When politicians talk about the 'squeezed middle' they refer, inadvertantly , to the corset.
Corsets first became fashionable in the 16th century when they were called "payre of bodies". Stays, (the later word), were worn then with a farthingale that held the skirt out in a stiff cone so that with the help of the stays the upper torso was turned into a matching cone.
By the mid 16th century stays were commonly used, made of linen with wooden shafts inserted into a pocket at the front, they remained more or less in the same format until the 1860s.
In the 18th century stays predominantly took the form of an inverted conical shape, their primary purpose being to raise and shape the breasts, tighten the midriff, and support the back.
During the early 19th century stays became much less constricting with the advent of the high waisted Empire style in c1796. By the 1830s the corset reappeared serving the dual purpose of supporting the breasts and narrowing the waist, and for the first time the word corset was used. The exaggerated shoulders and skirts of the 1830s made the waist look narrow , so when they disappeared in Victorian times the waist had to be cinched tighter, and the fashionable silhouette became the - hourglass figure. From then on the corset became exaggeratedly curvaceous. (See examples in the illustrations).
The "corset controversy" or the "corset question"argued that the wearing of corsets was harmful to health, and prompted vanity and foolishness. This controversy raged over the decades, featuring in The Times, The Scotsman, etc, and newspapers in America including The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The Washington Post etc.
Women over the centuries seem to feel obliged to exaggerate or diminish their natural attributes, supposedly to their advantage. They are generally mistaken! So much for the squeezed middle!