The First Appearance
The first supposed appearances of the ancestor of the corset can be traced back to as far as 3000 BC, when Sumerian, Cretan & Minoan women wore open-fronted bodices which supported and added frame to their bare breasts. They paired these with flounced skirts that highlighted their hips and their toned waists. Although there isn’t any strong proof to suggest that these were wide-spread fashion trends, however, researchers have often agreed that they were a part of the attire for the royal and elite, such as priestesses of fertility cults.
During the middle ages, the women used to wear dresses the highlighted their neck, cleavage and chest. It was common for women to wear dresses, in those days, however, it doesn’t mean that it was accepted. Since the society was more male-dominated, women dressed in low-cut dresses, showing cleavages and bosoms were looked down upon. However it all changed in the 1400s when the mistress to Charles VIII, Agnes Sorel, began the trend of wearing décolleté gowns in France. These dresses had very low neckline, known as décolletage. And this began the first recorded instance of corsets making a fashion trend.
However, the boned corset and reducing the size, really started only during the Renaissance period. Between 1500-1550 Huzzah, the first curl corset was invented, and was called a bodice. Back then, due to limited materials, corsets were made out of animal horns and whalebone along with fancy fabrics. However, these corsets, which emphasised the ample bosoms, was still limited to the upper-class and aristocratic women.
The Georgian era marked both a dismal era for corsets due to the Empire Waist and a progressive one, due to the addition of cups. In 1790s waistlines and bust-lines had moved up and were covered in layers of fabric. Hence, corsets didn’t have to be as constricting. However to lift and highlight the breasts cups were introduced for the first time, and hence, corsets became a part of the underwear. Since the shape was no longer highlighted due to the layers of clothing, the French started calling these lightly boned bodices ‘corsets’.
The Victorian Era
By now, those who have thought, the Georgian era was nightmare for corsets and overall, liberation of women in terms of choice of clothing, are in for more disappointment with the onset of the Victorian Era. During that time, someone got the idea to make corsets out of horrible materials such as wood and steel. Steel, as we know now, isn’t what was used back then. It was more rigid and catered to the taste of the women, who wanted an hourglass figure.
But wait, it gets worse. By the end of the Victorian era and the commencement of the Edwardian era, a more extreme version of corset came into the picture; enter the S-line corsets which forced the hips backward which also made the upright position for women, impossible.
But, like everything good or bad, it didn’t last forever. With a new generation of women, the S-line corset... in fact all types of old corsets were discarded and a new line of elastic corsets were introduced which, apart from being comfortable also helped correct the back posture. In fact, the rebellion was so strong, that women reserved corsets for special occasion, or stopped wearing them, completely and pliable girdles came into the picture which emphasised on a robust bust and maintaining a more elegant and slender shape of the body.
Like history, fashion, too repeats itself. Hence, two years post the Second World War, Dior re-introduced the new and enhanced corset to the world. These corsets were breathable, and much more comfortable and efficient than those, in history.
With Jean Paul Gaultier’s bring back the corset campaign, corsets were embraced by women and men alike. In addition, corset wasn’t merely an under garment anymore; it became a stylish outerwear.
In 1987, Vivienne Westwood too, followed the suit and by using the pattern in 18th century, developed her own take on corsets and transformed the garment which was once seen as oppressive to a garment which stood for empowering the women and the pop culture, too took the movement into a global scale with icons like Madonna donning corsets as a warrior’s armour fighting for women empowerment.
At present, all sorts of modern corsets, including steel-boned corsets and gothic corsets are in rage with women and men from all walks of life, wearing them for waist training and for looking stylish.