It’s History: The Victorian Corset

The Victorian Corset

Today, I am going to rant about discuss the wonderful contraption that is the Victorian corset.

The corset, as shown above, was designed to mold women’s bodies into the popular hourglass figure – basically, it pushed everything inward and upward, accentuating the waist, hips, and bust. (Or, to borrow my U.S. Women’s History professor’s charming phrase, “emphasized their fertility”.) You see, in the Victorian era, a woman’s beauty was her sole recommendation; if a woman was physically beautiful, she was obviously a morally and spiritually pure being. And since the standards of beauty then, like now, were dictated by society, many women found themselves wearing this incredibly restrictive garment.

But this garment wasn’t only restrictive – it also had ill effects on one’s body. As you may notice in the picture at the left, the corset completely rearranged a woman’s internal organs. Everything has been pushed downward toward the uterus, and the ribcage has collapsed just a bit. This also had the effect of making it difficult for women to breathe, and, consequently, to move very far. I suppose that, in this respect, the corset can be viewed as a reflection of the era – women in general were kept on a tight leash, expected to be ornaments in respectable homes and society, and the corset was a way to better enable this.

Another way in which the corset can be seen as a reflection of Victorian society is in the large number of advertisements appearing in women’s magazines for the garment. The Victorian era saw the advent of advertising and the expansion of such to a broader audience than before – including women. One advertisement in a January 1899 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine shows a woman in a corset holding a sword, with the words “Physical Perfection” featured prominently across the top and promises, among other things that there isn’t “the slightest restrict[ion] or discomfort”. The advertisers knew their audience and played to them.

So, basically, I don’t really like the Victorian corset. At all.

Although, I do have to say, the Edwardian corset doesn’t look any better…I rest my case.

Next Time: Isabella of France, wife and queen consort of King Edward II of England; mother and regent of King Edward III of England.

Side Note: I posted Chapter Three of Shards on FP.


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