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The complicated history of corsets

Already we’ve seen the corset as a symbol of oppression, and even today it is assumed to be a patriarchal tool. However, based on the evidence, men apparently hated corsets. Valeria Steele, the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, explained in an interview with Collector’s Weekly that men regularly protested against corsets and believed them to cause “hysteria,” which is typically the misogynistic catch-all of “women be crazy.” Steele explained, “Women wore the corset because it made them feel attractive and properly dressed.” The phenomena is interestingly similar to the current controversy of makeup.

Nevertheless, Steele was quick to point out that women wore corsets to obtain the ideal shape, i.e. youthful and sexually desirable. Men did not force women to wear corsets, but the inclination to wear one was shaped by the desires of men. Steele illustrated this instance of history repeating itself, saying, “It [corset] acts like a proto-Wonderbra and also emphasizes the waist-hip differential, which makes you look younger, slimmer, and curvier—which is still what everybody wants. But now women get on a StairMaster or get plastic surgery instead of putting on a corset.” It’s difficult to say where a woman’s wants end and a patriarchal demand begins.

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