Alexandra Hutchings - Class of 2012

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 - Class of 2010

The Ideological Genealogy of Women's Education

Jessica Nare - Class of 2008

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

How to Achieve WGS Departmental Honors at OWU

Step 1: Start thinking and planning your potential WGS research project in your Sophomore or Junior year. Seek counseling from your adviser on the research topic.

Step 2: Fill out the necessary paperwork during the Spring of your Junior year to propose your research topic to be considered for departmental honors.

Step 4: Begin to research.

Step 5: Start your paper early!

Step 6: Pick three professors for your written honors exam and four professors for the defense of your paper.

Step 7: Take the three part written honors exam.

Step 8: Submit a copy of your honors research paper for the defense (at least a week ahead of time).

Step 9: Meet with four of your professors to defend your WGS honors research paper.

Step 10: Make any necessary editing changes to your research paper and submit it to the Dean's office.

Other important requirements:

Must have a 3.0 or higher to apply for departmental honors.

The research project must be done over two semesters at OWU.