Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Corset Debate

Underwear has always shaped us, in our bodies and our ways of thinking. I read a good article this morning all about corsets, the beginnings of their design and evolution to near extinction with the switch to bras. You can find it here:

The idea under attack in the article is the truth about the long-standing belief women cinched their waists to as small 13 inches. The author claims such reports as false, citing a lack of documented evidence to verify the truth of the matter. But here's my thinking: corsets were designed to be sexy, to make a woman's figure as sleek in the tummy as possible while pushing up the breasts into eye-catching proportion. And just like today where we tend to idolize the svelte figures on fashion magazines, striving to become as sleek and supposedly-sexy as possible through diet, exercise, and when that doesn't cut it, using a knife to reshape our natural form, you can bet your sweet heiney that women-of-the-past, wielded whatever weapons they had at hand to make themselves look socially beautiful.

There was more at stake back then. Today's modern woman can, if she chooses, say, "this is horse sh*t" to what is fashionable and wear a potato sack if she likes, because we've have employment with decent wages, we have independence, we don't need to catch a husband to survive. But back in the Victorian era and before, we did. We needed to do whatever it took to get ourselves married to a man who could support us and our children, and if it meant cinching a corset to the smallest waist possible, despite the indigestion, pain, and other health-problems which squashing internal organs would cause, then so be it. Women would, and did, and still do whatever it takes to make themselves more eye-catching than the next rival. Just ask your local plastic surgeon how much he makes a year.

But I don't think it's ever been just about rivalry and fashion. Social customs aside, corsets are undeniably sexy. So sexy women dare to wear them on the outside of clothes these days, to show just what they can do for their figure. Like a good pair of high heels, wearing a corset feels sexy. I'm sure there were Victorian women who enjoyed the feeling of a tightly bound waist, who didn't feel "dressed" until they had their corset in place, who enjoyed the sensation of being undressed, layer by layer, lace by lace, when their husband was inclined. Isn't that the ultimate draw of historical romance novels, the slow building anticipation which happens only in the undressing of a corsetted woman by her lover?

I look at my own waist and think, "13 inches....erm, not even close" and I don't really feel a strong desire to find a corset made out of adamantium steel in order to get it that way. But how about you? What do you think of corsets?


  1. LOL. I'd probably put one on if I thought I could convince the people who know me that my waist was that small!

    And yes, I totally believe the "13 inches" story. Because, well, let's face it: women were smaller in the past. So were men. In part because we've grown taller and healthier with better diet and vitamins, better healthcare etc, but also because many of us are overweight now. If we all were a size 2 or so, the 13 inches wouldn't be so hard to obtain. And we'd probably NEED to push up our abdominal fat into our chest to make our breasts look abundant. :)

    I can't help thinking if I put on a nice snug corset, the fat would come pouring out elsewhere, perhaps in a reverse-muffintop out the bottom and give me a roll across my butt. LOL

  2. lol,You know, that butt-roll problem probably did happen when people put a corset on, especially after having kids when everything sags. Maybe that's why they opted for a bustle? Was it padding to enhance the s-curve of the back, or a clever way to hide butt-roll? Hummmmm... :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Out of my depth here, but I think they can be sexy :).

  4. Thanks for your input, Craig!

    The gentlemen who were present at the Steampunk seminars at FanExpo in Toronto, which I was lucky enough to attend, did seem to have an admiration for the ladies who chose to wear a corset. :)

  5. As one who sometimes wears a corset I have to say that though they do certainly cinch your waist in a very sexy way they do NOT make you "sleek in the tummy". On the contrary, it is my experience that as the waist is compressed the tummy actually bulges out. Very annoying. But then, during the heyday of the corset, women wore very wide skirts which flared out from the waist, so the tummy was not really visible.

  6. Hello, Anonymous! Yep, belly-roll and butt-roll displacement are definite problems with corsets for us modern ladies :) I was at a tour of a Victorian mansion this week, and the guide did a nice job of explaining about the garments ladies of the mid 1800's wore. She said that because girls began wearing corsets at age 11 or so, that while they grew to adulthood, the corsets were cinched tight, to keep their waists from expanding past 18 to 20 inches. This caused the bottom ribs to develop pointing downward instead of expanding outward, resulting in the stories of Victorian ladies easily fainting as it was difficult to draw a deep breath (coupled with the layers of clothing and the weight of all the layers--on a hot day I'm not sure how they managed!). Also, the internal organs tended to be stacked up and down rather than outward. If this is true, then a Victorian lady may have been slightly different physiologically than a modern woman due to the many years of wearing a tight corset. Would they have had a belly or butt- roll problem like we have today? Not sure. I am wondering if the 'long-line' corsets of the late 1800's were an attempt to deal with that problem as by then bustles were no longer fashionable and the clothing cut to drape over the hips. At any rate the subject is endlessly fascinating so thanks for your comment and stopping by.