Oh the corset, that mysterious, almost mythical device that must be mandatory for movies set in ye olden times! Except when it’s not and when it’s used in a weird way. There’s a lot of misconceptions about corsetry which historical costume movies and TV shows sometimes reinforce — or media about the shows makes worse. But I’m not going to talk about that. You can read how everything you know about corsets is false from Collectors Weekly and how wearing a corset actually affects you and your clothes from The Pragmatic Costumer. That’s some well-cited sources right there.
Today, for our Top Five Friday, I want to look at the top scenes in historical costume movies and TV shows where corsets become a part of the story.
1. Gone With the Wind (1939) – Scarlett and the Bedpost
Miss O’Hara makes a big fuss about holding onto the bedpost while Mammy laces up the corset for her. And again, after having a baby with Rhett, Scarlett wants her corset laced down to 18 inches. All of this is kind of nuts. I mean, tight-lacing is certainly possible, and some women have always been vain about their waist sizes, but super-tight corsets weren’t the mainstream fashion in the 1860s. Scarlett in this scene gave corsets a bad name.
2. Outlander (2014) – Claire’s First Morning
When Claire travels through time from the 1940s back to 18th-century Scotland, she receives a whole new wardrobe. Upon arrival at Castle Leoch in episode 2, Mrs. Fitzgibbons laces the newcomer up in a proper set of stays, bum roll, and the whole kit. The scene is an education for the main character and the audience on what goes into historical daily wear, and it’s pretty accurate for a change! No bedpost required, thankyouverymuch.
3. The Duchess (2008) – Georgiana’s Wedding Night
As if to defy the notion of corsets as sexytime lingerie, this scene makes the strip-down into a prelude for torture. The one great thing about this scene is that it gives Georgiana the moment to say that ‘clothes are how women express themselves — men have so many ways of expressing themselves, women must make do with their hats and their dresses.’
4. Tipping the Velvet (2002) – Diana’s Party
OK, there are a lot of corsets seen in this miniseries, given that it’s a romp about Victorian lesbians and there’s a lot of semi-explicit (for the BBC) sex. But the highlight is a posh, over-the-top masquerade party held by Nan’s mistress Diana where the women range from nude to half-dressed in just corset and knickers to corset-based costumes. Definitely the most fun use of corsets in a historical costume movie!
5. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – The Wedding Night
What can I say, corsets and wedding nights just go together! But not always in a happy way … and here, we see that a corset is no protection from losing your heart.
Where have you seen a memorable corset in a historical costume movie or TV series?