From debutante balls to the dungeon, the corset has shed its old- fashioned reputation as an uncomfortable underpinning and found its way into the closets of fashionistas and fetishists alike. During the spring Paris 2004 shows, Jean Paul Gaultier's updated versions of this ultrafeminine throwback conjured up a good night's sleep of boudoir fantasies, and corsets have been a longtime staple in the collections of British cult couture designer and celeb fave Alexander McQueen. Pinup star, burlesque darling, and Marilyn Manson gal pal Dita Von Teese spoke in Vogue of reducing her already teeny-tiny 22-inch waist to (gasp) 16 inches when properly corseted, and Rachel Hunter's breasts recently heaved from a sexy lil' red number on the cover of Playboy. But this is one trend not strictly for the haute couture fashion jet set: Look through the pages of any bridal magazine and you'll find an increasing number of to-be-wed women—virgin bride to the totally tattooed—jumping on the corset-wearing bandwagon. Closer to home, babe-o-licious vixen Candy Whiplash, of Seattle's rock and roll burlesque troupe the Gun Street Girls, attributes her lovely hourglass figure to the virtues of vintage underwear, quipping that "corsets are the fastest way to get a man to want to undress you, only to find he can't—in less than 20 minutes, anyway."
Wrap Yourself Up:How to Wear a Corset
Loosen the back laces and wrap the corset around you. Fasten the busk by first hooking shut the waist area, then the remaining clasps. Carefully pull the lacing taut, first from the top and then from the bottom, tying excess lacing into a loop at the waist. Now is a good time to meditate—breathe in, breathe out, say "om" . . . you're almost there. Keep in mind that corsets are designed to reduce your waist and accentuate your bosom and buttocks. A too-tight corset can cause rib discomfort, back pain, and other health ailments, so practice some patience while lacing. Although your corset will be custom-made to fit you flawlessly, you're still going to have to wear it in. Suck it up, suck it in, and adapt—you'll love the way it makes you look, and eventually the fabric and steel bones will "remember" how to hug and hold the contours of your body.
Luckily, there are highly skilled corset makers in Seattle to create a made-just-for-you fashion fantasy. Thirty-five-year dressmaking veteran Marie Cooley, of the Fitting Room (members.aol.com/fittingrm or 206-547-7671), works from her whimsical home studio, complete with a lavish Buffy the Vampire Slayer shrine. Her latest creations are proudly displayed alongside boxes and bins of every sewing accoutrement imaginable; personalized patterns and mock corsets made for first fittings hang from the walls. Cooley has silhouetted the bosoms of stylish cross-dressers, prom princesses, and even a touring assistant for Jamiroquai, who supplied her own to-die-for Ungaro fabric. Cooley cites that especially in the U.K., corsets are more of a mainstream staple in young women's wardrobes. Her uncomplicated designs created from luxe fabrics and leathers are historically accurate and stunning.
Local leather studworker, custom clothier, and corset maker O'Rion Xcalibur, of One Wilde Knight (www.onewildeknight.com or 206-325-6833), creates intricate garments for everyone from the bridal set to the BDSM scene, garments of both wistful prettiness and strident sexuality. Located in the Ravenna district, Xcalibur is available by appointment only at his home studio, and offers a complimentary 45-minute consultation with no pressure to purchase. His historical re-creations are decadent in detail and fabrics, but it's Xcalibur's fetish wear that truly exhibits his far-reaching realm of creativity and imagination: One female client requested that her partner's below-the-belt play toy be incorporated in the design of a purple iridescent PVC corset. What's next? "I'm toying with the idea of bulletproof corsets," says the intrepid designer.
It is likely that the love of and fascination with corsets will continue to grow. This single item of clothing can objectify and liberate—embrace the body and set the imagination free.