Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Genealogy of a garment...

The garment that I have chosen is CORSET.

A corset is a close-fitting garment. It is usually hooked in front and laced at the back. It can cover from above the bust to waist or below the hips. It either pushes up or flattens the breasts and gives shape to the waist.

The corset first originated in ancient Greece and Rome around 1300s and 1400s. Greeks wore corsets as undergarments which pulled in and accentuated the waist. It was generally worn by the wealthy.
The wearing of corsets became widespread by the 1500s - 1600s. These corsets were rigid and uncomfortable for movement of arms too. This was because they were made out of iron, wood or whalebone.

French Iron Corset 1580-1600 collection from the Kyoto Costume Institute
Marie Antoinette's Rebellion Corset

Wooden Corset of the 17th Century

By the end of the 17th century and beginning of 18th century, corsets became more elaborate and decorative. They became a part of the voluminous skirts made out of rich fabrics. They were strapless and with a low neckline too. This was for women who were attending social occassions. Corsets were also worn by boys and girls of wealthy families for activities such as horseback riding.

Laced corset of 1693

Laced corset dress of 18th century (front and back)

picture of riding corset

During the middle of 18th century, corsets became longer, stiffer. They were strengthened with cane and whalebone.

Pink whalebone corset during 1748

By the end of the 18th century, corsets were again becoming shorter with extremely tight lacing.

Tight laced corsets of 1770. Yellow, red and ivory silk compound weave. Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1940.

By the end of the 19th century, corsets were being worn over petticoats. These were made out of beautiful materials such as silk and satin richly decorated with frills and ruffles.

A corset worn over a petticoat during 1873

By the beginning of 20th century, Corsets were often made of Latex rubber which led to the invention of the modern 2-way stretch corset with girdle. This garment is more commonly used these days than the old fashioned lace-up corset.

Vintage 1940s corset girdle with lacings and zipper.

From around 1950-2002, corsets worn with a 'Gothic' look, was popular among girls. You can also see them over petticoats which are in black or purple most of the times. Most of them are laced and made of leather.

Gothic corset of 1980

Today, corsets are worn in many different ways, over a petticoat in case of wedding gowns, over denims. They are also made in a variety of rich fabrics and colors.

Rihanna wearing a sexy leather corset during her performance on December 17th, 2008.


I think corsets will nenevr vanish. They are a classic garment which will remain in fashion forever, but not to that extent as they were worn in the Victorian Era, when the women cannot do any household work and they are locked in their extremely tight corsets where it was difficult to move and was very uncomfortable.

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