We all know corsets are just historical, outdated symbols of female subjugation and unhealthy beauty standards, right? Actually, no.
Hi, I’m Katherine, I am a historical corset maker, and actually have spent 2-3 years of my life wearing historical corsets daily under my modern wardrobe, even including wearing a comfortable maternity corset during my fourth pregnancy.
In this blog post, we will cover five little known “benefits” of corsets and corset wearing, and in the honour of a well-rounded conversation, finish up with one corset-wearing caution to keep in mind, especially for postpartum mamas like myself.
Side note: nothing in this video is medical advice, obviously, just my thoughts, experiences, and opinions as a voluntary corset wearer of a period of years.
Before we begin, I’d like to give a caveat that these potential “corset wearing benefits” can only apply if, a) one freely chooses to wear a corset, and this choice is made in the absence of any societal or personal pressure to do so. b) one is wearing a well fitting, preferably custom fit corset that is not laced too tightly. For all inclusive, beginner friendly teaching on how to make your own well fitting corset, see my online course, Victorian Custom Corset Making. (I'm offering 30% off with code 30OFF until the end of November 5th!) The final caveat, c) is that one does not have any medical conditions that contraindicate the wearing of a corset. If you are unsure about this, do your research and consult with a trusted medical professional. So let’s jump into it!
Okay, so what are the benefits of corset wearing? Let’s talk about this. But wait, there is an elephant in the room, I see it, trying to hide right over there! Just kidding. But seriously, the elephant in the room is this modern cultural narrative we have about the past, that corsets were nigh unto objects of torture, that women frequently fainted and couldn’t breathe in their corsets, that they frequently used them to tight lace, and even had ribs surgically removed to fit into their fashionably tiny corsets. This is largely informed by *modern* media, mainly historical movies and shows that have been made in the modern period, and therefore, by people unfamiliar with the real historical practice of corset-wearing. I am not going to hash all of this out here, and besides, it has been covered in great detail by other bloggers already, and I will link some helpful videos dispelling these corset myths below.
Corset-Wearing Benefit #1 - Mental and Emotional Health
Let’s be real here. I, like many other people today, have had struggles with my mental and emotional health, and fairly early on in life at that. One of the things that most intrigued me about the modern practice of corset wearing were those who claimed it helped with their mental and emotional health. That it gave them a sense of calm and stability, neutralized feelings of stage fright when speaking in front of crowds, and were a generally grounding influence. There are many theories as to why this may be, but the main one circulating is that corsets are a source of deep pressure therapy, much like a constant hug from a trusted loved one. I agree.
Something I have also heard regarding postpartum belly binding, which is essentially a form of primitive corsetry, is that it can help to allay postpartum baby blues and be a stabilizing influence during that special period of time. One final point along these lines that I have noticed personally is that for me, wearing a well-fitting corset increases my ability to be productive throughout the day, without the constant slumps of energy and motivation that can commonly occur to me as a busy mom of five. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for resting when we need to, and against toxic productivity, but I can’t help but think that perhaps my corsets give me an extra boost of energy from the fact that they are supporting my core and posture. Which leads right into my next point.
Corset-Wearing Benefit #2 - Improved Posture
For most of my life, up until beginning to wear corsets, I was a major sloucher, and as much as people around me would remind me not to slouch, and I would remind myself, I was still a sloucher. Wearing corsets has completely cured me of slouching. Even now that I have not been wearing corsets daily for at least a year and half, my slouching is still a thing of the past. Corsets physically support you into a straighter, more confident posture, which can create a “fake it till you make it effect” of transforming your posture and your ability to feel safe in the world even while standing fully upright. I’m sure you don’t need to be told that a more confident posture seriously effects the way we feel about ourselves, and the way others perceive us.
