Thursday, June 11, 2009

Has Corsetry Really Disappeared?

I have been reading an absolutely fascinating account about the history of corsetry : "The Corset, A Cultural History" by Valerie Steele. Ms. Steele argues that the corset was a primary foundation garment for women's fashion (although also for men to some extent) for over 400 years until its apparent disappearance at the beginning of the 20th century, despite controversy that existed almost from its beginnings. The corset did not "disappear" because of arguments over health, since such arguments were present almost from the time of its introduction in the late 15th century, nor because of the feminist movement per se. Therefore, she suggests that corsets served a range of needs for it to have survived so long.

She further argues that the corset, or the needs it served, hasn't really disappeared. We've replaced the "answer" to these needs in other ways - through plastic surgery, diets and a focus on exercise, all aimed to "trim" the figure towards our cultural ideals of beauty, and through a range of bras including the reintroduction in the 1960s of the "push-up bra", which filled a function formally served by the corset. In some ways, plastic surgery is as draconian a response (and as controversial!) as was the tight-laced corset, not to speak of the pain and sacrifice that result from many dieting regimes. She notes that if the corset itself was less present in the 20th century, the girdle was still a main shape-influencing element until the 1950s and 1960s, and following the decline of the girdle, the corset has begun to enter into fashion again, both as an outer and an inner garment, and to some extent also for men.

If the corset is controversial today, this is in line with its long history of controversy. Fascinating!

No comments:

Post a Comment