In historical movies and tv shows, we usually see a scene wherein the heroine has to undergo corset tightening. In this scene, they’re always in visible pain – gasping for breath and trying not to faint. In this scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean, Keira Knightley’s character literally faints from how tightly she was laced in her stays, which are like the 18th-century version of corsets.
Even the actresses themselves have said in interviews that their experience with corsets was less than ideal. It was constricting to the point that it made them hard to move or breathe.
But for the girls out there – do you remember when you first wore a bra? Didn’t it feel uncomfortable and constricting? It was only over time that it felt natural to wear.
The same can be said for corsets.
When corsets were a thing, women of all classes used to wear them. If corsets restricted movement and made it hard to breathe, then how exactly did the women in the working class or women who do sports survived?
Corsets in the past were fitted to the body and even provided support to the back and the breasts. And while they’re known to reduce waists, they’re not meant to reduce more than 1-2 inches. Also, corsets were specifically made to the measurements of the wearer. Depending on the era, there were corsets with adjustable straps and lacing.
So why do celebrities have bad experiences with corsets? It can be because of working hours (considering they have to shoot for half a day or more) and improper wearing of the corset. In some movies or shows, women wear nothing under their corsets when you see them being laced into them. This isn’t how it used to be – women used to wear something under it like a chemise or a shift.
So while corsets in the past weren’t as painful and restrictive as we thought them to be based on popular media, celebrities complaints about them are still valid. Hundreds of years ago, women had time to adjust to the corsets because they had to live with it. Actresses, however, are expected to wear them and act in them without that adjustment period.