corset is a garment worn to mould and shape the torso into a desired shape for aesthetic or orthopaedic purposes (either for the duration of wearing it, or with a more lasting effect). They may be worn by men or women.

Corsets are traditionally made from cloth material; latex and leather are used for corset designed for the fetish/BDSM market.

Originally an item of lingerie, the corset has become a popular item of outerwear in the fetish, BDSM and goth subcultures.

In the fetish and BDSM literature, there is often much emphasis on tightlacing. In this case, the corset may still be underwear rather than outerwear.

There was a brief revival of the corset in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the form of the waist cincher. This was used to give the hourglass figure dictated by Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’. However, use of the waist cincher was restricted to haute couture, and most women continued to use girdles. This revival was brief, as the New Look gave way to a less dramatically-shaped silhouette.

Since the late 1980s, the corset has experienced periodic revivals, which have usually originated in haute couture and which have occasionally trickled through to mainstream fashion. These revivals focus on the corset as an item of outerwear rather than underwear. The strongest of these revivals was seen in the Autumn 2001 fashion collections and coincided with the release of the film Moulin Rouge!, the costumes for which featured many corsets.

The majority of garments sold as corsets during these recent revivals cannot really be counted as corsets at all. While they often feature lacing and boning, and generally mimic a historical style of corset, they have very little effect on the shape of the wearer’s body.


Corsets are typically constructed of a flexible material (like cloth or leather) stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels in the cloth or leather. In the Victorian period, steel and whalebone were favored. Plastic is now the most commonly used material for lightweight corsets, whereas spring or spiral steel is preferred for stronger corsets. Other materials used for boning include ivory, wood, and cane. (By contrast, a girdle is usually made of elasticized fabric, without boning.)

The craft of corset construction is known as corsetry, as is the general wearing of them. Someone who makes corsets is a corsetier (for a man) or corsetiere (for a woman), or sometimes simply a corsetmaker. (The word corsetry is sometimes also used as a collective plural form of corset.)

Corsets are held together by lacing, usually at the back (rear-laced). Tightening or loosening the lacing produces corresponding changes in the firmness of the corset. It is difficult – although not impossible – for a back-laced corset-wearer to do his or her own lacing. In the Victorian heyday of corsets, a well-to-do woman would be laced by her maid, a gentleman by his valet. However, many corsets also had a buttoned or hooked front opening called a busk. Once the lacing was adjusted comfortably, it was possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and take the corset on and off using the front opening. (This removal method does not work if the corset is not sufficiently loose, and can potentially damage the busk.) Self-lacing is also almost impossible with tightlacing, which strives for the utmost possible reduction of the waist. Current tightlacers, lacking servants, are usually laced by spouses and partners.

Many corsets have decorative frills at the top and/or the bottom.

Corsets nay be over bust (covering the breasts, with cups like those on a bra) or under bust (not covering them). Even an under bust one may give some support to the breasts unless it is so short that it is a waist cincher.

Waist reduction

By wearing a tightly-laced corset for extended periods, known as tightlacing, men and women can learn to tolerate extreme waist constriction and reduce their natural waist size. Tightlacers usually aim for 40 to 43 centimetre (16 to 17 inch) waists. Until 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Ethel Granger as having the smallest waist on record at 13″. After 1998, the category changed to “smallest waist on a living person” and Cathie Jung took the title with a 15″ waist. Other women, such as Polaire and Spook, also have achieved such reductions.

These are extreme cases. Corsets were and are usually designed for support, with freedom of body movement an important consideration in their design. Present day corset-wearers usually tighten the corset just enough to reduce their waists by 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches); it is very difficult for a slender woman to achieve as much as 15 centimeters (6 inches), although larger women can do so more easily.

Tightlacing today

Modern tightlacing is a minority interest, often associated with fetishistic interest in the corset and BDSM. The majority of tightlacers are women, although some men do tightlace (see in particular cross-dressing) – corsetier Mr Pearl has a nineteen-inch waist.

Tightlacers typically wear a corset for at least 12 hours a day, every day, when they are most active, although some tightlacers wear corsets for up to 23 hours a day, taking the corset off only in order to bathe.

Tightlacers usually have a partner, called a trainer, to help and support them. However, it is possible (although very difficult) for somebody to tightlace without a partner. (Tightlacers are often—but not necessarily—in a sexual and/or loving relationship with their trainer.)

A partner might take on any of the following tasks:

  • help the tightlacer put on and take off the corset, especially tightening the laces
  • help him or her follow through with the training schedule
  • monitor the tightlacer’s health
  • monitor body changes and keep a log

Effects of tightlacing on the body

Contemporary tightlacers claim that tightlacing does not adversely affect the health, as was believed in the later Victorian era. Certainly, there are no contemporary medical sources condemning tightlacing, and the continued good health of modern day extreme tightlacers would seem to demonstrate that the practice is not dangerous—if properly done.

A safe training routine begins with the use of a well-fitted corset (most serious tightlacers have at least one custom–tailored corset) and very gradual decreases in the waist circumference. Lacing too tight too fast can cause extreme discomfort and potential short-term problems such as shortness of breath and faintness, indigestion, and chafing of the skin.

The primary effect of tightlacing is the decreased size of the waist. The smallest waist recorded is that of Ethel Granger, who tightlaced for most of her life and achieved a waist of thirteen inches: a reduction of over ten inches. Such extreme reductions take a very long time to achieve. At first, corsets with waist measurements four inches smaller than the tightlacer’s natural waist size are recommended. The length of time it will take a tightlacer to get used to this reduction will vary on his or her physiology; a large amount of fat on the torso and strong abdominal muscles will mean that it takes longer for the tightlacer to wear their corset laced closed at the back. Thereafter, reducing another couple of inches is not much more difficult, but each inch after a six inch reduction can take a year to achieve.

The diminished waist and tight corset reduce the volume of the torso. This is sometimes reduced even further by styles of corset that force the torso to taper towards the waist, which pushes the lower ribs inwards. As a consequence, internal organs are moved closer together and out of their original positions in a way similar to the way that a pregnant woman’s expanding uterus causes the organs to be displaced.

The volume of the lungs diminishes and the tightlacer tends to breathe intercostally—that is, with the upper portion of the lungs only, rather that the whole. Intercostal breathing is what gives the image of “heaving bosoms”. Due to the lower portion of the lungs being used less there may be a mucosal build-up there; a slight and persistent cough is the sign of the body trying to clear this (and might also have lead to the Victorian hypothesis that corsets caused tuberculosis).

The liver is pressed upwards. As it continually renews itself, it adapts to fit its new position, and in a long-term tightlacer it might develop ridges where it rests against the ribs. It is also possible that tightlacing exacerbates the tendency of some livers to develop accessory lobes, to the point where the accessory lobe becomes as large as the main portion of the liver. The point where the lobe and liver connect can be quite thin, and again, this might have lead to one of the Victorian myths about tightlacing: that a tightlacer can wear her corset so tight that it “cuts” her liver in half.

The compression of the stomach reduces its volume, and tightlacers find that eating too much gives them indigestion and heartburn; foods like carbonated drinks and beans can easily cause trapped wind. The compression of the intestines can cause constipation. Many tightlacers will alter their diet in order to avoid these problems.

Few permanent and serious effects have been attributed to tightlacing; even fewer of them have been proved. Theoretically, it is possible to fracture the ribs through tightlacing, although the necessary pressure would be brutal and the tightlacer would feel acute pain—certainly enough to let him/her know that something was wrong and that he/she should loosen the corset.

External links

Against tightlacing


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Elegantly Waisted – Corsets and Corsetry

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