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Introduction M969.25.5 ME989X.116 C272_1-3.1 M12627 MP-1977.76.163 II-93986 MP-0000.586.112 VIEW-1577.A
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Corset, "Le Merveillex" model
1900-1905, 20th century
32.7 x 38.3 cm
Gift of Mrs. George Daly
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Corset (3)
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The very late 1890s saw the emergence of a new fashionable silhouette, shaped by a new style of corset, a reaction to an ongoing controversy over the effects of tight-lacing. The straight-fronted "health" corset appeared to promise a means of reconciling a more natural body shape with the illusion of an attractively narrow waistline. This was an appealing concept, given the growing mobility enjoyed by women. The boning in the new corset allowed more room for the front of the body, nonetheless compressing the waist at the sides and back. The resulting S-curved silhouette became increasingly exaggerated throughout the next decade.

Keys to History

One of the most controversial women's issues today is the unrealistic body size of top models and movie stars. In the 1870s and '80s, however, the "standard" waist size for women was 18 inches (roughly 46 cm).

This remarkable fashion feat could be achieved only with a corset. Made from whalebone or steel supports or elastic stitched into a garment of cotton, silk, satin or rubber, the corset shrank the waist when the lacing was pulled as tight as the wearer desired. This usually required the help of a domestic servant, thus fashionable women could not dress themselves without assistance. Corsets were once worn by men, women and even children of the European aristocracy, but by the 1860s they were primarily a women's garment.

Corsets severely restricted the wearer's physical mobility. They later came to symbolize all the social and political restraints imposed on women in this period.

Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    This cotton-lined silk and satin corset trimmed with lace and silk ribbon has metal boning encased in silk twill. It does up in front with metal hook-and-eye fasteners and is tightened by pulling on silk tape laces in back.

  • Where

    It was made in Paris, France, at the end of the 19th century.

  • When

    Corsets always cinched the waist, but the desired "look" changed significantly from decade to decade.

  • Who

    This particular item was probably owned by a woman of means, but the corset was an undergarment worn by women of all classes.