How Corsets Shaped Our Culture

Fields, Jill. “‘Fighting the Corsetless Evil’: Shaping Corsets and Culture, 1900-1930.” Journal of Social History 33.2 (1999): 355. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

In this article, Fields explores the corset industry’s control over women’s lives throughout the 19th-20th centuries. Through the citation of corsetry trade journals, sales manuals, and advertisements, she reveals the effective ways the corset industry fought to stay relevant in the eyes of women. The corset industry and fashion magazines launched an aggressive advertising campaign to assert the necessity of a corset in every stage of a woman’s life to maintain good physical and moral posture. The corset industry and its affiliates created a culture in which it was necessary to wear a corset in order for a woman to be considered feminine and valid in society. Though corsets are out of style today, their main goal of molding the female body lives on in other garments of modern times such as waist cinchers, bras, and other shaping garments from brands like Spanx.

Fields focuses more on the corset industry’s imposition on women that the corset is needed instead of the woman’s reaction to this. Though one can infer that the corset industry’s efforts were incredibly successful at roping women in—even managing to maintain profits during the Great Depression—it would add nuance and an interesting touch to talk about the corsetless fad in more detail. I would have liked to know more about how women, not just the corset industry, thought of other women who refused to wear corsets. This would have strengthened the argument that the corset was a powerful tool for shaping the culture surrounding women’s dress.

This source uncovers the ugly truth that clothing industries are most concerned about their bottom line. They will wage aggressive ad wars to dictate to women what is acceptable to wear, and they are incredibly persuasive and effective. Fields’ article points out that clothing companies don’t actually care about what you dress like, as long as you’re buying from them. This article is a rude awakening to the fact that we are blindly following the advice of a for-profit company to tell us what form our bodies should take and to criticize and shun those who fail to fit the mold. The chilling irony is that, sensitive as we are to propaganda in politics, we have complacently and mindlessly consumed the propaganda of the clothing industry. We have become the puppets of a fashion empire.


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