The Corset: Instrument of Oppression or Power “I must tell you something of significance. Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone. The problem of fashion in 1925 was different. Women were just beginning to go to work in offices. I inspired the cutting of the hair short because it goes with the modern woman. To the woman going to work, I said to take off the bone corset, because women cannot work while they are imprisoned in a corset. ” (Coco Chanel)
The image is an advertisement in the late 19th century promoting the usage of corsets. This image represents the culture, fashion and class of the late 19th century. Illustrated in four chapters, it tells a story of a rich bachelorette of the upper-class society in the 19th century whom, unhappy of her figure in an old corset, decides to buy a new one; ‘The Madame Warren Corset’. Upon wearing this corset, the woman feels confident enough to step out to gain the attention of the public whom in this case are all men.
The story ends in a ‘happily-ever-after’ enchanted theme, with the woman getting married in the end. The advertisement displays the corset as the upper class’ woman gateway to the ‘fairytale’ life in the 19th century unlike in the present 21st century where the corset is considered as an entirely different tool. First chapter; a wide-figured brunette Caucasian female wearing a red coat, standing in front of a large mirror placed on a vanity table, which has a hairbrush, tissue and other items on it. With the citation, “Oh!
How horrible I look in this old corset” written underneath the chapter. The woman in the image concerned about her looks in an old corset represents the portrayal and vanity of women in that era. Her ability to buy a new corset identifies her as a member of the upper class. Lower class women of that era did not wear corsets neither did middle-class women unless they were privileged enough to inherit one from a family member. “Working-class women (except when dressed for special occasions) did not go through the discomfort of wearing tightly laced corsets.
They wore looser corsets and simpler clothes, with less weight. The higher up in class a lady was, the more confining her clothes were. This was because they didn’t need the freedom to do household chores. Paid servants took care of such cumbersome matters. ” (Victorianera) Second chapter; the same woman, wearing a white dress without the red coat, and with a more narrow waistline, holding a smaller mirror with one hand and looking at her reflection in the two mirrors. The caption written at the bottom of this chapter reads, “What an improvement The Madam Warren Corset and how comfortable. The caption contradicts the impression of corsets as a ‘torture tool’ restricting the movement of women. Due to the fact that the image is an advertisement, it is understandable since the main goal of any advertisement is to persuade its audience of its products, not emphasising on or deleting the product’s faults. Central image; at the center of the advertisement is the image of the woman wearing a white corseted top and red skirt, looking at her reflection in a hand mirror she is holding.
Written above this image is the description of the advertisement, ‘ A True Story of The Madam Warren’. Written below the image is the continuation of the description of the advertisement ‘ Dress Corset Form’, and ‘Illustrated in 4 Chapters’. The phrase, ‘A True Story’ emphasizes the point made earlier that the image represents the culture of the 19th century. By informing its audience that the story is factual, the image is informing us that in the late 19th century, an upper-class rich bachelorette is able to get married when her wealth and figure is displayed.
Third chapter; the woman is in the midst of a crowd full of men holding what seems to be a walking or horse riding stick, and wearing the red coat and a red flowered-hat. A dark-haired man with a full beard and moustache, wearing a black top-hat and coat, holding what also appears to be a walking or horse riding stick is facing the woman in such a way as to imply that he is approaching her. The caption, “How delightful to be admired by everybody. ” Written beneath the chapter.
Her ability to capture the attention of eligible bachelors represents the culture of the upper class in the 19th century. Majority of the men of that era would not marry below their class to avoid the risk of a scandal. The obvious attraction of the man to the woman in the new corset conveys to viewers that the men of that era were not only attracted to the hour-glass figure the fitted-corsets created, but also the wealth and class that these new corsets signified. One would notice that there is no mention of any other women in the advertisement.
It mainly consists of a single woman and numerous other men. This may be so as to not distract the attention of viewers from the corset. One could imagine that, had any other women be present in the image, the men may be attracted to the most prettiest, or the wealthiest but not necessarily the woman in the new corset, nullifying the purpose of the advertisement. In terms of the coloring of the image, it should be pointed out that the woman in focus is wearing a red coat which would definitely attract the attention of the people around her since red is such a bold color.
