Of Corsets

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.

As a Spanish peasant in King’s Musketeers

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.

Taz in the snow.

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.


About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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6 Responses to Of Corsets

  1. I’m a little odd, because I don’t often wear corsets/corselets/waist cinchers on the outside, for cosmetic effect, but I have many costumes I wear them underneath, to get the proper look for the period. Victorian garb just doesn’t look right without them.

    I admit, I do everything wrong in corset land. I don’t make my own, because fuck that noise. I buy cheap ones with plastic boning from River Junction for $50-$60 a pop. (I also have a nice steel-boned one which is blue with BEEEEES on it, which I would like to wear on the outside, because it’s just so awesome–but I haven’t found a use for yet). I also tend to tight-lace them–well, Matt does the lacing, and he’s enthusiastic, and it’s hard to get him to lace it to just the right level of fit.

    But no matter how well-built and/or comfortable the corset, you can’t bend down in them. And that will always be massively inconvenient. It will also not stop my from wearing them πŸ™‚

    • Fair Escape says:

      That’s a good point that I totally forgot. They can be very hard if not impossible to bend in. Even in my cheap ones, it can be a little hard to bend at the waist, and if I force it, that will slowly warp the cincher out of shape. My first cincher is in miserable shape because I wore it primarily as a costume for my boffer character. If I could find the same one again– or one that looks close enough — I’d chuck it.

      I would really like to buy the sort of corsets that go on the inside and actually reflect the fashions that dictate the shape of a body. It’s hard to mentally justify the cost though, especially if they’re on the inside, and most of my period characters are only around for 4 hours.

      We need to find you an apiarist character!!

  2. Philip Kelley says:

    I find that wearing character-appropriate clothing, particularly items you don’t wear every day, definitely helps me be in character. Frock coats, footwear (boots, pirate or western), tuxedos, hats, all help to remind you that you aren’t currently “you”. I’ll even ditch the glasses for the odd game, if it’s appropriate and not too inconvenient.

  3. Chad Bergeron says:

    Well, they don’t cinch -your- waist. You already have an excellently shaped one for your costume purposes.

    But I agree, a change from my usual garments (I don’t wear western style boots all the time, y’know!) can help me to stay in character or consider things from my character’s perspective more often. And all the while, helping to sell the character to other people more. And yes, it can be fun to dress in clothing you don’t often wear, especially if it makes you look good while doing so (I don’t wear jacket and tie on a daily basis, but sometimes enjoy wearing them in larps).

    Amanda has some actual stiff corsets for SCA dress, and agrees that they can be quite comfy.

  4. JJ says:

    I’ll wear corsets for NPCing. I cannot do it for PCs. (Both of these are for boffer larps.) I just can’t do it. I tried it once for a PC-that-was-really-an-NPC (long story), and was generally in agony by Sat night of events. I’m not sure if it’s the breathing thing, or that fact that it was a *very* unbendy corset, but I just hurt a lot. Not usually a problem for NPCs (cause I’m generally only in for a few hours), but I just can’t do corsets for PCs. That said, I do have a leather vest/bodice that I love and is a main part of my costuming, and I have worn a few bodices as PCs, but there’s something about corsets that I just can’t do.

    That said, I have a lot of friends who wear them nigh-constantly at events. No idea how they do that.

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