by Angela Tague
An hourglass figure, flat tummy and round hips are just a corset away. The undergarment of yesteryear is back in fashion, making women of all shapes and sizes curvy in all the right places. The corset has acted as a waist cincher for hundreds of years, making women look more slender. Today, the fashionable accessory is a bit less restrictive, with an emphasis on style, cut and color. Adorned with lace, ribbons and leather, corsets are often worn alone as lingerie or intimates or under a jacket for a seductive look.
A corset is an undergarment worn around the torso. The close-fitting piece of clothing alters the shape of the body, giving a slimming appearance to the waist, an uplifted look to the breasts and a curvy shape to the hip. The corset usually snaps or hooks closed in the front and laces up the back. The laces are pulled snug until the desired waist size is achieved.
Corsets have appeared in women's fashion for centuries. In the 1300s and 1400s, wealthy French women used them to slim down. Portraits of Renaissance women from the 16th and 17th centuries show tiny waists from the laced-up undergarments. Young boys and girls of wealthy families wore corsets in the 17th century during outdoor activities such as horseback riding. In the 1800s, the popularity of corsets as intimates boomed.
The first known corsets were stiff and uncomfortable. Made of whale bone, iron and wood, corsets were rigid. Eventually, the waist cincher was fashioned from fabric and stiffened with whale bone and cane inserts. Lace ties were threaded through metal grommets in the 1800s.
Modern corsets are much safer to wear than their historical counterparts. Worn for fashion more than function, modern corsets are more comfortable than previous designs, and women aren't lacing bustiers and girdles nearly as tightly. As long as you can comfortably take a deep breath while wearing the corset, you are wearing the correct size of shapewear. When worn for medical purposes, the patient's mobility is supposed to be restricted. Bending should be difficult, but breathing should never be.
The modern corset is available in waist-cinching styles. Shapewear styles that are similar to corsets, bustiers and girdles sit under the bust, cover half of the bust or cover the full bust. They also smooth either the torso or the abdomen and buttocks. Traditional corsets are frequently paired with a garter, stockings and heels.
Corsets today are also used in the medical industry. The stiff garment provides back support and has been found effective in providing good posture to those who wear them. Consult a physician before a corset is used for medical purposes.