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Corset-Adjacent Garments: Modern Descendants of the Corset

As any historian would attest, the corset was not merely a fashionable garment designed to shape the wearer into the desired silhouette of the day. It was utilitarian foundation-wear that served to support the bustline before bras were invented, distribute the weight of 10+ pounds of petticoats, support the back of the working class, promote good posture (however that was defined at the time), and more.

Naturally, humans strive to invent, innovate, and improve upon earlier designs. As the corset fell out of mainstream fashion in the 20th century, many (and I do mean many) different garments and devices cropped up to functionally replace the corset. Some were improved upon, but as many of the writers in Solaced have come to realize, sometimes it’s reasonable to go old-school with a well-fitted corset that combines the functionality of multiple products here, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Here I’ll go through a dozen or so of the descendants of the corset. Call it an extended family reunion, if you will.

(P.S. you can test your knowledge in my Corset Descendants Quiz here!)

1. Brassiere

We’re starting with the most obvious, mostly because I want to get it out of the way. Yes, we are all familiar with the story of Mary Phelps Jacob and her 1914 patented handkerchief brassiere.

Bras hoist the bust tissue like a cantilever bridge using tension around both the ribs and the shoulders, while corsets provide a resting place for the breast to sit on, more like a beam bridge (the “beams” being the vertical bones) or perhaps a window flower box. The physics for each is different, but sound.

Where bras can become troublesome is with particularly heavy bosoms; too much tension on the shoulders can squeeze the nerves and blood vessels against the collarbone – this is much more serious than just permanent deep grooves in the shoulders. It can lead to numbness, tingling, pain, and eventually neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.

2. Waist Trainer / Cincher / Faja

Often made out of of latex rubber or neoprene (blended with cotton or polyester), a trainer or cincher is a wide, stretchy belt that provides compression to narrow the waistline – albeit, a more gentle compression than corsets are capable of achieving, and the latex may dry-rot or stretch out over time. It may also cause allergic reactions in some individuals.

It is also designed to hold in body heat and sweat via its unbreathable fabrics (whereas cotton and linen corsets allow for heat exchange and sweat to be wicked away). These cinchers claim that the metabolism will increase with body heat, and increased sweating will detoxify the body. As we now know, it really just temporarily gets rid of edema and dehydrates the wearer but this does not cause fat loss.

The single one-up that this garment has over corsets is that it’s more flexible and “stealthable” under clothing, but modern innovations are challenging this claim with the No Line and the Power Corset.

3. Post-partum belly binder

Gentle post-partum belly binding has been practiced independently for centuries, by different civilizations all over the world. The belly cloth or binder goes by many different names – sarashi in Japan, faja in South America (originally a simple cloth, not to be confused with the rubber faja above), and Bengkung in Malaysia (seen here).

The binding practice is supposed to help keep the body warm (in line with the Indian practice of banantana, where no cold food or drink is allowed, no cool showers, drafty dwellings, etc), assist in contracting the uterus, and pull the abdominal muscles together to minimize diastasis recti. Especially notable is the way the bengkung is wrapped and tied back to front – not pulling from front-to-back as in the case of many front-lacing corsets.

If wrapped low enough over the hip bones, it can also stabilize the pelvis as relaxin leaves the body and your joints become less loosey-goosey.

The operative word here is gentle binding. I would not recommend wearing an actual corset any sooner than 6-8 weeks postpartum (or more!) – whenever your midwife/OB says you are finished with your pelvic rest period, your pelvic floor has fully healed and strengthened, and you’re free to return to normal activities, including vigorous exercise.

4. Post-surgical Compression Binder

There are many different types of post-operative binders, but most of them are some variation of a wide, stretchy, adjustable tensor bandage. Surgeons keep these on hand and gently wrap the patient with one of these bad boys (overtop of the regular gauze and dressings) after some kind of abdominal surgery – whether that’s bariatric surgery, liposuction, tummy tuck, gall bladder removal, endometrial excision, hernia correction, or some other type of surgery.

It is flexible enough to allow limited movement in the patient, but not so much that the patient will accidentally pop their stitches / staples. The compression will also curb edema and prevent the body from swelling too much (excessive inflammation can impede proper healing). This is also helpful after liposuction, where the skin may be slightly loose and the compression can help the skin to contract (to a limit).

After open surgery (where a large incision is made and organs might be moved/pushed out of the way), compression can help the organs return back to their original positions (more or less – peritoneal organs are less fixed than we believe!). In laparoscopic surgery where there’s usually insufflation (the abdomen is pumped full of carbon dioxide to inflate the area and allow the camera to see where you’re navigating), the gas has to eventually escape by whatever means possible – through incisions, burping, passing wind – and compressing the abdomen may help expedite this process.

