Sunday, January 27, 2013

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V361: Corset Training - Facing Questions and Issues


Hi!

I've been wearing my corset now for 7 days, and within even this short amount of time, I have learned quite a lot about corseting, and also been asking myself some questions (possibly some questions you may be asking too).  Before I share my report for Week 1, I want to talk a little bit more about this whole idea and experiment.

Why Am I Doing This?
This is a good place to start.  Despite all the positive comments I received on my starting post, there are some people who think this is pretty darn crazy.  I too have been asking myself, through the week, what the point of trying this is - I don't intend to wear a corset for the rest of my life.  I don't intend to try to reduce my waist down past, at most, 24 inches, and will most likely stop at 25 inches.  I am not a fetishist, and I don't wear the corset 24 hours a day.

But the harder question is - is this just so I can look better in costume?  I would be lying if I said I didn't want to look nice in historical costumes, but that is not the sole reason I am doing this.  Primarily it is for study - I want to see what the effect is, if any.

This is the effect wearing a corset from
childhood had on Victorian women.  At 29, my ribcage is
already fully formed and I will never put enough
pressure on my lower ribs to deform my bones
like this.
What About Health Issues?
Everyone knows corsets are bad for you, right?  WRONG.  That is such rubbish, and instead of believing everything I've heard or read about, I'm going to see for myself.

I'm not disfiguring my body, not compressing my intestines, not pressuring my lower ribs, and not constricting my lungs.  I have no pain, can breath just fine, and have had no trouble doing my normal daily things, which included, this week, putting air in my tires, eating a Chipotle burrito, tying my shoes, driving a car, and hiking.  I should add here that it is absolutely *vital* that the corset fit correctly, but more on that later.

Of all the bad things I could be doing to my body, where does wearing a corset fit in, exactly?  Instead of wearing a corset, I could be... eating large amounts of fast food, taking drugs, smoking, and drinking, taking dieting pills or starving myself, all of which have far worse effects on my inner workings than merely wearing something tight around my waist all day.

Do I Have Body Issues?
For the record, no.  I love my body, even when I'm having a "fat day."  My figure is perfect for the 1920s and 1930s, but no matter what time period I'm wearing, I wear the proper undergarments to match, because they not only shape the body to the proper silhouette, but they support the clothing worn over the top as well.  This experiment comes from curiosity about the past, not from body issues.

This is pretty much me - on the left, my normal self, posture and all; on the right, the effect of good underpinnings.  This image is from the 1930s.
Social Stigma
What is it about corsets that make my experiment with them "silly" or "crazy?"  Why is this any different than wearing shapewear, underwear, or even a bra?

This is NOT my goal
Corsets fall outside what we currently define as "normal," whereas bras and underwear are within that sphere, and expected by society.  Would you go out without wearing knickers and a bra? (granted, some women do, but it's not the norm).  Women in the past wouldn't go out without wearing their underpinnings either, be those girdles and garters, chest-flattening devices, a corset, or stays.

Society recognizes corsets today as sexual items, and tight-lacing as a fetish.  To historical costumers, wearing a corset represents something totally different, but when someone wears a corset outside of a costume event, why does it suddenly return to the sexual fetish, and become "crazy?"

Learning From Doing
I can see already that in addition to all that I have learned about corsets and my own body already, this experiment is most definitely a social one.  I am fascinated by how people are reacting, be they for or against wearing a corset every day.

So...what do you think?
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51 comments:

  1. I've always wondered if I tried to do something similar to your corset experiment but with bras (to reduce my cup size) if that would work.
    I always think of corsets as underwear (and a supportive foundation) I always think its odd when people use them as outerwear.
    I'm sure people wouldn't have a problem if you said you were wearing spanx or other control undergarments it just the word 'corset' magic ups certain images in thier head of ladies in fiction fainting etc.

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    1. I completely agree. Spanx and shapewear is making a comeback, and while it remains "a lady's secret," it's very much in use, very accepted, not taboo at all. So...why is the corset excluded from that? Very interesting!

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    2. I actually contemplated buying some myself for wearing with 50's dresses for a smoother line...but I'm sure a well fitted corset would be more comfotable.

