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7 Myths About the History of Corsets


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.

Corsets in Hollywood


The legacy of the corset in history was not wasted on Hollywood. Corsets have their own place in the movies, with actresses wearing them to either be sexy, to be historically accurate, or simply to fit into the impossible dress. Here are some examples of how corsets have made their place in Hollywood.


Lily James: The up-and-coming Hollywood starlet had received some criticism saying that her waist had been photoshopped for the live-action version of Cinderella. As it turns out, she was just strapped into a corset for days. Her complaint was that it was nearly impossible to eat in it as the food couldn’t travel down well, making digestion a nightmare. She lived off of soup during the filmed scenes where she had to be laced into a corset.

Keira Knightly: Knightly has starred in a number of period pieces over the years. She has said that she loves doing historical movies, but does not love wearing a corset. When she was interviewed about her role in the movie The Duchess, Knightly said it was “Positively awful. They were made in very much the same way they were made back then,” she said. “I think probably their corsets would have been tighter. Because I said, ‘If I’ve got to stand up for 16 hours a day making a film, then can I please be able to breathe a little bit? It would be really helpful…It’s not really a surprise we were known as the weaker sex, because you literally cannot get a breath. So it’s sort of, as soon as you start getting emotional, if you’re doing an emotional scene, you can’t calm down. You can’t literally draw a breath to try and center yourself again,” Knightley said. “It’s no wonder they were sort of fainting all over the place.”


Vivien Leigh: There is a famous scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O’Hara is having her waist cinched in while she holds onto a best post. O’Hara is disappointed that her waist is 20 inches instead of the 18.5 she was used to before she had a baby. In the end she refuses to go down and see anyone because she’s gotten “so big” and also declares she won’t be having any more babies since they are ruining her figure.

Nicole Kidman: In Moulin Rouge Kidman pulls off the corseted look completely naturally. With her already svelte figure, it does not appear that the corset was overly uncomfortable for her to wear. Though this movie is a prime example of fantasy burlesque versus real prostitutes. Prostitutes were referred to as “loose women” because they were uncorseted since it was more challenging to have sex with all of the laces on. Kidman in this movie is both performer and prostitute so the scenes where she is trying to sell herself but is wearing a corset were not historically accurate. Pretty comical when you think that women of today will wear corsets to appear sexier.


Tim Curry: This is a personal favorite. Curry wore a corset in his underground hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show where he portrayed the Dr. Frank N Furter. While his corset was not cinched incredibly tightly, he did emit that sexy burlesque feeling that is commonly associated with corsets in modern times.

Drew Barrymore: I think this one is often forgotten, but Barrymore wore a very sexy corset for her role of Sugar in the movie Batman Forever. With her sister Spice, Sugar was a love interest for Two-Face. While she has definitely taken more grounded roles since then, her corseted physique still has its place in Hollywood history.


How to Shop for a Corset


If you are interested in trying out a corset, you will need to understand how to buy and what to buy depending on your purpose for wearing a corset. Believe it or not, but women wear corsets for a number of different reasons. Depending on your reason for a corset, you will have to take some things into consideration when you go shopping.

So why do you want to wear one?

Are you trying to be sexy in the bedroom or are you trying to physically make your waist slimmer (also known as waist training). If you are just messing around with wearing a corset for foreplay or as part of a costumer, you can get away with wearing the plastic boning. Plastic is lighter, cheaper, easier to find, and has a lot more variety in the world of corsets.

If you are thinking more in terms of making your waist physically smaller, you are going to need something a little more intense in order to squeeze those vital organs into a new location. Steel boning costs more money, but it’s worth it. Steel is also the way to go if you are thinking about wearing your corset on a regular basis since it is more comfortable than plastic and will last longer. But if you are serious about waist training, you need to go for a double boned corset. They provide more support and can seriously be cinched tight.


How much support are you thinking?

There are two kinds of corsets as far as fitting goes: over-bust and under-bust. Over-bust corsets will cover your breasts and under-bust only go up to your breasts. It is harder to order an over-bust corset or just buy one off the rack since there are more specific dimensions of your body at play. You would have to ensure that the corset not only will work for your waist, but also will appropriately fit your breasts.


Make sure you are getting the right size.

This is especially critical if you are considering waist training. A plastic boned corset can shave off an inch or two. A steel corset can shave off four or five inches. A double steel corset can go up to seven inches. Every kind of corset will have specific measuring techniques to guarantee that the corset you are buying will fit your physique now and will help get you the end goal you are after. Use a tape measure to take your dimensions ind order to see what size you should be. If you can try on a corset that would be the best plan. Ordering online can be risky business, especially since there are so many Asian brands flooded into online retailers like Amazon. The issue with the Asian-made corsets is that they are meant to fit the average Asian woman’s physique which is not the same as the average American woman’s physique.