This type of garment (made by NYOrtho in this case) is cheaply manufactured and designed to be discarded, which is a positive in this case as it will very likely become soiled with blood and other fluids draining from the incision sites. It would be a shame to soil an expensive corset!

5. TLSO (Rigid Orthopedic Back Brace)

The Sforzesco brace for scoliosis

There are dozens of different rigid corrective braces out there: Milwaukee brace, Charleston brace, Boston brace, Lyon brace, etc. but the Sforzesco brace (seen here) caught my eye, for reasons you can probably guess.

TLSO stands for Thoracic (the part of the spine where the ribs are attached), Lumbar (the lower back), Sacral (the fused part of the spine attached to the pelvis) Orthoses. A longline underbust covers from the lower thorax to the sacrum; an overbust can cover from even higher on the thorax.

The Sforzesco brace was created in Milan, a fashion-forward city, and was designed to functionally outcompete many other TLSO braces while at the same time being (mostly) transparent rigid plastic; thin and easily stealthable under clothing; and creating a (mostly) symmetric and fashionable silhouette – all features that may appeal to a self-conscious young scoliosis patient, thus encouraging patient compliance to wear the orthosis as much as possible, for the best possible outcome.

There are corset makers who are able to create stabilizing asymmetric textile braces and traction units for scoliosis patients, but be sure to carefully weigh the pros and cons for yourself and discuss with your trusted osteopath/ chiropractor/ orthopedic physician before jumping in.

6. SI-Joint Belt

An SI-joint belt (SI = sacro-iliac) is designed more for symptomatic pain relief rather than claiming to correct an asymmetry, in the case of the TLSO brace above.

That being said, this particular belt by BraceAbility comes with many lofty promises, including being able to help with SI-joint dysfunction and symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD, a condition that affects pregnant women where the joints of the pelvis loosen and slip around painfully), stabilizing hairline vertebral fractures, providing relief for arthritis of the spine and hips, and more. The “lacing gap” in the back also clears the tailbone if the wearer suffers from a cracked or bruised coccyx.

While SI-joint belts and lumbar braces come in many forms (usually padded velcro belts) I was tickled to see this one by BraceAbility with a pulley system that closely resembles the form and function of a back-lacing corset. It’s also not uncommon to find lumbar braces with vertical bones to provide the necessary perpendicular tension to hug the small of the back without collapsing on itself.

7. Kidney Belt

Betcha thought this was yet another lumbar brace – but it actually serves a completely different purpose in this context! Sure, it provides some posture correction and lumbar support, but the kidney belt replaced what the corset did for cavalry (soldiers on horseback) since the 1820s or so.

Spending all day, every day on horseback (or in today’s case, on motorcycles) constantly jostles the body – from bouncing steeds to vibrations on gravelly or pothole-riddled roads, your organs take a hit – now, the intestines are fairly durable, but kidneys are sensitive (they’re enrobed in a layer of fat and we have two of them for a reason, in case one eventually gives out). Riding often enough or long enough can result in kidney damage over time, and there was a time when it was not uncommon for a rider to see blood in their urine. This belt holds the kidneys still, minimizing injury – and the belt can also serve as armor, shielding the lumbar spine from damage if the rider is thrown.

8. Cummerbund

The pink sash sported by Fairytale Groom Ken (which I had a very similar Ken doll in my toddlerhood) is designed to replace a waistcoat in a 3-part tuxedo – but more interestingly, it hails back to a protective and practical garment worn by military, sportsmen, and ushers alike.

The etymology and history of the cummerbund is one of my favorites. The name comes from two Hindi words: kamar, meaning “waist”, and band meaning “belt” or “tie”. So cummerbund literally means a cloth to bind the waist.

Cummerbunds were originally simple sashes used in the Middle East and India for over 400 years, worn by military (likely used for the same purpose as kidney belts or cavalry belts, see above). Today, some modern military groups (including the US Navy) still wear a cummerbund as part of their formal dress.

Cummerbunds were also used in sporting events in the 1800s and early 1900s – whether to wick away sweat or to provide postural support, perhaps in the same way as modern lifting belts (we’re getting to that next!).

Lastly, cummerbunds were often worn by servicemen in high-class facilities (“fancy buildings”). E.g. worn by ushers in opera houses, doorkeeps at galas, bellhops in high-end hotels, etc. The upward-facing pleats of the belt functioned as several tiers of shallow pockets – enabling the wearer to keep ticket stubs, cash tips/change, or other small items within easy reach.

Depending on how tightly a traditional cummerbund is fitted to the body, it can also pull in the abdomen and prevent one’s spreading figure from outgrowing their uniform.

These days, cummerbunds usually have an elastic or velcro backing and don’t provide much support, but are now only for show. They’re most commonly worn during proms or weddings as an alternative to a waistcoat – so it’s more lightweight and cool for someone who doesn’t want too many layers.

