The NY Public Library just released thousands (187,000 to be more precise) of public domain photographs, ranging from the 11th to the 21st century. Not only that, they’ve created an amazing visualization tool which allows users to browse the photographs, prints, maps, and more with ease. Check it out!
I did a bit of scouring and found some images of interest to corset enthusiasts. This small collection of photos, illustrations, paintings, and other materials represent an interesting range of nationalities and varying social classes. I hope you enjoy these corseted ladies from history.
Sure, I’m a participant in the internet’s distractify mindset. I follow various aggregate sites for interesting, amusing, or informative content — or at least that’s what I’m telling myself I’m doing as I’m killing time on Devour, Petapixel, and Buzzfeed. Following current events, such as terrorist massacres, shootings, and SF local tragedies, can severely mess me up. Sometimes a cute dog video or something silly can act as the spoonful of sugar I need to digest all the horror.
However, it’s important to remember that sites like Buzzfeed are *content hungry,* just as are its followers. Buzzfeed, and similar sites, create and share content about literallyanything to promote likes, views, shares, and traffic in general. This content, even when presented as expert/experiential, is not always (or even remotely) accurate to all facets of what it is attempting to represent.
A perfect example of misleading “grab ’em” content is the unfortunately titled (and executed):
Any person who is actually a waist trainer or otherwise knowledgeable about corsetry and the body modification process will cringe at this pseudo “investigative report” by a handful of unwilling participants operating under ill-advice, served up as if it’s science. And tbh, If you’re trying to sculpt your life to resemble Kim K… you might want to think real hard for a second.
First things first: this is not a corset or appropriate for waist-training lifestyle.
“What makes this miserable device *not* a corset?” you may be asking.
This is an elastic compression garment. It bears more similarities to what one might wear after surgeries than a proper corset. A corset that’s appropriate for waist training generally:
Does not include elastic as a material, as elastic is terribly uncomfortable and has extremely poor longevity. Cotton-poly blends are much more quality material, but even a strong silk or leather will do the job better than elastic.
Features an architecture that provides a distinct curvature which allows for ribs, nips in the waist for shaping, and allows for hips. This general compression garment looks like a flared tube, which will inevitably press uncomfortably on the ribs and hips, while leaving the waist untrained.
Does not rely on the flimsy lack-of-strength provided by hooks and eyes. This compression garment needs a hundred hooks and eyes and thick “bullet proof vest” like material to withstand any sort of wear whatsoever. A corset generally laces up the back and may or may not have a steel busk in front. Regardless, steel boning throughout the corset provides strength and architecture which allows the garment the ability to be very light, strong, and if constructed well, comfortable!
Is not ridiculously uncomfortable or inhibiting. As aforementioned: a corset that is appropriate for daily wear and the waist training lifestyle can and should be comfortable, constructed with the proportions of your actual body in mind (in terms of length, waist reduction, ribcage size, etc). A daily wear corset should ideally make you feel *awesome* … it should definitely not make you feel terrible (because: why? There’s no need).
In a previous post, I addressed the show Double Diva’s and the miserable garment they tried to pass for a corset. In terms of construction, it was not dissimilar to the one featured in this Buzzfeed mess: it was largely elastic with a front hook-and eye closure.
Now compare that unflattering mess to a corset by Dark Garden, which actually shapes the body comfortably:
Yeah, no contest.
But even so, all corsets are not created equal. Once I tried to waist train with this thick, heavy, ill-shapen and much too long corset that I could only wear for a couple hours before I started to see red.
*EDIT* This corset came to me by way of the distributor Corset Heaven, though as can be seen below in the comments, fellow corset nerd Lucy (of Lucy’s Corsetry) postulates that the maker’s brand is Corset Story — an edit from previously credited Timeless Trends. Thanks, Lucy!
Whomever made it, it was a thumbs down for me for the purpose of waist training!
Then I learned the delicious joy of what a well made corset feels like. Over the period of a week or two, I found myself wanting to wear it more and more — until I never wanted to take it off!
And a new era of my life begun. I went from wearing a size 26″ corset to a size 18″ in about a year. I’ve since chilled out on it a bit, but before I relaxed my practice, I made sure to take some pics first.
Allow me to emphasize: body transformation does NOT happen overnight! Patience is your best friend when it comes to body mods.
The advice given by the “medical professional” has some merit, which I will address. While I am not a medical professional by any means, I am a seasoned corset wearer, which I doubt this “medical professional” has any experience or expertise in.
