DUrring different eras, muntiple shapes were achieved. i.e. Edwardian, Elisibethan, Victorian, Valentine, exc.. Also in Overbust (to cover the breasts) or Underbust(stops below breasts).
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.
Modern tight-lacing corsets are constructed from coutil, (pronounced "coo-teel") a tough, densely-woven canvas-like fabric, and reinforced with many steel bones. The front of a corset fastens with a steel busk. The back is laced up through eyelets, usually with two laces meeting at the waist. Sometimes the eyelets are closer together at the waist for a tighter and more controlled waist reduction.
Many corsets sold as "tight-lacing" or "waist reducing" are not in fact suitable for this purpose. Important features to check for are:
Must be made from at least 1, preferably 2 layers of coutil. No other fabric is stiff enough.
Must have a lot of steel boning, usually about 1 bone every 1 1/2 inches around the waist. Spiral steels are most commonly used, as they are the most comfortable and realistic replacement for whalebone, but the boning at the back must be more rigid.
Must have stiff boning either side of the eyelets, to even out the tension and keep the fabric taut.
A strong waist tape sewn inside the corset takes the strain and prevents the fabric stretching out of shape.
A steel busk at the front is essential (unless the corset does not open at the front at all, in which case a piece of rigid steel is used instead.)
Off-the-peg corsets are sold in waist sizes going up in two inch incraments. They will theoretically reduce the wearer's waist by up to 4 inches, but this depends on body shape. Some people are very squishy, some have very flexible lower ribs, while others do not. Also, if you already have a small waist, a standard size corset won't do much. Personally, I don't see the point in buying a corset off-the-peg. If you want a comfortable corset which actually fits and laces you in, you will need to get one made to measure.
Full bust corsets typically cost at least £100. This may seem extortionate, but bear in mind the materials are very expensive, and a lot of skilled work goes into making one. If you see "tight-lacing" or "waist-reducing" corsets for less than £100 or so, be suspicious!
Corsets are becoming more and more popular for fashion and evening wear, possibly due to larger women desiring a curvy figure, or possibly due to the influence of goth and fetish fashion on mainstream trends.
The corset used to be made of whalebone for support, but it now comes in a variety of fabrics.
Women have had many health problems and have died from the restrictive, impractical corset; many homes in the Victorian era had fainting rooms for women who had been laced up too tightly.
Nowadays, the corset is popular among the gothic crowd and has become a symbol of erotica.
-"This is a period film; yes, you have to wear the corset."
-"This thing hurts like hell! Are you crazy?"