This account requires editing - 8th November 2008
III: TWO YEARS OF DESPAIR
The last instalment of this Odyssey ended on a black note in November 1980. I had just come off the telephone with Mrs. Norris who was about to retire from Gardners. We had been discussing my final order for a high top corset and a deep boned suspender belt.
In giving this account of my Odyssey, as readers will probably have surmised, I kept a diary to record all my activities as well as my feelings. In the beginning I tried to compose this part of the Odyssey using them as notes without great success. In the end I transcribed them all the notes and by cut and paste create a narrative. I found this better, and I hope readers will indulge me if there is still a little repetition - there was obviously very much more in my diaries. Now having completed this part I would like to think that, through the wonderful medium of the internet, and Ivy Leaf's generosity as a host to contributors such as myself, the current generation will gain and understand what sort of difficulties a person such as myself faced, when my apparel of choice was gradually becoming unavailable in the sizes I wanted, between the late 1960s and the mid - 1980s.
Today as I pen this introduction, I am wearing a G78 casual corset, 12 inches long one of many made for me between eight and fifteen years ago by Mrs. Norris, who I was to come to know as Iris. It is double boned. It has a pair of wide back steels on each side and a 10-inch wedge busk. It is laced just under two-inches open. I'm wearing a pair of Albert's "Waking Sheers" stockings made in the late 1970s, in black with seams and cuban or square cut heels so reminiscent of the late 1940s. Teach is held up by five suspenders, made up with 1⅛-inch wide black elastic and chrome plated metal suspender clips. My back suspenders have buttons with central chromed steel rivets and were made before 1975 and were supplied to me more than twenty-five years ago by Mrs. Norris while still at Gardners. Later I will fit a high top to help keep warm when I go out as it's a cold day. I appreciate wearing them as much as I first did in 1978.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
After sending her the money for my final order, I thought I would phone Mrs. Norris one last time to check that it was received as by now it was early December and she had only a few weeks left at Gardners. As ever, she answered giving Gardner's number 607-2001.
During this conversation with Mrs. Norris, for what I thought would be the last time, I again asked her if she'd changed her mind about retiring but she said she was sorry but she had not although she did volunteer that many of her clients had asked her to do so. So I simply asked her to tell me if she did change your mind I'd like to know. I asked if she knew of anyone else and she said she didn't know anyone who could do it for men.
At that I had the presence of mind to ask her if she could send me five yards of wide black suspender elastic, and 20 yards of corset lacing, and some black ends for wide suspenders with chrome plated clips and the ones with the button rivets. She said she'd see what she could find in the store for the ends which were no longer made. As to how much extra I should send her she said it was in the price I'd paid.
I then asked if she had ever thought to work from her home. At that point, I don't know if it was the fact that I'd been a client for three years or, that the medium of the phone gave me confidence that seemed to ebb when we met face to face, but I told her how much I'd come to like being corseted and felt very discouraged, not by her decision which she was entitled to, but by the fact that fashion had changed and that corsetières were out of demand. At this comment she too was quite expansive and said she knew how I felt. She said she herself would never give up wearing the corsets and stockings, (which were fully fashioned and hard to get), as she had worn them for too long to change now.
I thanked her for all she had done for me and for how much I had learned from her. At that I think she must have detected a sense of despair and disappointment in my voice for in the end she said, that I was not the only one to say those things and that she'd thought about it but she felt she couldn't work from home. She would not have the machines like those at Gardner's to let her do the job properly. She said that others were asking her too and I sensed there were other clients who saw how bleak a future there was out there for not serious corset wearers. Her next remark after all these years still amazes me. As her l closing remark she said words to the effect "Well goodbye, but I'll tell you what. I'll put my address and phone number in the parcel with your order, just in case I might think again".
At this idea I felt almost overjoyed. It had been the first break in the despair I had felt over the previous months. Although it was scant hope, my spirits were uplifted for several days, but as the weeks passed I sank back to what had become my usual despondent self.
MY LAST GARDNER'S CORSET ARRIVES
In due course, what would prove to be the last parcel from Gardners arrived. I'd had it mailed to my work to be sure of it being delivered to me. The long brown paper packet - looked almost like a roll of drawings and raised no comment as it was put on my desk by the office mail boy.
