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.
Sweeping the floor, doing the dishes, feeding the cat, and conditioning the leather; housekeeping tasks are dependent, of course, on the household!
I was in the midst of my evening household maintenance (and a glass of Malbec) when it occurred to me that I might share how it’s done.
Because one can really love leather. It’s the best stuff on earth. One wants to instinctively touch it, wear it, lick it… Ok, even if you don’t want to lick it, you must admit: it’s very compelling! It’s fashion forward, and yet, primal.
But how do you care for it? It’s not totally obvious. You can’t wash it: no, no, no. Heaven forbid you go out in the rain, like I did, and expose your second skin to the elements.
Well, there are things you can do to protect your garments, shoes, and CORSETS in the long run from wear: a little tender, loving, conditioning will do the trick.
Products used are Lexol Leather Conditioner and Lexol Ph Leather Cleaner, available at many shoe repair locations, or places that sell fine leather.
Although, I forgot to mention in the video that if you are using an unfamiliar brand of conditioner, especially on a light-colored leather, it’s best to test a hidden area (such as the back panel/modesty panel) before treating the whole corset, just in case!
And… do try to stay out of the rain.
0:00 – 0:40 Intro
0:41 – 1:44 BE PREPARED – on Boy Scouts and Materials Needed
1:45 – 2:14 About My Custom Leather Corset
2:15 – 3:04 Applying the Conditioner
3:05 – 3:42 Why it’s Good to Condition
3:43 – 4:38 Getting Soaked and Buffing Off
4:39 – 5:36 Seeing the Results of Conditioning and Final Thoughts
1. Don’t be competitive — with yourself or with others. Nobody likes a self righteous jerk, especially when it comes to body issues, and if you make yourself your worst enemy, then who will be left? Don’t focus too much on always besting previous measurements or you’ll drive yourself insane with angst. Remember that the body has natural cycles!
2. Take it easy — slow and steady integration of the corset into your lifestyle will make it more likely to be a long term fixture, as opposed to a temporary obsession. Easing into tight lacing slowly will be much better for the lifeline of the garment as well.
In the beginning of your training, wear the corset for a couple hours, not very tight, and increase gradually from there. Think to yourself: I have all the time in the world. The body accepts change much more gracefully when it’s relaxed, so stressing overlacing in the beginning will only do more harm than good — to both your body and the garment.
3. Take it off — I understand that there are people out there who love their corsets so much, they never want to part with them, even to sleep, but there are at least two daily occasions in which you absolutely must remove your corset: to shower, and to exercise. Yes, if one wears a corset everyday, think about it: it creates a midsection encased and supported in steel. Conditioning the core muscle group is necessary, lest it begin to atrophy over time. Though her extreme figure is lovely, I wouldn’t want to wind up as frail as this young lady, would you?
4. Be patient. Everybody’s different, and every body is different. Progress of reshaping the body with waist training is highly dependent on: core density of the individual, distance between the top of the pelvic bone and the rib cage, flexibility of the cartilage, quality and shape of the garments used, and consistency of wear. However, one might expect to train for six months before noticing any difference without a corset, in many cases more. Be patient with yourself and realize that non-surgical body modifications are a serious time commitment. Ask yourself: am I in it for the long-haul?
5. Prepare for attention. Whether you wear it loud and proud or layer it under clothes in a manner you think is stealth, it’s likely that at some point, you will be approached and point blank confronted about your corset. Sometimes friendly, sometimes sleazy, sometimes envious, and sometimes indignant — I’m sure I have not yet heard it all. My advice is to put your best foot forward and show ’em what a real lady is like. To me, that is curt, polite, and no nonsense.
A question to prepare for is: “Why do you wear a corset?” Whether you choose to answer the inquirer is your choice, but it’s an answer to a commonly asked question worth articulating in your mind, anyway.
6. Be discerning. The corset creates proportions and curves which awaken certain… instinctual desires in some. If you work in a professional environment, be careful to protect yourself against untoward advances, and be sure to make it clear when they are unwanted. Refresh yourself on harassment policies and collect evidence when you can. Harassment is terrible to bear, but difficult to prove.
