A corset is a type of undergarment that serves to support the bust and define the waistline. It is most often worn by women, but sometimes by men as well. Corsets may be worn to support the spine for medical reasons or to create a certain shape for aesthetic purposes. The corset was commonly worn by women in the Western world until the use of bras became more widespread in the 1920s and 1930s.
Corsets vary widely in their design as well as their purpose. Most are made of fabric, leather, or another flexible material and enforced with hard strips called boning. In the Victorian period, boning was usually whalebone, although steel was also used. Today, many corsets use plastic boning for a more lightweight feel. A corset typically laces up in the back in order to adjust the fit, although some models lace in the front. Some back-laced models also feature buttons or hooks on the front.
A corset may be relatively small, covering only the area between the bust and hips. This model is also known as a waist-cincher and is worn by both women and men. Alternatively, a corset may cover the bust, hips, or both in addition to the waist. Some models even reach to the knees, although this is very uncommon. In the modern day, corsets are worn more often as a fashion statement than as support garments, and many tops that resemble traditional corsets are also called corsets, even when they offer no support or shaping to the torso.
While the practice of wearing a corset, particularly during the Victorian era, often gets a bad rap, it is not harmful or uncomfortable if done correctly. Some wearers did and do take the corset to an extreme in a practice known as tightlacing, in which the waist may be reduced to around 15 inches (38 cm), and some have had ribs removed in order to create a smaller waist. However, such extremes are not widespread, and corsets do not typically create health problems or inhibit the wearer's physical activity if worn properly. When wearing a traditional corset, it is important to have it custom fitted in order to avoid health risks.