The evil effects of the corsetBMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7397.1014/a (Published 10 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1014
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I am a registered nurse with a Ph.D. in clothing deisgn. I did
my graduate work with reenactors who wore two styles of corsets (hourglass
and straight-front) on the exercise treadmill to determine several
physiologic parameters, had spirometry testing, and kept a diary of their
comfort levels through a reenactment day. I based my hypotheses on the
comparison of tight-laced and never-corseted females with males of similar
stature by Dr. William Wilberfce Smith (1888, London) and the corset-
pressure measurements of Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson (1887, New York).
These clinicans showed the corset to reduce lung volume, increase heart
work, restrict digestion, and cause reproductive disorders, including
prolapse of the uterus. The latter was a very common problem in the UK
and America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,
creating a huge market for pessaries of every description as evidenced in
the patent records of the era.
Despite claims to the contrary, the straight-front corset developed by
Parisian corsetiere-doctor Inez Gache-Sarraute, did not improve
respiratory function. It created the famous S-bend, pushing the pelvis
back into a severe lordosis. It was worse in every respect compared to the
Until my own studies with reenactors, no one had examined these garments
using scientific paramenters. Although I asked my volunteers to lace
their waists only three inches smaller than their natural measurements,
(compared to seven to ten in earlier times),they showed very distinct
changes in their O2 uptake, CO2 production, and capacity to work. Despite
considerable discomfort all wore their corsets throught their normal work
period, with the reasoning that they "didn't want to be the only one to
remove the corset." This peer pressure was distinctly of their own
making, but may account for similiar comments which I read in early
journals and magazines of the era.
Women in 2003 are wearing corsets again, and doctors are not paying
attention. I can see trouble ahead!
Colleen Gau, Ph.D.
Competing interests: No competing interests