A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.
“First you have to figure out the basic silhouette you want to achieve. There’s a huge difference between a Victorian corset and an Edwardian corset. Victorian corsets are hourglass-shaped. The reduction is even all around the waist. Edwardian corsets, they’re shaped sort of like an S-curve, and then the waist is incredibly tiny. It’s the Gibson girl look. I don’t recommend anyone wear an Edwardian corset for any period of time, because the pressure on the lower back is just uncanny.
“Around the turn of the century, a lot of quack doctors came up with a lot of ideas about compression of the rib cage and whatnot, and I think that’s kind of stuck. So people say if you wear a corset and you lace it supertight, your organs are gonna move all over the place, and that really doesn’t happen. The worst health concern is maybe heartburn.
“My customers include everyone from housewives who just want to have an hourglass figure all the way to dominatrixes and drag queens. When I first opened my business, I expected a lot of people in the fetish community. I didn’t really expect the number of people who come in on their lunch break. I’ve had TSA agents who have come in for corsets.
“I think the motivation behind corseting is complete aesthetics, most of the time. It’s the same thing that motivates people to pierce their ears, to buy a thousand different shades of lipstick. You look in the mirror and you’re like, ‘This is right. This is what I want to go for.’
“Usually when you put a corset on, the initial reduction is between three and four inches. If you wear your corset day after day, maybe you can go down by five or six inches. If you wear a corset 23 hours a day, seven days a week, you can achieve a considerably smaller waist than most people would think possible. It depends on people’s physiology, too. The more muscular you are, the harder it is to achieve that hourglass look. If you’re a bit softer, it’s easier to get a four- to six-inch reduction. Often I’ll wear a corset out and about. My natural waist is about 27, 28 inches. Even if I don’t wear a corset for a week or two, I can put one on and lace down to like a 22, 23. My goal is a 20-inch waist.
“Ethel Granger holds the record for the world’s smallest waist ever: 13 inches. A woman named Cathy Jung holds the record for smallest waist on a living person, and her waist is two inches larger than Ethel Granger’s was. That’s a commitment very few people are willing to make. That sort of modification to your body is right up there with things like transdermal implants and certain tattoos.
“A lot of people think corseting is antifeminist because it’s an old-fashioned garment. It’s oppressive or whatever. Honestly, I think that’s bullshit. I don’t think men through the ages have really given a whole lot of thought to what women are wearing. It’s women who give thought to what they’re wearing. And that’s their choice. The most feminist thing one can do is exactly what you want.”