Corsets for men obviously exist today, and can easily be disguised as cummerbunds or waistcoats.

9. Weight Lifting Belt

As mentioned above, the weight lifting belt has existed in “primitive” forms as a tight cloth wrapped around the waist back in the 19th century, and has since been reinvented as ever-more-macho wide leather belts designed to be worn around the navel.

Weight lifting belts serve several purposes – according to ProFitness (the producer of this particular piece), the belt supports and holds the lumbar spine and abdomen in a neutral position – preventing muscular strain, herniated discs, or other injuries. It also applies counter-pressure to the abdominal stress already being exerted on the body from the lifting action, preventing umbilical or abdominal hernias.

Encouraging good form and allowing the lifter to build good muscle memory will also enhance their performance and allow them to lift up to 10% more weight, they say.

10. Hernia Girdle

Sometimes hernias happen: whether you lifted too much without proper support (see above), you gestated a child and your diastasis recti was uncontrolled, you had surgery and the muscles never properly healed, or you have a congenital condition – plenty of people have abdominal hernias. Particularly common are umbilical hernias, because when you were in the womb, your belly button used to be a literal hole where the umbilical cord outside your body led to a vein inside your body (it went to your liver and vena cava, for those curious – and it closes up minutes after birth).

Anywho, you have quite a lot of pressure inside your body, and your muscles hold everything in nicely – most of the time. But if you have a hole in your muscles, and the pressure inside your body is greater than the pressure outside of your body, your intestines want to make their slippery escape. This is painful – and dangerous, if blood flow to the bulging intestine is pinched off. Hernia girdles stop this from happening by applying external pressure on the area and pushing the intestines back in.

Corsets have been known to do this as well – but it’s important to note that it’s only good for abdominal hernias. Inguinal (groin) or hiatal hernias (where the stomach pushes through the diaphragm) require a different type of bracing or truss (or surgery). Corsets, as well as the abdominal binder seen here, will not help with inguinal and hiatal hernias, and in fact might exacerbate the condition, so be sure to know exactly what you’re dealing with.

11. Shoulder Posture Harness

I don’t blame you if you’re confused by this harness being here, because back in #1 we discussed some of the advantages of corsets NOT having shoulder straps. But corsets can help reduce a rolled shoulder posture actively (through the use of waistcoat corsets or corsets with shoulder straps) OR passively, simply by virtue of taking the weight off the shoulders and allowing them to relax and return to a more neutral position.

Many folks who suffer with a heavy bustline will find that a supportive overbust corset relieves the weight that pulls the pectoral and trapezius muscles forward – allowing the wearer to open and stretch their chest muscles, hold their shoulders back, and reduce slouching much in the same way as this harness. However, one should be careful not to go overboard with a “proud” posture (looking at you, Edwardian S-curve!).

There’s such thing as “too much of a good thing” so whether you use a corset or a posture-corrective shoulder harness, be sure that it’s properly fitted and not too tight or forcing you into an unnatural stance.

12. Bustier

I am loath to include this in the list (I’m a bit of a snob) but the family tree would not be complete if I didn’t invite the bustier to this reunion.

The bustier is visually the most similar to a corset, but it does have some marked differences in form and function. They are most often worn as lingerie or club wear.

Bustiers do provide some bust support, with or without shoulder straps. They can have separate cups, or look similar to the one shown here. However, they tend to come in a limited range of bust sizes – and because they are more lightly structured than corsets, they can have a tendency to slip down (but few people care if they plan to only wear it short-term anyway).

Most bustiers also have bones to hold vertical tension, albeit usually featherweight plastic boning. Bustiers also always have some elasticity to allow for greater range of motion, to more easily fit a wider range of bodies, and also to be able to use hooks & eyes or a zipper to secure the garment (instead of a lacing system).

As such, apart from some modest bust support, the bustier’s main purpose is primarily aesthetic – which is 100% okay, it just should not be conflated with the corset, which offers a broader range of practical uses.

Is there any other garment or device that you would add to this list? Leave a comment below! Also, now that you’re familiar with the corset-adjacent modern garments, test your knowledge in my newest quiz here.

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Corset Liner Master Post + Comparing 5 Brands

Back in 2011 I made an introductory video on corset liners, what they are used for and what you can use as a substitute (tank top, tube top, etc). But at the time I had only experienced one brand of corset liner, and in the past few years I’ve tried a few more from different companies so I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of each today.

What is a corset liner?

A liner is a thin, stretchy, breathable garment that you wear underneath your corset which provides a barrier or buffer between your skin and the corset.

Liners do two things: they protect your skin against chafing, and they help keep the corset clean. I’ll go into more detail below.

