Shapewear has been in style since Spanx was founded in 2000. Promoted and praised by Oprah, it has grown in popularity ever since.
However, girdles and corsets date back way before Sara Blakely came up with Spanx pantyhose.
They’ve been used for centuries, millenniums even, for a variety of purposes. This includes, but is not limited to, maintaining a slim, attractive body figure.
Two of the most popular shapewear garments are girdles and corsets. They evolved from two entirely distinct garments, but have developed many similarities in today’s fashion world.
To understand the purpose of these two garments, and before you can decide which better suits your needs, it’s important to understand their respective histories.
History of the Corset
The word corset comes from the French word corps, meaning body.
Corsets became popular in the 1500s by Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France, who banned thick waists in the court.
At that time, corsets were undergarments made out of silk and cloth. They were constructed with real bone.
They served to flatten the waist, but placed a larger emphasis on pushing the breasts up and contrast the breasts with the flattened bust. They also served to push out the skirt in a wide circle around the waist.
Whalebone and wood were later introduced to the busk of the corset; steel came at a later period.
During the Victorian era, corsets became popular as a way to narrow the waist. Their goal was also to maintain wide and full breasts and hips.
That’s when the hourglass-figure corset came into style.
The popularity of the corset eventually waned, going out of style in the 1960s.
However, at the turn of the century, corsets once again became fashionable, but were worn as an outer garment as opposed to an undergarment.
Today, corsets are not as tight and rigid as they once were. Some use them simply for fashion, while others use them for the purposes of maintaining a slimmer body.
Corsets today often contain flexible steel rods with lacing on the back. They come either in an underbust or overbust style.
They can be worn either above other garments or as an undergarment.
History of the Girdle
The girdle has a rich history as well. It is mentioned frequently in ancient literature.
In Leviticus, the girdle is mentioned as a garment worn by priests while performing services. It’s mentioned in many ancient Christian texts as well.
Aphrodite’s girdle was said to come with sexual powers.
The original definition of the girdle is of a garment somewhat resembling a wide belt or sash worn around the waist or torso.
In the 1920s and 1930s, girdles became a popular women’s garment. They usually covered the waist and the upper thighs.
They were either worn on their own or with hooks to hold up stockings or other leg garments.
In the 1960s, the panty girdle became more popular. This garment more closely resembled a pair of athletic shorts.
The girdle/pantyhose is now back in style, though many of them now come with an upper portion that may resemble or serve a similar function as a corset. However, they are generally not as tight as corsets.
While some corsets may be rigid, these girdles are generally designed to be more stretchable. In addition, they may contain additional zippers to allow for different sizes and shapes.
They may or may not come with hooks to hold up stockings.
Why Wear a Corset
There are a few reasons why people wear corsets nowadays.
Some people simply wear them as a fashion statement, in which case they are worn over other garments. They are sometimes worn for special occasions, such as weddings and events.
Some people wear them to help maintain better posture and reduce back pain.
However, most people wear them to help them get that hourglass figure that so many people find attractive.
A corset, by its very design, instantly gives your body the appearance of having this hourglass figure.
In addition, by wearing a corset over an extended period of time, you can help shape your body into that desired figure.
Why Wear a Girdle
Girdles are usually worn under other garments for the purposes of waist slimming.
Some girdles come with corsets or bras attached. Some are designed with the specific purposes of being fashionable.
The modern pantyhose girdle has a tight waistband and has several purposes.
For one, it helps support proper body structure. If you have poor posture, a pantyhose girdle can help your body maintain the proper shape.
Some girdles have an upper section as well, which helps support the spine and back.
Many women wear girdles in an effort to lose weight, especially after pregnancy.
For weight loss, girdles can help by reminding you of your goals. It helps prevent bloating by stopping you from eating large meals.
It can also tighten and slim your waist.
Some girdles even come with heat to help you sweat, which can help you lose some weight.
Many women wear girdles after birth to help reduce swelling and bloating. Girdles can compress and tighten the skin and prevent the tummy from sagging.
It can also help strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Corsets Vs Girdles – Which One Should You Wear?
Ultimately, the choice to wear either a corset or a girdle comes down to your individual goals and fashion preferences.
If you like wearing a beautiful corset as a fashion statement, or if you want to give your body the appearance of having an hourglass figure, get a corset that is designed to be worn over other garments.
If you want to help shape and tame your body into an hourglass figure, you should probably go with a corset that is designed to be an undergarment. If it is too uncomfortable, make it a little looser or get a more flexible girdle-corset combination.
And finally, if your goal is simply to lose weight and/or reduce sagging and bloating, you should probably go with a girdle or pantyhose.
Diana Paul is a certified nutritionist who writes for leading health blogs. She is a master herbalist, yoga teacher, forager, and wild-crafting writer She is focused on helping people transform life blocks to opportunities. Based in NYC, she often holds health seminars and lectures.