The first example of a corset appeared in statues made by the Minoan people, who lived on the island of Crete around 1000 B.C. The statues depicted goddesses wearing a garment that made the waist appear tiny in comparison with the rest of the body.
It wasn’t until the 1500s and 1600s that corsets became a popular fashion statement. Women wore them under and over garments to emphasize the fullness of the bust and to flatten the stomach.
After a brief time in the early 1800s when the “empire waist” style was popular, corsets again became a mainstay of women’s fashion. The purpose, again, was to shrink the appearance of the waist. Unfortunately, they could cause bodily damage, such as lung and internal organ compression.
After World War I and as more women entered the workforce, corsets evolved into separate bras and girdles. Today, one might say they’ve influenced current shapewear.
Jan Cook serves as president of the City of Minnetonka Historical Society. Discover more at minnetonka-history.org.