Liners are typically made from a very stretchy fabric and designed to be smaller than your natural waist. A well-fitting corset liner, when unstretched, should be about the same waist measurement as your corset’s closed internal waist measurement, so when you’re lacing down, the liner will shrink back with the corset and remain smooth around your body.

Preventing wrinkles or folds under the corset will help keep you more comfortable and prevent pressure sores that might have otherwise occurred if you wore a bulky shirt under your corset instead.

You can purchase specific corset liners, which look like hourglass-shaped tube tops. Most corset liners are for underbust corsets – they cover only from the underbust to the upper hips.

 

Corset liners help protect your body

If you are lacing without a liner, the rigid corset may drag against your skin and pull it in uncomfortable ways, resulting in chafing and bruising. Laces can also cause rope/friction burn if the corset doesn’t have a modesty panel. Corset liners are sometimes made with a relatively slick fabric which allows the corset (and laces) to glide over the liner, reducing the risk of chafing.

A good liner can also prevent your skin from being scratched by a split or rough grommet. All proper liners will also be breathable and moisture-wicking so will help keep your skin comfortable and feeling cool and dry throughout the day.

 

Corset liners help protect your corset

White corset liner by Corset Connection, one of the liners being compared in the table below.
White corset liner by Corset Connection, one of the liners being compared in the table below.

If you’re wearing a corset on a regular basis, especially in warm weather, you’re going to sweat quite a lot. Your body also produces sebum, and trillions of bacteria and yeast cells grow all over your skin and feed of the oil and cholesterol in your sebum, kept in a careful balance to protect you from external pathogenic germs. You are also constantly sloughing off dead skin cells and losing downy little hairs from all over your body. Also, if you use skin products like lotions and perfumes, these can also transfer onto your clothing! This is why some people are understandably disgusted to learn that corsets are rarely (if ever) washed.

Corsets should not be washed regularly, for several reasons which I discuss this article.  It’s imperative that the corset be kept as clean as possible and washing be kept to a minimum.The catch 22 is that corsets can be damaged by being washed, but they can also be damaged by not being washed! The salt in our sweat and the acidic pH of the mantle of our skin can break down fibers in delicate fabrics like silk. Also, an unwashed, dark, damp corset can create a breeding ground for microbes, and affect that delicate balance of critters on our skin – making us more prone to skin infections – yuck!

But wearing a liner between your body and the corset means that the liner will take this abuse instead, and the liner can be washed regularly, saving your corset and keeping it clean and fresh.

Are you absolutely required to wear a liner under your corset? Of course not; a garment is yours to do with as you wish – but if you want your corset to last as long as possible, then it’s a great reason to start!

 

Thin stretchy shirts can be a corset liner substitute

If you don’t have access or can’t afford real corset liners, there are many products that will do as makeshift liners. Some of my favorites include thin cotton babydoll t-shirts (as they are thin, close-fitting, stretchy and breathable), seamless microfiber camisoles and tank tops in the summer, and microfiber turtlenecks in the winter. I have even heard of people wearing body stockings or leotards – just make sure you have some way of going to the bathroom in these, as you don’t want to be in a rush and discover that you have to remove your corset to do your business!

However, most shirts have their limitations: they are usually cut to suit a natural waist, and they’re unlikely to shrink down enough with a corset – the result is a few wrinkles in your shirt under the corset. This is usually not the end of the world, and many people are fine with this especially if their corset is only a moderate reduction and they’re not training 23 hours a day. In shirts that tend to wrinkle on me, I will slide my hands under the corset before tightening and try to bring the fullness of the fabric away from the sides of my waist (where there’s the most pressure) to the back, where it’s less likely to irritate.

 

Corset liner =/= Faja

Both liners and fajas are stretchy and designed to fit smooth around the body. However, they have some important differences:

A corset liner is breathable and moisture-wicking. It’s not shapewear, it’s not so strong that it’s going to pull your waist in by more than an inch or so.

A “rubber cincher” or faja is still stretchy, but it has more resistance so it may bring in the waist by a couple of inches. But the main difference is that it’s not designed to be breathable. The rubber or neoprene coating keeps you warm and encourages you to sweat. The rubber cincher makes you hot and sweaty, whereas a corset liner keeps you cool and dry – literally opposite effects!

Let’s compare the stats of all the corset liners:

The table is pretty wide, be sure to use the slider at the bottom to see all the brands.

