Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Mother

Apologies to you, dear reader, for having gone so long without posting. I have been on the road making the annual holiday visit with my man's family, and while on the road came down with bronchitis. I write to you now from my cave of recovery--toast, hot tea, old movies, and knitting projects that should have been completed long ago.

During our visit last week with his mother, she asked if we could help her pick out a dress to wear to a wedding she'll be attending in the spring. The wedding takes place a few hours away from where we live, and she wasn't sure what to expect from weddings in our neck of the country (which is vastly different from hers). My man and I stationed ourselves in her living room, and she brought out a few candidates, nearly all of them intact with yellowing price tags. The first was a sleeveless white tunic with a pattern of pastel flowers in velour. "Maybe something warmer," I said. "It's still a little chilly in ----- during the spring. Plan for weather like what you'd have in March." I didn't even mention the first cardinal rule of dressing for a wedding, which is that NOBODY wears white (or any shade of white) except the bride.

The next was a long black taffeta dress with one shoulder and white ruffles at the top. "It's lovely," I grimaced, "but it sounds like a small country wedding. Perhaps if it was in the city." Her face dropped a little as she said, "Oh--so probably not this one either?" She flourished a hanger with a fire-engine red knee-length dress, also made of taffeta, also one shouldered. I looked at it and thought of little Havana, not an airy northern retreat at the edge of a forest. "No," I answered, "probably not." It would have been funny if she weren't so serious.

She finally pulled out a long black skirt tastefully adorned with tiny white flowers, and a simple long-sleeved white blouse that tied on the side.

"Perfect," said my man.

"Perfect," I said. "That will be great for the weather, and it's not too formal."

"Great," she smiled. "And for shoes, I have these teeny little black strappy sandals!"

The thing that struck me so much about this exchange was what I saw she was trying to prove. Here she was trying to show us she can be beautiful and glamorous, when really she was demonstrating how thoroughly clueless she is when it comes to dressing herself. As I saw from pictures of her in her younger years, she was once a great living pinup herself, but now she wears all the signs of a woman who has let herself go and is now trying desperately to paint over it. You don't have to look too closely to see that she's simply trying too hard, but so many years of personal neglect require more help than what can be purchased in the cosmetics aisle of a drugstore. There is nothing classic in her level of artificiality because it stinks with a lack of confidence and a refusal to look oneself squarely in the mirror. It's one thing to recapture the glamor of yesterday, but quite another to recapture the person you used to be. The first can be done, but the second shouldn't even be attempted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tighten Up, Part II: Your First Corset

It's important for every pinup to feel confident and sexy, and achieving a perfectly hourglass-shaped silhouette just isn't possible for most of us without at least a little help. This is where your corset comes in, and while buying your first one can be a little intimidating, if you do your homework, you're in for a load of fun.

The first question you should ask yourself is, what do you want from this contraption? You have to know this, since the decisions surrounding your first corset should have mostly to do with the kind of tightlacing you plan on doing. When I made the decision to purchase a corset, it was made with the intention of wearing the corset for 23 hours a day and seven days a week--meaning the only time I took it off was when I showered, and so 23 hours a day is generous. I wore it all day every day and even slept in it (though I did loosen it a bit for bedtime). With this in mind, I purchased a light pink satin underbust corset from Shane Aaron, figuring I could wear the light-colored garment under my light-colored clothing. There were two issues with my first corset, with the first being that satin is not the most durable fabric. Since your corset rubs against your clothing with every move you make, you need a fabric that will withstand the friction which, over time, can cause considerable damage to the corset. Once I figured this out, I decided to wear my corset only under clothes that fit fairly loosely so as to minimize damage to the garment.

The second thing to keep in mind is the kind of look and
styling you want. Underbust designs are generally recommended for every day wear as they'll cinch your waist but they allow a little more movement in your upper body than an overbust design. There are also varying lengths of corsets, from what looks like a very wide belt (often referred to simply as a waist cincher) to full-length dresses that run from your shoulder to your knees. And there's everything in between--low hip, high hip, long busk, short busk...there are just about as many corset types as there are body types. The length and shape you choose all depends on what fits you and your needs. Just as there are many corset shapes, corsets also come in a plethora of materials, including satin, silk, cotton, wool, leather, latex and more. Whatever kind of fabric you choose, however, you should wear a corset liner between your corset and your skin. This will help protect your skin from chafing, and will help extend the life of the corset by shielding it from sweat and body oils.

When buying a corset, you also need to pay close attention to who made it. Make no mistake that corsetieres are artists. As such, every corset designer makes his or her corsets a little differently, so it's important to try on one of their corsets before you take the step of buying one. If you buy a custom job, try one on from the rack first. I've ordered corsets online with success (try Lace Embrace) but I wouldn't recommend an online purchase for your first corset. Most shops that sell corsets can also submit custom orders for you. Stop in, try on a bunch of different things, and have them take the necessary measurements. Some corsetieres may even make a muslin mock-up first for you to try on before they craft the real thing.

Another thing to note for when you first try on corsets is that the given size of the corset is the size the corset makes your waist when the corset is closed. You don't want your corset to close entirely--there should be a little gap. Measure your natural waist, then look for a corset that, when closed, is about four inches smaller than your natural waist. For example: My natural waist is about 26 inches. Most of my corsets are 22 inches when closed, and my corseted waist is 22.5 inches.

