through the ages, but of the evolution of our societies and of concepts of beauty and form.
Some fashion historians see the origins of the corset in the early sixteenth-century basquine, a tightly fitting, sleeveless bodice lined with a heavy, stiffened cloth and laced at the back; it was also known to have been reinforced with brass wire. Others see the beginnings of the corset later in the sixteenth century with the busk – a strip of boxwood, ivory or other rigid material inserted into a long, narrow pocket running down the centre–front
of the basquine.
The overall effect of the basquine and busk was a close-fitting and constricting conical bust shape for women that masked the breasts; sleeves and skirts, by contrast, were voluminous. This period of costume is aligned with the reign of Henri II of France (1547–59) and his Florentine noblewoman wife, Catherine de’ Medici, who effectively continued to rule after his death (r. 1547–99). It was a more sombre and uncertain period than that which had preceded it, marred by widespread religious tensions, civil upheaval and wars fought along Catholic–Protestant lines that continued well into the seventeenth century, most notably with the Thirty Years War that ravaged Continental Europe from 1618 to 1648.
Fashion followed the dawning of the
Age of Enlightenment in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and costume became more colourful and exuberant, eventually reaching a peak of flamboyance, in France especially, with the Rococo period of the mid-eighteenth century. The single, central busk was replaced by a number of more flexible whalebone stays sewn into what had now properly become an early corset. This item was more form-fitting and, rather than masking the breasts, compressed them from underneath and pushed them upward and outward. At this period of their evolution, corsets were known
as stays, and they often had shoulder straps; expensive ones could be works of tailoring and embroidering art. Although tightlacing was not de rigueur, relatively complex rear lacing usually meant the assistance of a maidservant was required; thus did the most florid costume of the age imply some level of privilege, and explains a backlash against such modes of dress with the French Revolution.
/ The most florid costume of the Rococo implied privilege, and explains a backlash against such modes of dress with the French Revolution. /