BrandContour CorsetsChabaMeTimeless TrendsMadame SherFabrizia Barros CorsetsHeavenly CorsetsCorset Connection
Price$45 USD each, or $125 for set of 3.$15 USD each$19 USD each$20 USD for a pair$18 USD for a pair£14 GBP (~$18 USD) each$20 USD each
Type of FabricSynthetic 4-way stretch Spandex fabric (not swimsuit fabric).75% Bamboo
20% Polyamide
5% Spandex
Cotton and spandex (4-way stretch)Cotton jersey (4-way stretch knit).Cotton and elastane (4-way stretch knit).Synthetic spandex fabric (feels like swimsuit fabric).Cotton and lycra (thinner than Madame Sher).
# of seams2 seams (I wear the corset with the seams to the front and back, and the tag on the outside).Zero seams (woven tube).2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).1 seam which is designed to be worn toward the back of the body, where the laces are.1 seam, and the seam is kind of lapped so it's flatter than a typical seam allowance.
Custom or StandardCustom to my measurementsStandard (sizes S, M, L)Standard (I wear size small). Available in size XS - XXL (18 inches to 42 inches)Made to match my corset sizeMade to order? (I received samples)Custom to my measurementsStandard (size medium)
Colors availableBlack, beige, BlackBlack, whiteNudeNude / beigeBlack, whiteBlack, white, ivory, nude
Length (Unstretched)14”11” (size medium), 10" (size small)12”10”10.5”12”10”
Circumferential measurements (Unstretched)Waist is 20", underbust is 26", hips are 32”.Size small is 20” along the entire length, size Medium is 24” along entire length.Waist is 24", underbust is 27", hips are 34”. (corresponds to size 24" hourglass corset measurements)22" waist, same as my corsets - but the underbust/ hips were not to my measurements.Waist is 24", underbust is 26", hips are 30".Waist is 21", underbust is 28”, hips are 29”.Waist is 24", underbust is 27", hips are 27”.
Stretch Test190%170%150%150%150%152%155%
ProsElastic ribbon on the top and bottom helps keep it in place. You can fold your liner over the top and bottom edges of your corset, which helps protect the binding from wear, abrasion, or underboob sweat. Very slick fabric and has very little friction. Very thin and stretchy.Smooth, moisture-wicking, soft to the touch, no seams. Mostly natural fibers (good for those who are sensitive too all synthetic liners).Breathable and cool, great for those who have a skin sensitivity to synthetics. Breathable and cool, great for those who have a skin sensitivity to synthetics. The fabric is infused with a skin toning / conditioning moisturizer (lasts up to 15 washes)Very slick fabric and has very little friction. Very thin.Pretty stretch lace on the top and bottom edges, which is flatter/ lower profile than a thick folded sewn hem.
ConsNot quite as breathable as the cotton fabrics. Most expensive option (worth it, in my opinion).Fabric is more plush and less slick. The woven hem may leave temporary marks on the skin.Cotton knits tend to wrinkle a bit more compared to some synthetic knits (like nylon jersey). If you can cinch down more than 6" in the waist, you may want to go up a size.When on my body, it tends to shorten a bit so it doesn't cover the full length of my corset. Cotton knits tend to wrinkle a bit more compared to some synthetic knits (like nylon jersey).Needs to be hand washed to maximize the moisturizer. Stretches out the more you wear it.Not quite as breathable as the cotton fabrics. Also it's a weird shape, and the seam creates a point at the top and the bottom that tends to extend beyond the edges of my corset.The lace has a habit of rolling over on itself - if this annoys you, go with one of the other corsets with a more sturdy hem. Also, cotton wrinkles a little more than the synthetic liners.
Award:Most stretchy, most smooth under corsets. Lucy’s personal favorite.Affordable, moisture-wicking, soft to the touch, 2nd-most stretchy. Lucy’s 2nd favorite.Comes in the biggest size range. Breathable, moisture-wicking.2nd least expensive, most moisture-wicking.Least expensive, unique skin moisturizing properties.Most slippery.Softest to the touch, most breathable.
Link:http://contourcorsets.com/liners.htmlhttp://amzn.to/2fhEl78https://lucycorsetry.com/product/corset-liners/http://www.madamesher.com/en/designs/tight-confort/1/cotton-liner/1/https://www.facebook.com/fabriziabarroshttp://heavenlycorsets.com/shop-now/#!/Corset-Liner/p/23280799/category=5525899http://www.corsetconnection.com/corset-liner/

Have you tried a corset liner brand not mentioned here? Which brand is your favorite? Leave a comment below!

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Dr. Oz Investigates Waist Training: My Response

On February 12, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz took on the topic of waist training for a second time in his show titled “Dr. Oz Investigates Waist Training – Is It Safe?”. I suspected this would happen, as in October you may remember that Dr. Hirschhausen (another celebrity doctor in Germany) performed the first known MRI scan on a tightlaced subject.

A month later in November, Oz’s producers contacted me about doing a second segment about waist training on the show (in which I declined to participate since I had seen his angle on it the first time).

