Also called corset/waist training, tightlacing is the practice of wearing a tightly laced corset to achieve cosmetic modifications to the figure and posture or to experience the sensation of bodily restriction. Most frequently, tightlacing is done to achieve a more slim waist and depending on the desired look you want, it can also change the shape of the rib cage.
Corsets were worn my both men and women, but never really because popular until the 16th century and they weren’t used for tightlacing. They were worn to achieve a slimmed cylindrical shape, although it did slim the waist a bit. They had shoulder straps, ended at the waist and flattened the bust, which pushed up the breasts. The emphasis of the corset was not to slim the waist but the main focus was to show contrast between the rigid flatness of the bodice and the curving tops of the breasts kind of spewing out of the top of corset.
In the 1830’s, artificially inflated shoulders and big skirts became popular making the waist seem slimmer than when a corset was only moderately laced. When the big shoulders and skirts died out achieving a slimmer waist involved lacing the corset much tighter. It was in the 1850’s and 1860’s that tightlacing was first recorded. It was just an ordinary fashion that was taken to an extreme. In that time, it was the wealthy woman who would tightlace to look more “fashionable” or for other occasions for display. Younger women would also be more likely to tightlace over an older woman.
In the 1850’s, or Victorian era, the corset no longer ended at the waist, but ended several inches below the waist was exaggerated greatly around the waist giving a curvier silhouette rather than a cylindrical one. The Victorian corsets were also constructed better, being made out of spiral steel which stayed curved with the figure better.
In the late years of the Victorian era, there were a lot of rumors spread about tightlacing being a detrimental to your health. It was also deemed that if you had a smaller waist is was more ugly than beautiful. Dress reformers strongly encouraged woman to “abandon the tyranny of stays and free their waists for work and healthy exercise”. Despite all the scares about tightlacing destroying your health and all the harrassment from the dress reformers, woman still continued to tightlace as long as it was fashionable.
By the early 1900’s, the “small waist” look had died but while they were no longer considered fashionable, some people still considered them to be “sexy” and corsets entered the underworld of the fetish. From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, fetish wear became very popular and brought the corset back. Corsets now are worn as a top garment rather than a undergarment and very few people now tightlace.