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Why Do Men Wear Corsets?

Trio of men's corsets by Dark Garden | Photo © Joel Aron

Trio of men's corsets by Dark Garden | Photo © Joel Aron

Here in San Francisco, we just wrapped up the Folsom Street Fair, an annual leather/fetish event. It's one of many events I work for Dark Garden and it has... well, it has a lot of distinctions, but in particular, it's the one day of the year where I get to talk to and work with many men (or those who were assigned as such at birth) who want to try on corsets. The rest of the year, I am often met with a giggle and surprise when I say, yes, we really do make corsets for men, yes, men wear corsets, lots of different kinds of men. I wrote a previous piece about why people in general (still) wear corsets, but men have enough of their own niche reasons and variations on the themes that they merited their own post.

Left: Corselette by Dark Garden - short cinchers like this can often be worn interchangeably by men and women. | Photo © Joel Aron

Left: Corselette by Dark Garden - short cinchers like this can often be worn interchangeably by men and women. | Photo © Joel Aron

Of course, the general purpose of a corset is to mold the silhouette into a more desired form. Lacking a natural hourglass, one might think that men's bodies don't compress well... but just like women, the rate of compression varies from person to person. Generally speaking, however, slender men tend to be even more compressible than women. As with women's corsets, the effectiveness of the corset will rely on the quality of the fit. Men's torsos have different proportions and subtly different shapes, so most corset styles aren't necessarily interchangeable. The major exception is short cincher styles, which barely graze the bottom of the ribs and top of the pelvis and so aren't affected by the shape of these bony masses. (Incidentally, athletically-bodied women or those who prefer a milder reduction may be more comfortable in a men's fit corset, which may additionally be turned upside down to invert the rib and hip spring proportion.)

1893 ad for the "Invicorator Belt," a men's corset marketed as being for back support.

1893 ad for the "Invicorator Belt," a men's corset marketed as being for back support.

For men as for women, a well-made corset can be excellent back support, a tradition which goes back at least to the 1800s. (If you want more men's corset history, you can check out Lucy's "On Men and Corsets" video.) A corset is sturdier and more comfortable -- to say nothing of more attractive! -- than a generic back brace/support belt, for either occasional or day-to-day wear. Just as female scoliosis sufferers may find relief with corsets, men with chronic back issues may find corsets a boon. Andy Warhol and John F. Kennedy both wore corsets for back support.

The Edward is a variation on the Beau Brummell, a tailored vest corset by Dark Garden. | Photo © Joel Aron

The Edward is a variation on the Beau Brummell, a tailored vest corset by Dark Garden. | Photo © Joel Aron

Of course many men do wear corsets for purely aesthetic purposes, just as women wear smoothing shapewear.  For men, wearing corsets accentuates the V-shape from shoulders to waist, rather than the hourglass of waist to hips, as well as smoothing the line of the stomach. Corsets can be worn as a foundation piece under formalwear -- tuxedos -- but modern corsetmakers have taken to blending the two in custom waistcoat corsets.

Cross-dressers may use corsets for feminization, with an exaggerated waistline compared to a more "masculine" corset. Hips and breasts will likely be padded out, the trappings of femininity pushed further with wigs and heavy makeup. For a drag performer, corsets can be worn discreetly underneath clothing or, as a burlesque performer might, as part of the costume.

The Sweetheart Mid-Hip Corset by Contour Corsets. Specifically designed to fit a masculine body yet create a feminine line.

The Sweetheart Mid-Hip Corset by Contour Corsets. Specifically designed to fit a masculine body yet create a feminine line.

It's important to note the distinction between gender-bending for fun and performance and having a transgender or fluid gender identity. Though corsets can be worn to feminize in either instance, the latter may wear a corset and even waist train as part of their transformation. Any corset can help feminize simply by reducing the waist, but unsurprisingly, the best results will be found with custom corsetry.

"Ambrose" vest-inspired underbust corset by Dark Garden | Photo © Joel Aron

"Ambrose" vest-inspired underbust corset by Dark Garden | Photo © Joel Aron

Along with these less-common takes on corsets, men might still wear corsets for any of the non-gender specific reasons a woman might, mentioned in my previous post, Why Do People Wear Corsets? Compression therapy for anxiety or fetish appeal are just as valid across gender lines. I think wearing a corset is an experience that most everyone should try, at least once... you never know how it'll make you feel, and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised!


Marianne Faulkner

Marianne Faulkner is the designer of Pop Antique, a clothing and corsetry line specializing in sustainable materials and comfortable curves. She is based in San Francisco where she earned her MFA in fashion design at the Academy of Art University, and has been a columnist at The Lingerie Addict since 2011.