A girl should be two things: sexy and fabulous. –Coco Chanel
No one is exactly sure when women started undergarments designed to alter their shape, but there certainly have been many over the years. Petticoats and hoop skirts both created the illusion of broader hips while, presumably, protecting a woman’s purity. Precursors to the bra actually pushed down a woman’s breast to keep them from appearing too large. Most have, thankfully, gone so far out of style that they are now nothing more than museum pieces. Yet, at least since the 16th century, one piece has adapted and endured to become a cherished piece of a woman’s lingerie collection: the corset.
While there’s no documentation as to when corsets were first used, we do know that some of the earliest versions bordered on cruelty. The ribs were made of iron and pulled impossibly tight. Some speculation exists that they might have originally been meant as an orthopedic device, which makes a little sense despite the fact they were probably not very effective. By the mid-16th century, corsets, which were then known as stays, were more decorative and worn as external pieces over the bodice of a dress, but by a century later they were demoted strictly to underwear, beneath the bodice or other clothing.
Popularity waxed and waned over the mid-century decades, but then designer Jean-Paul Gaultier brought the corset back as an external garment in the 80s and they’ve not gone away since. Every season someone tries a slightly different variation, working them into styles from evening wear to casual streetwear. Look around and one can find a corset, or corset-type garment, for just about any occasion. They have almost become a standard part of a woman’s wardrobe and look sexy and alluring on many different body types, which give them a universal popularity.
We see a lot being said today about body shaming and its detrimental effects. While there is unquestionable validity to the movement, what ultimately matters is how a woman feels about herself. Corsets are attractive and for some women help them to feel more sexy and confident. While no one should ever feel forced to wear anything or feel obligated to look a certain way, one needs to feel good about themselves and corsets help do that. Whether over, under, or as the only garment, corsets produce a shape that is as unforgettable as the person wearing it.