Straight-jackets and Corsets – I've Worn Both & Lived To Tell The Tale

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Is Corset Wearing For You?

imageplaceholder Jill Case
Online Editor, Sew Daily


Words are like untying a corset – you can move into this great space with them. – Ali Smith

n my early days I worked in theater costume shops around the country.  Many of us in the shop would inevitably try some of the more unusual items on, for fitting purposes of course. Whenever a period play would come in the line up we would try on the corsets and the hoop skirts. I have to say, if you ever get a chance the corsets are worth trying on at the least.  A co-worker laced me up in one and it's amazing how it helps your posture and well, I just liked how everything felt supported and snug. You cannot slouch in a corset.

I can't remember the show, but there was an official, real straight-jacket too. Of course I tried that on! I'm rather limber by nature so it wasn't too uncomfortable at least for the short period I was in it. I tried, Houdini like to get out of it and I couldn't, I'm not that limber. But, wearing it felt a little like giving myself a hug. Weird, but not so weird. If you're crazy, giving yourself a hug might just be thing you need. Alright, then.

Fortunately, wearing straight-jackets as an everyday item has not caught on. But corsets are in the spotlight. There is always a bump in corset wearing around Halloween of course. I know there are plenty of people who are really into achieving the 22 inch waist or waist training nonsense etc.. but for moderate, every day wearing purposes the corset to me is still quite intriguing.

The corset itself has been around for hundreds of years with its popularity at its highest in the Elizabethan and Victorian period. If you've been watching Downton Abbey you remember how the corset fell out of favor during World War I, especially with the younger set. After the war the girdle replaces the corset for women's preferred undergarment.

In modern times the corset has had a bit of revival thanks in part to Madonna, the popularity of Betty Page, and fashion designers bringing it out of the closet and into the light of day. Still most women today don't wear a corset, or girdle on a daily basis.  But, raise your hand if you wear Spanx. Spanx is our modern day corset, it is made of combination of nylon, Lycra, cotton and latex. I've tried on Spanx and darn near thought I was going to die of Spanx compression. How on earth do they do it!? I find that a corset is hands down much more comfortable, perhaps not to wear all day long but oddly more comfortable than modern day Spanx even for a nano second.

With the revival in corset wearing there are many who tackle the art of sewing corsets for themselves. I know a few people who sew custom made corsets for clients. They can be very elaborate or simple, but are always elegant and beautiful.

Myself? I haven't sewn a corset of my own. For now I like to look but maybe some day.

How about you? Would you make a corset for yourself? Have you ever tried one on? What's the most unconventional item you've tried on? Let me know on the blog!

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About Jill

I am the Online Editor for Sew Daily and I am so incredibly excited to meet everyone here on this amazing sewing community!

My first passion is garment sewing, I love vintage sewing patterns and working with knits and silks. I also get very jazzed about sewing pants and love learning couture techniques. What about you? I can't wait to get started finding out more about you and what you like to sew.

5 thoughts on “Straight-jackets and Corsets – I've Worn Both & Lived To Tell The Tale

  1. I’m also a former theatrical costumer. (And I still do it on a volunteer basis for a local summer youth theater.) I have stories about the diva who ‘couldn’t breathe’ in a corset, no matter how well fitted and left loose, and consequently destroyed every bit of period shaping in what should have been an utterly gorgeous late-Victorian gown…

    But I also spent a lot of time as a performer at the Renaissance Faire, and also as a costumed staff member at a Victorian historic-home museum. So I’ve worn a lot of corsets. And I’m here to tell you that – as long as you don’t go overboard with the tight-lacing – the only thing you can’t do in a corset is bend at the waist. I, personally, have spent long days, run, danced, sung, acted (with no microphones or amplification), laughed and _breathed_ in corsets. (The diva – who naturally regarded herself as just _so_ much above a humble costumer – refused to believe me, though.) It takes about half an hour – going either way – for modern or period underpinnings to feel ‘right’, and after that you’re good to go.

