What is a Corselette?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A corselette, also spelled corselet, is sometimes called an all in one, or a girdle/bra. Some may mistakenly call it a merry widow as well. The corselette should be a tight fitting garment that fits the busts, and covers the body with usually tight elastic or boning down to the thighs. The early corselette also features garter belt straps to keep the stockings up. These can be removed, or you can buy a modern corselette without this feature.

Some brides elect to wear a corselette under their wedding dresses.
Some brides elect to wear a corselette under their wedding dresses.

In contrast to the corselette, the merry widow tends to stop at the waist and may be worn with underpants. In the nebulous world of defining women’s lingerie you may see the corselette referred to as a merry widow, or vice versa. Generally, the merry window is shorter and might be more properly titled a bustier. It does not cover the hips.

The early corselette features a garter belt to help keep stockings up.
The early corselette features a garter belt to help keep stockings up.

Some corselette styles are strapless designs, meant to be worn at events where you might wear a ball or evening gown. They’re quite popular as worn under wedding dresses, particularly for women who wish a little bit of the nip and tuck feature they offer. Other styles of the corselette feature straps, and this may be particularly important if you are larger busted. Even with the tight constriction of the corselette, the garment may slide down if it is not perfectly fitted in the cups or if you have a larger bra size.

The modern corselette usually is made from tight spandex, meant to pull in the stomach and waistline, and provide a smooth shape to the rear. The boned corselette is less common than it was in the past, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s when the design was most popular. Boning in the corselette can be uncomfortable, offers very little give and can sometimes make breathing a little challenging.

The boned corselette may be tightened by means of lacing the garment, usually from the back. This can mean you need someone to help you pull the laces tight enough for the corselette to stay up. Yet a corselette that is too tight can cause great discomfort, and is discouraged if worn regularly. It can permanently alter the shape of the backs and ribs if worn all the time.

The spandex or Lycra corselette has more give, though it can still be very form fitting, and to some women feels too restrictive. Wearing one is usually reserved for rare events. Current emphasis in fashion is on a more natural female form, which can’t be observed when you wear the corselette. Yet some women prefer to wear them all the time, considering it a mark of good taste to do so.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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