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    3. I have a Rago body briefer suit I bought online, for wearing with vintage dresses. The Rago products are excellent, because they are made exactly the same as they were in the '50s and '60s. I can tell you it makes a HUGE difference not just in my overall shape (smooths and nips ever so slightly, but not as extreme as a corset), but in the comfort of the dresses too, which always have tight waistline seams. If I don't wear the body briefer, the dress pinches and is horribly uncomfortable at the waist, especially if I eat anything.

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    4. I'd like to address Lady D's question of whether wearing a bra that is too small will reduce your cup size. In a sense, yes, it could, but just like a corset only displaces what you have, so will a too-small bra. There have been documented cases of women gaining a cup size after wearing a correctly-fitted bra after wearing a too-small one for years. The reason for this is tissue migration. If you wear a bra that is too small in the cup for a long period of time, the breast tissue will be displaced; to under your bra, to your armpit, sides, etc. So, while your cup size may decrease, you will still have to deal with it elsewhere.

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  2. I can't wait to hear about your results. I have considered conducting a similar experiment, but I am also curious to see if this helps prepare for an intensive costuming weekend. Thanks for sharing with us!

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    1. I can answer that one already - YES. Part of all this is getting used to the feeling of being squeezed, just as one has to get used to wearing various modern undergarments (remember what it felt like the first time you tried a bra? yikes!). My first "milestone" is fitting into a new Victorian bodice I made to fit a 26 inch waist. I've been gradually lacing to 26 inches over the week, and will continue through this coming week. I am already more used to the tight feeling.

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  3. Ugh, this reminds me I'm going to have to be putting my stays back on everyday starting Tuesday....it's been a month since I wore them..the first few days are always the worst! :)

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    1. Yes, I noticed it too - the first couple days are like corset-hyper-awareness. Then you get kindof used to it, especially if you wear it just moderately laced, like you do :-)

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  4. People are really weird about corsets. They are not some kind of torture device! They were a normal part of underwear for hundreds of years.

    I actually love the way my vintage clothes fit over a girdle. It just feels so different wearing clothes over a firm surface verses a squishy one. Without fail, I have to loosen my belts on vintage dresses after sitting for about 20 mins (not sure if it's my posture or gravity or what) but not if I wear my girdle. Plus, I eat less so it's even better for my waist line!

    I love that you are doing this and can't wait to see how it turns out!

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    1. Yup, I have the same experience with girdles and body briefers under vintage dresses (if they are in fact vintage, or made from a vintage pattern). It's just darn uncomfortable to wear the dress *without* to support garments!

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  5. I'm very interested in your experiment.
    My scientific soul is really eager to find out what are the true effects of a corset.
    I noticed a significant change in my proportions during the time I started wearing corsets occasionally. But at the same time I started bellydance classes (and the more often I danced the less often I wore my corsets). It really trains the waist by engaging the "inner corset" also known as Transverse Abdominis, as well as internal and external obliques.
    Your experiment seems to be not as biased.
    If there is no significant difference - Bellydance would be my suggestion to gain a smaller waist anyway;-)

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    1. You bring up a really good point - the core muscles, or "inner corset," you called it, works in quite a similar way, though perhaps produces a different shape. By no means is a corset an alternative to exercise, but I wonder at a combination of a strong abdomen AND corseting...

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  6. I'm actually getting measured for a custom corset today. I plan to use it for costuming purposes, but your experiment has made me consider wearing it more frequently to see what effect extended wear will have on the shape of my waistline.

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    1. Oooo! Lucky girl! Enjoy your new corset!!

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  7. it amuses me that shapewear that isn't custom fit and compresses all your innards is socially acceptable, but a custom fit corset that may be far more comfortaable is considered wacko.

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    1. Fascinating! It all comes down to stigma, and how we as a society think of corsets. I wonder if it will ever be dispelled...

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  9. This is exactly the type of experiment needed to dispel all of those awful myths associated with the garment. I look forward to reading more about your experiment; keep up the good work!
    Kimberly

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  10. I'm very fascinated by this because it reminds me of an experiment a good friend of my husband's did. He's this very slender guy, and he wanted to see how muscular he could get through weight lifting. Eventually he reached his peak and decided to go back to being more slender because he's an avid runner, and he didn't like how much extra weight the muscle was.