    Elizabeth Swann fainting because she’s wearing a new corset in _Pirates of the Caribbean_ is hogwash; although it’s hard to tell exactly when those movies are supposed to be, given her clothes, she’d have been wearing corsets since she was a child. All the scare stories the anti-corset ‘reformers’ told about women having ribs removed (etc.) are even more hogwash. Remember most corset-wearing occurred before both anesthesia and asepsis; do you really think anyone would subject themselves to that kind of pain and the possibility of death from post-surgery infection just for a narrower waist? That would be taking ‘suffering to be beautiful’ a little far, don’t you think? And an ’18-inch waist’ refers to the size of the corset itself (‘waist’ was another word for corset), which would have been worn with a 3 – 5 inch opening at the lacing; if you’re only 4-foot-something, which lots of Victorian ladies were, a 21 – 23 inch actual waist measurement isn’t all that unlikely. In fact, there are known tailors’ measurement records which show that women in Victorian times had measurements very much as one would expect given their heights and normal variation, corset or no corset.

    I just recently found my old Elizabethan corset and – since I’ve lost about 90 lbs over the last 3 years – it not only still fits, it’s a little too big. Fortunately, given the shape of Elizabethan clothes, I can take some tucks in it, and I think I may be an Elizabethan for Halloween (the costumer’s favorite holiday)!

  2. I recommend a site/newsletter by Harman Hay publications that is specifically about historical foundation garments, Foundations Revealed. They publish a couple of other very intriguing publications for costume designers. Not all are free, but you can get a teaser taste in the newsletters of the content, which is well-researched and usually written by highly accomplished or professional costumers. This week’s Foundations Revealed contained a very useful guide to achieving certain finishes. These sites are a combination of costume design and construction and sometimes advanced and rarely used sewing techniques.

  3. Thanks Citlalnahuac and ninascribe! It’s so great to hear from people who know what they are talking about. And, I would love to wear something elaborate like an historical costume for Halloween, it’s on my bucket list!

    Thanks for the newsletter info too. I’ll have to check it out. I love those old techniques and little know facts, whether I use them or not.

  4. I started wearing a corset on a daily basis a while back to help my stomach muscles stay “in”, as having 4 kids (& that many c-sections) has left my body “fluffy”. I didn’t wear mine tight to where it was hard to breathe or uncomfortable, but had the back tied just tight enough that i could put it on & do the “hooks” in front myself. I had actually started to lose enough weight to where i had to readjust the back ribbon to where the top & bottom pieces of fabric touched. all i had to do was get my mid-section to skinny up & then i would have been able to have the entire back touching & moved down a size. Unfortunately the foreign made corset wasn’t sewn well & many of the seams blew out (no gentle ripping), I need to repair it, but haven’t got to it. I wanted to make one out of denim material as i felt i could make it cheaper than the 45-70 some bucks i’ve seen them advertised. But wanted to make a “longer” one. One that would go up to my bra line area as well as down over my hips area. I tried to go by one at a local lingerie store, but couldn’t think of the correct terminology for it, but the sales clerk has no idea that there were long torso corset’s & kept trying to sell me a bustier, so i gave up & decided to make one instead. Still working on that part LOL I wish it didn’t cost (especially so much) to take the class on sewing up one. I’d love to see how its done.
    There are times when i think i would be put in to a straight jacket, but i think i’ll just skip that & wear a corset daily instead. Mine was comfortable since I didn’t have it on tight enough to restrict my breathing. I just need one that’s meant for daily wearing, mine i think was more for occasional wear instead :o)

  5. I don’t know if my previous post went through or not, so i’m trying again. I have worn a corset on a daily basis & it had the ‘hooks’ in front & lace in the back to tighten. I had it set up to where i didn’t have to have help tightening it up daily, just hook it on the front on my own. It was quite comfortable to where, not all that sturdy to wear daily though. I read an article by a young woman who wore one based on the Victorian (I believe) era, it helped her to lose weight & she wore it constantly & even the era of clothing daily (as did her husband) she also wore her’s at night. I tried to wear mine during the night once. I just wasn’t that dedicated to mine & found it not all that comfy to try & sleep in LOL (Kudos for those who can) as for the “shaping” of our waist’s, i have seen (read articles & watched videos) of women who have done that & were wanting that tinny tiny waist line like they advertise in those eras or show on tv. It wasn’t about removing rib cages, but it was about “reshaping” the rib cages & our internal organs to have a much narrow space to function in. I’m assuming that these women probably wore their corsets rather on the tight side to restrict their ability to expand their ribs & to “squish” their organs into a more narrow space. Which meant that they had to wear tight corsets on a constant & regular basis & wearing smaller sizes once running out of room.
    while i liked wearing my corset, I don’t think i’ll ever worry about a smaller waist than what i was meant to have. But i would wear one on a regular/daily basis if i can make or find one that is meant for daily use & one where i won’t need assistance to do it up in the back daily.