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What is a corset? - item worn to help shape the upper body

What is a corset? - item worn to help shape the upper body

A corset is a garment that is worn to help shape the upper body into the desired shape for cosmetic or sometimes orthopedic reasons (either while wearing it or for more permanent results). Men and women have worn and still wear corsets.

What is a corset? - item worn to help shape the upper body

The trade of making corsets is known as corsetry, as is the general use of them. A person who designs and manufactures corsets is a corset (for a man) or a corsetière (for a woman), or simply a corset.


The most popular use for corsets is to shape the body into a beautiful, modern silhouette. 


For women, this generally emphasizes a curvy figure, by reducing the waist and thus exaggerating the bust and hips. However, corsets have also been used to achieve a more tubular shape, although this is less common.


For men, corsets are more commonly used to slim the figure. However, there was a period from around 1820 to 1835 in which an hourglass figure was also desirable to men; this was sometimes accomplished by wearing a corset.


Corsets are made from flexible materials like satin, leather, pvc, denim, and velvet. 


They are reinforced with boning (also called ribs or braces) inserted into channels in the material. Steel and the whale were favored in the Victorian period, but plastic is now the most widely used material. Steel is used for high quality corsets. Other materials that have been used for boning include ivory, wood, and reed. (A girdle is usually made of stretchy fabric, not boned.)


A corset encloses the upper body, usually from under the arms to the hips. 


However, some corsets stretch over the hips and can even reach the knees. A shorter type of corset, which covers the waist area (from below the ribs to just above the hips), is called a 'waist girdle' or underbust corset. A corset can also include garters to hold stockings.


Corsets are held together by laces, 


usually at the back. Tightening or loosening the lace changes the firmness of the corset. It is possible for a back lace-up corset wearer to make their own laces, although it can be difficult. However, many corsets also have a buttoned or hooked front opening. Once the lacing fits snugly, it is possible to leave the lacing tight and take the corset on and off using the front opening. This method is incompatible with a tight fit, which seeks maximum waist reduction. Tightlacers are usually tied up by spouses and partners.


In the past, a woman's corset was usually worn over a garment called a camisole or nightgown, a low-necked sleeveless robe made of washable material (usually cotton or linen). These absorb perspiration and keep the corset clean. Now an undershirt or corset is often used.

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