By Renee Schmutz-Sowards, BCPL circulation specialist
By odd coincidence, last fall I spent more days than not in some form of historical dress. Whether it was for Downton Abby tea parties, steampunk balls, art shows, or Tudor and Elizabethan reenactments, each fantastic gown went the requisite historically accurate undergarments – including corsets.
Later, while recovering from a hectic season and enjoying being back in my “civilian” dress, I often found myself considering corsets as I dressed each morning. I had noticed when I was wearing corsets on a semi-regular basis that I experienced less back pain, not to mention my posture was fantastic. And let’s not forget the icing on the cake, that they can be rather flattering to a female’s figure.
Coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article online that mentioned a book written by a woman who wears a Victorian corset all day every day. I was beyond intrigued and promptly begged our amazing Interlibrary Loan department to find a copy, which they did!
Victorian Secrets: What A Corset Taught Me About the Past, the Present, and Myself by history buff Sarah A. Chrisman, chronicles her journey from corset critic to 24/7 corset wearer (she even sleeps in one!) after receiving a beautiful Victorian style corset from her husband on her birthday.
She and her husband share a particular interest in the Victorian era, and her husband hoped that by giving his wife a corset she would finally be able to wear some of the exquisite antique Victorian clothing she had collected. Despite reservations regarding corsets, stemming from the pervasive myths that they are restrictive, painful, can cause broken ribs, and that they are symbols of repression, she agreed to try on her gift. She found herself wearing it more and more often around the house and eventually even wearing it outside of the house, citing many of the same benefits that I noticed during my two months in historical clothing.
Chrisman shares her corset-wearing experiences and how she has come to look at the corset as a symbol of empowerment rather than oppression. She does a superb job of de-bunking many of the classic corset myths and horror stories. My personal favorite is her explanation of the “broken ribs” myth. Throughout her discussion on corsets she also touches on many other fascinating and surprising aspects of Victorian culture and day to day life. Chrisman writes in an easy to read and respectful manner, even when recounting unpleasant encounters with astonishingly rude individuals who feel compelled to confront her because of her choice of undergarments.
Ultimately, even if you never have and never will go through the experience of lacing yourself or anyone else into a corset, I highly recommend checking out this book. You won’t even have to request an Interlibrary Loan, since after reading it I requested BCPL add a copy to our collection. It has since come in and is now available for checkout! Visit www.thebookplace.org or download BCPL Mobile to reserve a copy today.