Few items of clothing come with as much baggage as the corset. The modern view is that they are little more than an instrument of torture, invented to oppress women. The truth may be more nuanced. Corset-type garments – known as stays – took off in the 16th century, and were mainly designed to create an upright posture. In the 1800s, however, they became an essential part of women’s fashion, and also tighter and more constrictive.