by Dani Moreira
In spite of the immediate association with the tiny Victorian waists, the corset dates from much before. Since it appeared in the history of fashion, in the XVI century, this garment has been worn as support and control for the natural shapes of the body.
Between the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the support to the bust and to the waist was generally done with sashes of cloth, when it was done. In the XIII and XIV centuries, binding and more rigid materials incorporated to the garments themselves were helping to mould the body in a slender shape. This idea would evolve into the kirtle, a type of vest pressed and/or reinforced with ropes (like fins), tied in the front. Eventually, the kirtle would move for inside the clothes. Later, the idea of "dress" would be finally separated in bodice and skirt, allowing the bodice to be just and straight, while the skirt might be absurdly bulky with the help of pressed petticoats and crinolines.
From a practical point of view, having only one piece done exclusively to mould the body would be much more rational than to reinforce all the other pieces of the wardrobe, and putting the tension of the support in this piece would also help to prolong the lifespan of the dress.