Nineteenth-century corsets and 21-century shape-wear are both designed to control and enhance the shape of a woman’s torso, from the hips (or below) to the breasts (or above). Although the corset fell out of favour in the early 20th century in fashion, in the 21st century, resurgence in the popularity of garments designed to fulfill a similar role speaks to the staying power of the idea of undergarments that restrict and plump out certain parts of a woman’s anatomy.

While corsets had started in Europe, it has managed to travel different parts of the world and cater to different people across the globe. With it come numerous stories and facts about corsets worn in different cultures and societies. Let’s have a look at the significance of corsets, across the globe.

Europe

Corsets have been a significant part of the dame’s attire since the sixteenth century and reached its peak during the Victorian era. It was introduced as an undergarment; however, it has made its mark as an outer-wear in many European countries as a part of their national dress. While the first corsets were worn to “shape” the body for a better posture, it was excruciating for women. It was also worn by men to change the appearance of their bodies. In fact the nomenclature of corset has itself been derived from the Latin word corpus, meaning body and has been gifted by the French. Corset in French means "a kind of laced bodice." It was made popular by Catherine De Medici in France in the 1500s. It was made by using steel or iron structures which made it impossible for the wearer to move freely. But with the advent of the Elizabethan era, whalebones were used in corsets. The busks were now only worn in special occasions. With times changing, gradually the corset became a symbol of women empowerment and presently it is worn by influential women.

Asia

Dudou is a traditional Chinese bodice worn as an undergarment and is known for its medical properties, and was used to flatten the breasts and cover the stomach. Dudou’s origin is often accredited to Yang Yuhuan, who was the consort of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang and is one of China’s Four Beauties. However it was popularised during the Ming Dynasty in the mid 1300s, around the time of the Black Death. Small pockets were made in the bodices to hold snatches of musk, ginger and other exotic herbs intended to enhance the stomach’s qi. In the Ming and the Qing dynasties dudous were exclusively worn as an undergarment, similar to a corset. More affluent families used gold, silver and chains. Initially, dudous were rectangular; however during the Qing regime, they evolved to form a diamond shape.

In Japan, its Japanese equivalent Haramaki is worn, while Yếm, is its Vietnamese equivalent.

Africa

The first thing that comes to the mind when hearing the word ‘corset’ is women’s clothing. However, it is about to change. The men of the Dinka tribe in South Sudan wear corsets known as Manlual and is worn as a daily attire which acts symbolic for wealth of the family and his age-group The wealth in the tribe is known by the height of the back of the bodice. Generally, Dinkas are introduced to a family member at a young age. The higher the Manual, the more affluent the person is. Dinka value their body as the central point for their artistic expression and hence these bodies are adorned with beads and buttons.