The corset and the somewhat related crinoline have come to be synonymous with Victorian Era fashion. Both have come to some extent to represent the duplicity of political and sexual attitudes toward women during the era. At the same time the physical result of both, especially when carried to the extremes latter in the era, took its toll arguably leaving fainting women and miscarriages in is wake.
During this era clothing became cheaper to produce and middle classes, as well as the elite sought the latest fashion trends. To accomplish this the Corset, which physically thinned the waist through tight ribbed seems and strong laces, and crinoline, a mesh or steel petticoat designed to give dresses shape, were invented. These garments, when worn beneath clothing, helped give the fashion of the exaggerated shapes for which the time has become known.
During this time women were known to be prone to fainting during emotional situations. Whether this was a literary or social exaggeration, or a reality remains in questions. Undoubtedly however with the added weight of crinoline, which amounts to a steel cage to keep one’s dress in form, and a tight corset making breathing difficult, it is very possible that these contributed to this stereotype. Also tight corsets certainly could cause miscarriages, which also were common during the time. Additionally different names were invented to address ‘vulgar’ implications of the original names like the ‘Bustle’.
As this fashion trend progressed factories struggled to keep pace. While science had not yet addressed the potential medical issues society had taken notice. Also technology had given the world lighter, and easier to produce materials to accomplish the same ends that these fashions served with presumably fewer health consequences. Manufacturers marketed ‘Healthy’ corsets, and lighter crinolines to address the new demand. Further these advancements addressed the brittle nature of the early materials, like whalebone, used in the first corsets.
The Corset in Modern Apparel
Corsets have fallen out of most consumer fashion. That said movements like the Gothic, and Gothic Lolita fashion trends have turned some attention back to this trend. Further the corset still enjoys appeal in modern lingerie. Crinoline however has mostly given way to petticoats made of tough fabric rather than the cage like designs of old.
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