CorsetFlirtatious and pretty Southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara, didn’t really need a secret to attract men.  But she prided herself on her 17″ inch waist and Rhett Butler certainly liked it!  Scarlett obtained it by urging her nanny, Mammy, to lace her ‘stays’ tighter and tighter.

Bridget Jones in ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, with more reason to worry about her waistline, also wore a corset.  When her secret was discovered by her handsome boss, Daniel Cleaver, he certainly didn’t raise any objection!  He greeted them with the words, “Hello Mummy,” creating one of the funnier scenes in the movie.

A high bust line, relatively small waist, and curvaceous figure are back in fashion.  Corsets help to achieve this.  Men love these sexy undergarments which are available in all shapes and sizes.  There is probably no sexier lingerie for women than the beautifully shaped and clinging Edwardian corset, which is much more comfortable now than when laces had to be tight.

The corset originated as an undergarment in ancient times.  The Minoan Snake Goddess dating from 1600 BC is usually shown wearing a structure like a corset.  Boned bodices appeared in the 16th century and were first worn by Spanish and French aristocrats.  Even in those days there were health concerns.  According to an article in The Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales): “John Bulwer’s 1653 work Artificial Changeling refers to ‘straight-lacing’ as the cause of ‘stinking breath’ followed by ‘consumptions and a withering rottennesse.’

It was in Victorian and Edwardian times, however, that the corset really came into its own.  Women in those days usually wore a heavy corset reinforced with whale bone or steel, designed to cinch their waist and (in Edwardian times, at least) give them the much desired ‘hour-glass figure’.  These looked very stylish, but sound very uncomfortable with their 24 metal or whale bound stays.  The laces were designed to shorten the waist by at least four inches. It was a matter of propriety that women wear them, even as teenage girls.  By the late nineteenth century doctors and feminists were campaigning strongly against the practice of ‘tight-lacing’.  They accused the emphasis on lacing the stays very tightly of restricting the breathing, causing fainting spells, and even breaking ribs.  Even deaths were said to be caused by tight lacing.  According to The Dangerous Fetish of Tight-Lacing in the 19th Century by
Mistress McCutchan at Corset Heaven: “One 23 year old Parisian woman at a ball in 1859 proved to be the envy of all with her thirteen inch waist; two days later she was found dead.”

With the advent of ready-to-wear fashions in the late nineteenth century corsets became more comfortable and were available in many different materials, colors, and sizes.  Lovely satin and even brightly colored corsets became fashionable.

Flatter figures returned to fashion in the 1920’s but by the 1930’s many women began to wear girdles, i.e. very tight pants, which were believed to help them have good posture and a smaller waist. 

Madonna, with her ‘Like a Virgin’ album and Jean Paul Gaultier bustier, probably did more than anyone to bring the corset back into fashion.  Vivienne Westwood was the first designer of the twentieth century to use it in its original form.

Since Madonna took to wearing lingerie as ‘outer wear’, many fashion designers have included the corset in their designs, including Versace and Tom Ford. Other celebrities, such as Kate Beckinsale and Jane Fonda, have also worn them. Kate Beckinsale loved them, saying that: “When you’re in the middle of all those laces and hooks, it’s very sexy.” Now it is fashionable to wear it as a sexy undergarment or as a bodice or segment of an outfit.
Surprisingly, the corset has even been praised by feminists, some of whom regard it as a symbol of sexual empowerment and not oppression. Rowan Pelling, founding editor of the Erotic Review, told Laura Barton  The Guardian (March 22, 2005) that: “There aren’t many items of clothing you can put on that transform the way you walk, the way you think, the way you hold yourself.”

Perhaps men find the corset so sexy because, as Laura Barton wrote in the same article, it ‘seemingly freezes the female form into a perpetual state of being in flagrante: the arched back and heaving bosom, even the state of breathlessness.’  Your man is likely to find nothing more seductive than unlacing the stays of your beautiful Edwardian corset, but remember not to lace them too tight!