Fourth chapter; the woman is now wearing a white wedding dress and veil, and holding a bouquet of assorted flowers, standing next to a dark-haired man with a moustache, who is wearing a dark-colored tail coat and trousers. Both are facing a white haired man holding a book. The caption ’The Happy Result! ’ is written underneath the chapter. In the 19th century, such advertisements had social and cultural consequences. Both men and women of the upper class would benefit from such an advertisement.
Most men get married or engaged when they notice that the women are attractive and can increase their own substantial wealth additionally, some men of that era somewhat developed a fetish for small waists, others were attracted to the notion of anything or anyone being ‘untouchable’; “A woman needed to protect herself from lustful men (and her own morality) by wearing heavily reinforced layers of clothing and tight corsets that made getting undressed a long and difficult task. “ (Victoria’s Past).
In the gathering of women form the upper class society, those that aren’t able to express their wealth through their fashion are shunned and excluded from most social events. The manufacturers of the ‘Madame Warren Corset’ also benefit from this advertisement. The designer of this advertisement uses logos to appeal to viewers. As displayed in the advertisement, most women of the upper class get married or engaged by looking their best when they step out thus, such women were most likely to buy their products.
He or she is conveying that, if a woman were to wear a Madam Warren Corset, she would receive the attention of many men and eventually be able to get married. In the 19th century, this logic was not entirely off the mark. Short history of corsets in the late 19th century; “In the 1830’s, the corset was thought of as a medical necessity. It was believed that a woman was very fragile, and needed assistance from some form of stay to hold her up.
Even girls as young as three or four, and probably directed by the best motives, were laced up into bodices. Gradually these garments were lengthened and tightened. By the time they were teenagers, the girls were unable to sit or stand for any length of time without the aid of a heavy canvas corset reinforced with whalebone or steel. The corset deformed the internal organs making it impossible to draw deep breath, in or out of a corset. Because of this, Victorian women were always fainting and getting the vapors.
Women were thought of as the weaker sex, therefore their minds and bodies were weak. So the corset was deemed morally and medically necessary. Tight lacing was considered virtuous – a loose corset was probably a sign of a loose woman“ (Victoria’s Past). In the 21st century, corsets are not as popular, as feminism has reached an all-time high without much public distaste. However, some women still wear corsets, most of them do for their career as a burlesque dancer or entertainer or even a dominatrix.
Although, in the 21st century, corsets are used as a symbol of sexual control and power, not a constricting, torture device as in the late 19th century. Careers as a burlesque entertainer and a dominatrix are noticeable careers used to entice their audience sexually but also hold power over them. Women in such careers are considered a ‘you can look but not touch’ commodity, reinforcing the notion of corsets used to protect women from ‘lustful’ men.
Dita Von Teese, a world-renowned burlesque entertainer is famed for being a tight lacer; she wears corsets for long periods of time (14 to 23 hours per day) in order to reduce the natural waist size. Dominatrices have also been accepted into the 21st century popular culture; Rihanna portrayed herself as a dominatrix in her ‘S&M’ music video, ‘Castle’ an ABC show showed an episode in which a dominatrix was murdered, ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’ showed many episodes with BDSM themes, ‘Bruno’, a movie about a homosexual reporter has an experience with a dominatrix.
Presently, the wearing of corsets is a choice, not a stigma that the public has placed on women. However, in modern times, other methods are still used to depreciate women; a short article posted on a plastic surgery’s website describes a Tummy-tuck as ‘the 21st century corset’. The day when women are entirely free of their belittled role is still yet to come, however a significant amount of progress has been made from the late 19th century to the 21st century.
In my opinion the women of the 19th Century used the corset as a symbol of ‘the fairytale’ life. It not only gave them a desirable figure which women are desperate for, even the 21st century woman. But also made them a much sought after bachelorette, which the poster blatantly advertises. However, in time as women have found themselves and built their way up social and political ladders the symbol which once belittled the woman is used as a symbol of authority and domination.
Women used the corset that was once an instrument of oppression and have turned it into one of power. Works Cited Bair, Cinnamon. “”. 2008 New York Times Company. Colen MD Plastic Surgery, http://www. colenmd. com/breast-lift/tummytuck-the-21st-century-corset/ “Mini History of the Corset”, http://www. victoriaspast. com/DressingRoom/corsethistory. htm “History of the Victorian Corset”, http://victorianeracnr. blogspot. com/2011/01/history-of-victorian-corset. html