M976.4.5 | Corset

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P. C. Corsets
About 1915, 20th century
38.2 cm
Gift of Miss Adele Stuart
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Corset (3)
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Keys to History

The corset can be interpreted as a symbol of the transition of women from the social strictures of the 19th century to the freer society and universal suffrage of the 20th.

From a very young age, girls in the 19th century were laced into corsets that compressed their waists into a desirable circumference. Several doctors stated that this custom had adverse health effects. Notwithstanding, the shape remained dictated by fashion and not by health concerns. Towards the end of the century, women started to participate in sports such as tennis, golf and cycling. Lighter, more comfortable undergarments were needed, and the exaggerated curves of turn-of-the-century fashions (1890-1910) were simplified. This corset is lighter than those of the 19th century but is still heavily boned.

Women successfully undertook a variety of jobs in commerce and industry during the First World War (1914-1918), which gave them a sense of independence. The shape of the figure and social customs became less rigid.

  • What

    Once this corset was fastened onto the body with the metal hooks in the front, its size could be adjusted using the back-lacing. The garment would remain inflexible, however; elastic is used only in the attached garters.

  • Where

    This corset would have been worn in summer, when clothes were somewhat lighter but still quite restrictive.

  • When

    A similar style of corset advertised in 1916 promised to give the wearer "the graceful smooth lines" decreed by fashion of the time.

  • Who

    This corset does not seem to have been worn, but it is designed for someone with a slight figure.