Corset: Instrument of Oppression or Power

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31st October 2011

The Corset: Instrument of Oppression or Power

"I must tell you something of significance. Fashion is always of the time in which you live. It is not something standing alone. The problem of fashion in 1925 was different. Women were just beginning to go to work in offices. I inspired the cutting of the hair short because it goes with the modern woman. To the woman going to work, I said to take off the bone corset, because women cannot work while they are imprisoned in a corset." (Coco Chanel)

The image is an advertisement in the late 19th century promoting the usage of corsets. This image represents the culture, fashion and class of the late 19th century. Illustrated in four chapters, it tells a story of a rich bachelorette of the upper-class society in the 19th century whom, unhappy of her figure in an old corset, decides to buy a new one; ‘The Madame Warren Corset’. Upon wearing this corset, the woman feels confident enough to step out to gain the attention of the public whom in this case are all men. The story ends in a ‘happily-ever-after’ enchanted theme, with the woman getting married in the end. The advertisement displays the corset as the upper class’ woman gateway to the ‘fairytale’ life in the 19th century unlike in the present 21st century where the corset is considered as an entirely different tool. First chapter; a wide-figured brunette Caucasian female wearing a red coat, standing in front of a large mirror placed on a vanity table, which has a hairbrush, tissue and other items on it. With the citation, “Oh! How horrible I look in this old corset” written underneath the chapter. The woman in the image concerned about her looks in an old corset represents the portrayal and vanity of women in that era. Her ability to buy a new corset identifies her as a member of the upper class. Lower class women of that era did not wear corsets neither did middle-class women unless they were privileged enough to inherit one from a family member. “Working-class women (except when dressed for special occasions) did not go through the discomfort of wearing tightly laced corsets. They wore looser corsets and simpler clothes, with less weight. The higher up in class a lady was, the more confining her clothes were. This was because they didn't need the freedom to do household chores. Paid servants took care of such cumbersome matters.” (Victorianera) Second chapter; the same woman, wearing a white dress without the red coat, and with a more narrow waistline, holding a smaller mirror with one hand and looking at her reflection in the two mirrors. The caption written at the bottom of this chapter reads, “What an improvement The Madam Warren Corset and how comfortable.” The caption contradicts the impression of corsets as a ‘torture tool’ restricting the movement of women. Due to the fact that the image is an advertisement, it is understandable since the main goal of any advertisement is to persuade its audience of its products, not emphasising on or deleting the product’s faults. Central image; at the center of the advertisement is the image of the woman wearing a white corseted top and red skirt, looking at her reflection in a hand mirror she is holding. Written above this image is the description of the advertisement, ‘ A True Story of The Madam Warren’. Written below the image is the continuation of the description of the advertisement ‘ Dress Corset Form’, and ‘Illustrated in 4 Chapters’. The phrase, ‘A True Story’ emphasizes the point made earlier that the image represents the culture of the 19th century. By informing its audience that the story is factual, the image is informing us that in the late 19th century, an upper-class rich bachelorette is able to get married when her wealth and figure is displayed. Third chapter; the woman is in the midst of a crowd full of men holding what seems to be a walking or horse riding stick, and wearing the red coat and a red flowered-hat. A dark-haired man with a...
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