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Corset Design from Past to Present

Corset Design from Past to Present

When women think of a corset, it’s actually hard to pinpoint what their exact feelings are since no woman is alike and no corset is alike.  In the most general of terms, the corset has many names and quite the intriguing history.  Known also as a bustier, cottee, jump, stay, or the swan-bill, this specialty piece of women’s clothing has origins back to the Grecians.  It has transformed in both purpose and style over several centuries, essentially originating as a way to promote certain angles and features of the female body. 

In the 16th and 17th centuries, noted for the Elizabethan Era, corsets for the lower class were made often of linen and wooden busks while upper class women wore corsets of silk and velvet with whalebone or metal busks.  These busks would be the predecessors for the boning in corsets recognized today.   Corsets of this time were to be worn under clothes in order to flatten the abdomen and elevate the breasts such that there was a contrast between the rigid flatness of the stiff bodice opposing the curvature of the bosom peeking over the top of the corset.  As the 18th century turned, notably with the Georgian Era, the primary shape of one’s undergarment corset was that of an inverted conical profile in order to create a rigid cylindrical abdomen above the waist with full, heavy skirts below.  In this way, the corset was able to raise and shape the breasts, tighten the torso, and support the back as means to improve posture with shoulders forced down and back.  In the late 18th century following the French Revolution, there was a decline in corsets as woman began wearing clothing that required fewer undergarments.  Corsets were much less constricting with the new hig- waisted empire fashion resulting in a “short-stay,” extending just below the breasts almost like a brassiere, in order to support the chest and de-emphasize the torso.  Then, the corset took its biggest and most notorious leap in design during the 19th century when the Victorian Era started.  During this time period, the waistline was returned to its natural position and the corset once again set out to support the breasts, but also with a specific emphasis on the waist creating the desirable hourglass silhouette still seen today.  The Victorian corset created an exaggerated curvaceous, as opposed to cylindrical shape, with a tightly cinched waist.  In this way, “tight lacing” gained popularity with some corsets even made entirely of spiral steel.  This extreme tight lacing did lead to indigestion, constipation, and fainting.  In turn, the 20th century “health” straight-front corset was developed which forced the torso and busts forward with the hips out.  Interestingly, the corsetiere behind this design held a degree in medicine and he claimed this corset, made often of wool or leather, would be safer applying less pressure to the stomach; ironically it placed greater pressure on the unnatural settings of women’s other body parts.  A brief trend of the early 20th century was the Post-Edwardian long line corset that covered the thighs and made the waist higher and wider.  This cumbersome and uncomfortable style was therefore short lived.  When World War 1 transpired, there was a request from the board of U.S. War Industries that asked women to cease purchasing corsets to free up metal for the war.  As it turned out, this provided almost 28,000 tons of metal!  In the 1920’s corsets were largely replaced by brassieres and girdles with the development of elastic.  But all was not lost as waist nipping corsets gained popularity in the 1940’s, called by the slang term “Merry Widows.” The 1960’s through the 1980’s continued the new revival of the corset and in the 90’s, fashion embraced fetish and corsets made a unique statement being worn as outer garments, not underneath.

This of course brings the corset to today’s 21st century where it is worn as a sexy statement with blue jeans, sewn into an elegant gown for evening wear, or worn for sole purpose of making a woman feel fabulous with nothing else on.  Today’s corsets are flattering, feminine, romantic, alluring, empowering, and sensual.  They embrace women’s bodies, creating the look and feel of fabulous whether they wear a corset alone as a piece of art to enhance the body in the bedroom, as part of a vivacious day time outfit, or an addition to a sultry evening ensemble.  Today, there are a handful of talented corsetieres that can take a woman’s exact body measurements and handcraft a beautifully fitted, custom corset that suites her specific needs like detachable shoulder straps or added garter straps.  Such a designer is Jane Woolrich out of England whose one-of-a-kind pieces are custom fitted and measured exclusively at Bits of Lace.  Bits of Lace Fine Lingeier is the only location in South Carolina and one of the few boutiques on the entire East Coast to carry this coveted label.  These exquisite corsets have the ability to slim, shape, and support the stomach, hips, and breasts providing a gorgeous natural feminine figure.  These custom pieces fashioned at Bits of Lace, will enhance the bodies of women regardless of age or physical proportion.  Colors, patterns, and textures are limited only to ones imagination as are the luxurious materials such as gossamer gothic laces, hand spun silk, or Valencian lace from Calais.