Feel free to consult your doctor when beginning waist training, however, it’s likely that inquiries will be met with judgement as many doctors won’t comment on things they know nothing about. For example, a doctor once told me not to drink Kombucha tea, because they didn’t know what Kombucha was. However, hormones and addictive Rx drugs? Sure those are totally safe except for <laundry list of harmful side effects>. Ummm, yeah. I’m fine with my tea, thanks.
Anecdotal evidence aside, here are a few things the “expert” in the video addressed that I’d like to comment on:
“One should only wear the compression garment for an hour or two a day.” What was left out of this sentence were the words: “In the BEGINNING.” As your body adjusts to the feeling, and it’s comfortable for the wearer, they can increase wear without damage incurred. It’s paramount, however, to be in tune with your body and listen when something doesn’t feel right. Feel free to refer to my posts: 10 Waist Training Tips and the FAQ for advice on how to get started.
“if it’s too tight, it could put pressure on your intestines.” So… women shouldn’t give child birth either? Because a fetus definitely does that. In fact, our bodies have evolved to accommodate a changing waistline and migrating intestines for the very reason of pregnancy. Slowly adapting the body to a corset is not entirely dissimilar.
“It’s definitely not going to alter the look of your waist, nor will it help you shed pounds.”FALSE and FALSE. Body modification through corsetry is no magic bullet, but it does have some magical side effects. Results do vary from person to person.
“Definitely don’t wear your corset while exercising.” This, I agree with. As I’ve written about before, even though waist training can lend a figure that appears as if you’ve been hitting the gym, it is important to actually work out, unrestrained. Your core muscles run the risk of atrophy otherwise, and no one wants that.
“Definitely don’t wear your corset while eating.” Wut?
Dude, you gotta eat. I’ve shoved entire meatball subs in there. I’ve made friends with the butchers. And yes, I drank carbonated things everyday. Once I did eat so much ice cream I had to loosen my corset, but seriously people, Smitten makes some some delicious ice cream. It’s almost too good. Like, that’s fucked up, why would you do this to me, Smitten?!?!
A majority of the women in the Buzzfeed experiment complained that putting it on was difficult. I can imagine, with all those hooks and eyes! Believe me, learning to lace up a corset is no big deal. Let me help, with my popular instructional video on the ins and outs of lacing yourself into a corset.
One thing I will give credit to Kim K for is the idea. Wearing a corset or a compression garment after pregnancy is in some cases very helpful for a distended belly to stitch itself back more firmly to core muscles and skin. I can definitely see where she’s going with this. Just, don’t let all this nonsense surrounding it discourage you from actually waist training if that what you’d like to do.
Finally, it takes longer than a week to see meaningful results. (Duh, Buzzfeed.)
I have a few idiosyncratic interests… Middle Eastern percussion. German dance-theather (or tanztheater). Corsets. But I’ve also been actively courting a particular style of social dance since college: Argentine Tango.
Really, I was a victim of it. I couldn’t help but fall into the trap of the seductive style of kinesthetic communication between (often) strangers. One of the American masters of the art of this movement, well-known in this particular underground, happened to be an alum of my college and graciously taught clumsy undergrads how to communicate with each other in this unusually beautiful way with their bodies — in the form of a PE class, no less. Students were known to become obsessively addicted, and eventually, I fell into the venus fly trap that extended beyond our common areas and into Portland’s greater Argentine tango scene: one of the most extensive and authentically intense in Northern America.
Some lead. Others follow. (It’s not as gender binary as one might initially imagine, and some practice both roles with hunger). There are combative theories on which of the two main roles truly holds the greater control; but as a follow, to have any power at all, it is key to constantly have an engaged core. Core strength will give a follow the ability to maintain proper axis — to have his or her own balance to swivel on their own center (unless intentionally taken off it by the lead for a flourish), walk backwards in stilletos or dance shoes, and otherwise perform all the moves of tango — from basic to fancy — without hanging onto the lead (draining their energy!) The follow must be as quick and responsive to the leader’s guide as a jack rabbit, but as intentional with their movements as cement laying down on the dance floor, as if to be set forever.
That’s where core strength comes into play. The follow is always on one foot or the other, often in high stilletos, rotating about on the ball of their suede leather shoe. The guide of the movement starts in the arms, flows through the chest, down through the core, and the flourish or step ends in the legs and feet. With a flimsy core, there is no dance, there is only mush, stepping around aimlessly.
I have found that when I wear a corset out tango dancing, my dancing form has improved drastically, as a corseted figure mimics one with a tight, engaged core.
Cheating? Maybe. Whatever; all is fair in love and tango.
My boleos are sharp like a viper, able to hold my own on one foot while gently holding an embrace as light as a feather. Colgadas are executed near flawlessly (without terror stricken in my heart). And when the time comes for a dramatic volcada, an off-axis step, I am ready and in delight!
