Undergarment designed to exaggerate or alter the body. Usually strengthened by strips of hard material (bones) such as steel, whalebone, etc. or by softer material such as cording, straw, etc.
There are several main types of corset which are seen in reproduction today.
The Elizabethan corset of the 17th century kept a flat-fronted, conical body shape which exaggerated and pushed up the breasts. Waist reduction was minimal.
The early Victorian corset of the mid-19th century cinched in the waist to give an exaggerated hourglass figure. The wide skirts and large sleeves of the period also made the waist look that much smaller by comparison. It was short, and encompassed only the waist.
The later Victorian/early Edwardian corset--the so-called 'cuirass' corset--was severer. Since the skirt style of the day was long, slim, and straight in front, with exaggerated fullness at the back, slim hips were necessary to carry off the look properly. Furthermore, the narrower skirt did not give the appearance of a small waist, so the corset was extended over the hips and laced more tightly than before.
"Cuirass" corsetry caused extreme discomfort, if not injuries, for many women, and public outcry against the 'evils of tightlacing' spurred a new corset design. The S-bend corset, worn around the turn of the century, was an attempt at a healthier, less restrictive corset. This corset was flat-fronted, and forced an unnatural arch into the back, pushing the breasts up and out and the rear down and back. The woman wearing it appeared to lean slightly forward, almost on the verge of tipping over.This corset, however, was worse than its predecessors: the forced arch caused back, neck, and joint problems for many of its wearers.
After World War I, the corset began to disappear. Women's fashions began to use much less fabric, and a slim-hipped, boyish figure became popular. The focus of women's dresses shifted to the hips, so girdles to slim the hips and brassieres to flatten the chest were worn instead of the corset. These girdles often used stretch fabrics instead of boning to smooth the hips.
The corset would enjoy a small comeback in the 1950's, when the 'New Look' style once more emphasized the hourglass figure, but it has been largely ignored until its recent reintroduction as an 'alternative' fashion for evening and club wear.
If your grandmother wore corsets, your goth sister probably wears them too.