What is it about corsetry that is so addictive? Why do corsets inspire such longing, such lustful desire?
I’ve been trying to explain this to myself (and to various mystified and/or fascinated friends and family) since I stumbled across the website for What Katie Did several years ago and successfully plotted to get hold of a black silk Morticia underbust corset. But the question nags at me even more now that I’ve decided to make corsets my living.
Why are they so darn fabulous?!
The first thing I think of when I hear the word ‘corset’ is sex. I think of hands running over rounded hips, tangling in those pesky laces. Suspender clips and stockings, firm corset and soft flesh.
My next association is glamour, the dazzle of gems (real or paste), the slitheriness of certain fabrics, the fizz of cocktails and the pop of flash lights. I am an ex-photographer and can’t help seeing life in terms of what the picture would look like, and my association of glamour with the 20s and 30s is the ultimate vision of glamour and decadence. Jay Gatsby eat your heart out.
Linked to glamour, I think of my mistress, burlesque. I may have other jobs to keep the wolf from the door but burlesque is where I go for variety and escape, and in my mind corsets and burlesque go together like contact adhesive and a slight feeling of dizziness. Which is odd, because very few of my burlesque acts actually include corsets.
These associations are very much linked to the way corsets look. They are how corsets feed my eyes. But there are all sorts of other appetites…
The experience of wearing a corset is of course different to the experience of looking at one, and again there are several layers of sensation. When I put on a corset I feel like a cross between a priest and a firefighter: absolutely divine and ready to deal with any situation, from weddings to wakes, to backstage emergencies.
I also feel like I’m loving myself more when I lace up, as the pressure of the corset gives a kind of all-over hug. The constriction of a corset is also a bit… kinky… which in its pleasing transgressiveness adds an illicit thrill.
The corset ‘hug’ also has a physiologically calming effect on many people – the constant pressure can be a deeply reassuring sensation. I first heard about this more therapeutic application of pressure on the body from my partner, who met a father who used an inflatable chest harness for his autistic son. The ‘deep pressure’ characteristic of corsets is discussed extensively here in an excellent article by Lucy of Lucy’s Corsetry.
Theoretically, one might liken the wearing of a corset to the setting of boundaries, which is supposed to be good for one. Aren’t people always saying ‘children need boundaries’? I know v little about kids, but I know the value of setting limits for myself. In the vastness of the world I feel more sure of myself if I draw a few lines in the sand – metaphorical or otherwise.
A corset alters your posture, holding you up straight, encasing your torso in tough fabric and steel ribs, so it can also feel like wearing armor. I like to think of myself as a Valkyrie, ready to wade into the battlefield and bear the worthy off to an afterlife of feasting. Although depending on the corset one’s feasting abilities might be rather limited… But maybe one sublimates in Valhalla, so it wouldn’t matter?
I know that corset maker Arwen makes corsets for corporate women, who wear them for important meetings – doing daily battle with the glass ceiling?
Sexy, sensual, transgressive. Powerful. Securing. Containing. And beautiful.
A corset can be a work of art – a living sculpture and a textural feast that can last for generations.
A well made corset stands in contrast to all the trappings disposable culture, with a history and a future and the workmanship to travel through time. It is the ultimate amulet of glamour, to protect us from the humdrum of our everyday lives…
… And after all that I still don’t know what it is that fascinates me so. Time to stop thinking and embrace the mystery, as it embraces me.