Posted by: Jasmyn Barkley | November 25, 2021

Wearing Corsets Today

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by one of my friends to purchase several corsets. These garments have been used since the Victorian era for both physical support and fashion; and as I like mine enough to wear one on an almost daily basis, I have been thinking quite a lot about the impacts and consequences of the visual effects of these garments.

On the one hand, corsets worn on top of other clothing seem to me very similar to waistcoats: a garment adding color and texture to an outfit, smoothing the shirt underneath, and mostly serving as an aesthetic accent piece. The main differences are that corsets are built for traditionally female bodies, contain steel bones and lacing to provide support, and don’t always (or even usually) have sleeves. But despite their aesthetic similarities, a quick Google Image search will show you a vast cultural gap between how these garments are worn and perceived. This is the first images result I get for “waistcoat:”

Moleskin Waistcoat – Hunt and Holditch

And this is the first result for “corset:”

Brandy Black PVC Corset | Cupless Steel Boned Corset ...

Further images form a clear trend: waistcoats are allowed to exist on their own, as simply a piece of clothing (there are several images of just the coat over a shirt, or a man just standing and wearing one). Meanwhile, corsets are almost always sexualized. The women wearing them are posing, hips cocked, hands on their chests, waists, or thighs, tight-fitting pants or lingerie underneath. Frequently, the photos are just of the woman’s torso–not the corset on its own, as the waistcoats are, but a woman wearing a corset whose face is not in the frame. This does happen with the waistcoats too, but not nearly as often.

What this tells me is that corsets are, in the modern era, a highly sexualized garment. Possibly because of their associations with shaping a woman to make her “more attractive,” corsets are worn and perceived mainly as lingerie, or at least a choice meant to convey sexuality.

As a nonbinary, asexual person, this has been troubling me. I do not want to be sexualized. I have no need or desire to make my body appear more traditionally feminine. And yet, I wear these garments–again, on an almost daily basis. Why? I’ve been asking myself, and it seems to boil down to two things: one, I think they’re pretty, especially used as accent pieces in my outfits; and two, I like the feeling of support and control that wearing a corset gives me.

So the question arises: can I wear a sexualized and extremely gendered garment without sexualizing and gendering myself? Well, from an outside perspective, I simply can’t know. None of us can know how we are perceived by others, how our images might be translated into ideas of character or purpose, or used for others’ pleasure. Presentation is a struggle for everyone who wants to be perceived a certain way, or doesn’t want to be perceived a certain other way. I think this is a question that has many answers, but mine is that since I am wearing these clothes for myself anyway, I will not change my habits because of someone else’s potential ideas about it. And if anyone tries to sling harmful words at me, well, hopefully they’ll just hit the steel bones around my ribs and bounce right off.

Image credit:
“Moleskin Waistcoat,” Hunt & Holditch; http://huntandholditch.co.uk/product/moleskin-waistcoat-2/
“Brandy Black PVC Corset,” Glamorous Corset; https://glamorouscorset.com/shop-all/material/pvc/brandy-pvc-black/
Both images found on Ecosia Images search.


Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing, Jasmyn! This is a really interesting blog post and you ask great questions in it.

  2. This is great, Jasmyn! I agree with how corsets are sexualized. The men’s waistcoat has a nice fit, but it would probably be described as “smart.” The first words that someone would say about the corset would be that it is “sexy.” Corsets come in such a variety of patterns and colors, that they are also an accessory to pull an outfit together, We need to step back and look at it from another point of view.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, especially the connection between the vest-like “waistcoast” in the first photo and then the “corset” in the second photo. I had never seen a connection between them before.
    Corsets are a piece of clothing I’ve long associated with obtaining female ideals of “beauty” via pain, tightening the corset around the waist in order to make it smaller, and the “breast-lifting” quality to create visible cleavage.
    However, I also know people who are fans of the Victorian era and wear corsets for fun, and appreciate their aesthetic beauty, and wear them in a way that doesn’t result in physical pain. It’s an interesting topic, the idea of taking something that was once used to literally constrict women, and is now an item of clothing I also associate with confidence in one’s sexuality.


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