Ann Grogan (Romantasy Exquisite Corsetry) has already responded to Dr. Oz in an open letter on her own blog, but I have also been asked by a dozen or so people to write my own response – make no mistake that I am not a medical expert, but I do believe that the results are worth talking about and sharing. I’d like this to become a conversation between the corsetry and medical industries, and for us to come to a mutual understanding that not all shapewear is the same and not all of them are suitable for all applications (including and especially waist training).

Oz’s segment can be viewed here, and I will address each concern in order.

First video: theoretical discussion and MRI results  

Corsets can theoretically squeeze your lungs, compress the ribs and reduce oxygen intake

This is true if the corset is not made to fit your body and deliberately tightened to reduce the size of the ribcage. It’s also more likely to be true with an overbust corset rather than an underbust, as it encases more of the ribcage. In my article about corsets, lungs and breathing, I address some common concerns and myths regarding corsets and respiratory infections. My response article to the “Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home” episode on corsets also showed that the maximum loss to the reporter’s vital capacity was about 10%, even after strapping on an overbust corset for the first time, lacing down several inches immediately (and over a bulky sweater) and then proceeding to sprint up and down a staircase repeatedly for several minutes – altogether a scenario that would have never happened in the Victorian era.

There are corsetieres who are dedicated to patterning their corsets to deliberately curve around the ribcage and accommodate the ribs instead of affecting their position, for those who find it more comfortable and prefer this silhouette. Now, it is possible to reduce the lung capacity slightly simply by the nature of pushing up the stomach and diaphragm slightly, but again this depends on the reduction held – and in many cases the temporary reduction in capacity is small enough that it would only be noticeable in situations of hard exertion, not tidal breathing (a normal breath while at rest only uses about 15% of the vital lung capacity, and many sedentary people very rarely use their full capacity).

Myself (Lucy) wearing a cupped-rib hourglass corset made by Sugarkitty, designed to compress only the waistline and not the rib cage.
Myself (Lucy) wearing a cupped-rib hourglass corset made by Sugarkitty, designed to compress only the waistline and not the rib cage.

Corsets can cause acid reflux

If the stomach is pushed up, heartburn is possible – especially if you eat a semi-large meal prior to lacing up (but who does that?). Corsets can exacerbate reflux in those people who already suffer from GERD (a condition caused by a loosened lower esophageal sphincter, production of too much stomach acid, hiatal hernia, abdominal obesity, etc).

Pregnancy can often cause heartburn, not only because the baby is competing for space and pushing up on the stomach, but also because the elevated hormones can cause the sphincter of the stomach to relax. Common tips given to pregnant women include eating small meals (and eating slowly), avoiding foods that are commonly known to bring on heartburn (like spicy food and caffeine), and keeping hydrated and drinking fluids throughout the day – all healthy tips that can be done anyway, and all tips that have helped corset wearers to avoid reflux as well. I eat small, regular meals by choice and I cannot remember one incident of heartburn I’ve experienced while wearing a corset.

Some may be interested to read Sarah Chrisman’s experience in how wearing a corset had helped to stop her GERD (which she previously believed was a chronic, hereditary condition that she’d have to deal with for life).

That said, if you know that you experience GERD, if you have a hernia or any other health condition, it’s always a good idea to speak with your trusted medical professional before trying a corset.

MRI results of a waist trainer

For contrast, I want to compare Dr. Oz’s methodology and subsequent results with the MRI results of a tightlacer on Dr. Hirschhausen’s show. On Hirschhausen’s show, Eden Berlin (the tightlacer and willing subject) wore a custom fit corset made by Tonia of Korsett Manufaktur Tomto, specially constructed with plastic synthetic whalebone instead of steel, and also nonferrous grommets so as not to react in the MRI machine. The results demonstrated how a well-fit corset does not seem to drastically affect the morphology or position of kidneys or lungs. Even her liver looked similar in shape and simply shifted upwards slightly. The only organ that got ‘trapped’ was her transverse colon, and Eden mentioned that she had been rushed in putting on the corset and lacing down 5 inches within mere minutes – she said that if she had more time to lace down slowly and properly, she may have been able to shift that colon down appropriately, as Fran Blanche describes in her tightlacing articles “The Cycle Method” and Divide and Conquer”.

Why corsets are not the same as stretch shapewear

I have several criticisms with the way Dr. Oz performed his version of the experiment, namely the fact that he used a rubber cincher instead of a corset. It’s understandable that they would opt for this, as 1) the rubber faja is gaining popularity as exercise gear these days, and 2) since it tends to contain no metal, it is a quick and easy ‘substitute’ for steel boned corsets.

I have been over the superficial differences between rubber cinchers and corsets before, as well as given my response regarding other types of shapewear, but this MRI experiment revealed something else to me: rubber cinchers create an even pressure over the whole torso instead of focusing the majority of the restriction at the waistline, meaning that the wearer has little control over what’s “squished” and what’s not.

