The Corset: A Cultural History (2001)

By: Valerie Steele

The corset is probably the most controversial garment in the history of fashion. Although regarded as an essential element of fashionable dress from the Renaissance into the twentieth century, the corset was also frequently condemned as an instrument of torture and the cause of ill health. Why did women continue to don steel and whalebone corsets for four hundred years? And why did they finally stop? This lavishly illustrated book offers fascinating and often surprising answers to these questions. Valerie Steele, one of the world’s most respected fashion historians, explores the cultural history of the corset, demolishing myths about this notorious garment and revealing new information and perspectives on its changing significance over the centuries.

More Information


Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, ©2001.
ISBN: 9780300099539 0300099533 0300090714 9780300090710
OCLC Number: 694642160
Description: vii, 199 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm

Table of contents

Table of contents

1. Steel and whalebone : fashioning the aristocratic body —
2. Art and nature : corset controversies of the nineteenth century —
3. Dressed to kill : the medical consequences of corsetry —
4. Fashion and fetishism : the votaries of tight-lacing —
5. The satin corset —
6. The hard body : a muscular corset.

About the author

About the author

Valerie Steele is director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she has personally organized more than 20 exhibitions since 1997, including The Corset: Fashioning the BodyLondon FashionGothic: Dark GlamourShoe ObsessionDaphne GuinnessA Queer History of Fashion, and Dance and Fashion. She is also founder and editor in chief of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, the first peer-reviewed, scholarly journal in Fashion Studies.

Steele combines serious scholarship (and a Yale Ph.D.) with a rare ability to communicate with general audiences. She is author or co-author of more than 20 books, includingFashion and EroticismParis FashionWomen of FashionFetish: Fashion, Sex and PowerThe Corset: A Cultural HistoryGothic: Dark GlamourJapan Fashion NowThe Impossible Collection FashionThe Berg Companion to Fashion, and Fashion Designers A-Z: The Collection of The Museum at FIT, as well as contributing essays to publications, such as Fashion and Art and Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity. Her books have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Russian.

As author, curator, editor, and public intellectual, Valerie Steele has been instrumental in creating the modern field of fashion studies and in raising awareness of the cultural significance of fashion. She has appeared on many television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Undressed: The Story of Fashion.  Described in The Washington Post as one of fashions brainiest women and by Suzy Menkes as The Freud of Fashion, she was listed among Fashions 50 Most Powerful by the Daily News and as one of The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry in the Business of Fashion 500 (2014).

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