20th Century

Corsets go commercial in the early 20th century

There was supposed to be something brilliant and brainy here about how corset images became commercialized, sexual and alluring in the early 20th century.  But my brain isn’t that flexible right now.  All it wants is sleep and warm liquids.

So enjoy the images.  Insert your own brilliant commentary in the comments.

Femme a la toilette, 1896, Comte Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

Wely Jacques , Woman being photographed in a corset, caricature for Paris Vivant, 1901

Corset Le Furet poster 1902

Manuel Robbe, ca. 1902, The Divan

In the Corset, 1910, Lovis Cointh (1858— 1925)

Corsets Le Furet advertising poster 1910



  1. I like how these images frequently show that thing we’ve all learned through bitter experience – “Shoes first, then corset.”

  2. Funny how a drawing of a well-covered woman’s body can actually be sexier than a full frontal nude in a modern magazine, most of which are shudderworthily ugly!

    • While I agree that the women are attractive, are corsets not potentially damaging to one’s health and an augmentation of a woman’s natural shape? This isn’t to say that the “full frontal nudes” are not, themselves, “augmented” in other ways, but there’s a kind of sadness to the beauty of a woman in a corset. Times probably haven’t improved overall in terms of fashion’s friendless to the female body since the days of the corset (6″ stilettos! ouch!), but I’m still wary of falling too hard for the style demands of the past.

      • Lacrima_lamiae says

        Your response makes me wonder how instrumental the trend of showing off the before hidden corsets was to the development of corsets being tossed away completely later was…

      • Would you say an orthopedic back brace is bad for a woman’s health? Corsets are in themselves no more damaging to a woman’s health any more than other garments. For full bountiful figures they are better for one’s health than modern bras. Any health issues of corsets comes out of misuse and extreme use just like other garments and accessories. There will always be women and men who misuse fashion to the detriment of their health because many a human being are dips. It’s lazy feminism to bash corsets.

        • Thanks Adela! That’s exactly right!

          @ C, yes, extreme corsets are bad for you, but most of the perceptions we have about how tightly they were laced historically, and the effect they had on women’s health, are complete myths, with no backing in historical fact. Valerie Steels ‘Corsets: A Social History’ is a great introduction to the realities behind the corset myths.

          I’m pretty sure Mrs C is not advocating a return to corsets in her comment, but a return to a more innocent, clothed sensuality. And possibly a return to awesome art over glossy photoshopped magazine imagery!

  3. Claudia says

    The translation of one of those ads reads something like “Wear/put on Oriental suppleness with French grace”. As an Asian-American, it makes me wonder if this was meant as a cultural comment on Asian women being seen as slim and lithe- or if I’m reading it wrong and they’re talking about the Asian-made silk fabric of the corset.

    • How interesting – I didn’t notice that. I too wonder if it is the fabric, or a comment on the Western perception of Asian women. The whole question of Orientalism in the late 19th and early 20th century is so fascinating.

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