Some guys are now widening the scope of men’s fashion by lacing up corsets. Like nail polish, makeup, skirts, and high heels, corsets are yet another way men are expressing themselves through unconventional fashion choices.
The corset—a tightly fitted undergarment designed to shape the wearer’s body, and once a symbol of patriarchal oppression—is most popularly known for giving women the illusion of an hourglass figure. But it has also been used by men for quite some time. Citing The Workwoman’s Guide of 1838, the USS Constitution Museum said that cavalry members used stays or corsets for hunting and strenuous exercise, much like how weightlifting belts are used today. The garment found its way into fashion in the 1820s as an hourglass look became popular for men.
Mr. Pearl, a famed corset maker, who walked the Alexander McQueen Spring Ready-to-Wear runway in 1995 in a corset, and Zdenek Lusk, a designer who created corsets for male street style looks earlier this year, have tried to keep this aesthetic alive for guys.
The garment is often linked to unrealistic body expectations, especially for women, but as more people embrace non-binary fashion, it seems like some men are now using corsets as a way to push back against gender norms.
“I love corsets. I love how they look and work,” 36-year-old Spanish language teacher Ian Pérez told VICE.
Pérez, who’s based in Chicago, put a corset on for the first time in 2018.
“I’ve been lacing up regularly, and increasingly publicly, since then,” he said, adding that he now wears corsets around three to four days a week because they help pull his outfits together.
He knows, however, that corseting, especially when it’s not done right, can come with physical dangers, and is quick to note how to avoid them.
“I would compare corsets to non-competitive running. It’s perfectly possible to do it safely and comfortably on the regular, but doing so requires preparation, care, and a proper understanding of one’s body and its limits,” Pérez said.
He added that aside from preparation, the most important thing about corsets is wearing one that fits properly, and positioning it correctly on the body.
While Pérez wears corsets because he likes the way they look, he acknowledges that other people wear them for different reasons, like as ways to explore and express their gender identities.
“[Corsets] could mean absolutely everything, or nothing. Neither view is wrong, and I think that’s what more people are figuring out,” he said.
Atlas Keighley, a 19-year-old who works at a bakery in Wollongong, Australia, said wearing corsets feels empowering and gives a major confidence boost. Keighley posted a video of himself wearing a corset on TikTok, where videos with the hashtag #menincorsets have a total of around 192 million views.
“I like pushing the boundaries of what can be viewed as either fem or masc, so having one clothing item that does both at the same time is great,” Keighley, who identifies as a trans and alternative person, told VICE.
He explained that he particularly likes corset vests, because they give him broader shoulders and a better posture while still letting him enjoy a slightly feminine curve on his waist.
Keighley, who started wearing corsets regularly around a year ago, said that wearing one gives a weird feeling at first—not discomfort, but a new kind of pressure on the body. He added that discomfort is a clear sign that the corset may not be the right one.
“Wearing an ill-fitting or cheap corset or wearing a good one wrong, can actually be pretty dangerous, so if you’re wearing a corset and it hurts or is super uncomfortable, something isn’t right,” Keighley said.
That it has to be painful “is the biggest misconception about corsets,” said Gabriel Jesus, a marketing consultant from San Francisco.
Jesus has a collection of corsets that vary in style—some come with suspenders, while others look like a regular vest from the front but have laces and cross-pattern braces at the back. He gets them from a custom corsetry shop owned by a woman who’s been making corsets for over four decades.
Like Pérez and Keighley, Jesus said that the biggest danger in wearing corsets is wearing one that doesn’t fit properly—one that is the wrong size or doesn’t match the wearer’s body type.
“A properly sized and fitted corset should never cause pain,” Jesus said, adding that the best way to safeguard against dangers in corsetry is to be fitted by a professional.
Instead of pain, Jesus said he feels power when he puts on a corset.
“The physical feeling is good; the emotional feeling is empowerment. I’m not a tall man, but it gives me confidence. I walk tall with my chest out and shoulders back,” he said, adding that the compliments have come from people throughout the gender spectrum.
Keighley has also gotten compliments—and questions—from curious people. He said that at one party, one of his guy friends was so enamored by his corset that he ended up lending it to him and letting him wear it for the night.
“I recently gave him one of my older corsets, actually, so apparently, it was a hit,” Keighley said.
Pérez has received positive and curious comments from all kinds of people as well, but he said his experience of wearing corsets may be different from those of women.
“It’s impossible to really prove, but I’ve gotten the impression that wearing corsets in public has actually been easier for me than it is for many cis women. Women in general are often treated as an item for public consumption, subject to catcalls, comments, and other forms of unwanted behavior simply for existing, and from what I’ve seen, corsets only increase that,” Pérez said.
Jesus said he wears corsets for style and confidence.
“I think corsets are masculine. I like to wear them because I look good in them and they make me feel good,” he said.
But others, like Keighley, wear them as statements on gender.
“Wearing corsets as a masculine person is a push against traditional masculinity in that we’re allowed to have soft curves and dress well,” Keighley said.
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