Corsetry has undergone a radical transformation from its initial conception in the 19th century to its more specific uses today. Corsets were initially introduced as an undergarment for women. Once women started to become a prominent part of the workforce in the World War II era, they became impractical. Women could not effectively complete physical labor in a factory setting in a corset. This problem demonstrated how corsetry was primarily form over function; they were made to accentuate certain aspects of the female body, and did not necessarily enable maximum movement and comfort. This initiated a transition from corsets to bras and corsets subsequently fell out of the mainstream.
However, corsets have not been completed eviscerated from society, as they are a part of a fairly large fetish subculture. As mentioned, corsets, particularly tight-lacing, provide a more curvy, traditionally feminine physique to whoever is wearing it. Many people find these modifications caused by the corset to be highly arousing, and corsetry and tight-lacing have therefore been prominent in fetish culture. Fetishism is gaining immense sexual gratification from a particular body part, object, or in this case, item of clothing.
There are a number of aspects to the continued use of corsets, particularly in the realm of fetish. One part of this is power. An important question to ask is how much power a woman could feasibly have wearing a corset as a fetish item. It could theoretically swing both ways; corsets are a popular article of clothing amongst dominatrixes, which is a sexually dominant practice, but the restrictive nature of a corset can also be used for more submissive practices. It has been commodified in a way that it hasn’t been before. Lastly, some women want to tight-lace to create erotic discomfort. By tight-lacing, more blood is forced into the pelvic region which, in turn, enhances sexual pleasure.
What is interesting about the last point is that this has not been extensively scientifically studied. Products for men that enhance sexual pleasure through blood flow, such as Viagra and Cialis, are studied and marketed. However, women do not have as many resources going their way in terms of enhancing sexual pleasure, which shows that priority in sexual relations and fetishism primarily goes towards men. This is particularly apparent in the birth and continued prevalence of high heels. Bras did not give a lot of the same accentuation to breasts and other body parts, which led to the surge in heels in female fashion. They are able to serve a similar purpose and the only difference is the form of clothing.
The devolution of corsets from encouraged undergarments to fetishism does show some garnering of strength for women. The video we watched in class of a woman spending upwards of 15 minutes just getting her corset right was clearly not done exclusively for her own enjoyment; but for the pleasure of others as well. By rejecting the notion that this much effort needs to be put into pleasing a man, there is some feminist theory. Even with some people embracing it in the present for feminist reasons, there are still discrepancies about corsetry and sexual life. As the text noted, tight-lacing used to be frowned upon for being physically foolish and was likened to immorality of masturbation. While these thoughts are a little older historically, it still shows that women are either categorized as prudes or sluts, which demonstrates the uphill battle of feminism.