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Corsets Are Not Consent

Corset: Pop Antique | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Lauren Luck

Corset: Pop Antique | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Lauren Luck

Corsets are inherently an attention-getting garment. First, there's their rarity: you just don't see a woman (or man) in a corset very often, especially not "real" corsets. They're unusual, uncommon. Not only are they uncommon, but they create an instant and noticeable change to the wearer's body, unlike many outlandish or eye-catching styles which may build upon or exaggerate the form but don't change it. A corseted woman has dramatized proportions and fits into her clothes differently. Her stance, posture, and gait can all be changed by lacing into a corset. Perhaps most importantly, we have a lot of societal expectations, judgments, and questions pressed into ourselves about corsets above and beyond other shapewear garments. So it's natural that we do a double take or strike up a conversation with a corseted person. However, just because something is "different" doesn't mean the rules of polite society cease to exist, and that is where the problem lies. A person in a corset is often objectified - not exclusively in a sexual way, but literally treated as an object.

This hasn't been a huge problem for me, personally. Living in San Francisco as I do, it takes a lot to catch the attention of passers-by, and the questions I face are more often curious than rude. Or maybe it's my resting bitch face, because I tend to suffer very little street harassment in general (or if it occurs, I don't seem to notice it).

Ensemble: Dollymop for Dark Garden | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Lydia Chen

Ensemble: Dollymop for Dark Garden | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Lydia Chen

I wish the same were the case for the rest of the corseted community. The fact of the matter is that many find themselves subject to not only rude lines of conversation but uninvited touching when they wear their corsets. You'd think we would have all learned to keep our hands to ourselves in kindergarten - I well remember the day I got in trouble for "boing-ing" a classmate's curly tendril during a game of Duck, Duck, Goose! The problem with touching isn't specific to corseted women, of course. Women with unusual hair are often faced with it. Exceptionally long, short, or brightly colored hair is often a target for space bubble invasion. It is a symptom of our society's confusion over ownership of women's bodies. Women of color with natural hair are particularly vulnerable to this failure of common courtesy, and the societal entitlement issues around their bodies run even deeper. (There's a lot more that can be said about entitlement and microaggressions and race, which is discussed elsewhere by others far more qualified to speak on it. The dialogue is thought provoking and worth the time should you decide to research it further.) Even if the intent behind touching isn't intended as sexual, it still constitutes a violation of personal space.

Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Max Johnson

Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Max Johnson

Even when strangers aren't grabbing corseted waistlines left and right, a corseted woman might be more prone to flirtation/harassment, even, or perhaps especially, in the workplace. An hourglass waistline (and, in an overbust corset, uplifted breasts) is appealing on a subconscious level, but as sentient beings we do have a choice about how we choose to engage with other people. The same rules about polite behavior apply in public spaces, the workplace, and events/parties/cons. Though corsets are enticing, a corseted person is not necessarily actively trying to entice, particularly if they are wearing their corset in public on a day-to-day basis. You can pretty much take it as a given that an article of clothing is never a substitute for clear and direct verbal communication, whether at a club, on the street, or at work. Of course models who post portfolio images featuring lingerie and corsets on Facebook and the like are expecting attention - but they aren't asking for lewd remarks. For models, their social media presence is their workplace. This sort of behavior isn't just a problem from men; women may also automatically sexualize corsets on other women, even if it's not situationally appropriate.

Pop Antique knit Vamp corset | Model: Krysta Kaos | Photo © Razo Photo

Pop Antique knit Vamp corset | Model: Krysta Kaos | Photo © Razo Photo

Corsets are not consent. A woman who wears a corset is not automatically consenting to be ogled, flirted with, touched without permission, or otherwise sexualized. Remember that even if your intent isn't sexual, it can still feel objectifying or unwanted. If you are curious about another person's corset, please be polite with your line of inquiry. A person who does not wish to engage with you isn't automatically a "snob." If you ask politely, most corsetwearers would be happy to extoll the virtues and benefits of corsetry to you until your eyes glaze over (but do remember that you are essentially asking personal questions about their underwear, and that you are never "owed" an answer regardless). If you care to express your admiration, a compliment respectfully delivered is more likely to be responded to in kind.

Have you ever been harassed or received unwelcome forms of attention from wearing a corset? How did you handle the situation? How do you think you would handle it if it came up (again)?

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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.

8 Comments on this post

  1. Judith McFarland says:

    This was a very good read. Now I have to say I love wearing corsets and to me they are not a fetish I use them as a foundation and yes I love the hourglass figure. I do enjoy when someone admires my shape and that is how it should be. I love how you addressed the things that people just assume you are because you chose to wear it. I have learned to handle unwanted behavior from men and yes a few times women. I am just glad I have never met someone who refuses to get the message. I have found overall that the world at large is not to bad with it. I have to say that the most negative remarks and disapproving stares are from women on the streets.

  2. Stephen says:

    Wonderful article. I have experienced some odd behaviors from many a person when I am corseted. I guess there is some odd stigma attached to males being corseted in any way and people automatically assume that you are a crossdresser or fetishist without any consideration on why you are wearing a corset in the first place. I have never understood why people tend to automatically sexualize the garment in the first place….hello its a foundation just like your underwear. I will also never understand why these women and men pack themselves in a spandex tube like spank when a properly fitted corset is way way better for that extra support and nip in of the waist

  3. lisa says:

    I’ve been wearing a corset most days since mid april, so seven months now. I wear it most days, for 3 – 5 hours a day. I wear a short underbust most of the time. it is OTR, and as soon as I can, I’ll be getting a custom fit one (or perhaps recruiting a friend to help me make one as she has done so in the past). It has been amazing for me.

