All those layers and layers of clothing. And, to make things even worse, they were strapped into unyielding corsets which prevented anything other than shallow breathing. I can't begin to imagine how the bones must have rubbed their skin raw. Thank heavens they are a garment of the past, although some women do choose to wear them as a fashion accessory. All I can say is: Why?
Thinking about this got me wondering about the garment my mother called 'stays'.
The following is a brief history of Corsets.
The corset has been an important article of clothing for several centuries, evolving as fashion trends have changed. Women, as well as some men, have used it to change the appearance of their bodies.
16th - 17th CENTURY
The corset first became popular in sixteenth-century Europe, some were actually steel and iron!, reaching the zenith of its popularity in the Victorian era. The earliest image of a possible corset was made ca. 2000 BC. The image is of a Cretan woman, and the article of clothing depicted might be perceived as a corset; however, it is worn as an outer-garment. While the corset has typically been worn as an undergarment, it has occasionally been used as an outer-garment; corsets as outer-garments can be seen in the national dress of many European countries.
|16th Century Iron Corset|
The term "corset" is attested from 1300, coming from the French "corset" which meant "a kind of laced bodice." The term "stays" was frequently used in English from c. 1600 until the early twentieth century.
18th - 19th CENTURY
The most common type of corset in the 1700s was an inverted conical shape, often worn to create a
|1891 Wedding Corset|
The primary purpose of 18th-century stays was to raise and shape the breasts, tighten the midriff, support the back, improve posture to help a woman stand straight, with the shoulders down and back, and only slightly narrow the waist, creating a 'V' shaped upper torso over which the outer garment would be worn; however, 'jumps' of quilted linen were also worn instead of stays for informal situations. Jumps were only partially boned, did little for one's posture, but did add some support. Both garments were considered undergarments, and would be seen only under very limited circumstances. Well-fitting eighteenth-century corsets were quite comfortable, did not restrict breathing, and allowed women to work, although they did restrict bending at the waist, forcing one to protect one's back by lifting with the legs.
The corset became less constricting with the advent of the high-waisted empire style (around 1796) which de-emphasized the natural waist. Some form of corset was still worn by most women of the time but these were often "short stays" (i.e. they did not extend very far below the breasts). By contrast, corsets intended to exert serious body-shaping force (as in the Victorian era) were "long" (extending down to and beyond the natural waist), laced in back, and stiffened with boning.
When the exaggerated shoulders disappeared, the waist itself had to be cinched tighter in order to
I, for one, am very glad they are no longer worn as an every day garment.
Until next time, Stay Safe
Western Historical Romance Author