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Corset Chronicles: The Forgotten Masculine Silhouette

Corset Chronicles: The Forgotten Masculine Silhouette

Ever thought corsets were solely for women? Think again!

 

“In 1901, a newspaper article noted a court case in Paris where a corset company reported that one of their branches made corsets for men. They made more than 18,000 in one year for men in France and also exported 3000 to England.” -The AWM

Corsets entered the fashion scene in the 1500s, but by 1820, men jumped on the corset wagon too! The Prince Regent, King Henry IV, who sculpted his physique with this garment, cinching waists and broadening shoulders, cast a silhouette that epitomized the times.

A caricature highlighting the changing aesthetics of men's fashion and styling; 1827.

 

During the same time, ‘dandyism’ rose to prominence with Beau Brummel, a friend and associate of King Henry IV, shaking up men’s style at the helm. By the way, this OG dandy, Brummel is also responsible for leading the progress from breeches to modern trousers. The dandies of London and Paris imitated an aristocratic style of life, with particular importance on fancy clothes and grooming. They started wearing corsets and as history has shown before, soon, function became fashion.

 

A 1917 newspaper advertisement by Gillette featuring an illustration of Beau Brummel.

 

However, this choice wasn't a mainstream wave. The corset for men remained a choice within elite circles, an embellishment adorning gentlemen keen on fashion innovation. It epitomized masculinity, shaping the contours of a slim waistline and a robust chest, echoing the ideals of that epoch.

Intriguingly, this trend also caught the eye of the military, embraced particularly by officers in the German army as part of their uniform. Yet, across the English Channel, the British press derided it as vain and effeminate, dismissing it as a non-threat to military prowess.

Caricaturists seized the opportunity to lampoon this style, drawing parallels between fashion-forward French dandies and notions of excessive vanity, effeminacy, and even potential homosexuality. The era's underlying themes of gender norms and masculinity began to shift, particularly amidst the women's rights movement, prompting societal stigma and taboos around ‘effeminate dressing’.

 

Caricature portraying corsetry for men as a comic spectacle.

 

The mid-nineteenth century, marked by apprehensions of role reversals, led to a reassertion of male dominance and a subsequent denouncement of effeminate fashion. Men relinquished their pursuit of beauty, and until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the standards of men's attire remained largely unchallenged.

This dalliance with corsetry in men's fashion, a brief yet intriguing chapter, skirted the edges of traditional gender norms. While a compelling foray, the evolution of men's dressing styles and changing attitudes led this style to wane, fading into history as a footnote in fashion experimentation.

 

Actor Jacob Elordi in a ribbed corset tank vest.

Yet, as fashion's cyclical nature dictates, corsets have resurfaced in men's wardrobes, this time transitioning seamlessly from undergarments to statement outerwear.

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