The first fashions worn with hourglass corsets, around 1830, emphasized width - they tended to have very wide skirts, large sleeves and sloping shoulders. These elements contrasted with the narrowed waist, making it appear smaller than it actually was. The hourglass corset can achieve the greatest immediate waist reduction as it acts mainly on a short zone around the waist, rather than attempting to slim the torso around the ribs; the soft fleshy tissue can be compressed and squeezed, redistributed above and below the waistline.
As skirts and sleeves shrank, fashions began to favour a more slender, vertical look. Princess line dresses were popular in the 1880s; these were made without a horizontal waist seam and with long vertical seams running the length of the dress, with the dress fitted closely to the body. Hourglass corsets changed to emphasise the long lines of the body, and their shape often attempted to slim the torso above the waist as well.
It is one of the most common styles of corset made today, and is often used for post-pregnancy waist training.
The name 'hourglass' comes from the shape it gives to the wearer's figure, rather like an hourglass — the waist is small, with the ribcage tapering sharply to the waist and the hips flaring outwards (wide shoulders, wide ribcage, narrow waist, wide hips). Some dislike the shape, claiming that the nipped-in waist looks unnatural, and that with the aim of getting the smallest waist possible, an hourglass figure can look like "pillow being cinched in by a belt" .
The hourglass corset is associated with very small waists. However, it is likely that hourglass corsets were not laced as tightly as the straight-fronted corsets fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century
Some hourglass corsets may have had a pipe-stem waist; however, these have never been common, as the added pressure that they place on the ribcage can be uncomfortable.
A pipe-stem waist is a silhouette given by wearing a certain kind of corset. The corset is designed so that the circumference of the waist is extended for a distance above the natural waistline. This can put considerable pressure on the lower ribs as they are pressed inwards.
Short pipe-stem waists are most often found on hourglass corsets; however, they have never been common, and reports of nineteenth century pipe-stem waists on corsets—which often cite a height of up to 15cm (6 inches)—are likely to be sexual fantasy, rather than reality, due to the difficulty and discomfort in wearing a corset with a pipe-stem waist.
Corsets were still the norm, but they no longer had the exaggerated wide-narrow-wide silhouette of the hourglass corset.
Victorian wasp waist hourglass corset was very unhealthy, as opposed to the modern wasp waist hourglass corset. With a modern hourglass corset, the stomach is over the waistline, whereas with a Victorian hourglass corset, the stomach is in the waistline.