I’ve seen the following question get floated around the internet:
Why do so many female LARPers wear corsets?
…and I wanted to offer my take on it.
First of all, I should admit that all of the “corsets” that I own only sort of resemble real corsets. They don’t affect the shape of my body at all, and the boning is made of relatively flexible plastic. They’re actually very cheap waist cinchers that don’t actually cinch. They’re not particularly tight or restricting, they’re just meant to help evoke a non-modern feel.
One incidental benefit I get from wearing things like these waist cinchers is that wearing clothing that feels distinctly different from what I usually wear can help me get into character. It’s a little tactile reminder than I’m not my usual self when I’m playing the role of a LARP character. I’m not sure how common it is for LARPers to feel this benefit. (I talk about this effect a bit more in an earlier post, The Clothes that Make the Man.)
Corsets have become a stable of fantasy fashion. Many LARPers like to dress in a way that strongly evokes the genre and culture of their LARPs, and corsets often do just that.
Some women say stiff, waist-shrinking corsets can be perfectly comfortable if made well to the owner’s size, and laced properly. I cannot speak to the truth of this, but I feel sure that if there is any truth to it, it varies a lot from person to person. How well it’s made, how used to it the wearer is, how much it’s meant to shrink the waist, how much they plan to run around in the LARP. Some girls say a well made corset can also help with back pain and posture.
But ultimately, I think the reason many LARPers wear corsets in LARPs is simply because they look good. It’s the same reason why people wear narrow skirts in real life, or high heels, or really anything that’s inconvenient or less than perfectly comfortable for beauty. I don’t think LARPs are a particularly problematic source of sexism (though I have seen articles online arguing otherwise), but the fact remains that there are a variety of ways people are treated better when they conform to certain standards of beauty. One can’t help but enjoy the effects of wearing a flattering corset. It may be subconscious or a conscious choice, but if the benefits of looking good outweigh the benefits one feels from being able to easily take full breaths while battling orcs, well… that just speaks to just how drastically putting effort into beauty can affect a person’s social interactions.
(I recommend reading Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff for a really fascinating, in-depth look into the biology and sociology of beauty.)
One of these days, I will invest a real corset that actually alters my physical shape.
There’s a reasonable chance I’ll only wear it for theater LARPs.