Tuesday, 4 January 2011

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.  

this one is made with silver rubber!

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 corsetheads,  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!  

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.
image from here

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.  

Yes, a corset can and will squash your insides - if you lace it too tight!  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,  and to make the wearer feel good.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Corsets these days are worn by many different people for many different reasons.  I do not 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.

Interestingly, Gertie has been talking about corsetry recently and today has struck upon something which I have been thinking for a while myself - and which has inspired this very post.  Gertie quoted from the latest V&A book (which I have reviewed here, and here) a quote from Ereli Lynn, the writer:

"It is only since the 1960s that women have been expected to embody the fashionable ideal by way of diet and exercise and without the aid of foundation garments."

Read here what Gertie has to say on this - she writes about it very eloquently.

The reason I've been thinking about corsets as foundations (as opposed to outer party wear) is that it's my 42nd birthday next week and up until this year, during which I seem to have expanded considerably from a small size 8 to a large size 10 (possibly 12 if i'm brutally honest), my body image has never been a problem for me ... However, middle age spread does seem to be taking it's toll in that I don't eat anything different, and yet the effects of food upon my body are very different!  

Right now, we are possibly talking the difference between Kylie Minogue and Christina Hendricks, although I dont mind my new shape, what I don't like is the lack of control I seem to have over it!  

Excess weight has never been a problem for me and being a firm believer in the Joan Collins philosophy that exercise is bad for you (unless picking up diamonds from the floor),  if I am to take matters into hand, then foundations are the way to go.  To the gym I say No No NO!  

See what I mean? this year and last

And so I have been playing with ideas and fabrics and developing a corset pattern for myself, which I can wear underneath my everyday clothes.  This is the first toile .. more details next time!

For more corsetry material, follow these exciting links:

corset eye-candy, disccusions, and construction techniques

Subscription site with all sorts of 'insider' info but also some free articles

Pics and information on different corset shapes through the ages

Supplies, tutorials and other interesting info!

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