The “S-bend” corset, worn during early 20th century before the enfranchisement of women, was a crippling, tight- laced garment which threw the bust forward and made the waist tiny.
Desmond Morris in his book Body watching describes how this style embodied an unspoken “bondage” factor- the fragile flesh of the woman trapped in a rigid, curve defining case. Paul Poiret claimed to have set women free from this confining corset in 1908; his new dress designs fell loosely over the natural figure.
By the 1920s, it had become fashionable for women to look like young boys. Dresses showed straight silhouettes with low waists and no curves. A softer, more fluid line was introduced in the 1930s. The back was appreciated as an erogenous zone, and many evening gowns had backs cut away almost to the buttocks.
Like the patriarchal Victorian era, the postwar 1950s saw the hips and breasts (as fertility symbols) emphasized. Tight bodices allowed the breasts high definition above pinched waists and wide crinoline skirts. The virginal “little girl” of the 1960s followed; her short shapeless A line dress erotized legs.
With more women entering the work force in the 1980s, the accent was on a fitter model of femininity. The use of clinging fabrics like Lycra defined the well toned body, and muscle became sexy.