Corsets, in one form or another, have been worn since the days of antiquity.
One of the earliest forms of the corset was even made of iron!
Although the corset has never completely disappeared from modern fashion, it is now more of a novelty to wear. But for nearly five hundred years, they were a compulsory part of every women's wardrobe.
Fashion takes a Conical Shape
Introduced by Catherine de Medici into France in the 1500s, the first corset was a tight, elongated bodice that was worn underneath the clothing. Believed to be "indispensable to the beauty of the female figure,“ it soon became mandatory court attire.
Stays are here to stay…
The early corsets (stays) had shoulder straps and ended in flaps at the waist. These ‘Stays’ were intended to create a rigid flat silhouette that allowed the curving tops of the breasts to peek over the top of the bodice. Stays were made up of layered fabric, stiffened with glue and were tightly laced. A ‘Busk’ or a flat piece of whalebone was sewn into a casing in the front center and a ‘Stomacher’ or a stiff, V-shaped structure came to be worn on the front of ‘stays’.
Over time, the shape of stays altered to accommodate changing fashions... Regency stays (depicted below) served a purpose quite similar to modern "push up" bras
Although its form continued to change, the corset, used as a body shaping device, remained in fashion until well into the 20th century.