Our society in general has a widespread fear of corsets. Ironically enough, the negative perception of corsets we see today has been spread around by people who have never made, worn or touched a corset. Meanwhile, the main proponents of corset use are people who wear and/or have made corsets. If corsets were a bad thing, don’t you think it would be the other way around? People who have extensively worn corsets would be warning everyone to stay away, while the only people who like them would be people who have never worn them. But it isn’t like that. Those of us who have made corsets, or wear them extensively, are likely to argue that corsets are not only harmless, but also beneficial.
Here are some examples of the culture’s (incorrect) attitude towards corsets. I’ll post a picture and then quote someone’s comments from Pinterest.
“Now we know why they never smiled in the photos… OUCH!”
“Could you even imagine?! Ugh, I would die.”
“X-ray images of women in corsets..so what’s the big deal? I mean a skinny waist is the only way to be happy. duh. (DUH. sheesh. corsets. MALE-created devise fer sure.)”
“The Queen of Norway … look at that waist! Thanks to low waisted jeans being back in style for 14 years, I’ve let my waist get to the point to where that looks positively painful”
And finally, here’s an article that made my eye twitch. It was all praising Emma Watson for not wearing a corset in Beauty and the Beast. (Honestly her refusal to wear the corset, all by itself, wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for everybody else being like, “YEAH! Ban all the evil corsets!”)
Okay. I will now address the most common arguments I see that enforce a negative view of corsets.
- Corsets look so uncomfortable, how do people breathe in them? There’s a very simple answer to this. Corsets are NOT uncomfortable and you CAN breathe in them, even the ones that reduce the waist by several inches. Now, this is only true if the corset is well-made. A cheaply made corset that doesn’t conform correctly to your body, such as a standard-sized costume corset that is boned with plastic, won’t feel comfortable at all. But if you go to a professional corsetiere, or develop the skill to make one yourself (like I did), you will get a corset that conforms perfectly to your body and feels like second skin. People also get freaked out when they hear of people wearing metal, in the form of corsets that are boned with spiral steel or spring steel. But actually, spiral steel is way more comfortable than plastic! This is because it’s so flexible and it easily changes its shape to fit you perfectly. And people can breathe just fine in a properly-proportioned corset. Let me tell you how. The waist is restricted, but more room in the bust is allowed! This means that you are given plenty of space to breathe from your upper chest. So you can breathe normally even if your waist is restricted by several inches. Opera singers often perform in corsets. I’m sorry, but you really can’t convince me that an opera singer can’t breathe!
- Corsets make you faint/force you to sit down all day/severely restrict your movement. Um, I can testify firsthand against this, after having worn my corset to school all day! In my corset, I can haul around heavy backpacks and walk around in the cold weather at a brisk pace, and easily do push-ups, and do overall normal things. Sure, the corset keeps you from bending at the waist. But people are not actually supposed to bend from the waist for every little thing- it can cause back strain, which can be corrected by bending from the hips and keeping your torso straight. Which is exactly what a corset does!
- Corsets are sexist- they enforce sexual stereotypes on women, forcing them to be unnaturally thin. And this is where I have to make a major point: corset use does not necessarily equal tightlacing. Tightlacing is where somebody wears a specially-made corset designed to reduce their waist by several inches, like 6 or more inches, to create a very proportionally small waist. Believe it or not, MRI scans have been done on the body of a tightlacer and the organ displacement is not severe. So tightlacing is not harmful if people do it correctly. (That’s a big if, but still.) So there are two important things to remember: not all corsets are designed for tightlacing, and tightlacing isn’t even a bad thing. The vast majority of high-quality corsets being made might reduce your waist by a little, like two inches or so, but that’s all. The main reason why we have corsets is so that they can improve your posture, make you feel curvier, and produce a correct historical silhouette if you’re doing historical corsetry. Once I saw a quote about bras, and I paraphrase: “People sometimes think of bras as a purely sexual garment, but really they are purely a functional garment.” The same can be said of corsets. In fact, I would say they are even more functional than bras. A bra cannot correct bad posture, or smooth out awkward folds in one’s figure (particularly heavier figures), or produce a desired look for an overall figure. Another important thing to remember is that a corset can be made for literally any body type. It can be made for larger, curvier figures. Or it can be made for awkwardly skinny people like me. Corsets do not force everyone into a 16-inch waist. They can be made for anyone, and make them look however they want.
