eye, they would have died out fashion pretty quickly.
Myth #5: Corsets were a piece of sexy lingerie. Unlike how we see corsets in modern times, the corset was never revealed during its height. It would be like a woman today walking around in only a bra. Corsets being seen would carry the same level of risqué. Sure they had their own version of pornography which would show ladies in their corsets, but that was only sexy because it is not something that you would have otherwise seen.
Myth #6: Prostitutes sat around in corsets. Have you ever heard of the term a “loose woman?” Well it is referring to a woman who is not wearing a corset. Since corsets kept everything tightly together, if you weren’t wearing one, you would look loose. So this means that a prostitute would not be wearing a corset. They would be too complicated to get out of in order to easily have sex.
Myth #7: Corsets were uncomfortable to wear. Just like any article of clothing, the corset was as uncomfortable to wear as you made it. If you cinched it so tightly that you couldn’t breathe or move well, then naturally it is going to be uncomfortable. And think about it. Women certainly wouldn’t have a single corset for every affair. Just like you have bras to wear with different clothes, so were corsets. So you could have a more uncomfortable corset for a certain outfit, but for your everyday wear, your corset would not be that bad. And women didn’t even normally lace them up all the way, meaning there was a space and gap at the bottom of the corset.