    I have three daughters in elementary school, and most interaction that I’ve had has been there. Most people who ask about it actually assume it’s a medical brace,and are curious as to where I found one that “fancy”. They are usually quite surprised when they learn it’s a true corset. They’ve asked a lot of questions, all polite, about why I wear one and how it affects me. I have had a couple people tell me that corsets are bad for me, I will admit, I laugh a little and explain the risks (usually the problems they mention would happen if i laced too tightly too fast), how i manage them, and what benefits I receive.

    the most memorable experience for me (aside from my grandmother at 95 commenting that the used to wear corests UNDER their clothing…she was amused that they are now a fashion piece) was in a grocery store when an elderly lady gently touched my shoulder to get my attention while I waited in line. She commented that she LOVED my top and asked where I go it. I explained to her that I was wearing a corset over a shirt and her eyes just lit up. She told me that I looked beautiful before walking away. It was a really neat experience. I don’t get told that I look pretty, let alone beautiful, very often.

  4. Deanna says:

    I have both “touchy” problems! I have very long hair and I corset. I actually have more problems with people being angry over the length of my hair. They really get bullyish and tell me my hair is “unreasonable” and one went as far as telling me I was selfish for not cutting it off and donating it! I usually wear my hair up, but when it’s down, here they come!

    Nothing grosses me out more than someone pawing at my hair. I’ve had a man come up, grab a handful of it just at the nape of my neck and almost ripped some of it out, trying to “prove to his buddies it was a wig”. No, it’s real and it’s mine and keep your nasty, grubby paws off of it.
    I don’t cut my hair for religious and tribal reasons, if my husband dies before me, I’ll cut it.(that’s my standard answer).

    As for corseting, that started for medical reasons, although I will not lie and say that having an hourglass figure for the first time in my life isn’t a definite bonus.

    I wear my corsets underneath my clothing, with the exception of one. Most of them are bespoke, due to my injuries. asymmetry, lordosis and extreme curve (which I was quite unaware of until my first corset! I thought I was shaped like Olive Oyl!).
    Even though I am completely covered, from my neck to my ankles, the fact that I have a small waistline is obvious (natural waist 28″, corseted, 22). I’ve had women come up and either ask a million questions, which I don’t mind answering at all, OR, they’ll tell me that I’ll never be able to have children (good, I’m almost 50 and I’ve had a hysterectomy), they’ve told me that I’ll lose my ability to stand (no, that was before the corset), that I can’t breathe…that’s my favorite. Having someone argue with me until THEY’RE winded that I can’t breathe.

    I’ve had women my age literally smack my midsection with the back of their hand (what IS that?), I’ve had them pull at the laces on my only functional OTR, which I wear to ride my motorcycle (now I twist and tuck the laces waaay up under the corset.)

    There’s one “touch” I don’t mind though. When a woman who’s obviously nearing 90 reaches up and ever so gently touches the edge of the corset, just above my shoulder blades with a look of instant recognition in her eyes, and the inevitable “Are you wearing a CORSET?” “Yes ma’am.” “Where did you find that? I wore Spirella until they quit making them, Would you tell me where to find one?” “Yes ma’am”. That slays me. These women were in corsets for over half their lives, now they’re hunched over with osteoporosis, angry that their corsets were taken from them (by process of elimination).

    Most touches are aggressive and condescending, but when a little teeny old woman does it, just to cement her suspicions, I have no problems with it. It gives me a chance to send them on to Fran, or Mina, to be fitted into a corset once again.

  5. roxann says:

    Great article. Thank you x It would be lovely to see attitudes change in all aspects of corset wearing. Pregnancy is another area where people feel the need to touch you and that is awkward too.

    • Estelle says:

      Eugh, I hated that when pregnant (and now I’m not they just touch the baby without asking instead…).

      I do wish corsets were more commonplace so that wearing one didn’t make you stand out so much. Aside from the odd girl dressed up in a club, I’m pretty certain I’ve never in my life seen someone out and about in a corset! I’ve started wearing one more often recently but always under my clothes, I feel like if I wore it on top people on the street would think I was attention-seeking.

  6. AlexaFaie says:

    I’ve been lucky in general when its come to attention whilst wearing my corsets, but that could in part be due to me not noticing people paying attention to me normally and so my default is that noone notices me, but if I notice me more in a corset, I notice others noticing more too.
    I have however nearly caused a car to crash into a motorcyclist when the driver turned to look as he was turning round a corner, got distracted and nearly hit the motorcyclist who thankfully was paying attention and was on the opposite side of the road (the car swerved onto the wrong side). So I know the corset can be attention grabbing at times.
    In the most part people are polite, or at least stare a bit but don’t say much. I’ve had an older gentleman stop me in the street as I was walking to do some food shopping just to tell me that he thought I had a lovely hourglass figure. I’ve had other people (ladies) in shops tell me that they like my “top” and that it follows my shape really well (probably testimony to my ability to match my corsets on top well to my clothing so they blend seamlessly when I want to?).
    And then I’ve had the conductor on the train ask me some questions when I was lacing up before my journey on the train (didn’t have time at home, so put it on on the train!). She asked some perfectly sensible questions like how long I had to wear it for to get that shape, how long it took to get used to it, whether it felt uncomfortable to be squeezed in the middle but not also elsewhere (thinking of waist bands of clothes I suppose) and said she thought that though my shape before was just fine and lovely, she really admired the dedication to get the shape afterwards. Was my best interaction I’ve ever had. I do hope the lady in question considers trying one for herself as I think she’d have been very pleased with the results she could personally achieve.

    But I’ve known some of my friends to have had some really unpleasant encounters because of them wearing a corset. Encounters of a kind they’d never experienced before out of a corset. So I think this article is great to highlight that it is a problem so that we can confront it head on. Not everyone treats people badly because of corsets, so that means its possible for everyone to be nice! Its just basic politeness really.

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