The Decline of the Corset Business

The corset defined a woman’s silhouette for nearly four hundred years. It continues to fascinate and inspire new ways to study its place in culture. Taking a digital humanities approach, my project encompasses visualizations of metadata from advertisements for foundation garments in Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Vogue from 1905 through 1929. These visualizations represent the marketing behavior of corset manufacturers, a well-established group of businesses that benefited from the industrial revolution to produce and sell a type of garment that held a constant place in women’s wardrobes.

The marketing savvy of a sophisticated trade association assured that corsets were ubiquitous, as evidenced by the amount of times the term appears in advertisements in women’s magazines from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Manufacturers were not alone in advertising their wares; they partnered with retailers and others to share advertising costs and boost the visibility of their products. Advertising was paramount to corset manufacturers who gained leverage through the high circulation of popular women’s publications.

Watching the trends in advertising is a data driven strategy to monitor the waning of a staple with a long and storied past. The results from my study confirmed the expectation of declining corset advertising during the period when a number of forces prompted an evolution in women’s attitude and attire. The corset represented a throwback to modern women of the era.

The metadata were the result of searches in ProQuest accessed through the New York Public Library. I downloaded the search results and managed the data in Excel which acted as a datasource for the visualizations in Tableau Public.

A white paper of Visualizing the Decline of the Corset Business is available in CUNY's repository, Academic Works.

~ Iris Finkel, 2019

Royal Worcester corset ad LHJ 9/1905
Image from Ladies' Home Journal Archives, ProQuest
Issue date, September 1905