If you’ve ever watched a period drama, you’ve probably watched a young girl try to squeeze herself into a corset, gasping for air as she attempts to squeeze into the restrictive garment.
While corsets were popular in the 19th century, the general consensus now is that they’re barbaric and antiquated. Certainly, a modern woman would never subject herself to anything like that.
So is waist-training actually dangerous? According to Dr. Robyne E. Calvert, a scholar who teaches courses on Victorian-era Artistic Dress, our modern conception of a corset as a totally barbaric garment isn’t entirely accurate.
“It’s a myth that everyone was squeezing themselves to death. It did happen that women took it too far, but it wasn’t as common you might think,” Calvert told the Daily Dot.
During the Industrial Revolution, harsher materials like steel were used to make corsets, and it’s true that some women may have suffered internal damage as a result. But that wasn’t the norm. For the most part, corsets were generally worn by choice and as a symbol of status.
In her book The Corset, Valerie Steele disputes the broad portrait of the corset as an instrument of female oppression. The director at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Steele says that although the images we see from the Victorian era might look extreme, in reality, women wore a variety of corsets and tightened them to various degrees, sometimes not even lacing them at all.
Now, corsets are back, as is the ideal feminine shape of the 19th century: an itty-bitty waist and extreme curves.
Many waist-training companies are owned and run by women. In a promotional video for the website Waist Gang Society, Prema Donna talks about her desire to empower women in her promotional video.
Other waist-training retailers are marketing the gear to new moms who want to change or restore their shape.
Will the fad last? Time will tell. But what we do know is that the corsets we saw in period films quickly fell out of fashion in favor of a more natural form. Instead, women wore longer, more flowing garments, which led to them adopting styles that emphasized individualized style and expression. “They were definitely rejecting a beauty ideal,” said Calvert.
But perhaps most interestingly, “men wore corsets, too,” notes Calvert. Watch out, dad bods. The corset might be coming for you.
Photos via Elusive Muse/Flickr (PD) | Remix by Jason Reed