Corset History: Were they really that small, restrictive, and unhealthy

civil war dress

This week we take a break from historical facts and look at some good ol’ common sense facts about corsets.

I can not tell you how often I hear these questions when I’m out wearing or selling my corsets. Women ask if it is safe to wear a corset, if they will be able to breathe and eat, if they will be able to go to the bathroom, the list goes on and on. I reply, with the only thing that is uncomfortable do in a corset that is made well and fits you well is; chug beer and sneeze. Sneezing causes fast expansion and is slightly uncomfy in a corset, chugging beer or any fizzy drink for that matter just makes for a lot of carbonation in the belly that has no where to go.

I was reminded today by one of my other favorite sites that this is an issue we still need to address. That women and men still carry around the perception that wearing a corset is somehow dangerous and slightly like a straight jacket. That Victorians wanted tiny little waists and fainted all the time because of those tightly laced corsets.

I direct you to her blog as I could say it simply no better than she does, Dispelling the Myth of the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Waist

This is a topic I will be coming back to, I think that it is so very important to be educated on how a corset should fit and why it should fit that way. I spend a lot of time with women and men making sure they get the right fit. But for now we need to understand the past and how it changes our perceptions of corsets today.


3 responses to “Corset History: Were they really that small, restrictive, and unhealthy

  • opusanglicanum

    it doesn’t help when v programme like th recent bbc4 hidden killer of the victorian home make a big thing out of it either.

  • bettycooperfield

    There’s a lot more to a corset than reducing the waist inches! I really think you have a good post here, I look forward to your ideas in the future. Perhaps others will comment.

    Your post is about corsets – small, restrictive, and unhealthy? Here are my ideas.

    Small – well we come in all shapes and sizes, and the history of fashion tells us that we want to be a shape different from what we really are. Today we have tight jeans, high heels and mega uplift bras for a start. 19 cent women (middle class) changed their dresses often during the day – morning dress, afternoon dress, evening dress, walking dress etc. They may well have laced tighter for special events, but most were probably laced “reasonably” for everyday wear. HOWEVER, if you look at some 19 cent photos it is clear that some women did tight lace, and probably to the extent of discomfort or pain. (Yesterday granddaughter complained about discomfort of tight jeans before going out in the evening!)

    Restrictive. Well yes, corsets are fairly tight and boned, often with a stiff busk. They are designed to restrict size and movement! Working class women wore corsets that were looser and less stiff than than a middle class lady’s corset for an evening dress. Perhaps the middle class lady could not stoop to pick up things from the bottom shelf of the supermarket – but she had no need to this. Therefore she was not restricted in her terms. A good corset helps with posture and deportment. It’s difficult to slouch and stoop in a corset – but that was not seen as a restriction – it was seen as a very positive factor.

    Unhealthy? Well if you look in Google books at 19 century medical books you will find that most things in life were considered unhealthy – thin shoes, green apples, breakfast less than 1 hour after getting up etc. Corsets helped to create the environment where women led less active lives, and this can (but not always) be unhealthy. But the corset itself? Not sure. Doctors said that a tight corset can cause prolapse of the uterus, but you have this without ever wearing a corset!

    I think that we really do not understand the social implication of historical clothing and corsets. Too often we look at them with our values today.


  • Festooned Butterfly

    Betty, thank you for your comments. I agree, there are many social aspects of clothing that we forget. Clothing for the upper classes was vastly different than clothing for the working classes. We do place our modern day values on it. Thank you for adding another voice to help people look at clothing from a different perspective.

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