When you try on your corset look for the following:

  • Your corset can be cinched all the way without you feeling like you are dying.
  • Your corset should be kind of comfortable. I mean no corset is going to be like pajama-level comfortable, but you shouldn’t want to cry while you are wearing it either.
  • You should love your corset. You should be able to look in the mirror and think of how amazing and confident it makes you look. If you don’t like your appearance in one or you are self-conscious, a corset may not be a good purchase for you.
  • Your corset shouldn’t fall apart at the seams when you try it on. If the quality is completely shoddy, it will be a waste of money. Even the cheaper plastic corsets can be made of good material. For the double steel waist trainers, there should be more than one layer of fabric to double up on the sturdiness.

Inès Gache-Sarraute and Deforming the Spine


You may not be familiar with Inès Gache-Sarraute, she has made her place in history for her part in the design of a corset. She was not the original creator of the corset of course. The corset has been around for centuries. But her design did have an impact on the women of her period and how we perceive corsets when we look back at them in history.



Gache-Sarraute was a famous French doctor. She had a medical degree and was specialized in women’s health. She spent her career looking at improving women’s health and studying their anatomy. Part of what she researched was the effect of the corset on the women’s physique. Due to being laced tightly over a long period of time, as women aged, their organs would naturally move down their body. The result was ptosis as well las a protrusion of the lower abdomen. While they had already tried to correct this issue and provide more support to the belly, it was still not adequate for correcting the issue at hand.

A New Design

In an effort to correct the sagging of the abdomen, Gache-Sarraute had the bright idea that since corsets were still quite in fashion and not going anywhere, they just needed a different kind of corset. The new design was cut so that the pressure on the waist was pushing things upward instead of downward. The corset as incredibly tight and rigid and put pressure on the lower abdomen, something its predecessor did not do. The result was a far more curved figure. And the sagging belly and organs was not such a concern any longer.


The Deformity

This new design was not without consequence, however. While Gache-Sarraute had thought that she created a corset to improve women’s health, it turned out to have different and just as severe consequences. As the new design was adopted by women all around the world, it was discovered that the intense pressure that was being placed on the lower spine was causing an unnatural “s” curve in the spine. While women at first thought this was an awesome and elegant side-effect of the corset, the back was being over-arched and causing chronic back pain. The pain would affect how women were walking, sitting, and even was affecting how well they slept due to the odd curve that their back was pushed into. Additionally, where the previous corset design did not have any detrimental effects on the internal organs outside of the shifting and sagging, the new design was placing undue pressure on the kidneys. So while the result was a nice and curvy physique, the price that was paid to gain it was not worth the result.


The End

The “s” corset didn’t really go away. It instead morphed into the modern undergarment as fashion changed again. The 1920s saw the end of the everyday corset as the fashion moved to more fluid and less constriction for women’s wear. The modern corsets are actually made from the hourglass design of Gache-Saurrate, but they do not have the same intensity or pressure placed on the lower spine that forced the curve. The ladies who like to waist train or tightlace wear the corsets that evolved from the “s” design, but its modern equivalent does not force the bottom outward as it pushes the spine inward. Not saying that the modern corsets are still really good for your body, but you are less likely to have kidney and digestive trouble with the newer designs, that is unless you cinch them incredibly tightly to get a tiny waist.


Kimmy K and the Corset Revival


While the world has been continually inundated with the Kardashians thanks to the show Keeping up with the Kardashians, they have pushed themselves on the world way beyond a reality television show. We have them in every People Magazine. They are on news shows whether they are news or not. And thanks to the pairing with rapping pariah Kanye West, we know how them in popular music. But there is another thing that we have to thank them for. That is the revival in popularity of tightlacing, which is now cleverly marketed as “waist training.” As if waist training is a different thing. It is literally squeezing your waist in an effort to make it appear smaller.


Kim Kardashian’s Famous Shape

The middle female child of the original Kardashian crew is the well-known Kim. Kim made herself famous through a released sex tape and somehow made it through pop culture. She is known for her giant buttocks. But the theory is the reason her derriere looks so enormous is that she binds her midsection to make it look smaller than it reasonably should be.


The Beginning of the End

Kim started the corset revival with one simple picture. She posted a selfie on her well-followed Instagram page of her wearing a corset with the hashtags #hourglass #waisttraining #nophotoshopnecessary. All of her followers were immediately intrigued. Had her banging figure come from cinching her waist tightly in an unnatural fashion? That one picture set off thousands of women in hunt of a corset for “waist training.” What happened next was a picture of her wearing a corset while at the gym. So working out while tightlacing. Honestly doesn’t sound like a very good idea, does it? Since tightlacing makes it impossible to fully expand your lungs, I have no idea how you could work out without taking a full breath.

