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Corset history

Playgirl Corset | Blog |  Corset history

Find out more about the history of the corset.
Find out more about the history of the corset.
If you think that using a corset to change someone’s natural shape is a fairly recent invention, think again. Although we usually associate corsetry with the Victorian and Edwardian periods of history, the first corset goes back a lot further – to the 14th century – and has been developing ever since.

The early corset

Historians have found evidence of shape-changing clothing as far back as Neolithic times, but the corset as a garment first became prominent in the 14th and 15th centuries. Fashion is not a new concept and in medieval times, clothing was one of the ways that you could show how wealthy or important you were. The way you dressed, therefore, was crucial. For women at this time, a natural shape wasn’t fashionable, and so a corset-type garment was developed in order to give women the shape of the day. The panelled construction of these garments allowed them to fit closely to the body and they were worn by both sexes in order to achieve a satisfactory body shape.

Corset design

For Tudor ladies, the corset was an essential piece of clothing. Tudor corsets were reinforced with materials such as whale bone or wood in order to give the long, flat frontage that was fashionable at the time. Court fashion was extremely important and ladies of the court would experiment with different types of corset design in order to achieve the smallest waist or the best silhouette. With the layers of clothing needed on top of the corset in order to show wealth and to provide warmth, it’s no wonder that many suffered from aches and pains.

The evolving corset shape

Whilst Tudor corsets were fairly unshaped, those that came after them were noted for their shaping. This was achieved by shaping the materials for the stays – still often bone or horn – into curves to give a more defined profile. These corsets were heavy and uncomfortable and went out of favour towards the end of the 18th century. The shaping remained a key part of corset design, however, and played an important part in the corset ranges of the Victorian era, when the “hourglass” shape was desirable - a small waist with curves above and below. Although some went to extremes to get a tiny waist, most women are likely only to have gone two or three inches below their natural waist line, with the smallest waist circumference at around 20 inches.

The end of the corset?

For a while, especially during the periods in the 20th century when the world was at war, the corset was no longer required. Women rebelled against changing their shape to please men, and the advent of new garment technology, such as elastic, gave women the freedom to be comfortable and supported at the same time. The corset,
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