Corsets are tightened with long lacing which is normally at the back. By tightening or loosening the laces the wearer can change the stiffness of the corset. Corsets can be laced from the top downwards, from the bottom upwards or alternatively up from the bottom and down from the top, using two laces that then meet in the middle. Though it is difficult, it is not totally impossible, for a corset wearer with a corset that laces at the back to do her own lacing.
Corsets were originally designed for support and to still give freedom of body movement. Modern corset wearers tend to tighten the corset just enough to reduce the waist by between 2 and 4 inches.
Traditionally a woman's corset was frequently worn over a chemise which was made of cotton or linen which could be washed. Nowadays an undershirt or corset liner is sometimes worn to keep the corset clean.
Corsets have gone through many changes since they first came into fashion originally starting as a simple bodice with tabs at the waist which was stiffened with the use of horn, buckram or whalebone. This form of early corset was the preserve of the aristocracy at first.
In the seventeen hundreds corsets began to use more boning and the stays were lower and wider in the front to enhance the bust.
In the early eighteen hundreds corsets began to be worn by all of the classes of society with corsets becoming one of the first women’s garments that were mass produced. Later in the eighteen hundreds corsets became more heavily boned with steel boning becoming popular.
Tight lacing became possible when metal eyelets began to be used and as the front began to be fastened with a metal busk. The most popular corset at this time was the white corset.
The corset began to get very long in the early twentieth century with the advent of the longline corset.
In the 1920s the corset became less fashionable and ladies tended to prefer girdles and elastic brassieres.
Though the corset was traditionally seen as a form of designer lingerie, the corset is now popular as an item of outerwear for many in the fetish, BDSM and goth interest groups. Fetish and BDSM individuals tend to be very interested in tightlacing where the corset may still be seen as underwear as opposed to outerwear.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the corset underwent a brief revival in the form of the waspie or waist cincher as it was known which gave an hourglass silhouette popularized by the Christian Dior 'New Look'. The waist cincher or waspie was an item of haute couture and many women remained with the use of the girdle.
The corset dress has also proved to be a very popular fashion item in modern times. The corset dress is a long corset and is like an ordinary corset though it is long enough to, partially or totally, cover the legs which therefore gives it the name, corset dress.