Now, I said my tango form has improved. I’m certainly no master, nor am I as devoted as I once was, or as the majority of the hardcore scenesters one can meet on the dance floor.
At my last milonga, the term for “a dance (event)” in the tango world, some talented leads took pity on me as I had FRESH MEAT written all over me — my first time at this particular venue. I’m not a terrible tango dancer, but I am terribly rusty. My background in dance, as well as the “fake it till you make it” philosophy can be quite convincing however.
One particular lead started in with conversation between songs. In his thick Columbian accent:
My dance calendar is turning out as such: Monday, I go <here>. Tuesday, I like <that club>. This is the best; you should go here. The level is very high. I can tell you dance, not really tango too long, but I can tell you dance a lot other from your legs.
Thanks, brother… He continues:
Wednesday I go Misson. Thursday, rest. Friday is for other things. Saturday is <blah> and Sunday I come here!
Yeah… cool! (Devoted).
What’s your dance calendar?
It wasn’t said then, but later, in the car ride home:
Whenever my persistent friend texts me: “tango tango tango” and I have shit else to do.
I love to tango. But it’s intimidating! I remember days when nobody would ask me to dance all night. I have to get over those memories, as I no longer have weird dreadlocks and have grown into my “dancer legs”.
The corset certainly helps. Make new memories, correct my axis balance, and improve my confidence in those stunnah tango outfits — honey draws the bees, as they say. Overall, for an amalgamation of reasons, I would like to postulate that corsets + tango = a recipe for dance floor success… at least in my experience.
I wasn’t having the best of days. I won’t bore you with the sordid details, but I had received some bad financial news that had me in the dumps.
(Ok, some details for the morbidly curious: Who knew that blood tests for vitamin levels could rack up to 15 hundo? I’ve never had the best of health, but they should put that stuff on a menu… I may have made different decisions had I known the catastrophic effect on my wallet.)
Anyway, I had stopped by Dark Garden on its closed for business day to take some pictures for my side business — EuPASTIES: Euphrates makes pasties! (They’re totally fabulous. You should definitely get some.)
I heard the whirring of a singular sewing machine in the back and my name squeaked as gently as a kitten:
Euphrates? I’m working on something I think you’d like to see…
To my delight and surprise, I discovered that the Dark Garden leather stitcher was hard at work crafting my snake skin printed cow hide corselette!
She commented that the black leather piping was a nice touch. Fuck yeah, it is!
I’ve seen a lot of corsets, and I wanted one that was really …me — well, the part of me that’s really Laura Dern in Wild at Heart. I had this leather ordered specially from the Hide House and I am so pleased! I can’t wait to slither into it.
Think you need a dresser, like the spoiled ladies of the yesteryear, to get in and out of a corset? I hear this sentiment repeated day after day, but let me tell you: it ain’t true!
Some of y’all just have to see it to believe it, so allow me to humble myself in front of a laptop camera for your benefit. Here is a detailed and very dorky tutorial rife with info and style tips on getting in and out of your corset.
It does take practice. I recommend practicing when you have no where to be, and no one waiting for you in the next room. Cozy up to a mirror, put on some music, treat your self to a delicious snack or some bubbly, and spend some time getting to know your corset. Lace in, lace out. Lace in, lace out. After about 10 times succession, you’ll be getting somewhere.
If performing fine motor activity behind your back is confounding you, it can help to put your corset on a pillow on your lap, so that you can practice lacing up facing it directly. If you can visualize what you are doing behind your back, it makes a world of difference, especially if it’s difficult for you to see over your shoulder in a mirror.
0:41 – About my corset, pants, and back panel
1:54 – Putting on the corset: closing the busk, assessing corset placement, finding the finger pulls, and lacing in (and when to stop)
7:53 – Tying off, tucking in
9:17 – Speed lacing
11:04 – Getting out of your corset
12:36 – Why it is important to loosen the laces every time
13:21 – Lacing in with a free standing back panel (modesty panel)
I ran into my good friend Jason, a gifted San Francisco stylist, at the end of my shift at the Dark Garden booth at the Folsom Street Fair, and so we took to the street arm in arm to enjoy the festivities.
A man in a cock ring and not much else struts by. “Those shoes are Balenciaga,” Jason whispers to me. “And that slutty secretary look over there,” pointing to a young girl in a pencil skirt and chrome slave collar: “designer.” I feel like I’m experiencing the directors commentary to the kinky fashion event of the year.
