Corset, an article of dress enclosing the chest and waist, worn chiefly by females to support or correct the figure. It is usually made of firm cloth, stiffened by rods of whalebone or other material, and furnished in front with vertical plates of steel or whalebone, which clasp and rest on the sternum, separating the breasts, and behind with lacing by which the compression can be regulated. Bandages resembling corsets were worn by the Roman matrons during the republic and the empire, at first with the design only of supporting the breasts, but afterward to compress the form and give it an air of slightness, which was esteemed one of the attributes of beauty. Prior to the French revolution, corsets of German invention had been worn for several centuries, which contained rods and plates of whalebone and steel, and were designed both to conceal the defects and exaggerate the beauties of the figure. When tightly laced, they were prejudicial to health, since by pressure upon the lungs and heart the vital functions of respiration and circulation were impeded, and organic inflammations, unhealthy secretions, and vertebral distortions were frequently the result.
At the period of the revolution, the French ladies, having adopted the Greek costume, brought into use a very slight corset, which served as a support, but was not laced tightly enough to cause constraint or pain. During the present century fashion has repeatedly returned to small waists, and corsets are sometimes laced so as to compress the vital organs of the body, distort the form, destroy its beauty, and injure the health. The most valuable treatise on the subject is Dr. Bouvier's Etudes historiques et medicates sur l'usage des corsets (1853).