A corset is a garment worn to mould the torso into a desired shape. Both men and women wear corsets, though women are more common wearers.
The most common and well-known use of corsets is to slim the body and make it conform to a fashionable silhouette. For women this most frequently emphasizes a curvy figure, by reducing the waist, and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips. However, in some periods, corsets have been worn to achieve a tubular straight-up-and-down shape, which involves minimising the bust and hips.
An overbust corset encloses the torso, extending from just under the arms to the hips. An underbust corset begins just under the breasts and extends down to the hips. Some corsets extend over the hips and, in very rare instances, reach the knees. A shorter kind of corset, which covers the waist area (from low on the ribs to just above the hips), is called a waist cincher. A corset may also have attached suspenders to hold up stockings. (Alternatively a separate suspender belt may be worn for that.)
Corsets are typically constructed of a flexible material (like latex, PVC, leather or cloth, particularly coutil) stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels in the cloth or leather. At one time, the best stays were of whalebone, but nowadays steel is used.
The craft of corset construction is known as corsetry, as is the general wearing of them. Someone who makes corsets is a corsetier or corsetière (French terms for a man and for a woman, respectively), or sometimes simply a corset-maker. (The word corsetry is sometimes also used as a collective plural form of corset.)
Corsets are held together by lacing, usually (though not always) at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing produces corresponding changes in the firmness of the corset. Depending on the desired effect and time period, corsets can be laced from the top down, from the bottom up, or both up from the bottom and down from the top, using two laces that meet in the middle. It is difficult — although not impossible — for a back-laced corset-wearer to do his or her own lacing.
By wearing a tightly-laced corset for extended periods, known as tightlacing, men and women can learn to tolerate extreme waist constriction and eventually reduce their natural waist size. Tightlacers dream of 40 to 43 centimeters (16 to 17 inches) waists, but most are satisfied with anything under 50 centimeters (20 inches). Until 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Ethel Granger as having the smallest waist on record at 32.5 centimeters (13 inches). After 1998, the category changed to "smallest waist on a living person" and Cathie Jung took the title with a 37.5 centimeters (15 inches) waist. Other women, such as Polaire, also have achieved such reductions (14 inches in her case).
However, these are extreme cases. Corsets were and are still usually designed for support, with freedom of body movement an important consideration in their design. Present day corset-wearers usually tighten the corset just enough to reduce their waists by 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches); it is very difficult for a slender woman to achieve as much as 15 centimeters (6 inches), although larger women and men can do so more easily.
There are some special types of corsets and corset-like devices which incorporate boning.
A corset dress (also known as hobble corset because it produces similar restrictive effects to a hobble skirt) is a long corset. It is like an ordinary corset, but it is long enough to cover the legs, partially or totally. It thus looks like a dress, hence the name. A person wearing a corset dress can have great difficulty in walking up and down the stairs (especially if wearing high-heeled footwear) and may be unable to sit down if the boning is too stiff.
A neck corset is a type of posture collar incorporating stays and it is generally not considered to be a corset.
(Text taken in part from Wikipedia-the free encyclopedia)