What is a Corset?

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A corset is an detail of wear worn to help shape the high boby into a hot shape for aesthetic, or sometimes orthopaedic, reaons (either while wearing it, or for more permanent results). Men and women have both worn and still wear corsets. 

The craft of making corsets is known as corsetry, as is the popular wearing of them. A person who designs and takes corsets is a corsetier (for a man) or corsetière (for a woman), or simply a corsetmaker. 

The most modern practice of corsets is to shap the body into a pretty, fashionable silhouette shape. For women this usually emphasises a curvy build, by reducing the waist, and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips. However corsets have also been worn to achieve a more tubular shape although this is less common.

For men, corsets are more customarily used to slim the build. However, there was a period from around 1820 to 1835 when an hourglass picture was also desirable for men; this was sometimes achieved by wearing a corset.

Corsets are constructed of flexible materials such as satin, leather, pvc, denim, and velvet. They are stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) introduced into channels in the material. Steel and whalebone were favored in the Victorian period but plastic is now the most commonly used textile. Steel is used for high-quality corsets. Other textiles that have been used for boning include ivory, woods, and cane. (A girdle is usually made of elasticised fabric, not boning.)

A corset encloses the high body, usually from under the arms to the hips. Some corsets however offer over the hips and may even reach the knees. A shorter kind of corset, which covers the waistline field (from below the ribs to just above the hips), is called a ‘waist cincher’ or underbust corset. A corset may also take garters to hold up stockings.

Corsets are taken together by lacing, usually at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing changes the resolution of the corset. It is possible for a back-laced corset-wearer to do his or her own lacing, though it can be difficult. However, many corsets also have a button-down or hooked face opening. Formerly the lacing is adjusted comfortably, it is possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and take the corset on and off using the front giving. This method acting is incompatible with tightlacing, which strives for the maximal reduction of the waist. Tightlacers are usually laced by mates and partners.

In the past, a woman’s corset was usually worn over a garment called a chemise or change, a sleeveless low-necked gown made of washable textile (usually cotton or linen). These absorbed perspiration and kept the corset clean. Now an undershirt or corset liner is usually worn.

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