I got home and opened out the brown paper wrapping of the parcel carefully and expectantly. It had been carefully wrapped by someone well used to parcelling corsets, which had to be Mrs. Norris herself, for she seemed to do everything at Gardners. I again recalled that I had seen a parcel of similar length on lying on the cutting room table during one of my first visits to 28 Barnsbury Square in 1977.
Once open there was the brand new high top G72, my second. It was long and faced in black satin and inside it was wrapped the boned suspender belt, made to my exact demand was made with the gold spot facing. Whilst the new high top was of no greater length than my first miss-guided purchase in 1977, it extended fully 10 inches above the waist at the back. As ever I was struck by the stiffness and weight compared to what I had first encountered in corsets like the Contessa years before.
When I saw each garment with its own set of four pairs of suspenders all of wide elastic of several lengths, complete with glinting chrome plated clips and length adjusters fell and hung below with every detail as I wanted I experienced mixed emotions.
On the one hand I felt gratitude for being able to get them made to measure with every detail, as I wanted it and not to have to compromise or crudely alter it, as I would have to have done with what was offered in the mass market. On the other hand I felt renewed despair that the very source of the things I wanted was being snatched away by father time. I realised I was far, far better off in fulfilling my desires than if than I had ever been, but if the corseted life was to continue for the rest of my life I had to find a new source.
Without touching the suspenders I could see from the way that, despite having been wrapped up for several days, each of the elastics sprung up to assume the curve it had assumed when first would on the roll from which all had been cut. It confirmed that they had been made with stronger elastic than I had ever had on a corset before.
Also in the parcel was the coil of suspender elastic, a hank of corset lacing, and about 30 ends for wide suspenders. All had chrome plated clips and the much prized traditional button rivets. About half were black; a few were white and the rest pink. I hadn't thought about it but thoughtful as ever she had included the length adjuster clips.
WEARING A HIGH TOP
Part of the being propelled to higher corsets was the fact that as a man I was and of course, still am, not restrained anatomically as are women by the need to accommodate a pair of breasts. Any high corsets for a woman must have either a "flared front", or be an "over-the-bust" style with cups. The flared design does of course, does wonders for the winsome "pushed up look" and the attendant cleavage. It provided so much part of the appeal of wealthy ladies, from the Middle Ages in the Edwardian era, before the advent of the ubiquitous bra. In the 1950s of course, the bra, in its Along line" manifestation, was designed to complement the girdle, but was happily espoused by many tight-lacers of that era, including Mrs. Norris, my corsetière.
You will recall that I would pore over the images of the Copere flared front models - the Margarita and Isabella styles. I would wonder how it must feel to "live" while so fully corseted. I had to experience it. Looking at them I got a strong sense of feeling that these were corsets that a man could easily wear as his anatomy was more suited to their height above the waist. When I tried on the newest new high top, I knew what to expect as I had been wearing its partner off and on for three months at weekends, but hadn't ventured out, except to run errands to a local shop.
I could just about sit in it for up to two hours to watch television. It was very unforgiving, if its wearer chose to sit in a low armchair, so I had resorted to sitting on a dining room chair instead. The chair actually had side arms - a carving chair,.- which allowed me to raise and lower myself or change position.
The strong elastic in the suspenders was an additional form of personal satisfaction about my chosen lifestyle. Indeed, I made a point of shortening my suspenders as much as I felt my stockings could tolerate when "settling down" and like that, I came close to realizing the tactile sensations that until that time I had only dreamed to be possible. To paraphrase the words of Alison Adburgham from a decade earlier "I felt trimmer when corseted by a corset and tightly suspendered".
After close to 10 years, my dream was all but fulfilled but now. The danger was, it would now be snatched away by father time, leaving me stranded on the shore, after the tide of fashion had ebbed for the last time.
Having come to experience the reality of what it felt like to be in a real boned corset. I also had achieved my most earnest wish which was to have my suspenders secured to something totally rigid, so that - length adjusters and stocking clips being equal to the task, I could put as much tension in both the elastic of my suspenders and hence enough pull into my stockings with the knowledge that so long as the elastic in the suspenders didn't fray, they would stay taut all day long and I would not be disappointed as I had during the first years of my Odyssey wearing just a suspender belt.
