Corsets: A Modern Guide is a wonderful book bursting with gorgeous photos and a fascinating look into the history of corsets. Author Velda Lauder graduated at the College of Marketing and Design in Dublin and is now a highly regarded corset designer; she has has been commissioned for one-off pieces by Karl Lagerfeld, and Dita von Teese, promotional videos for the likes of George Michael and Robbie Williams and numerous burlesque stars including Miss Lily White and Miss Polly Rae. As it says in the introduction of the book “Velda’s enthusiasm and fascination for her subject make her ideally qualified to write about the corset”. The book showcases some of Velda’s own designs, with photographs of her exquisite corsets worn by beautiful models and burlesque stars.
The start of the book focuses on the evolution on the corset. Since humans began to clothe themselves, tightlacing, constraint and corsetry have been a form of tribal recognition and a way of defining one’s tribal allegiance and individuality. The book goes into detail about how the earliest examples of women wearing corsets date from around 1500 BC, to how in the Middle Ages, the undergarments “flattened breasts and curves, leading to a more childlike outline” in contrast to the 18th century where the fashionable female silhouette presented a “full high bosom and a completely straight back.” You really start to see how the extreme fashions have changed over the decades: how females have wanted to exaggerate their curves. It does make you realse how lucky we are today, that we can choose to wear a corset whenever we like; it is not an essential part of underwear ,as it once was.
Continuing the history into the ‘S’ bend corsets of the Victorian era, there was a lot of emphasis on the back of the skirt with a bustle, which created the desired ‘S’ shape side view of the woman. “Some bustles manufactured around the time of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee even featured a musical box which played ‘God Save The Queen’ whenever the wearer sat down”… Can you imagine a designer re-creating this in a pair of underwear for our Queen’s Diamond Jubilee?!
Then the decline of the corset: during World War One, with women becoming a part of the workforce, corsets became impractical and women took to shorter skirts and even trousers. To the boyish ‘flapper’ look of the 1920s where corsets disappeared almost completely “given the fashionable shape of the time, corset sales dropped by around 70 per cent”. Then onto the 1930s where the feminine hourglass figure became more fashionable once again “the glamour reflected on the silver screen was the perfect escape from the poverty and deprivation of the Great Depression”. Then the rebellion of the 1960s where the feminist movement was in full flow “high ‘kinky boots, bikini panties and nylons, the mini skirt, introduced by Mary Quant for the ultra-trendy Chelsea set in London, took the world by storm”.
Leading all the way up to the 1980s where designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood started the “renaissance of the corset” and introduced the idea of underwear as outerwear. You can really see how far fashion has come in the last hundred years, where fetish fashion is now in the mainstream and is regularly featured on the catwalk “rubber corsets, leather corsets, thigh-high boots, stilettos, bondage pants, wrist cuffs and harnesses have all been integrated into the palette of the fashion designer” and how Vivienne Westwood helped to create the punk look, “an anti-establishment ethos as the essential core of her initial collections, liberated the secret world of fetish garb, and the clothing of the fetishist and sadomasochist underworld surfaced into mainstream society”.
There is even a chapter on “The Corset as a Fetish Object” and a page about our well loved Skin Two! “Since its arrival, Skin Two magazine has been a reference source for art directors and photographers, influencing contemporary films and commercials, fashion magazines and high fashion collections”. Further chapters include “The Corset as High Fashion” and “Variations on the Classic Corset”.
The final chapter is the “Modern Girl’s Guide to Corset Wearing” which includes tips on finding the perfect corset and how to choose a corset that is the correct size, how to lace it up and other useful points. Ending with a discussion between Velda and inspirational modern women who influenced the burlesques and fetish scenes, about the role that the corset has played in their personal and public lives; Morgan Hel (model, performer, television presenter and recording artist), Bex Paul (London-based burlesque performer and model) and Deanne Lula Lee (modelling, marketing, PR and fashion boutique management and also in jewellery, leather and hair design).
This book is full of beautiful images of modern corsets as well as historical images of corsets. It is a perfect complement to the book ‘Lingerie: A Modern Guide’ book written by Lesley Scott. A fantastic book for your coffee table or as a gift to any corset wearer or lover and anyone with a big interest in fashion and the history of fashion!
By Roxanne Dorrington
Corsets: A Modern Guide
by Velda Lauder
Hardback, 223 pages, published by A & C Black at £12.99
Velda Lauder’s Website: www.veldalauder.co.uk