Today we have Spanx, although some die hards will not relinquish their corsets. Corsets have pushed, pulled, squeezed, flattened, widened, lengthened and shortened the female torso for centuries. How tight depends on the fashionable silhouette of the time. Corsets were the Victorian Era Spanx. At what point is her corset too tight?
The idealized vision of the perfect female figure changed radically with each era. The most common job of corsets was to slim the body by reducing the waist, thereby exaggerating the bust and hips. Although much less common, men were also known to use corsets, primarily for slimming.
Tightlacing Your Way To A Tiny Waistline
Tightlacing, a practice still in use today, was particularly popular from the mid- 1800s into the early 1900s. By wearing a tightly-laced corset for extended periods, women (and men) learned to tolerate extreme waist constriction and eventually reduce their natural waist size, often by several inches.
Some went too far. Their corset was so tight they could only breathe with the upper portion of their lungs. This often caused the lower lungs to fill with mucus. It also caused a persistent cough and heavy breathing. That, of course, resulted in a heaving appearance of the bosom. The compression of the stomach often resulted in indigestion and heartburn. But they looked fabulous.
Fainting Couches Saved The Day
One theory for the predominance of fainting couches of the time is that tight corsets restricted blood flow, causing women to faint. Physicians became alarmed. They realized that corsets were so tight they were compressing the stomach and inner organs. They could also cause damage to the musculoskeletal system.
The Victorian Era Corset Rebellion
The Rational Dress Society, founded in London in1881 protested uncomfortable dress:
“The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms.”
Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland: Did They Fight Corset Culture?
Did Nellie Bly wear a corset in her race around the world in 1890? It’s doubtful. She embraced the changes of the times that favored freedom of movement. She did however, wear a garment with boning sewn in for support and shape.
Check out this pictorial time line of changing corsets from the 1800s to 1920, at the Festooned Butterfly.
Victorian Secrets From Footnotes In History