Elastic latex/rubber waist cincher or faja
Lucy wearing a rubber waist cincher or faja. Although there is not as much compression as my usual corsets, what pressure IS there cannot be controlled or concentrated.

The way a stretchy rubber or neoprene faja is constructed, it is not custom-fit to the individual’s anatomy, and it’s designed to compress everywhere that it touches – from the ribcage to the hips. It will compress whatever gives the least resistance, whether that is the sides of the waistline or the front and back; whether that includes the floating ribs or not (Marianne has an article on The Lingerie Addict about different the compression feels between corsets and shapewear). Because each individual has a different amount of muscle tone or body fat percentage, because each person has very slight differences in position and size of their internal organs, because the exact amount of compression on the body is difficult to control because it fastens with hooks and not laces, it’s very difficult to predict how the outcome would look in each person. Only two days ago someone commented on my site asking if it’s normal to experience uncomfortable pressure on the back from rubber cinchers (to answer this quickly: pain is never normal; if you ever experience discomfort, the responsible thing to do is to loosen or remove the garment).

By contrast, a corset can be drafted to accommodate each person’s individual anatomy and we can control exactly where the compression is occurring and how much (0 inches, 2 inches, 4 inches) due to the adjustability of the laces.

In a custom-fit corset, there is a gradient of pressure that is maximized at the skeletal waistline (the squishy area below the ribs and above the pelvis), dissipating to zero compression up over the ribcage and down over the hips. The compression is also focused primarily laterally (on either side of the body, and not from front and back). In most cases, a strong front busk will prevent dishing or collapsing of the waistline in the front of the body, and a proper corset is also specially drafted to ensure no compression of the back, as it should support a healthy posture and maintain a proper lumbar curve. A well-fitting corset should be drafted in such a way that if the organs come into play, then the hollow membranous organs like the intestines flatten in response to the compression, and the corset should not affect the retroperitoneal organs such as the kidneys, as shown in Hirschhausen’s results.

Stand-up MRI imaging vs traditional reclining patient

Dr. Oz used a stand-up MRI facility to do the test, which may show a slightly different view of the organs compared to the conventional MRI scans where the patient is lying down. I believe that stand-up and positional diagnostic imaging is a fantastic tool, especially considering that most corset-wearers are standing or sitting for most of their day and not reclining – but this also means that Oz’s results cannot truly be accurately compared with Hirschhausen’s, since the position of the organs may shift slightly depending on the body’s position, with or without a corset.

My friend and fellow tightlacer Michael informed me that when internal diagnostic imaging was first discovered (e.g. X-rays where you could see the positions of solid organs like the heart and liver against less dense organs like the lungs), there were several unnecessary surgeries performed to “correct” the position of the organs. Before stand-up imaging, physicians’ only knowledge of organ positions in the human body came from examining corpses (who were obviously reclining) and from performing surgeries (where patients were also reclining), and they didn’t realize that the organs can and do slightly shift from standing to lying down.

I’m currently investigating this history further to verify the details – but it’s easy to imagine how, for instance, breasts can look incredibly different from standing to reclining even with the presence of Cooper’s ligaments keeping them relatively in place, so it’s not hard to believe that the position of the organs can also slightly shift from standing to reclining as well, despite ligaments and the visceral membrane keeping them relatively in place.

It’s not known whether Oz’s subject was scanned while standing up or lying down, as the brief video clip merely showed her “spinning” somewhat in the machine. Perhaps she wasn’t standing nor completely reclining but was at a slight incline. It is also unknown whether the angle of imaging with and without her rubber cincher had been performed at the same angle. If they had by chance been performed at different angles, this change in position may have skewed the results from the cincher.

Should we be scared by a grooved liver?

Dr. Oz expressed some shock upon discovering indentations in the woman’s liver caused by the ribcage – I was hoping that he would explain how such indentations would prove deleterious but unfortunately it was not mentioned (or the clip was cut short). However, indentations of the liver are not all that uncommon. Although the liver is one of the more solid organs, it is still described as pliable, and the shape and size naturally varies.

In a 1986 publication in the JPMA, the liver shapes of 500 live humans were studied via radio-colloid imaging. Over 15% of the subjects showed indentations of some kind on the liver, and these are from healthy individuals who were not wearing corsets. This is consistent with the indented livers I’ve seen in rat dissections in school. These slight variances in liver morphology are not necessarily tied with the health of the individual.

