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Filtering by Tag: history of lingerie

The History of the Corset

Hi, my name’s Steph and I’m interning at Playful Promises this week! I’m a Costume Design student at UAL, so I thought I’d write a blog post about historical underwear – more specifically, the corset!


When we think of historical corsets today, what comes to mind is the extreme hourglass shape fashionable during the Victorian period. But when did corsets really begin?


The first instances of corsets, or ‘stays’, being used under a bodice can be traced back to the end of 17th century. These were stiffened conical shapes which lifted the bust and shaped the waist. However they were not the restrictive garments we imagine today – women at the time would stitch their stays by hand, and there were no metal eyelets for lacing, so stays could not be laced very tightly or the laboriously stitched together garment would break. 






During the 18th century, stays were laced either at the back or at the front under or over an embroidered stomacher (a stiff panel which attached to the bodice) in a zig-zag shape. In her portrait to the left, Madame de Pompadour wears a stomacher decorated with a line of bows; a look she popularised.


Towards the end of the 18th century, the fashionable waistline moves upwards (think Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice), so corsets also change - dresses are looser so the body no longer needs shaping in the same way. The emphasis in this period is on the bust, so cups are built into the corset for the first time, and stiff wooden busks are used to keeps the breasts apart. Below is an example of a corset from 1790.

With the advent of the Victorian period, the waist moves back down and more recognisable corsets come into use. These make use of new inventions – metal eyelets and metal busks which use hooks to allow the corset to be fastened at the front, as well as laced at the back. Criss-cross lacing is introduced, and remains in use today. It is during this period that tight-lacing becomes popular, along with the hourglass figure. Below is an example of a corset from 1864. 

Corsets largely fell out of fashion during the 1920s, as a new "boyish" shape was desired by flappers. They began to come back into popularity in the 1950s in the form of bustiers and girdles like the ones to the right.


Modern designers like Jean Paul Gaultier have revisited the corset in haute couture, and the resurgence of burlesque has ensured that corsets are once again  fashionable and desirable items of lingerie!

Ready to try out corsets for yourself? Our corsets and waspies are designed for the boudoir or as outerwear (rather than waist training corsets, which need to be specially made to safely reduce your waist-line)!

The Origin of Lingerie

From the beautiful Etti sets, to the saucy Morgana collection. Playful Promises autumn/winter lingerie is the epitome of modern lingerie, but just how did the wonderful world of lingerie come about?

There is no exact date as to when the fashion of wearing lingerie came about, but the first sources of evidence point towards Ancient Egypt, almost 3000 years BC. For such a hot country clothing was not a necessity or a commodity.

Items of clothing were status symbols, something only the wealthy members of society would wear. Very often people would be happy to be naked or to wear a loin cloth and no more. Terra-cotta pots illustrate the fashions of the period giving us an insight into lingerie and more.

The first example of undergarments was worn by Egyptian women, of high-ranks. This would have been a long tunic woven from fine cottons and linens. The tunic would have started around the chest and flowed down to the ankles. It would have been tied around the body and shoulders using straps and was even sometimes used to mould the waist creating hour-glass figures.

From the dawn of lingerie, garments were worn to suppress or accentuate curves, the modern day bra was established as far back as 3000BC. When Egyptians were wearing tunics, Babylonian women were wearing what could be described as briefs and bras.  Most likely derived from the loin cloth and from suppressing women's breasts by wrapping cloth around the chest, this is the earliest evidence of lingerie.

And Cretan women were wearing hip corsets pushing their breasts upwards and outwards around 3000BC. This is surprising to know that the corset was in fact first worn on women, as many people believe men were first to wear the corset, and over 5000 years ago making this a very old fashion trend.

From these early depictions of wearing lingerie there was not much progression in what women wore. The 1500's saw the popularity in the corset increase, and from this period it became an integral piece of lingerie in everyday attire.

Today we still enjoy wearing corsets, some women still use corsets to shape their figure, but mostly corsets are a fun piece of outwear for a little boudoir fun. Playful Promises make their corsets and waspies from steel boning ensuring a rigid and tight shape is sculpted for maximum ooh-la-la.

Various bodices, bras and briefs were fashioned to wear underneath the corset, helping push-up busts, mould waist-lines and more.

Maria_Fowler at Playful Promises Party _020.jpg

The real revolution in lingerie happened around the 1920's where women decided to liberate themselves from the repressive corsets opting for girdles or less. This is where the lingerie revolution becomes interesting and where Playful Promises can base their inspiration and continue to create beautiful lines of underwear shaping figures and lifestyles.