Corsets and Corselettes

Updated: March 6, 2024
Pictures of corsets and corselettes and how they have affected fashion over the past 150 years.

Fashion changes - sometimes dramatically, sometimes in increments. One of the biggest changes in fashion has been the use of the corset and corselette. While corsets are sometimes worn today - by both men and women for (usually) medical reasons - the corset historically has been a fashion statement. When teeny tiny waists were in vogue, a corset was de riguer. A corset minimized the waist and therefore, by contrast, maximized the bust and hips. For most people today, the silhouette created by a corset looks odd but in the past, it looked "womanly". A corselette was less restrictive in the waist and hips and included a bra component.

When were corsets worn? Originally quilted waistcoats, French women, as well as men, during the French Revolution adopted the use of a corset. For the women, the waistcoat emphasized their breasts. For men - called Dandies - the male silhouette was slimmed, ostensibly making them look more "fit." By the 1800's, wearing a corset became the height of fashion for women. At first, whalebone was used for the stays (the part of the corset that encased and minimized the body). As time went on, ivory, wood, cane - even steel and plastic - were used. The corset was worn over a chemise (a cotton or linen gown) in order to absorb perspiration, then the corset was tightened by a maid and a gown was put on over the corset. By the end of the 1800's, lighter versions of fashion corsets were also made for use while bicycling, playing tennis, or horseback riding, as well as for maternity wear.

These photos show what (mostly) women looked like once they were done dressing with a corset. What do you think? Do these women look more "womanly" or is the silhouette created by a corset outdated in modern times?
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