RESOLVING MY PARADOX
Those of my readers, who have persevered in reading this far in my Odyssey, will I'm sure ask "If you had such a problem in coming to terms with your urge to wear "forbidden" items, when the things you desired were becoming hard to get why didn't you just give up?”
I can explain it like this. Having taken so many years and so much trouble to find a corsetière who was ready to make for men, to have it snatched away by father time just as I had come close to the ideal I sought was more than I could take.
While I could, within reason, "stockpile" what I wanted in stockings because they were still being made, with corsets I'd had next to no warning to build up a similar stockpile. Had I had a warning I could in theory I could have done it with corsets, but it seemed it was not to be as in truth I lacked the money to do so. While corsets lasted longer than stockings they were costly items each year.
THE CONTRADICTION OF REALITY AND IMAGINATION
Ironically just before Mrs. Norris's bombshell was dropped in July 1980, I had run across back issues of "Reflections" magazine published in the USA by Versatile Foundations. In it were two articles on a woman tight lacer. I had never heard of her until that time. It was none other than Ethel Granger, who died in 1982. I purchased the two issues which serialised her life story. I could hardly believe what I read. Here were a married couple and Ethel had been persuaded to wear strong corsets and train her waist since about 1930 and 50 years later was apparently still doing so in 1979.
I wasn't at all impressed Ethel's figure or her waist size, it fact I thought it ugly and excessive. But I marvelled at the images of the corsets she wore. It told me again that "out there" were still people - many no doubt some of them clients of Gardners - for whom corsets were important. The question in my mind was how were they responding to the ravages of time and loss of essential components and material for corsets.
As for the other, and usual, content of Reflections magazine, it covered a broad spectrum of subjects designed no doubt to offer a little of each of a broad cross section of readers' interests. It was the typical strategy publishers adopted to maximize sales. In consequence it was quite heavily into the bondage end of the spectrum as well as having photo sequences or stories on transvestism. What really "hooked" me as to be a short term subscriber was the fact that in its early years at least it did feature models, including the owner/editrix, who all posed in the late 1970s, in busk-fronted back-lacing corsets and always wore them with exactly the same black stockings. Not just any stockings but Albert’s 30 D “Favourite” or "Walking Sheers" seamed stockings that I liked to wear. The same stockings I had seen worn by pin us in US magazines in the 1960s. So smitten had I been with their appeal that, since 1974, I had been buying them, a box at a time, direct from the USA for ten years.
THE CONTRADICTIONS OF LIBERATED TIMES
I will never forget how I would dwell on the irony of what had happened. Corsets in the mainstream were going out of style in the real world yet in the ever relaxing climate of sexual liberation - Mrs. Mary Whitehouse not withstanding - the amount being written about the wearing of corsets each year have exceeded what had been produced in more than 20 years period by the correspondents like "Wilf" the author of “Corsetology” in "Fads and Fancies" in the 1920s, and by "Magnificent Marianne" in "London Life " in the 1930 ad early 1940s, when “proper” corsets were still widely worn.
It was not lost on me to read Arthur Marshall, the septuagenarian, humorous columnist of the “New Statesman”, write of his boarding school life in the 1920s. He recalled what a pleasant surprise it had been to discover the bones of a very firm corset when he danced with his headmaster’s wife.
About the same time, Ronald Reagan had been elected president of the USA. The ever irreverent “Guardian”, in its New Year’s 1981 parody of Old Moore, made its forecast of changes in the White House as it swung to the right. Mindful of Nancy Reagan’s pretensions to elegance declared that the new dress code would declare “stockings will be worn and seams to be straight.” In the realms of journalism there were clearly people with interests like mine.
The late 1970s had seen a revival of corsets on the high fashion fringe by Vivienne Westwood. In the pop music business, female singers like Cindi Lauper wore corsets and stockings on stage and such images appeared on covers of vinyl records, which all but died at the same time as corsets in the mainstream. In her show "Girls just wanna have fun" Cindi wore suspenders and stockings and even took the thigh (ring) garter off her leg and tossed it in the crowd. Likewise Debbie Harry of Blondie wore similar attire on her show and record covers in the late 70s. At the other end of the music spectrum punks, who predated Marilyn Manson by a decade, appeared on stage in corsets with suspenders clipped to ripped fishnet tights - what would Tim Currie who wore in similar but perfect attire in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" have thought?
