The one and true way to understand corsets and separate the myths from reality is to wear them. The first time I put on a hand-made corset was some….10 years back? It was made by Latvian embroidery artist Irena Gasha, who at the time was combining 19th century inspired corsetry with her great embroidery skills. I didn’t know much about corsets back then so I wasn’t misled by corset myths, but I was fascinated by them and the way they looked. The first time a corset is laced up on you is unforgettable as you see and feel changes happening to you right in front of your eyes.
This magic moment survived somewhere in me for several years until it woke up, right when I needed to find undergarments for an 1880’s day dress. I was planning to create this historical garment, test my skills and learn more about costume history by doing it myself. I challenged myself even further and decided to learn how to make the most crucial undergarment without which no dress back then would be worn – a corset. All I had in my head was corsets – different shapes, colors and styles of them, different challenges and various revelations along with them.
I started to read all about them, went to museums and explored fashion plates, talked to people and attended lectures, collected books and bookmarked websites – in other words I tried to find all I could about corsets but most importantly – I started to make and wear them. I became a corset geek. While doing so I got fascinated and sometimes even irritated by how much misleading information is out there that has nothing to do with how corsets really are!
Here are some of the popular myths I’ve heard about corsets:
– Corsets will make you lose weight
Well not by just putting it on and lacing it up. A balanced diet and exercise will do that for sure. Because a corset is a close fitted garment with minus ease built in it, it just pushes up and down your soft body parts, away from your waist. In more extreme waist reduction cases – called tightlacing (waist training process also takes time and discipline), it’s the same case, but as soon as you will take the corset off, your body will relax into its previous shape. Corsets are made to alter your proportions and silhouette and accompany healthier eating habits, but losing weight is not the goal. The thing a corset may change is your appetite – you will feel full of food sooner when eating – because the corset doesn’t allow your stomach to expand much when you are consuming food. So in the long run, you will start to eat smaller portions more frequently rather than bigger portions fewer times and that may result in some weight loss, assuming you are wearing your corset often at mealtime.
– An elastic waist trainer, faja (girdle) is also a corset and helps to reduce your waist
This makes me giggle a bit. How is that possible? It’ s elastic. I don’t want to repeat what’s already written and described on this subject, but talking strictly out of my own experience – I bought one so called “corset” in the lingerie store. It’s generally an elastic band, made out of a straight, elastic strip with a few plastic bones in the seams. At first keep in mind our shape – women have hip bones, a waist and then the rib cage and it’s all curvy (some less some more), but nothing on our bodies is straight. Owing to our curves, these elastic straight wraps are particularly uncomfortable when we sit because they don’t curve over our hip bones. They pinch us right in the hips or ribs when we try to bend over or sit down. Secondly, plastic bones warm up and tend to bend, creating a somewhat anti-corset effect. Well-made corsets constructed with a women’s body in mind will never do that, they will keep their shape by embracing the curves and showing them off, not attacking them. Another thing that’s a bother is material – synthetics don’t let our skin breathe and we’ll keep sweating in it (which means salt, which means rubbing, which means skin irritation). Since we lose a lot of water people can say – you see? weight loss, but it’s just the water. One more thing – some women (also Kardashian) may look good in it because of her proportions – women who have wide hips and ample bosoms and who has a naturally slim waist will get a bigger effect in tight, stretchy belt garments than, for example, athletically built women with straight figures. And the last but not least – elastic waist trainers are ugly.
– Corsets are painful to wear
A well-made corset in the correct size and made for your body type is not painful at all, quite the opposite, it can offer a lot of support and relieve pain. In fact wearing corsets can have a lot of benefits If it hurts specifically when putting on a corset something is wrong. It is never normal to hurt. The garment may not fit you right or you are wearing it too tight too soon – try to adjust the laces on your back. It’s all about the fit and the right materials.
– Corsets make you faint
It may, but then – people faint even without wearing corsets. At first, you should lace up your corset up gradually. Here is a good example.
You are the judge of how you feel in it, don’t tighten it too much if you are not ready for it. In the 19th century women liked to lace up tight, because they believed it looked good, so naturally they were trying to gain the smallest waist and some went too far, just like with high heels or push up bras or even liposuction these days. Also, just because there is a corset with a small waist measurement in the museum doesn’t mean its wearer was closing it up all the way – very often women left the gap open at the back of the corset and they were used to wearing corsets since childhood. I rarely lace my corset all the way closed. I can still get a lot of the hourglass effect without putting too much pressure on my body because corsets come with it’s distinctive shape before even putting it on. Listen to yourself and don’t force it.
