Usually if there’s any sort of buzz about a new blog post, book, class, etc. regarding corsets and the wearing of, the historical costume community is apt to proceed forth either carefully with trepidation or with full zeal. Which one of these viewpoints the reader comes from is based on one’s current view of corsets and the modern opinions of such a unique garment.
The trepidation comes from the re-hashed, strangulated view of the steel boned corset, brought to our conscious through bad movie lines, photos frequently circulated of crushed ribs and rumors of fainting spells. This is, as we historical costumers know, is not the true case of corsetry.
When Sarah A. Chrisman’s new book: Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me About the Past, the Present, and Myself, was published in November 2013, I was intrigued by someone wearing a corset full-time and NOT being part of the fetish community. She simply was wearing it to aspire to a Victorian aesthetic. How could I not be interested in something I pine for myself?!
For this slow reader I found the pages flying through my fingers, my mind focused on her progress and the next story about how others react as she limps on crutches, runs through rain storms or rides her bike around town.
The writing is easy to read with and is well researched. I simply loved hearing about her physiology & anatomy studies and the effect of corsets on the female form. It was not surprising, but enlightening, her description on how pregnancy and corset wearing are not unrelated when it comes to shifting organs to fit within a given space.
In my own life of wearing period clothing, it is not for me to judge others if they are wearing polyester dresses or baggy gowns trying to represent the tailored looks of the Late Victorian era. If it makes them happy then, by all means, I will encourage the behavior.
From this personal viewpoint, I was a bit bothered (in the writing at least) of how Mrs. Chrisman behaved toward those who weren’t dressed in “proper” Victorian clothes when at costumed events. It came across as quite critical and uppity that those women weren’t worthy enough to put on such celebrated fashion. Not personally being a part of those encounters, the book is mute on whether or not instruction of the art of wearing Victorian clothing took place or simply a defense of clothing preference. At times the interactions read as quite harsh.
Another issue I had to get past was that Mrs. Chrisman actually WORE antique pieces.
Collecting antique garments is one thing (I have many myself), but to wear them brushes bitterly against my view that we should preserve intact pieces for posterity. Wearing these fascinating works puts them in harm’s way. When her lovely peach silk petticoat ruffle was torn off the skirt I moaned, “See! This is why you shouldn’t wear antiques!” I cried for that lovely piece that won’t ever be the same.
But to be fair, the whole idea of wearing a corset on a regular basis to produce a superior appearance that evokes power from the feminine form and gives a middle finger to the sloppiness of contemporary fashion is intriguing.
It takes guts to wear something so unlike the popular blue jeans and t-shirt of today. Negativity will follow, as it always does, that idea that exposes our shortcomings. Our laziness. Our lack of creativity.
However, Sarah has seemed to carry off this old-fashion style with aplomb. In our historical costuming realm and even down to popular Facebook pages that have shared news stories about her unusual habit, we admire the risks she has/is taking, applaud her sensibilities, yet still post comments saying “Oh, how I wish we still dressed that way.”
So, what’s stopping us?
We, who stand out from “general” society when we don our period clothing for events because we love it so – why do we hesitate to dress up the same in our everyday lives?
I, myself, yearn to wear period garments more often. I dream of the past and the beauty of it as seen through my modern-day rosy lenses. Although, my day job in a modern, professional office limits me to my choice of clothing.
But does it? Why can’t I take my beloved Truly Victorian skirt patterns and make them shorter and more office friendly? It surely could be done and still present a professional atmosphere.
That’s why I truly love Sarah’s book and the risk she has taken over the years. The first one out is always the hardest position. But once the barrier is breached the flow becomes faster. What if Sarah’s story influenced us – who love Victorian styles so much – encouraged us to be a bit more daring with our daily wardrobe?
What if the simple act of wearing longer skirts and improving our posture with a well-made corset was not forbidden in contemporary society? What if we did this? Could we really bring the past we dream about into our modern world? Can we change our world simply by the clothes we wear? I think so. I think it can truly happen.
Give Sarah Chrisman’s book a glance and be inspired to live in the present while dressing in the well-loved past. 🙂
“‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Yet foreign countries have ambassadors and diplomats to speak for them. The past is far less able to defend itself; it cannot formulate rebuttals. Perhaps that is why it is such an easy victim. Thus, an opinion has become common that everything about the present is superior to anything that existed in the past. It is difficult for many people to grasp that lifestyles may have been different in the past, and yet still completely satisfactory to those living them. History has no emissaries.” ~page 178
Have you read this book? What did you think about it?