Whether the Kardashians will be remembered by history is yet to be seen, but one place their names might be recorded for posterity in the history of the corset.
Because after hundreds of years of dropping in and out of fashion, corsets are back.
It all started when Kim, the more famous of the Kardashians (bear with us) took sister Khloé’s lead and started strapping herself into a corset, posting a gleeful Instagram pic that declared, “I love waist training!” (This what they’re calling it these days, although doctors say the euphemistic phrase has no grounds. More on that below.)
— Harper’s Bazaar UK (@BazaarUK) June 24, 2015
Corsets have been around since the early 1600s and have morphed from bone-stiffened bodices to tummy flattening, breast-squashing undergarments that shifted women’s waists depending on the fashion of the day.
While corsets tend to evoke thoughts of pain, oppression and fainting spells, Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says for the most part women wore corsets because they wanted to look elegant, shapely and restrained – and they willingly endured discomfort for vanity’s sake.
Speaking to Collectors Weekly, Ms Steele says, “Most people today think corsets were extremely dangerous and caused all kinds of health problems, from cancer to scoliosis. That’s quite inaccurate.
“Corsets did not cause scoliosis, the crushing of the liver, cancer, or tuberculosis. It doesn’t mean that corsets were without any health problems, but it does mean that most modern people are wildly naive in believing the most absurd antiquated medical accusations about corsetry.”
One such enduring myth is that women in the 1800s had ribs removed to create a smaller waist. At this point in history, surgery was as likely to kill you as the condition that necessitated it, so it is highly unlikely any woman would have been vain enough to take such a risk.
Similarly, Catherine de Medici, the Queen of France in the last 16th century, probably did not have a 13-inch waist as legend tells it. If she did, it is because the inches used to record the fact were significantly different to the ones used today!
That said, at differing stages, fashion dictated corsets be pulled tight, and doctors throughout history have stepped when the design of bindings of the day’s corset caused outbreaks of “hysteria” or potential damage to women’s organs.
Corsets of the Victorian era were notorious for putting pressure on women’s stomachs, but as the elaborate getups of the era fell out of fashion, a new Edwardian corset was designed that relieves pressure on this area.
However, the so called S-line corsets of the Edwardian era, which forced women to tilt awkwardly, hips back, breasts forward, probably did just as much damage to a lady’s back.
Today’s corsets – or waist-trainers – are worn between the breasts and the hips and are made of coiled metal and elastic. Deeta von Tese, pictured below, is one of a growing number of celebrities who have embraced the girdle.
The Kardashians say wearing one while exercising “trains” your waist to tuck in permanently.
Doctors say the whole idea is ridiculous. Dr Tony Bartone from the AMA Victoria told New Limited waist training was a “far fetched alternative” to weight loss and could lead to posture and lower back problems, increased sweating and a higher body temperature.
“Wearing it too tight could also affect you internally, give you muscular skeletal secondary reactions and restrict the amount of oxygen you can inhale,” he said.
Autumn Adamme, a corset-maker from San Francisco, who has worn a corset for two decades concurs that the aesthetic benefits only occur when one is strapped into their girdle.
“I notice that the more often I wear a corset, the easier it is to pull my waist in, and the longer I wear it regularly, the more dramatic the results,” she says.
“One thing that isn’t easy to explain about waist training is that until you’ve reduced your corseted waist by quite a bit, you won’t see tremendous results outside of the corset.”
Ms Adamme says there is another, often overlooked benefit of corseting; that is, feeling gorgeous.
“People see themselves in a different light, often seeing a shapely waist in the mirror for the first time ever. Since, as a society, we value slenderness, it can be very empowering to simply lace on a waist, as it were.”
Ah, the things we do for fashion…
Tell us, what do you think of the return of the corset? Have your ever worn one? Would you?