Eventually, you'll own a variety of corsets which you'll use in a variety of situations. My favorite daily corset is entirely lacking in glamour. It's a nude-colored twill underbust model made by Amy Crowder of Wasp Creations, but the beauty of it is that I can wear it under anything. With exception to the shape it provides, it's entirely unattractive only because it's so heavily worn and it wasn't constructed to be aesthetically pleasing in and of itself. It's useful, but it isn't what I wear if I want to make an impression on my man. In that case, I wear something in a more tantalizing brocade, maybe with some more elaborate detailing or in an offbeat design (I have one that looks like a tuxedo jacket). I tend to save the creative pieces when I know they will be appreciated, but I still certainly wear them as my own little secret whenever I can.

Ideally you can own at least one utility corset and another for "special occasions." It will take you some time to collect a respectable collection of corsets, since after all they are expensive (expect to pay between $250-350 for a basic corset). Not to get too mushy, but just remember that all things worth doing take some time. Whether you call it waist training, corset training, staylacing, tightlacing or anything else, taking the time and making the effort to cut the figure you want is absolutely worth it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tighten Up, Part I

Without a doubt, the part of my physical appearance that draws the most attention is my corset. Sometimes the attention is positive, sometimes it isn't--comments run the gamut of, "Why on earth would you do that to yourself?", to "That's incredible. Sign me up." (Or something roughly equivalent.)

I've been lacing now for about three years. There were a couple of false starts due to corset craftsmanship, but once I got going, I was hooked. From the first time I stood in the fetish shop dressing room with my man looking on as I saw my body swathed in brocade and boning, I knew this was for me. Finally, I could cut the figure I always wanted, but which no number of sit-ups could achieve. I did my research--as a bookworm, I can't do anything without first consulting the written word--but no amount of reading could have prepared me for what lay ahead in my future of living corseted.

The first thing I learned was that as long as I was laced, I could not continue to eat the way I had been eating for years. As a member of the Clean Plate Club since childhood, my worst habit carried into adulthood has been my propensity to eat everything put in front of me, but since wearing a corset I've learned the art of moderation. I can still eat whatever I want, I just can't finish the mammoth bowl of tortellini placed in front of me at an Italian restaurant. I can't have too much salt (even sushi is too much), and I can't have too much beer, nor can I down too many beloved champagne cocktails. It's all about portions, really, and tightlacing taught me how to do it.

(Perhaps this would be a good time to point out to anyone who may be considering tightlacing that a corset is NOT a weight loss tool. When you take off the corset, your waistline will go back to being whatever size it was before you tied your laces. I can't stress enough how important it is to understand that one should not start tightlacing for the sole purpose of losing weight.)

Tightlacing has also taught me proper posture. My mother spent years trying to get me to sit up straight, but the corset has proved a far better teacher. I walk tall, with confidence, and like any proper lady I don't bend at the waist but instead fold at the knees if I need to reach the ground.

Wearing a corset also completely changed my wardrobe. I don't wear pants, as 1) they don't work with corsets, 2) I don't know any woman who looks better in pants than she does in a skirt or dress. My clothes fit smoothly on my body, giving the appearance in some outfits that my clothes have been tailored to me when in fact they've been purchased off the rack.

The benefits and complexities of tightlacing can scarcely be summed up in one post--I haven't even touched on the satisfaction of discipline and restraint enjoyed by both myself and my man--nor is one writing sufficient to discuss the reactions to my waist from my family, my coworkers, my friends, or random people on the street, not to mention my responses to their reactions. The issues of tightlacing in a modern world are many, especially in a world where corsets are widely perceived as devices of torture created ultimately for the viewing pleasure of the male public.

Know, though, that I will return to this subject. I've only barely pierced the surface of an abyss of satins, silks and stays.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Bid for Halloween Every Day (with taste)

It's an unfortunate thing that I work in a mall. More precisely, my office is located in a mall, and although there are many reasons why this is such a bad thing, one of them happens to be the state of the mall at this time of year. I imagine it's the same for most shopping malls now, where almost every teen clothing store sections off a part of their shop to outfit young ladies for Sluts on Parade--I mean, Halloween.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about costumes. It's fun to get dressed up, and be someone else for a bit. By the end of it, you've usually learned something new about yourself, and so it can be a truly enriching experience. What fascinates me about Halloween is how so many girls choose to dress as something sexy. When given the chance to be anyone for one night, when given the chance to be held even a little unaccountable for your actions because you were playing a part, most women gravitate towards an overt expression of super-charged sexuality. Factor in that the typical male Halloween costume centers on juvenile humor or gore (or both), and it's an interesting way to guess at who we wish we could be in a world with no consequences.

What's wrong with being sexy on a regular basis? Most of the girls I see on Halloween don't even wear their sexiness well, as they seem to have little idea of how to maximize their assets and dress for their shape. (See ass-baring jeans, tummy rolls breaking out of midriff shirts, birth canals made visible by mini-skirts.) I wonder if this idea that sexy = maximum skin display has something to do with a lack of practice, and perhaps that is why so many women come off looking more like a foal learning to walk instead of a confident tigress who knows what she wants.

(Another great post on Halloween and sex can be found on Chelsea Girl's blog, linked from my naughty drawer. Check out Dispatches from Strip Nation, Part I, Halloween.)
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