Cover image for Bound to please : a history of the Victorian corset
Bound to please : a history of the Victorian corset
Summers, Leigh.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Berg, 2001.
Physical Description:
302 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1670 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GT2075 .S85 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Author Notes

Leigh Summers, University of New England and New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale, Australia

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

How odd that a single article of clothing could be experienced as a sign of middle-class superiority, an emblem of eroticism, a medically necessary support garment and a device for stemming childhood masturbation. In this engaging latest book in the Dress, Body, Culture series, Summers carefully exposes the corset's dual role in Victorian culture: it kept women physically subdued, while at the same time presenting them as sexually alluring, exaggeratedly feminine objects of display. Summers, senior education officer at Australia's New England Regional Art Museum, argues that corsetry was undeniably sexy, since its physical effects mimicked the signs of sexual arousal (shortness of breath, blushing, overheating); at the same time, it was a leading cause of fainting fits, uterine failure and severe abdominal damage. By far the most original aspects of this study appear in the early chapters on corsetry for children (some as young as two years old) and expectant mothers, who were told by fashion magazines and medical experts alike that "tight-lacing" might damage fetuses or, alternately, contribute to a healthy pregnancy. Everywhere, critics decried corset-wearing for pregnant women, accusing them of causing birth defects, "race degeneration," etc. Summers also traces feminist battles against the corset's hegemony. Her arguments on the role of the female body in advertising and connections between dress reform and the struggle for women's suffrage, will already be familiar to readers interested in women's history and Victorian studies. 107 b & w photos and illus. (Oct.) Forecast: While the book's likely readership will be academic, its gorgeous cover and clever title should draw browsers' eyes. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

These two revisionist histories complement each other, providing intriguing and provocative insights into the mysterious world of corsets. Steele's profusely illustrated, very readable "art history" overview of corsets from the late 16th century to the present challenges modern feminists who claimed that the corset was a 19th-century Victorian invention through which men victimized women, or that it appealed to women's vanity and led them to be exploited by the capitalistic fashion system. Steele (Fashion Institute of Technology) demonstrates that many men have also worn corsets; during the 17th century small children, even young boys before wearing breeches, were put into stays to prevent skeleton deformities. Steele claims that corsets, originally worn by aristocrats, served as a status symbol for middle-class and working women. Some early feminists defended the corset as a vehicle for self-control, and a number of 19th-century men were opposed to corsets on hygienic and ethical grounds.Summers (Univ. of New England, Armidale, Australia) turned her dissertation into a probing, heavily documented study of the Victorian era corset, with extensive use of magazine, medical journal, dress reform, and feminist sources. She adds to Steele's arguments for women's self-interest in corsets, particularly as related to business. Many corsetieres were women, and since most workers in corset factories were women, their jobs were seen as vital to them and their families. An additional secret lies hidden below the corset's surface. Because it was known to have caused miscarriages, the corset could be used to intentionally cause abortion of an unwanted fetus in the pre-birth control era. Overall, because Steele's work covers more ground, it serves as a wraparound to the Victorian corset story, bringing the reader into the fashion world of today in the exotic designs of Christian Lacroix, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Thierry Mugler, among others. All levels/collections. B. B. Chico Regis University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. vi
Introductionp. 1
1 'Elegance Comfort Durability!' Class, Contours, and Corsetryp. 9
2 Corsetry and the Invisibility of the Maternal Bodyp. 37
3 The Child, the Corset, and the Construction of Female Sexualityp. 63
4 Corsetry and the Reality of 'Female Complaints'p. 87
5 Breathless with Anticipation: Romance, Morbidity and the Corsetp. 121
6 Not in That Corset: Gender, Gymnastics, and the Cultivation of the Late Nineteenth-Century Female Bodyp. 143
7 Corsetry, Advertising, and Multiple Readings of the Nineteenth-Century Female Bodyp. 173
Conclusionp. 209
Notesp. 215
Bibliographyp. 257
Indexp. 297