The picture above is a visual timeline of corsets which shows the developments of the corset and how it has now evolved into shapewear that we see today.
Today it’s fairly common for women to wear various types of shapewear (corsets, waist cinchers, control camisoles, control pants or tights, bodyshapers and many more) in order to mold their bodies so that they have an hourglass figure or to feel a little more comfortable when wearing a bodycon garment. You can also see how corsets have influenced fashion designers and how they use corsets as a part of outerwear in an outfit.
The dictionary definition of the corset is “a tight piece of underwear worn on the middle part of a woman’s body to make her waist appear smaller, especially in the past.” As well as being used for aesthetic and fashionable reasons to create the perfect smaller waist, they were also worn to help with improving someone’s posture or supporting/enhancing a woman’s breasts. Much like the actual style/shape of the corsets, the name for a corset has changed over time. The corset has also been referred to as “a pair of bodies” and “stays.” They are usually made with a flexible material and then the structure/shape of the corset itself is stiffened with boning. Historically it used to be made with materials such as whalebone, ivory, wood and cane. The corset was either completely on show (like outerwear) and on top of a chemise, integrated within a dress or later on or hidden underneath clothing. One of the most interesting things that I found out whilst I was reading up on the history of the corset was the fact that during the 19th century, even pregnant women were required to wear a corset.
Jean Paul Gaultier
One of my favourite designers who is well known for the use of corsetry within his work is Jean Paul Gaultier. Instead of presenting the corset as being something that traps and hinders women, the women wearing his corsets ooze power and confidence. Not only does the corset feature in his design work, but is the shape of the bottle for his perfume “classique.” Five years ago I was able to go and see an exhibition of some of his work at the Barbican in London. It was one of the best exhibitions that I’ve ever been to because of the amount of garments that were on show and you were able to really get close to see all of the details. I was even able to see some of the corsets that he had designed for Madonna specifically to wear.
Today, shapewear is a lot more comfortable and flexible because of how they’re made with fabrics like nylon, spandex and cotton but they still do the job of creating an hourglass figure for a woman. They are also not imperative to wear on a daily basis unlike in the past when it was always required for a woman to wear a corset daily. Despite it being more comfortable to wear the present day shapewear, there is sometimes still a difficulty whilst wearing them.
In the office we have been discussing some of our stories of times when we’ve been wearing shapewear and sometimes something unfortunate has happened! For example, one of us has been wearing a waist nipper under a maxi dress at a wedding and when it came to sitting down to eat at dinner, she had to stealthily take them off under the table and discreetly slip them into a gift bag so nobody would see them. Another example is when one of us went out to dinner with friends and whilst she was sat down socialising, she could feel her shapewear gradually rolling up.
Despite all that, shapewear does help you to create a nice silhouette and gives you the ability to wear a fitted dress without showing your lumps and bumps.