There's a sharp intake of air. "Fuck that's tight, but you can go all the way- pull harder"
I have always found corsetry fascinating. My initial introduction to corsets within a fetish context was through the goth scene. Owning a corset became somewhat of a rite of passage to many of my female teenage goth friends. Corsetry to most people (myself included) evokes the image of period dramas and strait-laced prudish Victorians.
Corsets were originally designed for men and functionally it was worn under their dress uniforms and for horseback riding, as it really emphasized their physique. For women they were seen as the embodiment of restriction and oppression, and the decline of their use by the 1920s perfectly encapsulated the newfound sexual (and moral) shift post WW1. Now they have come to be envisioned as a vehicle of power and sexuality and a provocative symbol of fetishism.
The construction of a good corset will often involve steel boning and lacing at the back, with hook clasps at the front. The material can range from anything from satin, leather and rubber. Like with most types of fetish gear a good corset can be a costly investment, especially if you are considering getting one that is custom made to fit you.
For guys who identify as femme and/or who's main kink is femme wear, corsetry provides an opportunity to indulge and immerse yourself fully. Teamed with stockings, suspenders the corset is wonderful at creating a whole new silhouette and physically causes the wearer to hold themselves differently. The full range of different corsetry really does give femme guys a chance to experiment, whether it be a rubber corset with steel boning or a satin one with lace trim - you can amp the femme up or down with corsetry. One way it differs from other types of femme wear is that the physicality of being forced to hold yourself upright immediately exudes a level of confidence and you become much more aware of your posture and how you interact (and the combination of heels and a corset pushes this further). You immediately feel sexy in a corset, which when you identify as femme, or wanting to get into a femme headspace is essential.
Being a femme corset wearer and moving in gay fetish spaces, I imagine can be quite difficult - especially for newbies to the scene - to feel comfortable amongst the sea of leather harness masculinity. Whenever I see a femme guy sporting a corset (and a tightly laced one) I actually have a huge amount of respect. Wearing a corset is hard work. It can be a bit of an endurance test and taking it off after hours of wear is similar to that feeling of release that you get from being suspended or taking off a rubber cat suit in the shower at the end of a very long session. The physical aspect of being restricted as well as supported creates a sensation that mirrors to many a headspace they enjoy being in when it comes to fetish spaces.
As with any fetish there is a history and community of corsetry fanatics. Many prefer to be known as enthusiasts to remove the underlying sexual deviancy of corsetry wearing, but when it comes to men and corsetry, there seems to be a growing revival.
The rise of men wearing corsets can be partly attributed to the drag scene, as they can be instrumental in creating an exaggerated curvy figure. An important costume piece, the corset has historically been used to reshape and redefine the individual both physically and mentally.
Virgin X is a drag performer (and our host for the Recon Cabaret) and often performs in fetish spaces. On the subject of corsetry, they say "I discovered corsets when I was young and working in theatre and always loved the shape they made. It's sexy and powerful and structured and covered, and when they are done well, they look so natural, but also so unnatural at the same time. I've always had a fascination for cinching my waist. I would always pull a belt tightly around my waist and I started wearing corsets professionally as it added to my drag personas sexuality. It makes me feel powerful. I like clothing that puts you in discomfort, I like feeling restricted as part of an experience. There feels something very gendered about corsets and as someone who identifies as non- binary being able to stand in front of a mirror and see that my body can achieve a more feminine shape helps with my gender dysmorphia.
Wearing a corset in a Fetish environment makes me feel sexy and adds to my prowess. I think there is something very iconic and purely aesthetic to how they make you feel, and I veer on both sides to that- the way they make you look is very extreme and the way it makes you feel is extreme. For people who like physical restriction and constriction and feel that in your core body, it affects your guts, your breath, your demeanour and how you negotiate with the world. The first time I ever got put into a corset I passed out, so yeah, they're not to be fucked with. "
Corsets are definitely not to be fucked with. I remember being shown how to lace corsets properly when I was about 17 and working in a vintage shop which sold reproduction 1950's lingerie. Understanding what a body can handle is essential as tightlacing is an endurance test for the wearer and the person lacing. There is a real intimacy and trust dynamic in allowing someone to lace you into a corset, and like all healthy forms of BDSM, an open communication and dialogue is key for the person being laced up and for the person doing it. In some respects, I would say that there are parallels in corsetry lacing to shibari or other types of ropework.
Within the fetishism of corsetry there is also a space for waist trainers and tightlacers - a group of people who are dedicated to the art of training their waist to be smaller as part of a habitual wearing of corsets for long periods of time, tightening them up to achieve a modified body shape. Waist training and tightlacers definitely fall under the label of body modification and can produce incredible results.
It is impossible not to mention pioneers such as Fakir Musafar, who's 1959 image 'The Perfect Gentleman' showcases his 24inch waist as the ideal embodiment of this practice. Musaafar is known worldwide for his research and personal exploration of primitive body decoration and rituals, exploring spirituality in art, body modifications, S&M and what he called "body play".
Men indulging in sissy play and/or femme wear make up a large portion of those who wear corsets. As a recognisable symbol of femininity, the putting on of a corset is a ritual of submission to the power of the feminine, but it also creates and opportunity to play in a space that's both masculine and feminine.
Recon Member TattooedM started wearing corsetry years ago and said "For me, what has always been most striking is seeing those old advertisements of men wearing a corset under their suit. As far as male imagery is concerned, I have always adored the idea of men wearing items (corset, heels, lavallière bows, silk stockings....) anything considered "feminine" in the 20th Century and nowadays still. Therefore, that aesthetic of "contrasts" is utterly sexy to me. (E.g: Corset with a suit). Corsets make one feel beautiful. They are uncomfortable but they give the wearer a sense of constant awareness. It makes one reflect on everything we take for granted.... walking and moving in general."
For me, corsetry has different layers of fascination and intrigue. The aesthetic was essentially what started my interest in them, but with all interests that develop over time I've come to understand and appreciate the ritual of putting them on or helping someone in (or out) of a corset and its erotic connotations.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of corsetry and the art of tightlacing, I would recommend the book 'Fashion and Fetishism' by David Kunzle and looking into Paris based corset maker Mr Pearl for examples of classic men's wear and beautiful corsetry and tightlacing.
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