7. Vodka water. A great way to freshen up your garments without investing the time and money in dry cleaning is to give them a quick mist with vodka-water (50/50) in a spray bottle! I wouldn’t recommend wetting silk, but cotton, or cotton-poly lining responds wonderfully to this treatment. Great for ridding of body odor, deodorant stains, or sweatiness. Make sure to let air dry completely (hang over a chair or a shower curtain rod, for example) before wearing or storing.
If your corset is leather, Lexol is a good brand of leather conditioner.
8. Invest in quality garments. As I mentioned earlier, one’s progress is in part determined by the quality, fit, and curvature of the corset applied. Corsets shaped like flared tubes: ) ( will only make one look tubular and not closer to attaining the coveted hourglass figure. Search for a well constructed under bust garment that fits well –in that it applies pressure evenly over the entirety of the torso, as opposed to rubbing or flaring at the ribs or the hips — that nips in at the waist. The goal of waist training is waist reduction, after all.
9. Develop a corset wardrobe. As Sparklewren put it on an Etsy listing: all regular-wear items sustain wear-and-tear eventually. In the Victorian era, if a corset lasted a year this was considered a wonderful selling point. Treat your corset well, and understand that as an item of use it will not remain pristine forever.
True fact. While we wish for our lovely investments to last forever, the simple fact is that a garment is simply a mere network of fibers, and under constant stress, can’t. However, we can extend the lifeline of our corsets by giving those networks of fibers and seams a break by alternating wear.
If you sleep in your corset, its a good practice to have a sleeper corset in a larger, broken in size (your first corset, perhaps). If you are primarily a day-wearer, having a variety of sizes, styles, and waist curves is a great way to extend the life of your garments and always have something you want to wear.
A corset wardrobe is something you can build over time. You don’t have to collect them all at once — though it’s difficult for some of us to restrain ourselves…
10. Enjoy the ride. Corset training truly is about the love of the journey. Remember above all else to listen to your body, have fun, and be good to yourself!
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.
The first that I saw of her yesterday was a tuft of green hair and a flash of metal from crowed rows of ear piercings. Her head was bent forward over her silver tipped canes in effort; it was hard for her to walk and she seemed to be in pain. “Hey, Bob!” I greeted her. “How are you doing today?” The face that normally held a beaming smile lifted towards me and my guts dropped a few inches at the grimace that had replaced it. Yes, Bob was in pain. She shared a sentiment similar to life being shit wall-to-wall and quickly found herself a seat. “And how is the baby?”
This inquiry made her light up like a Christmas tree in Germany. “I may be falling apart, no matter about that, the baby’s brilliant!” For a little while as she talked about her son, soon to be seven, and the little one on the way, the familiar Bobbish joie de vivre returned. Listening to her speak in a roller coaster of a British accent that has the uncanny affect of amplifying emotions, both chipper and morose, one might have been able to forget for a moment that she was in excruciating pain.
You see, Bob wears a high-back posture corset daily for chiropractic support. She said, “It’s like armor, it’s my exoskeleton. My bones and ligaments are not strong enough to hold me up. But my corset is.” But with her rapidly changing body shape, she could no longer wear her regular corset. With its flat front and curved in sides, it became increasingly uncomfortable and she had to cut her losses.
But Bob’s no fool. As soon as she knew she was pregnant, she went to Autumn Adamme, proprietress of Dark Garden, and asked her to make something she’s never made before. An expanding, adaptable, maternity corset. It had to be done, with the severity of a good client and friend’s wellbeing at stake, and it had to be done fast. Custom work is usually done in 3-5 months, but Autumn obviously didn’t have that kind of time. I remember seeing her after that initial meeting and thinking to myself: due process to the wind, this shit just got real.
Their collaborative invention is unbelievably cool. It features a zip front to contour over the belly, separate busk closure for easy breast feeding, detachable underbelly support belt, and adjustable lacing at the center back and both sides — making the front belly panel completely replaceable by a rounder one further along, or a flatter one after birth. Oh, and Bob had it made in a shiny black leather, because she’s the best.
Once we put it on her, she changed completely. She was able to stand up straight, but more noticeably, she smiled. She could walk and stand and chat and shop and, whatever, live again and she seemed really freaking tickled. Anything we can do to make this clearly awesome death metal mama rock on a little harder? Yes. Who wouldn’t sign on to this uniquely fascinating challenge?