In female clothing, a corselet, or corselette, is a type of foundation garment, sharing elements of both bras and girdles. It extends from straps over the shoulders down the torso to stop around the top of the legs. It may incorporate lace in front or in back. As an undergament, a corselet can be open-style (with suspenders attached) or panty style.
The origin of the English word for the piece of armor comes from cors, an Old French word meaning "bodice". The modern term probably originated by the addition of the diminutive suffix "-ette" to the word corset, itself of similar origin to "corselet".
The corselet as an item of women's clothing began to gain traction in 1914, as a substitute for wearing two separate pieces (a bra with either a girdle or a corset). The bust uplift cups were first introduced in 1933, but did not become common until 1943.
A corselet was released by Warner's in 1952, named after The Merry Widow, a 1905 operetta which has been adapted several times into feature-length films. "Merry widow" remains a common generic term for a corsetry type garment in the United States, or a "basque" in the UK. It is usually strapless, and stopping on the hips, rather than extending below the hip line, like the typical corselet. A merry widow type garment is normally fastened by hooks and eyes at the rear, and because it is strapless, it needs to be well boned to prevent it from rolling over, the boning helping to support the demi-cup section. A merry widow / basque would also incorporate suspenders/garters for attaching to stockings. This type of lingerie is also known as a torsolette, and is used in bridal lingerie, much like the bustier.
The original merry widow was a corselet incorporating slim panels of black, elastic yarn netting. A heavy-duty zipper was inserted behind a velvet-backed hook-and-eye flange, and the entire garment was lined with nylon voile. Nine long, spiral wires were encased in black satin.
Lana Turner is reported to have said, "I am telling you, the merry widow was designed by a man. A woman would never do that to another woman."
Variations and relatives
- A short corselet without garters or shoulder straps, which ends above the waist, is a bustier (covering the bust)
- A long corselet extending over the hips, with or without garters and/or shoulder straps, is a torsolette (covering the torso)
- A corselet in two parts is a brassiere and a girdle.
- A corselet with a stiff back and laces is a corsage or a corset.
- A soft corselet is a slip.
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