Return of the tight, tight squeeze

SIREN: Burlesque star Dita Von Teese is known for wearing corsets. On her business card, she appears in a scarlet corset and little else.


    Nov 29, 2013

    Return of the tight, tight squeeze


    WHEN Sarah Chrisman received a blue, silk rose-patterned corset from her husband for her 29th birthday, she reluctantly allowed him to lace her into it.

    She believed then that corsets "deformed, broke bones, tortured and killed".

    But Chrisman, 33, a massage therapist and Victoriana enthusiast, quickly grew fond of her new undergarment.

    With constant wear - even sleeping in it - she said that her posture improved, that she was eating less and that she had transformed not only her wardrobe, but also her waist size, from 32 to 22 inches.

    Chrisman - author of Victorian Secrets: What A Corset Taught Me About The Past, The Present, And Myself - who reads 19th-century etiquette manuals and writes snail mail with antique dip pens, said she has found herself frequently ogled, questioned and even groped by strangers.

    The most popular question: Does it hurt? Her answer: "It's like a hug that lasts all day."

    She is not alone among moderns in her revival of what Valerie Steele, chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, called "probably the most controversial garment in the entire history of fashion" in her book The Corset: A Cultural History.

    "Plenty of designers occasionally put a corset in their collections, but I'd say 99 per cent of people choose Spanx as an undergarment," said Steele, who credits the punks and Vivienne Westwood in the 1970s for giving the corset "the charisma of deviance" and Jean-Paul Gaultier in the 1980s (Madonna wore his corset onstage) for "making underwear as outerwear significant".

    "A small waist is a signifier of nubile femininity and fertility," said Steele.

    Celebrities, including Jessica Alba and Kourtney Kardashian, have worn corset-like garments after pregnancy to help recover their figures. And burlesque star Dita Von Teese appears in a scarlet corset and little else on her business card.

    Von Teese wrote in an e-mail message: "People ask if it's comfortable, and I try to explain that it's like wearing a very high heel. There is discipline involved and, of course, the quality of the construction is paramount to comfort."

    Her collection includes examples from the revered corset-maker Mr Pearl, who has collaborated with Gaultier and Alexander McQueen.

    Mr Pearl's creations have prices starting at US$10,000 (S$12,500), Von Teese wrote.

    Although Chrisman said she dreamed of owning a Pearl model, her corsets (she now owns a half-dozen) are put through more-quotidian paces.

    They have set off metal detectors at airports, she said.

    She emphasised, again, that the corset to her was "strictly underwear" and that she saw herself as "a lady and not a vixen".

    Not that there would be anything wrong with that, of course.

    "The vibrator was invented in the Victorian era," Chrisman said. "People forget that."