And now, going to address some of those specific comments from Pinterest I posted up there:
- “Now we know why they never smiled in the photos… ouch!” First of all, people did smile in early photos. Go to my Edwardian board on Pinterest and you’ll see plenty of smiles and natural-looking expressions. The stereotype of people not smiling comes form the days of Diguerrotype photos, like in the 1860s, when taking one photo could take 20 minutes, so people would have to have neck clamps and such to keep still that whole time! THAT’S an ouch! Not at all linked to wearing corsets. I already addressed why corsets are actually comfortable.
- (Addressing that sarcastic post saying that the aim of corsets is to make people skinnier, and that corsets were invented by men): Corsets are meant to make people curvier, not necessarily skinnier. Reducing the waist means adding more to the bust and hips. A corset doesn’t make you lose weight, it just redistributes fat. Also I addressed above that MRIs show no serious health effects of prolonged corset use. Finally…… who cares if corsets were invented by men or by women? Sure, women didn’t have as many rights back then as they do now. But as far as I’m aware it was mainly the women’s choice to wear corsets. Women’s rights activists like Susan B. Anthony wore corsets, and didn’t seem to think corsets were the problem with society. They were concerned with bigger things, like the right to vote! Here’s a picture of Susan B. Anthony. It’s obvious that she’s wearing a corset in this picture.
3. The remark about the Queen of Norway’s waist- Yeah, she had a small waist. Sure. But what’s wrong with having a small waist? People today have small waists. Other people don’t. And that’s okay. Again, corsets are not forcing everyone into Queen Maud’s measurements. A corset is made to fit YOU and meet YOUR goals.
I just wish that people who don’t know anything about corsets (but think they do because of cultural stereotypes like Pirates of the Caribbean) would just admit that they don’t know anything about corsets, and not make remarks like, “Oh, that’s gotta hurt!” or, “Man, you have to be skinny to wear one of those!”Better yet, they would do well to do some research. Find out more about how corsets actually improve your posture, which can be linked to many other health benefits, and there are emotional and psychological benefits of wearing a corset as well. When I wear my corset, I’m in control. If I want it tight I lace it a little tighter. Otherwise I just let it leave my waist in a natural position. If I feel like taking it off I take it off.
My hope is that someday, corsets will be reincorporated into the mainstream culture. Not as a replacement for bras or anything, but I think they should be interchangeable. Going to be on your feet all day? Wear your corset, it will help your back. Lounging around the house on a rainy Saturday and don’t feel like wearing your corset? Don’t wear it, wear your bra instead. Going out with friends, or to a job interview? Wear your corset, it will give you confidence and a strong-looking poise. Going to get some exercise? A bra will probably work better (unless you’re doing push-ups; corsets are really helpful for those, trust me)! There is no reason to be afraid of corsets when they can actually empower you.
For further reading, check out…
This blog post by Damsel In This Dress, it makes some great points!
Lucy’s Corsetry– she has taught me so many things about corsets! I thought tightlacing was unhealthy until I read her site. She really knows what she’s talking about.
Thanks for reading this long informative post! I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful!
4 thoughts on “In Defense of Corsets”
As they say “to each, his own”. I don’t see much difference in body shaming or corset shaming. People should just let other people do what they want and stop throwing out the negative comments. Thank you for the informative post!
Yes, exactly! Body shaming can go both ways. I see unfair negativity of larger body types as well as constant criticism of size 0 people (which I find equally irritating)! Nobody should be criticized for their body shape or for their choice to wear a corset.
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Well social media “empowers” people to claim their 15 minutes of fame as predicted by Andy Warhol. Nobody told them to be idiots it just happens that spouting vitriol is the easiest way to get attention. I must admit to being torn between trying to ignore the haters and attempting to correct their wrongs.
Very true! It’s easy to go shooting off your uninformed opinion online. And the raw emotion of it all by itself is often enough to persuade people. My mom always likes to say, “Just because somebody says something, that doesn’t make it true!”