We quip back and forth our praises and criticisms of the fashions of our Dionysian, hedonist, burner, political, and otherwise creatively empowered fellows. I feel free and comfortable in my G-string, thick knee high leather buckle boots, patent leather Dark Garden corset, thigh high stockings, spiked bra and collar. I rock a bun-hawk and the joke was that I was Miley Cyrus for the day (turns out that’s a fetish for some people).
Suddenly, jarringly, I hear a voice from the past ask if I went to <my high school>. To my awkward surprise, I turn to be face to face with one of my worst enemies …a square.
I detest those who show up to a party as if its a spectator sport. But there I was in full leather regalia suddenly faced with the awkward task of making small talk with some dude in khakis I had nothing in common with. What really gets my goat, in addition to the lack of effort, is the shameless admission of tourism: “I came from San Jose just to see the show!” Fuck. This. Noise.
I feel so blessed to live in San Francisco. Historically this city has enjoyed a critical mass of creatively empowered folk who love to party while making the world a better, more understanding place: from human rights activism to artist community communism. Unfortunately, just two days ago I heard the unsettling news that one of my favorite venues lost their lease. It seems that there has been a lot of changes in the SF subculture scene in the last decade, but I’d love to think the changes are evolution, not devolution. However, it seems that SF, with the influx of Googlers and tech-money, is running out of room for creatives; in fact pushing them out to make room. (Wouldn’t want to mar a glossy reputation with a little sin, now would we?)
This begs for a call to arms. Too many amazing spaces for creative expression have been compromised and shoved around in recent years to take it sitting down. There are those in a society who are consumers, and there are those who are movers and shakers: who step up to the plate and innovate experiences and environments for others to enjoy. There are many, many roles to aid this design into fruition, however. Legal, zoning, fire marshall issues, interior design, talent and/or volunteer coordination, contractor labor, fundraising, marketing outreach, branding… In order for these communities to stay alive and thriving, this is a crucial moment to ask: how can I contribute in an impactful and sustainable way?
What does this manifesto have to do with corsetry, some of you might be asking. Well, corsetry is different things to many people. Some are brides, looking for shape wear or a dress bodice. Some are scoliosis patients looking for pain relief. Some are endowed ladies looking for bust support. Some are fashionistas, making a statement through aesthetic and silhouette. But to me and my kind, it’s an expression, sensation, and signifier of leather subculture.
Mainstream fashion incorporated the corset for many centuries, up until the 1920’s, when empowered young women wanted boxy boyish figures and short locks. In presenting this image, they eschewed femininity and presumably likewise, the turn-of-the-century definition of lady-like behavior. Corseting came back into main stream fashion in the 1950’s with Dior’s “New Look”, a fit-and-flare style that featured a tiny waist and an extravagant amount of fabric in the skirt — in celebration of the abundance suddenly allowed at the end of the Second World War.
But subculture folk never stopped wearing corsets. Literally compelled by a force greater than the mind, corsetry means more than fashion and weddings. It’s not a trend, it’s an obsession spanning centuries, and in some cases a signifier of camaraderie.
Though I may seem all Dark Garden, all the time, there are many corsetiers out there whose work I admire and point of view I respect. I hope to expand my corset wardrobe to include all my esteemed fashion-crushes, but for the moment, allow me to pay humble hommage to one of them.
Fran is a one-woman business who makes corsets especially for waist trainers and tight lacers (she uses the terms interchangeably, whereas I find the two to have uniquely specific meanings. A dedicated post on this controversial delicacy will come later). She is highly respected in the corset community, having tastemakers such as Lucy’s Corsetry cheerleading her awesome product. Understanding asymmetry on a personal level, she specializes in anatomical corsets, and in fact seems to eschew ready-to-wear sizing all together: from her corsets to her tank liners!
While putzing about on the blogosphere for corset nerdery, I came across this gem of particularly articulate sincerity in one of her vlogs, the topic of which is how to best communicate in the ordering process. I thought it was well worth a share:
For me, tight lacing is just sort of a part of my life, as it has been for a long time. Nothing really fantastic about it, or fetishistic about it, for me. It’s just part of me. And for tight lacers, that’s really what it is. Even if it does start out as a fascination or a fetish thing, if you do it every day, it becomes something more. Not necessarily just a ritual, but a part of you, like the food you like, and the car you drive, and the clothes you wear. Something that ends up defining you in a lot of ways.
A frequently asked question is how one can increase comfort when driving corsetted. Hilarious to think that the low dipping bucket seats of say your station wagon was not a problem shared by folk from the Victorian days of yore! Car seats have been designed with relaxed posture in mind whereas corsets provide rigid perfection in this department. Whereas one would think the two would be incompatible, there are certain things you can do to minimize discomfort for happy motoring!