Ann Cherry

The corset brand that Kimmy K states is the best for squeezing your insides is Ann Cherry. The corsets are available on Amazon and have been purchased literally thousands of times in an effort to cheat health and force an hourglass shape on yourself whether you should be that shape or not. The women say that the results are immediate and they also improve posture. There are lots of positive reviews for them on Amazon, but they still seem like a really bad idea. The thought is that the Kardashian crew wouldn’t put their name on just any product, but I don’t believe that for a second. They are entrepreneurs and are in it all to make money. So whether you want to waist train or not, proceed with caution.


So Should You do it?

I’m going to refer back to the age-old question proposed by parents to their children, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you too?” And what’s more, the Kardashians are not your friends. The only thing you actually know about them is what they show in social media and on television. You know that they enjoy making money and nothing is too far from their reach. They will use any means necessary no matter the ethical ramification. So really, you don’t know them personally, they are not your friends. You know that their public personas are pretty low on the moral totem pole. That said, would you really trust people who have an excess of money at their disposal and have no qualms in doing things that we could not perceive of in order to get more money? You can waist train if you want to, but just don’t do it because you saw some immoral people on the television or internet do it too.

The Faces of the History of Tightlacing


Tightlacing is what is now referred to as “waist training.” You are strapping the old waist in to try to make it smaller than it really is. Over time, you can shift your body’s organs and deform your lower ribcage in the name of a tiny waist. Not that this is a good idea, but some people are into it.

Before you consider getting into tightlacing yourself, you should consider the effect it has on your body. While there has been no known issues regarding effects on some organs, there has been proof that tightlacing can put unnecessary strain on your lower lungs. In modern society, it may not be as big of a deal, but will make you more prone to catching pneumonia since you can’t fully expand your lungs. Additionally it can adversely affect your breasts, though not in a fatal way. The worst is really though that you cannot digest a meal if you are tightlaced in a corset. The food will not have ample passageway to make it through your digestive tract and is just a bad idea.

Here are a few notable people who have made their place in history for having a small corseted waist.


Cathie Jung: Jung is an American born in 1937 who holds the record in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the smallest waist. Her corseted waist is a whopping 15 inches. Uncorseted, which I hope she does more often than not, her waist is 21 inches. Corsets are meant to slim your waist by an inch or two. Six is a bit excessive.

Polaire: Polaire (1874-1939) was a French performer and one of the early film actresses in the beginnings of French cinema. She was famous when tightlacing was in fashion and she quickly became known for having the smallest waist in show business. History says that her waist was no bigger than 16 inches around making her waist a goal to be had.


Dita Von Teese: Von Teese (1972) is a modern burlesque performer who is also well-known as the ex-wife of Marilyn Manson. In the burlesque world she is the focus of a lot of fetishes due to her tightlacing. She has been wearing corsets since the age of 15 and her 22-inch waist can be tightlaced to 16.5 inches.

Violet Chachki: Just to add some color in this list of people, Violet Chachki, born in 1992, is a male to female drag queen is reported to have the smallest waist in drag history. Chachki can corset her waist to an impressive 18 inches. And even though an hourglass is certainly not a natural shape for a male body type, Chachki pulls it off looking completely natural.


Elisabeth of Austria: In this list, I find the Empress to be the most tragic victim to tightlacing. Where the modern counterparts have done so willingly as a fashion statement, I don’t think that is the same kind of case with Elisabeth. She had gone through a bad period of time. She had three kids back to back who were then taken from her to be raised by her mother-in-law. It was after this that she started tightlacing. Through some intense efforts, she got her waist down to 16 inches, demonstrating her discipline over her own body. She had a loathing attitude toward curving and overweight people, something she even passed onto her daughter who was mortified when she met Queen Victoria. It was reported she eventually gave up the tightlacing, but even then her natural waist was about 19 inches. I find her tragic as it seems like an old-fashioned explain of what would most likely be an eating disorder today.

The True Story of the Corset


When we think of a corset, we usually think of either a sexy bedroom costume or we think of a female torture device of the 19th century. But let’s think of the corset in another way. Where has the corset travelled throughout history to get to where it is today?


Early History

The first indication of a corset in history was a depiction of a Cretan woman from about 2000 BC. The corset was worn as outerwear and undoubtedly had a different purpose than the tightlacing equivalent since then. There is not a lot of information about it, but it does go to show that the corset is a not a new invention.

Evil Italian Lady

Ok well that may not be entirely fair, but Catherine de Medici isn’t exactly remembered for her sweetness and good nature. De Medici was the Queen of France in the 1500s and, among all of the other terrible things she was known for, she made the corset fashionable. It became known as essential to being perceived as a beautiful woman. This style of corset also had a farthingale so the skirts were forced outward to make the waist seem even smaller. A small waist was not the goal of this kind of corset, however. This one forced the breasts further upward and ensured a good posture in conjunction to the curvy hips and boosted breasts.


