A new book by French historian and sociologist Georges Vigarello, La Silhouette, naissance d’un défi, describes the change in the use of the word silhouette in the 20th century. In the 18th century, a silhouette was a portrait cut from paper and style favored women who were pulpeuses, or curvy. Then along came Coco Chanel, Madame Grès, and Madeleine Vionnet, and out went the corset. Liberté! Now the style was for long, thin bodies and sillhouette was the term for the female form.
It’s ironic that what the designers intended to liberate women now enslaves them. Corsets had provided a sillhouette where none existed naturally. A tiny waist was possible, thanks to whalebone and an enormous capacity for discomfort. Post-corset, a woman’s true sillhouette was on display for good or for ill.
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