Alexandra Hutchings '12

The Corset Experience: A Twenty-First Century Woman's Experience With A Nineteenth Century Garment

As a honor’s research project for my Women’s and Gender Studies major at Ohio Wesleyan University, I wore a reproduction of a “R & G corset” circa 1898, from June 1 - September 18, 2011, for 110 days to understand how this garment affected a young healthy twenty-first century woman mentally, physically, and socially. During the course of this experiment on my body, I did incur some health risks thereby taking the project from just interest in the experience of the garment, to the recovery from that garment. To ensure safety throughout the course of the project I had a chiropractor, Dr. Scott, a pulmonologist, Dr. Chin, two nurses, Laura Holliger and Connie Black, a photographer, Charles Boos, as well as my professor and adviser at Ohio Wesleyan University, Dr. Richelle Schrock all on board to track my progress while wearing the corset.

What began as a corset experiment quickly turned into a corset experience, during which I learned how this “brace” affected every aspect of my life. And from this corset experience came health decline, making it impossible to continue the study for 200 days as I had first envisioned. Moreover, the recovery process from the corset’s destruction of my muscles became more poignant than the restraint and constriction of the corset, which had become my norm.

The corset is a hyper-sexualized object that historically played a specific role in Western women’s attire; it physically displayed her body according to the standards of the time. Although the corset is an undergarment, the shape of the undergarment ultimately defines the shape of the outer-garment. Because women have been judged by their physical appearance as a sign of status within patriarchy for thousands of years, it is no wonder that the most drastic body manipulator -- the corset -- has become associated with power and seduction. To break down this complex object, that has historically defined women’s bodies physically and therefore socioeconomically, it is important to note the three ways of seeing a corset and the wearer: First, how a person who does corset as opposed to a person who does not corset views the corset. Second, how a corseted person views herself while in a corset and without a corset. Third, how the viewer views a corseted woman.

Whether society was trying to keep women in their corsets or get them out of them, the question of need and legitimacy of the corsetry was a great source of debate among women, men, doctors, ministers, and educators during the beginning of the twentieth century. Why were women still wearing the corset in the 1920s? Why do women corset today? Did they physically have trouble relinquishing the corset? Did they receive praise or criticism for the corset? These and other questions pertaining to why and how women endured the corset are helpful in breaking down the complexities surrounding the corset and its hotly contested use.

Michael Doherty '10

The Ideological Genealogy of Women's Education

Jessica Nare '08

Masquerading as Men: San Francisco's Conflicting Reactions to Cross Dressing in the Nineteenth Century

 

Department Contact Info

Location

Sturges Hall (temporary location)
Ohio Wesleyan University
Delaware, OH 43015

Department Contacts

Department Co-Chair: Randolph Quaye
740-368-3833 | rkquaye@owu.edu

Department Co-Chair: Richelle D. Schrock
Slocum Hall 335
740-368-3871 | rdschroc@owu.edu

Academic Assistant: Wendi Kay
740-368-3982 | wwkay@owu.edu