Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What happened at What Katie Did

A while back, I was on a visit to London and paid a visit to the brick-and-mortar shop of What Katie Did. Nestled in a little corner of a shopping concourse off Portobello Road, I was surprised at the size of the shop in relation to the range of their items online. So many corsets and frills, and so little time...

But what really surprised was an exchange one of the sales clerk had with another woman who came in to the store enquiring about a cincher. The shop was about to close for the day, but this woman was adamant about getting her cincher right away, so the sales clerk hastily picked a black satin number off a rack and started fitting it her over clothes (no time to fit properly in a dressing room, apparently). The client asked some questions which led me to suspect that she had not done her research either in corset care or wearing, such as, "Can't I just unsnap it from the front?" and "But I want one tighter than this," despite the fact that she stated this would be her first foray into lacing at all.

The sales lady explained that no, you have to loosen the corset from the back first or you'll warp the boning, and that corsets shouldn't really go much tighter than 4 inches less than your natural waist. The customer was nonetheless quite pleased with her appearance, and asked the sales woman if she could wear it every day. "No, absolutely not," she replied. "You'll hurt yourself."

I typically am a fairly quiet person, and don't gravitate towards conflict of any kind. But this, I could not abide, and told both of them that I have been wearing a corset nearly every day for about three years.

"Well, you shouldn't; you'll get a hernia," said the sales lady, as the client's face lit up at my announcement.

"I don't know," I said. "I haven't had any problems. You just have to ease into it." And then, sensing some tension and still wishing to make a purchase of my own with minimal awkwardness, I added, "But my every day corset isn't nearly as nice as that one." Which is true. The satin cincher, though pretty, would not hold up to regular lacing. But my boring, beige, cotton twill corset has served me quite well, since it was built with durability in mind over elegance. Nothing more was said on the subject until my man and I left the shop, and he said, "What was that back there? That was awesome!"

What happened was that I felt personally insulted by the sales lady, and by her spreading of misinformation to someone who was enthusiastic about corsets and needed some level-headed guidance. Threatening a hernia doesn't much help. Like anything else, tightlacing is perfectly fine as long as it done properly. You don't go from never having worn a corset at all to suddenly wearing one every day at a 4-inch reduction. You work up to it, over a few or several weeks, and I bristled at the statement that, categorically, regular tightlacing will give you health problems. I visit my doctor regularly, who specializes in internal medicine, and he has never commented that I am unhealthy in any way at all related to tightlacing.

I feel that misinformation such as what was offered by the sales lady does a disservice to all corset enthusiasts, both spectators and lacers. We're not freaks. We're not putting our lives on the line, if we're being smart. All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, I want my body to be shaped in a way that no amount of exercise will achieve, and as far as I know, you only live once.
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Pinup Tales by Kitty du Vert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.