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The Corset: A Cultural History [Hardcover]

Valerie Steele
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Sep 2001
The corset is probably the most controversial garment in the history of fashion. Although regarded as an essential element of fashionable dress from the Renaissance into the twentieth century, the corset was also frequently condemned as an instrument of torture and the cause of ill health. Whey did women continue to don steel and whalebone corsets for four hundred years? And why did they stop? This lavishly illustrated book offers fascinating and often surprising answers to these questions. Valeric Steele, one of the world's most respected fashion historians, explores the cultural history of the corset, demolishing myths about this notorious garment and revealing new information and perspectives on its changing significance over the centuries. Whereas most historians have framed the history of the corset in terms of oppression vs. liberation and fashion vs. health and comfort, Steele contends that women's experiences of corsetry varied considerably and cannot be fully understood within these narrow frames. Drawing on extensive research in textual, visual, and material sources, the author disproves the beliefs that the corset was dangerously unhealthy and was designed primarily for the oppression of women. Women persisted in wearing corsets - despite powerful male authorities trying to dissuade them - because corsetry had positive connotations of social status, self-discipline, youth, and beauty. In the twentieth century the garment itself fell out of fashion but, Steele points out, it has become internalised as women replace the boned corset with diet, exercise, and plastic surgery. The book concludes with insightful analyses of such recent developments as the reconception of the corset as a symbol of rebellion and female sexual empowerment, the revival of the corset in contemporary high fashion, and its transformation from an item of underwear to outerwear.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (25 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300090714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300090710
  • Product Dimensions: 29.4 x 24.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,587,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'It is a long time since I have so enjoyed looking at a book.' -- Rachel Cooke, New Statesman, 22 October 2001

'This is cultural scholarship and social history at its absolute best.' -- Kathryn Hughes, The Literary Review, November 2001

'an uplifting defence of fashion' -- Lisa Allardice, Daily Telegraph, 20 October 2001

About the Author

Valerie Steele is chief curator and acting director, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York. She is founder and editor of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture. Among her many publications are Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now (ISBN 0 300 08738 1, pb. 15.00) and China Chic: East Meets West (with John S. Major) (ISBN 0 300 07930 3, 35.00), both published by Yale University Press.

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First Sentence
THE CORSET IS PROBABLY THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL GARMENT in the entire history of fashion. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An excellent well written book on the history of corsets up to the present day for both men and women, with illustrations and diagrams. This has proved to be a most useful book for my dissertation on the effects of the corset on the body and in society. The content has been well researched and put together in different sections that are easy to follow and digest. I think this is a great book for anyone interested in corsets whether it be for work / education or just as a hobby. I have many corset books and as far as the history of corsets this has to be one of the best.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Corset 19 April 2005
This book is fantastic, it helps portray the history of the corset from the beginning when both men and women were subjected to wearing it and through to fetishism and modern day use. The pictures are brilliant and the diagrams show how the corset affected women's bodies and organs. It definitely helped me out with a number of essays on art and fashion. I absolutely recommend this book even just to read, it's very interesting and gives a thorough anthology of it's history.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wealth of information. 27 Nov 2005
This book is great for anyone interested in the history of, or modern corsetry. Some great images that i haven't seen elsewhere, but if your looking for any technical information, this book is slightly lacking. A good initial insight into corsetry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good source of information 14 Oct 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very informative. Much needed for research into corsetry. Book even informs you about further research on books to read. Would not be without it
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what it says on the wrapper. 5 Jun 2011
By Vicky J
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If this book has one weakness, it lies in its sometime over-academic stance. On a quick skim, you may get the impression that corseting and corsetry was a matter of interest only to fashion historians and psychologists. However, as you delve and explore the book in detail, you realise that the author has immense knowledge and understanding of the reasons that men and women wore corsets in the past; and many continue to do so today. She is not judgemental but does sometimes slip into the academic style, "...how interesting that those people feel that way..." as if they were a different section of humanity. I suppose they are in a way so she's only reflecting the facts, but it's done in a fishbowl or zoological way. I find it disconcerting.

None of this detracts from a brilliant review of the corset and its role in fashion history, in social movements, and in the development of erotic sensibility in the species. The illustrations are wonderful, the development of fashion styles and figure modification, the acknowledgment of different lifestyles: all are presented with clarity and explanations. There are some big corset-names under-represented even if mentioned such as Menton, Mrs Cayne, Iris Norris, Gardner & Sons, Michael Garrod. Even so, it is a most valuable text and entertaining also.
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