Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal

Kim Kardashian has made news headlines once more. This time it was an image of her perfect hour glass figure that set social media alight. Rumours ran rife and it is even speculated that she had some ribs removed.

Would it surprise you to learn that the hourglass figure and the idea of the perfect 20 inch (50cm) waist date back to the 1870s?Victorian ladies (1837-1901), however, could rely on many innovative accessories to ensure the perfect figure. These were well hidden under layers of clothing with an outfit in those days weighing up to 5 kilograms. To ensure the perfect waist women wore a corset. The corset first made its fashion appearance in the sixteenth century and was known as a “waistcoat”.  Later it was known as stays and finally dubbed the corset. Victorian girls were laced into corsets from an early age. Prolonged tight lacing caused restricted breathing, poor digestion, and muscle deterioration while the rib cage could be permanently deformed.

This foundation garment was worn for many years up until the 1950s. The only fashion era to discard the corset was the roaring twenties. After the First World War (1914-1918) (the war forced women to enter the job market) women wanted more freedom and this included being free of the physical constraints caused by wearing a corset. The corset, however,  stayed around -somewhat more relaxed but ever present and by the 1950s a tiny waist was once more the fashion norm. During the 1990s Victoria’s Secret once again made the corset a popular fashion accessory. This time, however, it was not hidden beneath layers and layers of clothing.

The textile collection of the National Museum houses a number of corsets from different fashion eras. One such corset is a Sandow’s health corset. According to the maker, this design allowed more freedom of movement. The new design, however, pushed the bust forward and the buttocks back creating a hardly healthy “S”-shaped figure. The old hourglass silhouette made way for the new S-bend or pouter pigeon shape so popular during the Edwardian period (1901-1910).

Sudre Havenga
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