- Compelling discussion!
If anyone is interested in more info, The Metropolitan Museum of Art/
Costume Institute put out a book of the show that was there earlier this
year, I think the title was something like The Body Transformed. I saw it,
it was a very interesting show. It was organized by body part, and showed
examples of extreme fashions from all over the world and all periods of
history, that have exaggerated every part from the neck (that African tribe
and Elizabethan ruffs), to the feet ( Chinese foot binding shoes).
The interesting thing about history, is that you really can't make broad
assumptions, because the more you dig, the more examples of "anomalies" you
will find. I would also caution anyone against making assumptions about
lifestyles and attitudes of earlier times. If anyone watched the 1900's
house or the Pioneer House on PBS, you'll know what happens when modern
people are confronted with even a few of the realities that faced our
ancestors. I don't think we can assume that the society that surrounded the
corset would have disapproved, across the board, of extreme fashions. There
is a tendency in America, with our Puritan past, to assume that the further
back you go in our history, the more prudish they were. This simply was not
true. History is a wheel, and sometimes the times are free and frivolous,
and sometimes they are constrained. Also, as always, city life vastly
differs from country life.
Another point, if you think that disfiguring fashions ended with Queen
Victoria, take a closer look at the 20th century. The new look was all about
a tiny waist, and though the names and materials changed, high-fashion women
did indeed wear corsets in the 50's (hence disfigured elders still alive
There will always be people who do crazy things for fashion. Just a few
years ago, Japanese teens were dying and becoming injured from falling off
their platform shoes (which bore a certain resemblance to shoes Ventian
ladies of the night wore in the 17th century).
For those interested in buying, making, or wearing corsets, I suggest
getting Corsets and Crinolines, by Nora Waugh. For a shortcut to a good
pattern, enlarge her patterns on a copier, make a mock-up, and adjust from
there. Everyone's ribs have a little bit of spring to them, that's what
allows you expand with breath. People vary. Some can compress a great deal
more safely, than others. Be extra careful if you have asthma or other
breathing problems. You can test yourself for spring by placing your hands
at the sides of your ribs (or someone else can do this for you) and gently
pushing in. I found I was able to compress myself quite a bit.
Corsets come in all shapes and sizes and have a long history. Each period
style was designed to give a specific shape and emphasize a certain part of
the torso. Choose one that highlights your own individual assets. Get to
know your body VERY WELL, and pay attention when it tells you to stop doing
something! I've felt my breathing restricted just from wearing two sports
bras, so a corset can do alot. I suggest making your own, if you have the
time and interest. $150 for a custom made corset is VERY reasonable. The
breast is the hardest part of the body to fit, and takes quite a bit of
expertise, so a good seamstress deserves pretty much whatever price they
ask. Don't let that daunt you from making your own, though. It's a long-term
project, but a fun one (as long a you stay the same size and don't make
things difficult for yourself!).
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