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Being Squeezed: Stretch Shapewear vs Corsetry


© Razo Photo | Krysta Kaos for Pop Antique

I know I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but a few weeks ago an article came out on Huffington Post about how shapewear squeezes your organs and is Bad For You. This post is not as analytical as some of my previous. It is largely, if not purely, anecdotal, and of course everyone's experience will be different. Still, before we all react as alarmists because a Real-Life Doctor said something about the subject, this is my opinion as a real-life corsetiere and corset wearer. For another scientific opinion, I highly recommend Lucy Corsetry's response to the article.


© Lauren Luck | Victoria Dagger for Pop Antique

It's indisputable that corsets compress the body --- that's inherent to their function. A corset that doesn't compress will chafe, so even a lightweight corset has a waist reduction of, say, one to two inches. Stretch shapewear, such as Spanx and girdles, is intended to sleek the line of the body under clothing rather than actually change its dimensions. How the two classes of shapewear feel while performing their function is very, very different.

Student sketch in charcoal of me in a corset.

Student sketches in charcoal of me in a corset.

When I'm not writing about corsets or making them, I also work as an artist model. Recently, for an animation class, I donned a cute and retro shapewear all-in-one (from my favorite classic retro brand) to create a simple block silhouette that highlighted anatomical landmarks. For lunch, across the street I went, and ate some sushi. I don't know about you, but sushi often expands in my stomach, and the control of the shapewear across my belly was a bit of a comfort to my self esteem (art students have a tendency to exaggerate the wrong things --- they're like funhouse mirrors). After class, I felt immediate relief upon taking off my shapewear, and I promptly put on the custom corset I'd made for myself for waist training.


Stretch shapewear and corsetry together | Victoria Dagger for Dark Garden

The contrast was startling and stark. Stretch-based shapewear (made with powernet or other modern fabrics) creates an allover feeling of not just compression but pressure, because it is squeezing you pretty much from all angles. Synthetic fibers may be less breathable, even though there are fewer layers. A corset compresses only on the waistline --- its ribs are often slightly larger than the body's natural measurement to allow room for the displaced flesh (and organs). A well-made corset has a carefully balanced, engineered fit, which can be fine-tuned by way of the lacing gap. The front busk closure and lacing gap also help ease your body into the compression, whereas stretch shapewear often has no closures, or only a non-adjustable hook and eye or zipper which require you to suck in, stretch out, and contort ever so slightly to actually get them on. In short, stretch shapewear is like a sausage casing, and a corset is like a hug. Isn't that funny? A lycra blend can feel more confining than being encased in steel.

A client, Mariah Carle (of Carle Photography) hangs out comfortably in her Pop Antique corset.

A client, Mariah Carle (of Carle Photography) hangs out comfortably in her Pop Antique corset.

Don't misunderstand me --- I hadn't noticed discomfort from the all-in-one until it was contrasted with the feeling of taking it off and then the feeling of being corseted instead. I will absolutely wear that piece, and other similar styles, again and I know that for some purposes, stretch shapewear may be more appropriate than a corset. If a panty-girdle that goes down the thighs, for example, is required, then a corset is not really a viable option, and the hardware and binding of a corset are often too conspicuous under clothing as they create ridges. Spanx and modern shapewear are often touted as some sort of liberator from the horrors of Victorian corseting, but it's an unfair comparison often made by those who have no understanding of real corsetry, modern or historical. (Disclaimer: I have never worn actual Spanx.) Though they're both "shapewear," they aren't really comparable. They both have their time and their place.

What's your favorite form of shapewear? What sort of shapewear do you find to be the most comfortable and why?