British Fashion

So naturally what is popular in France will eventually leak over into Britain and the same was true of the corset. By the 1600s, the corset had become the fashion trend in Britain as well. This kind of corset had something called a “stomacher” which was a structure put in the tummy area as part of the decoration. This was during the Elizabethan period when dress wear was pretty silly to look at as well. They had whalebone inside of them as well to ensure that they stayed nice and stiff. This kind of corset was the predecessor to the laced ones that came next. Though it was pretty popular, there were some noble women who would still not wear them. Most notable was Mary, Queen of Scots, but while the corset was becoming the rage in Britain, it was going out of style in France. As Louis XV took over, clothing became more comfortable and relaxed in France.

Conical Corset

In Britain the corset was still going strong and now evolving. Into the 18th century, they began to wear an inverted corset, which had a conical shape. It was meant to contrast the heavy and full skirts that were below it. The breasts were also shaped in this kind of corset, ensuring that all of the fashionable women had the most desirable feminine shape. This corset also forced a good posture, kept the midsection tight, and pushed up the breasts. It was this corset that introduced the forced waistline. Despite common rumor, this corset was not so tight that you couldn’t breathe. The ones that were well-made and not ridiculously tighlaced, were actually designed to be comfortable and worn all day. They did make it nearly impossible to bend over, so it was a challenge if you dropped something.


Modern Day

After some minor body warping, the corset eventually went out of fashion. As the corset made way for more comfortable clothing, women’s undergarments instead shifted to brassieres and underwear instead of the constrictive corset. Outside of a few exceptions, the corset is now used more for novelty in the bedroom or in movies and theater depicting a style of dress that is no longer around.

Everything you didn’t know about Corsets


Beyond the face that corsets are trying to squeeze all of the air out of your body in some kind of morphed logic that your waist should be unnaturally smaller than it is, there is a lot to know and understand about corsets. I’m not saying you shouldn’t still judge them, because I consider them torture devices, but there is more than meets the eye about these breath-stealing female punishments.


Fun Fact #1: Even though they weren’t universally popular until much later, they have found images of the corset dating back to 2000 BC. That’s right, women were being waist constricted thousands of years ago. That corset was a little different than what we think of, however. That one seemed to be worn on the outside of your clothes instead of the inside.

Fun Fact #2: The word comes from a French term from the 14th century. It was defined as a “laced bodice,” referring to the face that you lace a corset up to cinch it together.


Fun Fact #3: The revival of the corset and entrance into popular fashion can be credited to Catherine de Medici. If you are short on your French history, here’s a quick recap. Catherine de Medici was an Italian aristocrat who married King Henri II of France. She was notoriously jealous of Henri’s mistress and booted the mistress, Diane de Poitiers from her castle Chenonceau after Henri kicked the bucket. She was also famous for murdering people in her house. You didn’t want to cross her. She was not very nice. Which is why the corset makes a lot of sense for her. Maybe if she could move around better and breathe freely, she would have been a calmer person. Regardless, she wore a corset and, since she was Queen of France, it became very popular in 16th century France.

Fun Fact #4: Whale bones were introduced to the corset during the Elizabethan era. They were inserted to make the corsets more stiff, keeping their shape no matter what the person looked like underneath. Called the “busk,” the whalebone was removable and easily replaced if it broke or warped over time. During this time, the corset’s laces were in the front of the body instead of the back, where we are familiar with them being today.

Fun Fact #5: Before the Victorian revival of the corset, by the 19th century, the corset actually had a purpose. They were meant to help support women’s breasts. This of course was the ancestor to the bras we wear today. They may have smoothed out the rest of your upper body, but that was not their intention. Since the dresses of the time were empire-wasted (think Jane Austen), they didn’t need to have a slim waist.


Fun Fact #6: The hourglass figure that we refer to today as the “hourglass” and as a “bombshell” was popularized first in the Victorian time. Having your breasts pushed up and supported with an itty-bitty waist was the ideal silhouette. So now the corsets of the time were supporting breasts while squeezing your waist into an unreasonable shape.

Fun Fact #7: It didn’t take long for people to realize that tying your waist into an unnatural shape was a bad idea. By the end of the Victorian period, doctors were condemning the vanity of the corset and pointing out all the horrible things they were doing to the body. There was an awful trend of pregnant women still trying to wear corsets and cinch them tightly. This was, obviously, a terrible idea. They also found that they were squeezing vital organs, causing a whole mess of other problems. Mostly, they seem to be responsible for constipation and stomach-related problems as the stomach was being physically tired back.

Fun Fact #8: Even after corsets were said to be a bad idea by doctors, the fad didn’t die. Instead they switched to saying that they were healthy for you and continued to try to contort the body into some unnatural shapes.