Friday, August 31, 2007

The Return of the Corset & What it Means for Women

It's no secret that corsets have been gaining popularity. Not the kind that women wore historically - I haven't seen any women walking around with corseted waists this tiny - but a healthier imitation of the corset. According to Wikipedia, "While modern 'corsets' and 'corset tops' often feature lacing and/or boning and generally mimic a historical style of corsets, they have very little if any effect on the shape of the wearer's body."

Well, my friends, that seems to be changing. ASOS is now offering the below "waistcincher," which, although not labeled as a corset, is defined by Wikipedia as a type of corset.

Am I the only one who finds this scary?

I don't generally have a problem with modern corsets. They can be beautiful, and they don't constrict the waist in a way that can cause the wearer to have trouble breathing and possibly deform the ribs, stomach, and liver as historical corsets did. I haven't tried the ASOS waistcincher, so I can't be sure what it does to the body, but I do know that the model in the picture looks like the corset has tightly cinched her waist to an unnatural thin-ness. I'm worried about the health and comfort of women who choose to wear it - at least those who plan to lace their corsets too tightly. But I'm also worried about what it says about our society that women might choose to wear such a restrictive garment.

Women's rights have come a long way in the modern world. American women can vote, work at high-powered jobs, and are mostly free to do what they want to do with their lives. There are many places in the world where women do not have the same kind of freedom, places where women aren't allowed to make their own decisions, or even speak for themselves. What does it say about us, the women who are lucky enough to have a lot of freedom, that we might choose to wear a restrictive corset? Does it say, "I wear a corset because I choose sexiness, and the power that comes from looking good," or does it say, "I'm willing to restrict my freedom of movement and cause myself discomfort just so I can look good"?

I have a problem with the idea that women might wear something that inhibits their ability to give a fast-paced lecture at the office, or run to catch the bus, or even just sing along with the radio. Some women can't do these things for fear that they might be beaten or killed, so can we really justify giving up these things just for the sake of looking thinner? Why is that okay?

In my opinion, it's not okay.

That's pretty much all I can think to say on the subject right now, but I guess I'd like to add that writing this post has made me wonder if high heels are similarly problematic. It's easy enough to rant about the issues I have with corsets coming back in style, but I happen to wear heels every now and then, and I can't help wondering if that's just as bad.

Edit: Thanks to Ashe Mischief for pointing out some gaps in my research. I hope this didn't offend anyone, and please take a look at the comments to read what she wrote on the subject.


Ashe Mischief said...

As a corset wearer, I can say that the corset she is wearing is actually cinched the basic amount. For most corsets, a woman can naturally cinch 2-4 inches. It's not unhealthy to cinch this much, nor is uncomfortable or painful. A custom made corset can actually be a great relief for many women, and for certain circumstances, is still used for medicinal purposes. For many seamstresses, wearing a comfortably fitting corset relieves strain and pressure in their back, along side of women who may have back problems from large breasts.

Modern corsets, as described by Wikipedia, are generally considered a joke by anyone who studies, makes, or wears corsets. Generally, they're probably more likely to cause harm to a woman's body than an actual corset itself is. Plastic boning cannot provide comfort, shape, or many other things that steel boning can, and its tendency to bend out of shape is more likely to cause bruising or pain than a real corset.

Generally constriction of the waist does not cause any sort of deform in the ribs or constriction of breath. Wearing a corset too tightly and in a wrong size around the rib cage can cause shortness of breath. Similarly, most experienced and legitimate corsetieres will not make a corset for someone under 18 years old, with the assumption that beginning to wear them at that age minimizes any rib deformity.

The only way that you're really causing risk to your body is when women enter in to tightlacing (personified by Dita Von Teese). These women can get their waists cinched up to 15 inches smaller than their natural waist. Of course, some of this depends on the woman-- a heavier woman, with lots of fat, has much more "squish" than a woman who is all muscle. Fat evenly moves without harming the body. There is segment with Cathy Jung, who tightlaces her body, and whose husband is a doctor. They actually went on the Tyra Banks show, to show what little damage there is to her, over the long term, even as a tightlacer.

As far as women's rights involved... depending on the corset and type of boning used, your movement is actually not restriced very much. Using a spring steel will give you as much flexibility as "corselettes" or "bustiers" would with their plastic boning, while providing an overall nicer silhouette. I've worn mine for hours out dancing, drinking-- hell, I wore one all day during Mardis Gras, with no problems, discomforts, or pain.

There's no scientific evidence that a woman CAN'T run to catch a bus (I literally ran, in high heels and a corset, down Bourbon Street that Mardis Gras year), give a fast-paced lecture, or sing a long to the radio. Modern corset makers do not make corsets with the same rigidity of historical corsets, and many historical corsets and ads are dramatized for effect. Very few women cinched as small as history suggested.

If you want more information about corsets, I'd suggest talking with the (mostly) women at the Livejournal communities Corsetry and Corset_makers. I find this post is a bit naive in its presumptions of the women who wear corsets, and what their limitations are, particularly for present day women.

Ashe Mischief said...

