The trend of corset-wearing, labeled under the guise of “waist-training,” is becoming popular again. Stars like Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians are all hopping on the waist-training train in hopes that it will help their figure become the ideal hourglass. Wasn’t this trend lost about a hundred years ago, though? When we think of corsets, we normally think of the Victorian Era. However, women wore corsets long into the Edwardian Era, and it only lost popularity at the start of the Roaring 20s.
The Edwardian corset was constructed differently than the previous designed Victorian corset. Edwardian clothes were more liberating than rigid Victorian gowns, and the corsets also called for liberation. The “S” shape corset was designed by a French corsetiere named Inez Gaches-Sarraute who also studied medicine. She sought to find a way to shape the corset so that it was not painful for women and didn’t injure them internally. So, she created a corset that had a flat front and forced the hips to be emphasized in the back. Her corset, while less constricting to internal organs in the abdomen and stomach, caused numerous other health problems in women, especially back problems. Later in the era, bras became more popular, and by the time WWI came around, women stopped wearing corsets to conserve for the war effort and never went back.
The bra evolved out of the corset because the effect given off by the straight-front corset was a “mono-bosom.” Women wanted to have some way to show off their breasts more, and added padding to their corsets. Out of this evolved a need for padded breast support, and the corset began to lose popularity altogether. Also, the changes in Edwardian clothes ultimately prevented women from continuing to wear corsets. Women changed from wearing skirts and blouses that had the ability to emphasize the waist and backside, and moved on to more straight silhouettes that were empire-waisted. Slim hips became the trend, and corsets tried to keep up by extending their length to the knees. This, however, made it difficult to sit, and girdles were created as a more practical solution to this pressing fashion problem.
Now, we recognize all of the health risks that were posed by corsets. If you are going on a reenactment and want your Edwardian clothes to be truly authentic, you should consider renting a corset. However, you should also realize that there is a reason they went out of style. And, if you want to waist-train, make sure that you also look at the potential health risks before you hurt yourself and damage your body.