What is a Corset?
by Eleanor Pickets
A corset is an item of clothing worn to
help shape the upper body into a desired shape for aesthetic, or
sometimes orthopedic, reasons (either while wearing it, or for more
permanent results). Men and women have both worn and still wear corsets.
The craft of making corsets is known as
corsetry, as is the general wearing of them. A person who designs and
makes corsets is a corsetiere (for a man) or corsetiere (for a woman),
or simply a corset maker.
The most popular use of corsets is to shape
the body into a beautiful, fashionable silhouette shape. For women this
usually emphasizes a curvy figure, by reducing the waist, and thereby
exaggerating the bust and hips. However corsets have also been worn to
achieve a more tubular shape although this is less common.
For men, corsets are more customarily
used to slim the figure. However, there was a period from around 1820 to
1835 when an hourglass figure was also desirable for men; this was
sometimes achieved by wearing a corset.
Corsets are constructed of flexible
materials such as satin, leather, pvc, denim, and velvet. They are
stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels
in the material. Steel and whalebone were favored in the Victorian
period but plastic is now the most commonly used material. Steel is used
for high-quality corsets. Other materials that have been used for boning
include ivory, wood, and cane. (A girdle is usually made of elasticized
fabric, not boning.)
A corset encloses the upper body, usually
from under the arms to the hips. Some corsets however extend over the
hips and may even reach the knees. A shorter kind of corset, which
covers the waist area (from below the ribs to just above the hips), is
called a 'waist
cincher' or underbust
corset. A corset may also include garters to hold up stockings.
Corsets are held together by lacing,
usually at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing changes the
firmness of the corset. It is possible for a back-laced corset-wearer to
do his or her own lacing, though it can be difficult. However, many
corsets also have a buttoned or hooked front opening. Once the lacing is
adjusted comfortably, it is possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and
take the corset on and off using the front opening. This method is
incompatible with tight lacing, which strives for the maximum reduction
of the waist. Tight lacers are usually laced by spouses and partners.
In the past, a woman's corset was usually
worn over a garment called a chemise or shift, a sleeveless low-necked
gown made of washable material (usually cotton or linen). These absorbed
perspiration and kept the corset clean. Now an undershirt or corset
liner is usually worn.
About the Author
Written by Eleanor Pickets of Adore
guidance on love, money
family, relationships & decisions