Corset-Wearing Benefit #3 - Physical Pain
Corsets *may* help to alleviate physical pain - whether muscular or skeletal. There are many anecdotal stories of this, and Lucy of Lucy’s Corsetry has actually assembled a book called “Solaced” full of people’s positive experiences around wearing corsets, and this often relates to their relieving of physical pain. In my own experience, I wore a pair of very comfortable, adjustable, custom-made maternity stays which are an 18th century pregnancy corset, in my fourth pregnancy. During both my second and third pregnancy I had very serious, almost debilitating pelvic and hip pain. During my fourth pregnancy, the one with the maternity stays, this pain was a thing of the past. Many people use corsets to alleviate back pain, neck pain, and even headaches, especially if these headaches have to do with the weight of a large bust that is not being properly supported from a modern bra.
Corset-Wearing Benefit #4 - Body Positivity
Abby Cox, a wonderful creator on YouTube, made a video in the past year all about this very controversial concept that corsets actually contribute to “body positivity”, or at least to “body neutrality” What is body neutrality? Appreciating our body for what it is and what it does and refusing to stand in judgement of the way it physically appears. She articulated wonderfully well, thoughts that I myself had also shared about the daily wearing of corsets and an improved sense of self esteem as a result - due to the corsets creating a distinction between “the public body” and “the private body”. Obviously, check out her video for more information.
I realize that this concept stands in stark contrast to the mainstream modern view of corsets as being fashion objects designed to train your body into being a tiny shape that it is not. But just realize that this is not an accurate view of how real historical women used corsets - most women weren’t tight lacing whatsoever! And for me, it is very true that corsets contribute to body positivity, and here’s why. In the modern world where we do not wear corsets, there is still a “fashionable silhouette” or body shape that everyone is trying to attain. The only difference is that now the only tools we have to achieve this fashionable shape are, at best, dieting and exercise, and at most extreme, eating disorders, and surgically altering our bodies.
I was reminded of this recently when reading a thread of comments of women all speaking about their choice to undergo a surgical breast reduction, and how much happier, more confident, and even healthier they now feel as a result. While I have no comment to make on these women’s choices, and I am happy for anyone who long-term feels that their lives are improved as a result of whatever choices they have made, I wonder something. I wonder how many of these women would still have chosen surgery if they’d had another less invasive option, such as a well-fitting, comfortable corset, to give them the appearance and bust support they wanted but clearly weren’t getting from their modern undergarments. Which leads perfectly into my next point.
Corset-Wearing Benefit #5 - Improved Bust Support
As much as I fully believe that a well-fitting and supportive bra is entirely possible, especially through custom making, see my previous bra-making video, I also realize something. From my own experiences of wearing both bras and corsets on a daily basis, I have found that for a larger-busted woman, corsets offer more effective, often more comfortable bust support than a bra. Now don’t get me wrong - I am currently wearing bras (as opposed to corsets) on a daily basis, and I fully realize the benefits of bras over corsets for daily wear, such as increased ease of getting on, and possibly greater ease for a modern lifestyle. However, any experienced bra fitting person will tell you that most of the support of a bra comes from the band rather than the straps. So it stands to reason that a corset, which is supporting from the width of your entire abdomen rather than a one or two inch thick band, is going to have much better support than a bra. So I would definitely say that if you are someone on the extreme end of the breast size spectrum, and who is considering breast reduction surgery for example, corsets could be something to try before you take the final step of surgery. Likewise, if you are just someone who is unhappy with how bras fit and support you, and you aren’t afraid of trying something a little outside the box, then corsets may very well be for you.
Okay, so finally, the last thing I’d like to touch on is that for postpartum mamas, or anyone with a weakened pelvic floor and core, please approach corsetry with care. You want your deep core and pelvic floor muscles to be in a good place before daily wearing of corsets, and please, never lace your corset too tightly, as this can increase downward pressure on your pelvic floor. If you have diastasis recti, corsets, while not a substitute for rehabilitating exercise, can help to bring your abdominal muscles back together. These two points may sound like a contradiction and if you are unsure of whether corsets are for you at this time, please consult with a professional.
That's all, folks! Are you feeling inspired to try corsets? Has this caused you to look at corsets in a new way? Let me know in the comments!
A reminder that if you want to learn corset making at your own course, I have a wonderful online course that will hold your hand for the entire process! (I'm offering 30% off with code 30OFF until the end of November 5th!)
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