Another issue to bring to light is that organ crowding and indentations may also occur in those who are pregnant, those who have a high percentage of visceral (intra-abdominal) fat, and those who have skeletal issues like scoliosis, which shortens the torso and the amount of space for the organs within it – yet particularly in the last case, bracing a scoliosis patient often involves torso compression of a couple of inches, in the interest of stabilizing and correcting the spine – would this not further compress the organs of a person who is already experiencing compromised organ space? The history of the modern brace lies in corsetry, and research in the physiological effects of corsetry is not a vain apologist activity. More research into the functional effects of organ crowding may lead to new innovations in the medical field as well.

The Sforzesco brace for scoliosis
The Sforzesco brace for a scoliosis patient creates an hourglass silhouette similar to that of a corset. Click through to read more about this brace.

Video 2: Interview with Dr. Nicole Florence, bariatrician

Can Waist Training lead to Weight Loss?

Dr. Florence states that there is no clinical evidence that waist training can result in weight loss. That’s not for want of trying though, as a 2010 study by Wikstrand et al attempted a trial of wearing “soft corsets” for a period of 9 months to maintain weight loss – however, the results could not be properly evaluated due to low compliance (the subjects didn’t wear their corsets). I was as disappointed as the next person.

I tend to agree that weight loss is not necessarily guaranteed with the use of a corset, and the corset should not be treated as a substitute for diet or exercise (I’ve spoken at length about this before) – however, it can be seen as a non-surgical aid in many individuals. As mentioned above, I would personally be delighted to perform long-term studies on corset wearers, and rely on real data instead of anecdotes, given the funds and the opportunity. Universities and research centers may feel free to contact me if you’d like me to lead a proper trial in your facility. (I’m not kidding.)

Since Dr. Florence is a bariatrician, I would also like to study real quantifiable health risks associated with moderate corset wear as compared with gastric band surgery, where 10-20% of patients require a second procedure to correct complications, up to 30% of patients develop nutritional deficiencies / absorption disorders, and up to 33% of patients develop gallstones according to the Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, with a 53% chance of gaining the weight back within 15 years according to this 2013 study. If I were in the position to opt for either bariatric surgery or corsets, I’d personally try the corsets first, but that’s just my subjective stance.

Do corsets lead to eating disorders?

I have always tried to tread lightly on this subject as it is a sensitive topic for many. Dr. Florence believes that wearing corsets can create body dysmorphic disorder or distorted body image, and there was implication that the corset may become a gateway to eating disorders or more drastic body modification.

It’s my personal belief that body dysmorphia starts in the mind and then the body follows, not the other way around. Extreme weight loss associated with conditions like anorexia are the later symptoms – the physical manifestations of the psychological/ emotional struggle that has already existed in the person for months or years prior. Is it possible that some people who already have body dysmorphic disorder or eating disorders use corsets as a tool? Yes, I would say that it’s probable that some individuals use corsets for this reason, but it’s insulting to imply that all people who wear corsets are at risk of developing an eating disorder or are already there, especially as I have personally seen corsets used to help some of my friends overcome their personal body image issues and fall in love with their own body. I don’t believe that corsets cause body image issues any more than bra cutlets would contribute to delusions about one’s own natural breast size, or high heel shoes would create insecurity in one’s natural height.

Other health concerns mentioned

Dr. Florence says that corsets can cause pneumonia (again, I’ve written about pneumonia in this article), and that they can cause constipation (I’ve addressed this in my Corsets and Toilet Issues article, although more and more I’m hearing from viewers how abdominal compression has helped keep them regular, interestingly). She also wrote that corsets can cause chronic pain and bruising, to which I respond that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. Pain or bruising when wearing a corset is never ever ever ever normal – and if this is happening, then you are using a corset that is not the right shape for you, or you’re cinching too tight, too fast, or for too long a duration than your body is ready for.

She also mentioned that corsets can cause fainting – she erroneously stated that the origin of “fainting couches” had their origin in the Victorian era to catch women fainting from their corsets, which is known to be untrue. The Chaise Longue has existed for well over 2000 years. Corsets may have caused fainting in Victorian women if overtightened (which was not unheard of during balls and other special events), and yes corsets can affect blood pressure, but women also fainted from exhaustion, dehydration, low blood sugar, overheating and overexertion, just as many people faint today without a corset. Victorian ladies also faked fainting because it was the cool thing to do.

In summary, I don’t believe that Dr. Oz gave the last word or drove the nail in the coffin for waist training, but I do think it’s important to take all information into account. Recall that after Hirschhausen’s episode on corsets, I said, “I would love to repeat this MRI study with different tightlacers to see how the positions of organs change slightly depending on the individual, the silhouette of corset worn, the reduction of the corset, and how long they’ve been training.” My position hasn’t changed; on the contrary, Dr. Oz’s contribution has only strengthened my resolve.

If we’re to truly understand the physiological effects of corsetry, we need a sample size of more than 1, we need some consistency in the type of corset used (not simply *any* compression garment) and we need a consistent method of imaging.