This was years before Madonna and Cher and the latest emulator Gwen Stefani and her troupe of Japanese girls and not much before the film version of "Little Shop of Horrors", in which I was pleased to see seams on the legs the daffy heroine Audrey, played by Ellen Green. Much as I liked to see this, what I held in truly high regard were the minority of women who were not famous, did not have pretensions to glamour, but still willingly subjected themselves to strict corseting and kept their seams straight.
TRAINING FOR REGULAR WEAR
In that bleak winter of 1980 I tried to live as if all was normal but in my heart I believed I had bought my last corset from Gardners. As it was, I decided to wear them as much as a could for as long as they didn't wear out or become unwearable on account of bones irreparably popping out at either hem or top edge. Wearing them more regularly had taught me many things of the kind of things that were included in books on corsets such as "Corset Fitting in a Retail Store" and what I have learned from everyone's very own e-corsetière Ivy Leaf's and her correspondent friends.
With the new style I had again adopted the approach of a "gradual regime", which Mrs. Norris and other corsetières I was to know later always counselled, which meant wearing it for two hours, then three, and so on. My test always was to wear it indoors for as long as the period I intended to wear it with no possibility of slackening off for relief of discomfort when out.
I still had the problem of being able to wear the corset for the hours in circumstances where adjustment was precluded, which is what it would mean if I wore it to work. I used the weekends to build up "tightness stamina". It wasn't easy. The first real test was wearing it to the cinema which meant three to four hours without adjustment, including driving the car or going on the bus and train before and after. On occasion I would venture out after dark for a walk wearing the high top laced as tight as I could bear it. Regretfully for several months those walks didn't last long
The amazing thing was when I slackened off the relief was instant and I was left wondering what had motivated me to slacken it off. Sometimes I took everything off and within a few minutes was left wanting to put things on again. In time I leaned to resist the temptation to lace too tightly and slowly built up tolerance. However, when I began lacing in I tended to lose all commonsense and proportion. I always wanted to experience "just a bit tighter" and of course I quickly regretted it.
Eventually I hit on the idea of wearing the long corset to the cinema where I would be able to resist the urge to slacken off against the desire to see the end of the film. I also learned to be less immoderate in how tightly I laced myself.
Since I felt unable to wear the high top to work, I began putting it on as soon as I came home from work. As every book of advice will tell you that it is probably the worst time of day. As Mrs. Norris would say "you have to lace it on before your figure starts to spread". Mine had not only spread it was fairly full stomach and still had to eat supper. I persisted but found that it had to be kept quite widely open, as my evening meal would certainly make itself felt by raising my level of discomfort. I also started watching the television in an upright chair. (“The elegant lady on the right (1948) is unmistakably wearing a corset. The erect posture, the tubular shape of the hips are all giveaways to what probably is the style of foundation garment that she has worn since her teenage years”.
I did however notice that everything felt more comfortable when I went to bed, so I tried going to sleep in the corset, which gave me the most fitful night 's sleep I had experienced to that time. By the middle of the night it was quite loose on my form and I woke up and tightened it only to wake up within the hour feeling hot, uncomfortable and tight. Just turning over in bed wasn't easy and I must have woken up trying to do so. Again I not only succumbed to my instinct and took the corsets off. I now know putting a corset on at night is the worst time as ones stomach is then at its fullest.
I slowly tried to get up and fit it on a Saturday morning before going shopping, taking care not to lace too tight. Again after being out an hour I was glad to come home and slacken it off. As the weeks went by it got easier and I then tried doing it in the high-top leatherette, which had shoulder straps. The big advantage of the style, as I had hoped, was that the top didn't make such an obvious spare tire as a shorter corset. It ended higher than the spare tire could be pushed. However to be comfortable it had to be open about four inches. In my ignorant ambition of earlier times, I had asked for it to be cut too small, and as Mrs. Norris often said of clients’ alteration requests, “I can always make a corset smaller, but I can't make them bigger. It’s easier and cheaper to get a bigger one made!” Still, the idea of shoulder straps and a high top had appeal and I vowed to go in that direction as soon as I was able to find a new personal corsetière.