    I know that's a little different to what you're doing as that change is more direct on the body, but it's in a similar category. I've thought about trying something similar just because I already have a very pronounced waist, and I'm curious as to how pronounced I can make it for the clothes I like to wear (nothing crazy, somewhere between 2-4 inches). I've also thought about wearing stays for awhile just to help with my posture. I'm getting ready to make my own set.

    I completely agree about proper undergarments for the 1950s and earlier. A waist cincher makes such a difference with not only the full 1950s skirts, but the wiggle dresses too. Same thing with a girdle. I find it interesting how the middle of the centuries hit peaks with full skirts. The mid 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s all had crazy wide skirts (I'm not as sure about the earlier centuries), and the undergarments seem to reflect that. It makes me wonder how it will be in the mid 2000s.

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    1. I have noticed the mid-century full-skirt thing as well. There seem to be these trends. I wonder if anybody thought, back in 1805, that full corsets and giant hooped skirts would be back in fashion half a century later? Or in the 1920s, could anybody have guessed that, again, fully corsets and giant crinolined skirts would come back? Where will WE be in 50 years?

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  11. I have been known to find good support in wearing my spiral-steel boned corset many days in a row just to take pressure off when I am bending over to draft or cut a number of patterns and when sewing.
    I think many of us know and as you point out here Lauren, that a properly fitting corset is not the least uncomfortable to wear for extended amounts of time.
    I only recently learned via research and presentations by The Barrington House here in Prescott), that women began with corsets from their very early years, 4, 5 years old, for instance.
    It was over their lifetimes that they wore corsets, and did not just start to try reducing their size via corseting in their adult years.
    I also think the opportunity you are taking in your research and sharing is interesting, Lauren.

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    1. I am learning what a wonder spiral steels are! I ordered spirals for a new corset today, as I found the plastic I usually go for just isn't as comfortable.

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  12. I believe what you are doing is a good thing. I was raised with the thought that corsets helped with posture and could even help raise self esteem. Even though I did not wear one growing up I did have other items of a similar nature and I was never considered crazy for it. I was not taught to use it as a way of abuse, but a way of being proper.
    Thank you for sharing with us what you are learning and going through.

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    1. Coming to corsetry through historical costuming has taught me similarly - this is underwear, not a fetish device, though they are of course sexy (but can be just as non-sexy, depending).

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    2. I like the point you make about corsets being proper rather than for abuse. It definitely creates a paradigm shift. One of the things I really appreciate about the historical community is that the undergarments are more respected for the lines and accuracy they give rather than the fetishes commonly seen in them. It makes one wonder how the ladies of the era would feel about how much they've become a fetish device when to them it was just part of every day life.

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    3. Lauren, They can be quite sexy if they are made to be that way. I am not that good at sewing so me trying to make a corset would be a little far fetch for me right now.

      Rachel, that is one thing I enjoy about the historical community as well. I did not realize how big the community actually was and what brought me in was something my husband said. I have realized something though, corsets you can buy in stores and other places are not usually built to last like they were in the past. Most places that sells corsets are X rated stores and maybe some lingerie stores, well around here anyways. I do believe that ladies from the past would probably think that we were crazy. That was part of their every day life from childhood. They wore layers of clothes, where we are taught less is better.

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  13. I think it's a very interesting project to undergo, and there's nothing quite like personal research for experiments, either. I really don't understand why people are so freaked out by corsets, but I guess it has something to do with the combination of thoses tight-lacing people who can scare off "modern thinking" people (not that I'm dissing them, or anything), incorrect research (like all of the health hazards doctors associated with corsets a century ago), and the fact that many people don't think of their actual purpose. Hopefully, people will move past it one day.

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    1. Perhaps as shapewear becomes more mainstream - I mean, it kindof is already, but even moreso. Maybe that will never happen? The future of dress will be interesting :-)

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  14. I'm actually planning to embark on a similar tight lace mission. I'm 35" unlaced and want to achieve 31" laced. I'm naturally curvy and squishy so It's not so hard but I need to make me a new underbust corset that fits me better. I test drove my current one for a whole day and discovered that it was a bit to short over the hip area and dug in there. So it needs to go down a bit longer over my hips and curve out more to give me expanding room.

