History of Burlesque and Corsetry

Billie rae-burlesque dancerThe association of burlesque with extravaganza started in the Victorian era where it emerged as entertainment to challenge the social norms. It involved beautiful young girls taking to the stage in lingerie and stockings that were extravagant in taste and which led to the popularity of the burlesque corsets which are in demand even today. The word itself comes from the Italian word burlesco, derived from the word burla meaning a joke, mockery or ridicule. This aptly described the Victorian era theater that parodied Chaucer and Shakespeare works and created a competing theater for vaudeville. This form of entertainment later made its way to America in the 1840s where it was popularized by Lydia Thompson, an English dancer, and her dancing troupe of British Blondes.  This was in 1868 and wearing pink tights, burlesque corsets and tops, and skirts above the knee, in that era was just scandalous.

These ladies flourished in their chosen fields despite outrage at the scandalous outfits and performances or rather because of it and paved way for American born burlesque performers like Belle Davis, Mabel Saintley and Dora Dean. Over the years the shows became infamous for the stripteases and revealing costumes. Although the art form morphed over time, the costumes worn, whether by Lydia Thompson or Gypsy Rose Lee, who was even immortalized in song by a punk rock band, were always designed to enhance the form of the female body highlighting its sensuality. For this reason, corsets became the base for burlesque costumes. Corsets were worn even in the 16th century to accentuate the curves of a lady.

bordello-burlesqueThe burlesque form of art slowly faded with the rise of bawdier strip clubs but the costumes have never really gone out of style. There are many sensational performers who have been known to take to the stage wearing corsets, Madonna one of the biggest names in the industry used corsets in her performances from the 90s and sometimes still takes to the red carpets in them as part of her power suits. She wore a Jean Paul Gaultier corset in one of her performances in the Blond Ambition tour of 1990 and cinched waists and cleavage have never looked better. Lady Gaga and Beyonce have also taken to the stage in burlesque corsets giving a nod to the Victorian era in this day and age.

victorian-burlesque-dancerToday sales of burlesque corsets are rocketing maybe due to the influence of these celebrities, as a way to accentuate curves and hide flaws or to pay homage to a lifestyle. The rock genre has always incorporated burlesque corsets in costumes used by rock artists and many followers of this lifestyle swear by burlesque corset. The resurgence of the burlesque corsets speaks to the current trend in fashion like the underwear as outer trend that speaks to feminists and rebellious teenagers alike and also of the weight factor.

This fashion garment has been in the middle of Victorian political satire, striptease acts of the 20s and musical phenomenon from the 90s to the present day. It does not matter whether burlesque corsets are being worn for their functional purpose or as a fashion statement; the journey of this garment should inspire every woman to have on in her closet just on principle.  I love the classical styling and burlesque patterns of these corsets: http://thevioletvixen.com/burlesque-corsets/ – the Violet Vixen makes some really awesome authentic corsets and are a wonderful bunch of fabulous ladies.

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A brief overview of corsetry

corset-thevioletvixenA corset is a type of garment worn over the torso to achieve a particular desired shape. It is mostly worn by women in order to reduce the size of the waist and exaggerate the bust and hip sizes. For men, they are used to slim the figure, without giving it a specific shape. Corsets are usually made from a flexible material, mostly cloth or leather, which has been stiffened with boning. The back of the corset is fixed with lacing, which is used to adjust the firmness of the outfit.

Wearing a tight-laced corset for extended periods of time enhances reduction in waist-size, which is what most corset-wearers aim for. In today’s fashion world, a small waist with larger hips and a big bust equals the ideal curvy body. Initially, corsets were worn as part of Victorian dresses; they were placed over the dresses as part of the fashion at the time. However, as time elapsed, women decided to incorporate corsets into their undergarments as part of enhancing their curves.

Colors of Corsets

Currently, the trend is to wear different colors of corsets; ranging from brown corsets for an every-day-look, to flashy colorful ones that are worn to parties and night clubs. One of my favorite places to shop for brown corsets is http://thevioletvixen.com/brown-corsets as they have brown corsetry in all sorts of styles including Steampunk and Burlesque.  Corsets are very versatile and can be worn with jeans, skirts, dresses or even a jacket and tights. They can be used to achieve a casual, dressy, edgy or sassy look. This is enhanced by the different designs and colors available; some have floral prints; others have hooks and zippers while others are plain with lace.

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Shapes of Corsets

There is a wide variety of corset shapes available in the market today; the main ones being:

Hourglass shape: This type of corset is ideal for someone who is just beginning to wear corsets because it’s only fitting on the ribs, thus altering the shape of the torso minimally. It is more comfortable than other types that are solely for reshaping the body.

• Conical shape: These corsets are relatively straight around the edges and curve towards the lower ribs. It is an “advanced” type of corset because it reshapes the body, thus may cause discomfort or even pain when worn. Usually, it takes between 8 months to a year and a half for the body structure to change due to wearing a conical shaped corset.

Waist cincher: This type of corset, also known as a “waspie”, is made of a light material that supports the stomach area or region. It is ideal for those who are not used to wearing corsets, as it is not as constricting as the other types. A waspie’s role is to give the wearer a slender stomach.

Styles of Corsets

Different colored corsets have been worn during musical burlesque performances over the years. The term “burlesque” refers to a combination of serious and comical elements combined to achieve a particular grotesque effect. The corset has been in use for many years, dating back to the 1800s; especially when the Victorian burlesque was popular in London, between 1830 and 1890.

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