I forgot to add-- as for your concerns about high heels, there is evidence that daily and continued wear of high heels can be damaging to the legs and back fo a woman. However, it's most related to wearing them daily for decades, and also, it should be noted, that there is as much evidence that supports why daily and continual wear of flip flops is equally as bad for a man or woman's body.

I think both topics coincide with anything else, and it all falls back on to Moderation. Anything can be bad or good for your body, depending on use and abuse, fit, longevity, etc.

Kori said...

Whoah...thanks for taking so much time to respond! As a rule, I try not to make presumptions about things without trying them out first, and I guess I just broke my own rule. This post was just my knee-jerk response to seeing the corset at ASOS. I really like the corsets I've seen that are meant to be worn instead of tops (there are some gorgeous ones on Etsy), but I guess I've never seen one that's meant to be worn underneath the clothes, for the sole purpase of waist-cinching, before, and I was kind of shocked/bothered by it.

That said, while I was definitely no thorough enough on my research (I deserve a knock on the head), I guess I forgot to say all that I was thinking. I'm worried that thr current corset trend will morph into tight-lacing, which is something I did read about.

Anyway, I hope I didn't offend you too much, and thanks for calling my bluff.

Ashe Mischief said...

Oh gosh, you didn't offend me at all, honey! I was worried I came across too gruff, but it's something I encounter A LOT. In general, I think there's a kind of naivete and misunderstanding about corsets, which I kind of felt the need to address. My post on LJ is mostly geared towards friends who do the same and the few corsetmakers I'm friends with as well, those who make and dress in corsets (I even have one friend who is capable of tightlacing, although it's mostly special occasion).

For what it's worth, all of my corsets are waist cinchers/underbusts. In general, I find them a great starter corset. I personally HATE having my diaphragm cinched, as for me, it does make breathing difficult (and I think I look funny in overbusts). That being said, a good corset maker will and can make you a corset that will cinch where you're most comfortable, while not restricting your ribs. I have one corsetmaker who would actually make me a tightlacing underbust (which typically reduces 4-6", which really isn't much for someone who has a lot of fat on their tummy)-- because I'm squishy in the middle, and hate having the reduction on my hips and ribs.

However, your fears aren't completely undeserved. The first corset I ever wore was in a play production-- the costumer had it on me upside down, and it was too small, and just bloody uncomfortable as all hell. I was terrified to try them again after that point. Once I did, and saw what the right corset could do... it was nice.

I wouldn't worry too much about tightlacing becoming a huge trend. It's going to exist in an underground manner, I think, but it's few and scarce cases (much like body mutilation, facial tattoos, etc.). You're always going to have an extreme fringe in any subculture, but I don't know that it's something that would catch on generally (as the women who truly tight lace wear corsets 18-20 hours a day, 365 days a year. Most people don't want that kind of commitment).

And please, if you have questions or anything, let me know! I hope my alternate post didn't upset you, as I really just wanted a way to initiate conversation about it amongst the feminists and corsetmakers/wearers I know (and you provided a good foundation for that). Really, also check out the other LJ communities. I think that the memories and general atmosphere of those involved will surprise you, and I've found it personally to be a great great wealth of information.

Kori said...

I will definitely check out the LJ communities...I'm always looking to learn more about, well, things I don't know too much about. I think it would be great for my readers to hear from someone who actually has corset experience; maybe you or your corset-wearing/making friends would like to do a guest post? I bet a lot of my readers feel similarly to me, and it would be nice to get some different and more thorough information up here. Email me or have your friends email me if you're interested. (

Meg said...

I really like the look of corsets. I haven't bought a true corset yet, but I have worn mild waist cinchers and I have a corset-style top that I've worn clubbing. The only thing I'm really concerned about is that the fasteners might show through the clothes that I normally would wear - especially if I have lacing running down my back.

Raven said...

Wow. This is one informative post. Thanks to Kori and Ashe. My knowledge of corsets before this was limited to that scene in Gone With The Wind, with Scarlett gripping the bedpost while being tightened. :)

corset said...

Ok, so a slight bit of a squeeze might not be a problem, but have you seen Cathie Jung. Check her out. She has been wearing corsets for the last 25 years and now has a 15 inch waist!
Her husband is an orthapaedic surgeon who says his wife's unique look does her no harm...!

Dimruthien said...

I am bothered by your presumption that corset wearers and tight lacers are somehow "ruining" what the Feminist movement bought about.

Some women choose to wear corsets because we enjoy it, or we like the aesthetics, and an hourglass shape. This does not make us demons, and it certainly doesn't make us any less of a woman than anyone else.

Not every woman WANTS to be a perfect white collar office worker. We'd still like to be treated as women, and not like vermin who are making the Feminist movement a waste.

I don't think business women are ANY reflection of women at all. Some want to be boring little white collar bitches and spend their lives at a desk. Others want to be burlesque dancers, nurses, doctors, paid carers, gardeners, seamstresses, prostitutes, butchers, artists, writers, journalists, mothers... you get the picture.

As far as I'm concerned, Feminism says nothing about women not wearing the clothes they want to. I'm a woman and a feminist, and I'll wear whatever the hell I like, thanks very much!

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