– You can’t move in corsets
Dress for the occasion! If you are going to swimming lessons, yoga class or pilates, leave your corset at home. I have read that it’s hard to put on your shoes when wearing a corset – it’s just different as your back is straight all the time, but I don’t experience problems with it. (It may depend on a body type vs type of corset or if there any other clothing in your way like a puffy skirt.) When I make and wear my corsets, I make sure it allows me to do what I want.
Historically, corsets were made for various activities, for example corsets for horse riding were cut low under the bust to gain more flexibility but still have enough support for women’s back and breasts. Nowadays, just like in the past, there are a lot of women who engage in various activities that require bending and twisting while wearing the corset – burlesque dancers being just one of them. You can move, it just depends on your own habits and comfort level. The difference between women then and now is back then, the corset was their only “bra”. Nowadays, you have various options of what / when to put on. Here is a great video to watch about corsets and movement.
– Women in the past removed their ribs surgically to fit in small waist corsets
There is no historical evidence that proves it happened. Also that it didn’t happen. No records at all. It’s a real myth. Also touch-up photography may have supported this theory – people liked to improve their photographs after they were taken to look better or appear more impressive by painting jewelry on the picture or reducing waists and other “blemishes” just like we do with Photoshop now. But if sticking with medical history it’s very unlikely that a women would do a surgery, without antibiotics and with a small possibility of survival just to fit in a corset that you can fit in anyway without removing any bones – by waist training. Possibly people created this myth when they saw really small waists appearing and could not explain it otherwise.
– Your back muscles atrophy when wearing corsets
This can happen if you are wearing corsets regularly and not training your muscles. You can wear corsets as much as you want but remember to exercise your body regularly too, no matter what you wear. Muscles are made to be put to work. Use them!
– Women are wearing corsets to impress men
It largely depends on who is wearing the corset. Some may because corsets definitely won’t leave you unnoticed. But there are also men wearing corsets. Some feminists are wearing corsets. Burlesque dancers, goth, steampunk, reanactors are wearing corsets etc. There are bdsm, haute couture garments with corsets, or perhaps you’re just the girl-next-door who simply likes corsets and proudly wears a cherry print corset. No matter who you are it all comes down to – do you dress to impress or do you wear what you feel like? Corsets can be both. People are attracted not to the garments but to self-confidence, and if corsets help you feel good and you like what you see in the mirror then why not? Corsets definitely create a body posture of confidence, but that’s in my next article…The corset serves its wearer not the other way around.
– Corsets are the thing of a past
They do have a long, long history, but they have never been extinct. Corsets have changed their shapes and purposes over time, but have never been not needed or not wanted. Corsets have maybe left mainstream fashion but always reappear on catwalks and in subgroups of people. Corsets are always around us even if you don’t see them every day. It’s never going to be a popular garment but rather a garment of luxury and desire. Anyway…if you are reading this, you are probably not interested in the mainstream to begin with : )
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KORSETE: MĪTI UN REALITĀTE
Vienīgais veids, kā patiesi izprast korsešu būtību un atšķirt mītus no patiesības, ir valkāt tās. Pirmā reize, kad uzvilku rokām darinātu korseti bija pirms aptuveni 10 gadiem. To bija veidojusi latviešu tērpu māksliniece Irēna Gaša, kura prata veiksmīgi apvienot 19.gadsimta iedvesmotu korsešu radīšanu ar savām izcilajām izšūšanas prasmēm. Tobrīd vēl neko daudz par korsetēm nezināju, tāpēc nezināju arī mītus par tām, bet jau tad mani fascinēja, kā tās izskatās. Tas ir neaizmirstami – redzēt un sajust izmaiņas, kas notiek acumirklī, kad uz muguras pirmo reizi mūžā tiek savilktas korsetes aukliņas.
Šī maģiskā mirkļa sajūtas mierīgi glabājās kaut kur dziļi manī vairākus gadus līdz atkal atgādināja par sevi – brīdī, kad man vajadzēja veidot apakšveļu kādai 1880.gada tērpa reprodukcijai. Es gribēju pārbaudīt savas prasmes un iemācīties vairāk par apģērbu vēsturi, mēģinot pati uzšūt šo vēsturisko tērpu. Es metu sev vēl lielāku izaicinājumu, kad nolēmu iemācīties izstrādāt galveno no apakšveļas elementiem, bez kura tolaik netika valkāts neviens tērps – korseti. Visas manas domas uz kādu laiku tika veltītas tikai korsetēm – to formām, krāsām un stiliem. Līdz ar katru grūtību, ar ko saskāros, iepazīstot korsetes, guvu arvien jaunas atklāsmes.
Zīda korsete. 1904- 1905. Metropolitēna mākslas muzejs, Kostīmu institūta kolekcija.