The Indispensable Corset

Corset The corsets mid-19th century women wore weren’t necessarily as uncomfortable as they might seem. Contrary to popular misconception, corsets did not inhibit breathing, singing, movement, digestion, or bending; nor did they re-arrange the internal organs. They were not the same thing as modern girdles, and really weren’t optional—women of all social classes wore them, because brassieres hadn’t been invented.  Corsets supported the wearer’s breasts and spine, and maybe most importantly (because the corset extended below the waistline) this undergarment, worn over a chemise to prevent skin chafing, helped absorb and soften the weight around the waist and hips from the layers of clothing women typically wore. Dresses had fitted bodices above heavy, voluminous skirts that flared out from the waist.  Beneath that women wore from three to six drawstring or waist-banded petticoats—2  or 3 for daywear, 6 or more for social occasions—and sometimes waist-tied chemisettes (“fake” collars and lace or other pleated fill for V necklines). Aprons and separately sewn pockets were routinely worn around the waist, tied with self-fabric or a drawstring cord.  Some women sewed their own corsets, and all women removed their corsets to sleep.


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