Corsets are supportive under-garments worn mostly by women. They come in a variety of styles and designs, but all share the theme of being made from sturdy materials with boning. When worn and tightened, a corset helps hold a desired shape and smooth the figure.
Corset styles have changed over time as to mould the figure into whatever shape fashion deemed the body should be, no matter how unnatural. Today under-garment corsets are however still worn, but not as worn in history as an everyday under-garment. Corsets are worn today mostly for 'special occasion' wear as an under-garment for support and disguise of body imperfections for that special dress.
A bustier is the modern adaptation of the corset, traditionally as lingerie and is far less deforming than their ancestors. Bustiers are made from lace, satins, stretch fabrics, leather, and embellished with beads, crystals, sequins, metal nail-heads; whatever the wearer fancies.
The bustier, made fashionable as outerwear by Madonna in the 1980's can be worn as an evening top with evening skirts or as a statement garment in Goth and fetish communities. Its primary purpose is to push up the bust and gently shaping the waist. Nowadays, it might also be worn as a push-up bra under a low-backed dress, or as a camisole for outer wear. The bustier can also be worn as a half-slip under sheer upper garments if a bold display of the midriff is not desired. A bustier resembles a basque, but is shorter. It reaches down only to the ribs or waist. Modern bustiers are often made with mesh panels rather than the traditional boning.
A Corset-bodice is the modern day outer garment corset for special occasions. It is the corset as we know it today: the wedding gown corset, the matric farewell corset (prom dress corset), the evening dress corset. This corset-bodice has become a fashion industry on its own, as a large percentage of haute couture designs include the corset-bodice. Fabrics, shaping techniques and boning structure have been adapted from the historical corset, the tight lacing corset, bustier and bodices.
Modern corsets worn as outer garments accommodate features of tight lacers (if so required by the wearer) and features of a corset (as no under-garments are then required).
A tight-lacer corset: Historically, corsets were used to create the desirable hourglass figure, with women engaging in an activity known as waist training or tight-lacing, in which they actually moulded their bodies over time with their corsets to achieve very small waist sizes. A tight lacer differs from a corset in that a corset shapes the figure temporarily for the duration of wear, whereas the tight lacer is worn for up to 23 hours per day as to permanently reshape the figure. Thigh lacer corsets are removed only to shower and dress. Many tight lacers wear special night corsets that are not quite as constrictive as a typical corset, but still keep their body shaped in the 'mould'. Tight lacers usually have a target waist size - around 46 cm (18 inches) or smaller. Tight lacing takes a lot of dedication - it really becomes a lifestyle choice. There are many health risks involved in tight lacing. Many in the corset community no longer encourage waist training or tight-lacing, preferring moderate lacing which encourages corset wearing as something that's comfortable and something even a modern active woman can do.
Information about sources for images is available from the author and detailed in her book: The Modern Corsetiere available at North West School of Design.