    My reason for doing this that I want to have a more defined waist so my 50's clothes will look better on me.I also hope to achieve better posture and some back support. I'm planning to combine my tight lacing with a daily yoga routine so my muscles stay strong and healthy.
    I hope to start with my new corset after my new 18th century masquerade outfit is finished. In the mean time I'll follow your endeavour with big interest.

    /L

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    1. I think you will easily achieve the 31 inches. You may find, though, that with the right corset, you can already go down that far, comfortably!

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  15. Lauren I think the stigma is perfectly represented in the two images you have included. My understanding is that the 'before and after' sketch was a shock tactic by the anti corset brigade, and is more akin to the 'infomercial' before photos than based on any actual truth (I may be wrong here though!). Yet it is very famous and as is rarely given context, people take it at face value.
    The photo is definitely 'photoshopped' don't you think? The background around the waist looks very vague and the photo is very flat at that point, and the outline rather unnatural. Also as we know the stories of ribs being removed are urban legend.
    So much of this stigma has been taken as the truth. We do love a good scaremongering don't we!

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    1. You are right - a lot of anti-corset imagery and myth came out in the Victorian period. Women DID shed their corsets (well, sortof), but underpinnings have never completely disappeared - we still wear them today!

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  16. This is a fascinating experiment. I do wonder if this modern stigma about corsets will ever go away, considering how long corsets were "normal."

    Do you find anything uncomfortable about wearing one all day? Are you wearing it all day? Sometimes I find, after a long day of wearing one, standing mostly (which might have something to do with it), my lower back can start to hurt. But all in all, I have always found them very comfortable and they really get me in the spirit of dressing in costume. To me, the undies make the costume. Not only the shape, but to me, feeling how each era's undies feel (because I find they feel so different - crinoline swaying, bustle when you sit...), really transports me.

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    1. I have found that throughout the day I need to loosen it, particularly after meals. I do wear it all day, about 7+ hours, sometimes longer. If I have any pain at all, I will adjust the lacing, and if it really hurts, I just take it off altogether and put on a different one. I'm on a quest now to find the perfect fit!

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  17. Have you read Valerie Steele's "The Corset: A Cultural History"? I think it was very interesting compilation and examination of this whole corset debate (fashionable, medical, sexual, sexist...) from the 18th century onwards.

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  18. Wearing a corset in period drama naturally encourages the wearer to pull "up and out" of the garment. I found I was no longer slumping when I sat or stood, that I pulled in my abdomen and kept my spine more erect. Over time I suspect my core muscles got a workout, and that, not the squishing from wearing the thing, was the biggest assistin reducing my waist. But I'm pear shaped to begin with, so I'm probably not the best candidate for the experiment!
    Best,
    Auntie Nan

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    1. Auntie Nan, I have notice that when I take the corset off, in general my posture is much better. I hold myself up more, and that alone makes me appear slimmer and more defined through the waist. Perhaps THAT is the real secret of corset training, haha.

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  19. Do you wear the corset under everyday clothing? A few years ago I thought about doing something similar, but I found that the corset looked really strange under modern clothing (button down blouses, knit shirts, etc.) Maybe I wasn't doing it right...But how does one wear a corset every day, wearing regular clothing as to go about one's normal life, without having everyone notice?

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    1. I wear an underbust, with a normal bra. The corset is quite short in length, so the waistband of my jeans actually sits below it. I wear it over a tanktop, but under a shirt or sweater. The mid-busts look really weird under a shirt, because you can see the line across the bust, so I don't recommend that for daily wear.

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  20. We can probably thank the 1960s as well, for the current stigma associated with corsets, let alone dressing in something other than jeans or sweats.
    Beyond the 'fetish' association that corsets seem to have these days, they carry the stigma of vanity and frivolity (even elitism) that must somehow be a reflection of the wearer's level of self esteem.
    They were a symbol, on more than one occasion during the 20th century, of the "establishment" and of women being "restrained" to the hearth and home, without the choice to do otherwise.