Don’t cinch up to maximum preferred tightness! Go easy on yourself if you’re about to hop in the car; you can adjust your lacing when you get to your destination. If you have a red-carpet situation and/or it’s a short ride, you’ll probably survive but if you can help it, it makes a world of difference.
Adjust your seat back to the upright position. Sit as upright as you can so your body doesn’t fight the corset in its mission and purpose for posture. If you slouch into the corset, your ribs will press against the steel bones. In the beginning I would get subtle rib bruising from this. Ouch! Additionally, you could try sitting on a pillow or putting one behind your back if the seat adjustments don’t allow for satisfactory comfort.
If it’s appropriate for your corset size and lifestyle, you could try a corset with spiral steel boning. I previously wrote about the difference between flat and spiral steels, truth being that they are not for everybody. However, if you decide that they might be for you, they could make your commutes more comfy.
Because I’m on the slender side, the aspect of driving that is uncomfortable for me is the bones pressing against my ribs. Something that could help is a style of corset where the boning misses the ribs. Dark Garden has a custom style that does this with pockets and decorative lacing, called the Madame.
Other than that, my best advice is to keep calm and carry on! Don’t forget the A/C!
And please, please don’t motor in the driver’s seat if you are uncomfortable, distracted, or have greatly restricted movement. The effects could disastrous or even deadly. Safety first! Fashion is a close second… but you can always lace in when you arrive.
When one corsets every day, it poses an interesting fashion challenge. In the beginning of my waist training, I often found myself staring at my closet with furrowed brow; stumped. With my rapidly changing shape, I found that a whole lot of my clothes started to fit me like potato sacks with awkwardly low waistlines. With the knowledge that I may get knocked up or for some other reason fluctuate in size some day, I put the items worth keeping in storage and gave the rest away.
It was hard to get rid of those trusted garments. On the other hand, I was hardly disappointed to be getting more shapely! I found that my confidence to wear skin tight clothes sky-rocked and with that, a whole world of fashionable possibilities opened up; I suddenly found that I can wear pretty much anything I want to without nagging insecurity holding me back. This breakthrough was pretty big for me and one of the reasons I am so passionate about helping others discover corsetry as daily wear. However you come to the conclusion, it’s a wonderful feeling to walk in the world and know you are bangin’.
Now I see every day as an fashion challenge: ways to make my daily corset new, fresh, and exciting, appropriate for my context, and fitting with my aesthetic. My color palate tends towards greyscale, reds, and burgundies with high/low fashion goth-punk aesthetics.
Here are some examples of my outfits. Sorry that it’s a bunch of selfies, but selfies or not, I’d love to see yours!
What’s the point here?
People often ask: what can I wear my corset with? I suppose what I’m trying to demonstrate is: fuckin’ anything.
Jeans, stretch jersey, knit, under or over gowns, pencil skirts, gaucho pants, jumpsuits, slacks, t-shirts, tank tops, bikinis … play with it!
There is a lot of misinformation out there on the interwebs about spiral steels, so please allow me to clear the air: while a fantastic option in certain circumstances, they are not objectively better than flat steels.
Spiral steels are named such because they are literally comprised of tiny flattened spirals, as opposed to flat steels: a solid piece of steel. Spiral steels are very flexible, making them an excellent choice for fashionable burlesque dancers, trapeze artists, contortionists, and other performers for whom range of mobility is of upmost importance.
While the flexibility of spiral steels is a boon, the fact that they can’t support the form in the same way flats do is a bust. I have corsets for daily wear made with both and frankly, sometimes I prefer the structure and support of the flat steels. However, the spiral steels are more forgiving on my ribs as I drive on long commutes. There are definitely reasons to have both varieties in your corset wardrobe, but the fact that some corsetiers are purporting that one is infinitely better than the other for all occasions is absurd.
Unless you are a tiny acrobat person, spiral steels may not be for you. Corset size 26″ and up would need extra bones put in if they wanted spiral steels, simply due to the fact that the ultra bendy bones would eventually flare out of shape unless they had some back-up (it’s not you, darling. You are perfect the way you are. It’s the bones).
Another hazard is that the spirals get kinks in them all too easily. Bend over to tie your shoe too quickly? Pick up a lucky penny too excitedly? You’re fucked. Terror strikes in my heart whenever I carefully lean over in my spiral steeled corset for this reason.
I love my spiral steel corset! But it was definitely a considered choice when I had it made for me. So don’t get scooped up in the verbiage some corsetiers will feed you about the all-reaching superiority of spiral steels that they use exclusively in their fashions. Variety and options are better, right?