Fashion Friday: Corsets


Welcome to Fashion Friday, where we take a look at an item or aspect of 19th century fashion.  I haven’t done one of these in a while, but Jenny Hansen’s recent celebration of National Underwear Day set off a flurry of “undie” posts by fab writers August McLaughlinNatalie Hartford, and Julie Glover, so here’s my contribution to the “undie” blogging celebration, 19th century style.

And of course, we have to talk about corsets, since it’s the most widely-recognized historical undergarment for women.

What associations come to mind when you think of corsets?

Victorian…Prim and Proper…


…”Loose Stays, Loose Woman”…



…Mammy pulling laces with all her might…

Tighter! Let me just grab this bedpost…

or, maybe

  …Distorted rib cage

image via

…Threat to female health and free movement

…Fad over common sense

Although the corset wasn’t invented in the 19th century – it goes back at least as far as the Renaissance – we still associate it with that time period.

To say that it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.  Women were known to faint during a tight lacing session; it inhibited movement, even comfortable sitting.  However, only a small number of 19th century contemporaries were sounding the alarm about this particular female undergarment.  In the mid-19th century, corsets were still considered important to female health and good posture.  In fact, many corset products were named a “health corset.”  Some in the medical community deemed it imperative that a woman be properly supported, and prevailing opinion held that a woman’s posture, and therefore her internal organs, might otherwise suffer.

There were even maternity corsets:

New York Times ad, September 20, 1914 – image from

Of course, once a woman had worn a corset for most of her life, the muscles in her back and abdomen would become weakened from lack of use.  Then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: she truly does need a corset for support.

Want more info?

A Short History of the Corset

The Corset Trade in the Later 19th century (an interesting economic angle regarding the use of corsets).


So, what do you see currently being done for the sake of beauty today, to the detriment of women’s (or men’s) health?  Was there any fashion discomfort you put up with when you were younger that no one could pay you enough to revisit now?  I’d love to hear from you!

Hang on to those undies,


6 people like this post.

31 thoughts on “Fashion Friday: Corsets”

  1. Tiffany WhiteTiffany White

    I haven’t done it – but Botox! EVIL….

  2. SunnySunny

    Those absolutely ridiculous porn star shoes that are currently being marketed as “empowering” but are impossible to walk in. Nothing quite as embarrassing as watching women teeter-totter around in 10 inch heels, except perhaps realising that they believe they are “empowered.”

  3. Loree HuebnerLoree Huebner

    Being a Civil War reenactor, I’ve worn an authentic corset many times. Honestly, I don’t know how they did it back then. I have a hard time wearing it for a evening event or a ball. Not comfortable at all! Forget eating!

    I think underwire bras are a fashion we must put up with to make our “girls” look good.

  4. Nancy LauzonNancy Lauzon

    Hi Kathy,

    I have to wonder about all the breast implants being done these days. There have been some horror stories about some – silicone leaking into the breast tissue, etc. But aside from all that, what will these women look like when they reach 80 years old? Everything else will be sagging, except for their perky breasts.

  5. Myndi ShaferMyndi Shafer

    Argh! Can you imagine wearing these on a regular basis? I wore one for my wedding and couldn’t WAIT to get out of the thing. Blarg.

    LOVE the images you posted. Great read!

  6. Amy Shojai, CABCAmy Shojai, CABC

    I believe that I read somewhere that women also had ribs removed to give themselves that “wasp waist” look. Sheesh.

    There are all kinds of things we do to our bodies, or wear on them, in the name of style. Coloring hair, plucking/shaving hair in the wrong place, tattooing, piercing . . . the list is endless.

    Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with BLING! *cough-cough*

  7. Jess WitkinsJess Witkins

    Ugh! I despise corsets. I actually wore one of my mothers underneath a bridesmaids dress and I had problems breathing all night. It was a legitimate one made of whale bone! Of course it was created by a man. Tsk tsk tsk.

  8. Natalie HartfordNatalie Hartford

    I’m so glad I wasn’t born inn the time of the corset. I don’t think I could have managed. I do own a gorgeous bedazzled one but it’s never tied that tight…LOL!! It’s for looks only, no waist-cinching here. HAHA!
    I always wonder to about women wearing insane shoes. I mean, I like my heels but if I can’t bend my knees and walk normal, what’s the point?!?! And then wearing shoes that are too small cause small feet are “cuter”??? I heard in China they sometimes bind girls feet to stop them from growing…OUCH!!
    GREAT post Kathy…and thanks for the UBER shout out…squeee!!!

  9. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    Ah, the corset. The predecessor to the girdle and now spandex! Oh, how things have changed. But at least we can breathe now! 🙂

  10. PatriciaPatricia

    I love reading he ad for the corset, “will suit you if your figure is full and you do not require or wish a high bust corset.” And weren’t those pictures scandulous in those days? Too funny.

    I don’t follow beauty trends, but being from California I know there’s a lot of emphasis placed on liposuction, breast implants, botox and other such nonsense. Not to mention tanning beds. I’ve used tanning beds a few times in my life, but my goodness, some women take that to the extreme. None of that can be healthy in my opinion.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  11. BillBill

    I did not know that ads back in those days could be so risque.

    Hmmmmm. So, would I want a woman in an “American Lady” or a “High-Bust” corset? I’ll have to think about that.

    Okay, I’m done thinking. Funny how the word ‘drab’ did not have the negative connotation it has now acquired.

    >>>>> RANT ALERT <<<<<
    I am totally anti- pierce, tattoo, Botox, collagen, implant, cosmetic surgery, lipo etc.
    The fact that they have cable shows dedicated to this stuff is really sad. Actually, rather than 'anti- ' I should probably say I am totally uninterested in it — and the women who women who decorate themselves that way.

    But a loose stay? That I can appreciate.

  12. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    I have wondered if Spanx isn’t the modern equivalent of a corset. It squeezes everything in to give you an hourglass figure, right? Given all of the muffin tops I see around (including my own), I don’t think many women would be interested in wearing a corset. Fascinating as always…

  13. Piper BayardPiper Bayard

    A maternity corset? Seriously? . . . I find that a fascinating time period, but I’m so glad I was born post-corset. Love your Fashion Fridays.

  14. JennetteJennette

    Brilliant post! I have thought about doing something similar but for ancient and medieval time period and not just limited to fashions. Very cool. Thanks for the info. I love history. I can’t think of anything beyond what has already been mentioned, the Botox, the heels… maybe the cosmetic surgeries. It is so interesting what people have done throughout history in regards to beauty.


  15. Reetta RaitanenReetta Raitanen

    Great post, Kathy. I can’t believe the Victorian people didn’t make the connection between the corsets and all the fainting. Dita von Teese and Madonna are making corsets vogue again. Thank goodness they’re not laced as tight as they were in the old days. From personal experience I can say that a modern corset is still not comfy.

    Some women are crazy about their looks with all the high heels and cosmetic surgery. I browsed a few issues local magazine aimed for older ladies, filled with luxury brand ads and every issue featured articles about making yourself looking younger with a surgeon’s knife. Ugh.

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