    The women's lib movement (while a good thing on so many levels) also had some negative affects on how women wore fashion purely for their own enjoyment. Fashion suddenly became something symbolic or political, not unlike France during the revolution.

    The corset is a powerful tool. Perhaps even a weapon.
    It defines and intensifies the natural shape of a woman, in all sizes...and that shape alone my friends, has started wars, it has created peace, triggered revolutions, inspired the world's greatest works of art, literature, architecture, conquests and adventures.
    That bust/waist/hip ratio is the undeniable math of life, and some find its power even a little threatening. Especially in our modern world of shapeless and disposable trends.

    xoxo

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    1. That last paragraph made me smile. It's amazing how the bust/waist/hip ratio has hit points of obsession throughout history, and how the ideal ratio constantly fluxes...sometimes to extremes.

      I actually think the 1970s was more to blame with the denigration of putting together complete outfits, and caused the morphing of only wearing jeans and sweats to happen. The 1960s, while simple in it's lines, still held a lot of glamour just in a more subtle fashion. However, the 1960s was definitely the beginning of the stigma of corsets and being bound after all the waist cinchers and girdles of the 1950s and the obsessions of being the perfect housewife.

      I have kind of a love/hate relationship with the feminist movement for multiple reasons, but one of them is definitely this bizarre concept of being more like men and less like a woman...like being a woman is somehow bad. One of the ways it shows itself is in the views taken about feminine fashion, and particularly the parallel about corsets representing restraining women to hearth and home.

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  21. I undertook corset training for sometime and got many strange looks and comments even from friends who had known my love of corsets. Ultimately I ignored their comments and did what I wanted. It befuddles me why people get so bent out of shape about corsets. SO many people assume it is a sex object and that by wearing one (especially daily) you are some kind of pervert.

    I digress.

    My experience with corset training revealed much the same as yours. Hip gores are SO important! I was aiming for a much more dramatic reduction (I'm a big lady so there is more to squish) and it all has to go somewhere. As a result my hips appeared much wider. It made wearing my normal jeans a little difficult. After about 6 months I had to stop however due to some back/hip issues. The corset makes your posture better however if you have some undiscovered back issues or even some really big knots a corset makes them very apparent. If I did it again I would build in regular massage into my routine.

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  23. After I am done with nursing school, but before I actually start work as a nurse, I plan to make myself an underbust corset to wear as a kind of back brace/posture improver on the job...nurses have a high proportion of back injuries, so I thought a corset would be much more flattering than one of those back belt things a lot of heavy-lifting professionals wear!

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    1. Krista--a friend of mine actually did this! She was having back trouble and wore her 18th century stays under her scrubs for a few days. Wasn't a permanent thing, but she preferred it to a commercial back brace/belt.

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  24. I'm glad you brought up the posture and medical side of things--my dad is a chiropractor (so kind of an expert in spines and bones and such). A friend at a Rev War reenactment once asked him (I think trying to impress him) about the ill effects of the stays worn during the period. He replied that he'd see far fewer back issues if everyone wore stays today--as they enforce proper, upright posture! We don't realize the pain we put ourselves in with horrible desk chair posture and slouching on the couch--then we look to those "poor" women in historical periods who wore "uncomfortable" and "painful" corsets with that smug "so glad we've moved past that nonesense" mentality. Ironic, really :)

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  25. A couple of years ago I read Katherine Klingerman's thesis "Binding feminity". It was very interesting and full of informations.
    http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04072006-115441/unrestricted/Klingerman_thesis.pdf
    or : http://www.amazon.com/Binding-Femininity-Katherine-Klingerman/dp/3836429152

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  26. Part of my work (I work at a danish museum) is dressing up and working as 1910-cook in a manor house, working at a stove and lifting heavy pots etc. For year I have worn a corset under my costume, the last 3 years an edwardian mid-bust corset. I started doing it as a support of my back - it forces you to use your legs instead of your back. It works - but the problem is that you stop using your own muscles and instead relies on the support of your corset. And no belly muscles make it harder to give birth!

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