The end of the corset and the liberation of the woman's body

The end of the corset and the liberation of the woman's body

  • Corset Le Furet.

    CAPPIELLO Leonetto (1875 - 1942)

  • The chic Corset.

    KIRCHNER Raphaël (1876 - 1917)

  • Mannequin in the shop window.

    BRASSAÏ Gyula Halász, known as (1899 - 1984)

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Title: Corset Le Furet.

Author : CAPPIELLO Leonetto (1875 - 1942)

Creation date : 1901

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 145 - Width 96

Technique and other indications: Pastel.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Picture reference: 88-001203 / RF37366

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

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Title: The chic Corset.

Author : KIRCHNER Raphaël (1876 - 1917)

Creation date : 1911

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Humoristes in 1911. Accompanied by the commentary: "I'll teach you the trick, Ladies!" Nothing but a chic corset and you will make sensations in the best salons »

Storage location:

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. Vizzavona / M. El Garbysite web

Picture reference: 97-027070 / VZC8910

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - F. El Garby

Mannequin in the shop window.

© Estate Brassaï - RMN-Grand Palais Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Adam Rzepka

Publication date: September 2007

Historical context

The wearing of the corset became widespread during the XIXe century. If the criticisms (especially medical) intensify, its use, on the other hand, does not give way, and this persistent practice shows how still acceptable an aesthetic which freezes the appearance of the woman in decoration and condemns her flesh to the restraint: “The opulence, the laxity, the heaviness of the forms require the wearing of the corset, in an idea of ​​maintenance. ". The object aroused real passions, but only its lines changed: sixty-four patents were filed, supposed to improve its comfort, between 1828 and 1848, while there were only two in 1828. At the beginning of the XXe century, creators will still deposit three to five per month. Production also continues to grow: one and a half million corsets sold in 1870, six million in 1900.

Image Analysis

The first document is a proof of the advertising poster for the corset Le Furet (1901) by Cappiello Leonetto. We notice that it has been corrected. Its final version includes an upper band inscribed with "hygiene, elegance, flexibility" and a lower band with "Gives the suppleness of the Orient with French grace". The promise is not much different from that of the competitors: the corset is a slimming machine. But its shape changes when the dresses become "sticky" around 1900. It envelops the hips, softens. The interest of this poster lies in the dynamics that animate its composition and in the idea that the artist has adopted to make it a reality: the "unlacing" of the corset. Cappiello's woman is in motion, movement translated by the line, supple and powerful, which gives the poster its impetus and makes it come alive. Thus the elegance and flexibility that the poster boasts are made evident by the work of the illustrator.

Raphaël Kirchner's drawing lays bare the aesthetic objective of the "Chic Corset": to bend the waist into an "S" as a sign of femininity, "to tuck in everything except the ass and breasts" as Neil Kimbell, famous socialite of San Francisco, revealing the internationalization of the line at the turn of the century. During its exhibition at the Salon des Artistes Humistes in 1911, this refined drawing, in Art Nouveau style, was accompanied by this comment: "I'll teach you the trick, Ladies!" Nothing but a chic corset and you are a sensation in the best salons. The device leads to a precise image of the body, imposing a more pronounced arch than ever, as if to better imitate the old "turn", which consisted of padding worn under the dress at the lower back. This drawing takes up what all the fashion magazines reproduced at the turn of the century: a “broken” posture which brings out the forms, the back hollowed out in an interminable extension, a chest thrown forward.

Brassaï's photograph "Mannequin dans la vitrine" was taken in the 1930s. Bathed in the surrealist atmosphere of Paris, "the eye of Paris", as his friend Henry Miller called it, stares at a shop window that inhabits a disturbing wax dummy. The slimming machine now takes the form of a sheath that compresses the stomach but frees the chest. In this photo, which looks like an autopsy scene, the fashion accessory becomes an instrument of torture. The transformation of the corset is far from freeing the woman's body. The underwear now erases all the curves of the female body that enchanted the previous centuries.


At the end of the XIXe century, the flexibility argument becomes central, giving rise to a thousand possible devices, the models of which advertisers are multiplying in fashion magazines; those claimed to be more fluid because “without gusset” or “without seam”, those judged to be more “manageable” because provided with “endless” laces or “lazy” devices made to facilitate lacing a lady “by itself in an instant ”. The reality is more prosaic, the mold has become a short piece of armor, the wefts of which intersect and reinforce each other. The fight against the corset is more open at the beginning of the XXe century. New shapes are therefore invented which, without compressing the abdomen, project the chest forward while accentuating the fall of the back - which again gives women that "S" shape that Kirchner's drawing reveals particularly well. The female figure then undergoes a radical transformation. Women start to lead more active lives and the corset ends up going out of style. No more chest thrown forward, no croup thrown back. Cinched bodices, narrowing the waist and highlighting the hips, are out of fashion, and women now wear dresses in light fabric that flatten the lines. But Brassaï's photo shows that if fashion changes, it still imposes a form of control of the female body through new slimming machines.

  • women
  • fashion
  • publicity


Geneviève FRAISSE and Michelle PERROT (dir.), Histoire des femmes en Occident, tome IV, “Le XIXe siècle”, Paris, Plon, 1991. James LAVER, History of fashion and costume, Paris, Thames & Hudson, 2003. Philippe PERROT, Les Dessus et les Below de la Bourgeoisie, Paris, Fayard, 1981 Georges VIGARELLO, Histoire de la beauté, Paris, Le Seuil, 2004.

To cite this article

Julien NEUTRES, "The end of the corset and the liberation of the woman's body"

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