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The Corset: A Cultural History

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The Corset: A Cultural History

By Valerie Steele

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Format: Paperback / softback, 208 pages
Other Information: 120 colour pl 80 illustrations
Published In: United Kingdom, 04 February 2003
An essential element of fashionable dress from the Renaissance into the twentieth century, the corset has been viewed not only as an object of eroticism but also as an instrument of torture and subjugation. This lavishly illustrated book explores the cultural history of the corset. Named one of the Best of the Year 2001 by the Toronto Globe & Mail. Selected for inclusion in the Books to Remember list by the New York Public Library. Winner of the 2002 Milia Davenport Publication Award sponsored by the Costume Society of America.

Promotional Information

This title was named one of the Best of the Year by the "Toronto Globe & Mail", and it was also the winner of the 2002 Milia Davenport Publication Award sponsored by the Costume Society of America.

About the Author

Valerie Steele is chief curator and acting director, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York. Among her many publications are Fifty Years of Fashion (ISBN 0 300 08738 1, pb. [pound]15.00*), Fashion Italian Style (forthcoming, ISBN 0 300 10014 0, [pound]25.00*), and China Chic: East Meets West (with John S. Major) (ISBN 0 300 07930 3, [pound]35.00*), all published by Yale University Press. She is also editor of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture.


"This is cultural scholarship and social history at its absolute best." Literary Review "The Corset is at once couture eye candy and intellectually enlightening." WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS "Obligatory reading for fashion historians." Times Literary Supplement

EAN: 9780300099539
ISBN: 0300099533
Publisher: Yale University Press
Dimensions: 27.94 x 23.11 x 1.55 centimetres (1.09 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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2 review(s)
All Reviews
Varisa Aschakulporn on
Corsets have gone in and out of fashion in response to changes in styles, deliberate dress reform, and historical and economic forces. Steele shows that insisting that men were responsible for inflicting corsets on women is simply incorrect, and how the French Revolution, the industrial revolution, and both world wars affected corsetry. A rebound after the Second World War was cut short by the hippies and women's liberation. After that, Steele argues, we have had a run of exercise corsetry, shaping the body by aerobic exercise and weight training, an ideal that still holds sway. Surgical corsetry via liposuction continues the centuries of bringing women's bodies into agreement with the ideal of beauty, whatever that is.

Through all the centuries, corsets have had an erotic and a sadomasochistic pull. Corseting girls, and even boys, was a theme in literature having to do with their boarding schools, although it is doubtful that such corseted academies actually existed except in fevered imaginations. One can count on fashion designers to continue to include corsets on their most showy productions. Such lights as Madonna have taken advantage of the fetishistic potential of corsets, and they seem still to be desired under bridal gowns, reinforcing a sexual link. Steele has a dry sense of humor to enliven a sometimes academic text; she laments, "Admittedly, we know nothing about underwear in the premodern period," or puns "The English especially believed that a straitlaced woman was not loose," and she deadpans her research within a periodical titled _The Corset and Underwear Review_. One can look at the impressive illustrations she has gathered in this book (the often hilarious Victorian advertisements are the best) and see easily that men and women are going to have to change into entirely different creatures before they have corsets no more.
RM Worboys on
I just finished reading this book and I really enjoyed it. It is more about the history of the corset and the place of the corset in society than it is about what corsets are and what they are made of.
Steele obviously did a lot of research writing this book and it has paid off. There are also many nice corset pictures, including lots of interesting old advertisements!

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