From an article written in January 2011 over at my blog, The House of Marmalade entitled
Corsetry - my journey
Over the last few months, I've been doing some very deep research into corset making because as some of you may know, I am writing an e-book on the process for Rainbow Disks and I want to make sure that I document the best way to do things with information taken from a wide source. Although I have been making and wearing corsets for years, I've developed my own methods of doing so - I am entirely self taught and up until now, I haven't really paid much attention to the ways other people do it.
When I started in corsetry, it was for 'costume' purposes - think "Moulin Rouge"- inspired by burlesque, theatre, sparkle and beauty, I set about making fancy corsets for myself to wear at parties and clubs. I discovered that corsetry as an artistic medium was a very varied subject indeed, full of creative possibilities and I soon became totally hooked.
Two of the first corsets I ever made,
the red one is the Laughing Moon Dore pattern and the black is from Simplicity
With each new corset I made, inspiration would flood into my mind for the next and then the next and so on. It seems that for me - and for lots of other people - corsetry provides a very deep well of artistic inspiration and expression but it wasn't until I started getting much deeper into the subject, after first starting up my business and then joining other online communities specifically for corset addicts, that I began to pay more attention to the history of corsetry and the historical methods of construction specifically in relation to the archetypal shape of the Victorian corset.
This in turn lead me to frequently ponder the purpose of corsetry both in a historical and a modern context, from the most ancient manifestations which took the form of thick leather belts to suppress the waist, to the most modern lycra 'tubes' which claim to suck you in by as much as 2 sizes!
Shapewear through the ages - which is most sexy?
There has been alot of negative press about corsetry, especially since Victorian times and also there is alot of misconception and prejudice about the effects of corsetry on women both physically and mentally and one of the most frequent questions I am asked is "Is it painful to wear a corset?" . Much has been written about this but my own view is that during the periods when heavily boned, waist reducing corsets were worn routinely, women were much smaller than we are now, and therefore a 20" waist was nothing out of the ordinary for a young woman - girls wore corsets from a very young age and their skeletons reflected this. In Victorian times there were certain social implications attached to the wearing of corsetry - this is where both the terms "straight laced" and "loose woman" come from however, overall, the corset was a necessary underpinning, perhaps worn under sufferance at times and without the freedom of choice we have now.
As to whether corsets are dangerous or uncomfortable - yes, a corset can and will squash your insides, compress your ribcage and cause bruising - if you lace it too tightly! If you tie a scarf too tightly around your neck you run the risk of suffocation! As with everything, when a corset is worn responsibly, in any century, it's purpose is to shape and smooth the body into whichever fashion silhouette is desirable for that time or purpose, and to make the wearer feel good. A well made and properly fitted corset is very comfortable because it supports the torso whilst shaping it.
Corsets these days are worn by many different people for many different reasons. I do not generally subscribe to the view that corsets are (or ever were), 'anti-feminist' and 'opressive' to women nor to the opposite veiw that they are empowering and totally feminine - unless that is what the wearer wants them to be.
In my opinion, the purpose and effect of corsetry in any time and for any gender, boils down to two things
1) A corset is and always has been a fashion item.
2) Using a corset to enhance or shape one's 'assets' is no more dangerous or oppressive, or uncomfortable, than wearing a pair of high heeled shoes.