EVERYTHING YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT CORSETS
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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.
I started writing this blog about corsets kind of due to a morbid fascination. I had seen the propaganda from the 19th century that had demonstrated warped rib cages and declared all of the horrible side effects that had come from wearing the corset. Read More…
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