The most rewarding thing was that corsets were far and away the best item of attire to attach suspenders to and the problems I had with suspender belts cutting into my waist and sagging became a thing of the past.
DAILY ROUTINE 1980 STYLE
I made a point of checking the lacings on my Casual G78 that I was now wearing regularly to work. Unlike Simon, I did not work with a woman like Elsie, who would have recognised me as a fellow corset wearer and no one ever knew my secret. However, before finally putting on my collar and tie for work and I made a point of un-knotting and pulling in the lace a little more, which always acted like a pick-me-up when I did. That done I never forgot to open my waistband and lower it to expose my stocking tops so that I could check and adjust my suspender lengths for the day - not too taut and not too slack. For a mere man I have to marvel that I have developed such dexterity for what after all was a peculiarly female chore and one that not one in a thousand women can practise today.
That is, with both hands I would take an individual pair of suspenders, use my middle fingers to open that pair's length adjuster flaps and pull up on the flaps to shorten the elastics. In doing so I had to hope that the stockings were sufficiently snag-free enough not to ladder - not so much to the extra pull but when I bent my knees! I would deal with each pair of suspenders in turn, except for the rivetted buttons which need two hands to slide just one out of its clip. To this day it never ceases to surprise me how much a stocking top knitted of non-stretch yarn will stretch during a day’ wear. Likewise it never ceases to surprise me how much satisfaction I get from shortening some pairs of suspenders in response to that, not to say how rewarding is the total experience of setting out on one's journey fully conscious of the tightness of the corset and the tautly suspendered stockings. Again I remember the words of Alison Adburgham (Link) and through my Odyssey so far my appreciation of them never fades. Each day brings its rewards after close to 40 years.
Strangely, what one might think would become a "love-hate" relationship with the corset never developed. This was because, in the early years, I had given in to temptation to take it off when it became irksome, only to find within minutes that I "regretted" having done so. However given the time of day when I fitted it, lacing-in was not so easy because my figure, to use one of Mrs. Norris's frequently used words, had "spread". As I write the word spread I recall how when she said it, she always caused her to chuckle in her imitable way, because she clearly knew the price of either delaying the fitting of it in the morning, or trying to tighten up after loosening off.
Until I took matters in hand and acted on the basis of what I had learned, my approach was over-influenced by what I read. Much of which, I now know was, exaggeration and written in a moment of fantasy by male writers who never corseted, but fantasised about doing so. I do hope that those who read what I write will understand that all of what I relate here is true and written in the spirit of giving future generations an idea of the motivations, pleasures, trials and tribulations for a man like myself. I had first tried on women's stockings as a teenager in the 1950s. I'd bought my first suspender belts in 1967, a waspie in 1969 and a flimsy corset in 1971 all before the modern age of tolerance. I remain grateful that social mores have changed but now, in 2007, I am a dinosaur. The items I choose to wear are heavily imprinted on my subconscious and few women, other than photo models wear them. Certainly women in the mainstream do not wear them and most would not know how to fit a corset with its busk and lacings nor how to suspender stockings.
So what were the lessons I had learned? In summary they say; listen to what body of opinion is out there; do not slavishly follow any dictate; do what suits you best and what allows you to fulfil the inexplicable urge that, in my case at least compels me to lace in and suspender up as I do. This is what I learned:
1 I soon found out that fitting it before eating breakfast meant it was better.
2 For work, I was sure to wear a vest or T-shirt under it and after lacing in to pull the hem of the vest to smooth it out under the corset and if possible make sure it is longer than the hem of the corset.
3 I'd roll my stockings to my knees before fitting the corset.
4 For me there was no debate about "under or over".
5 Exertion when tightly corseted is never easy
6 Final lacing in after breakfast when the corset has warmed to the body. I had now worn the G72 High Top style enough at weekends to think I might wear it to work.
7 Under sustained suspender tension, stockings lengthen and suspender straps need periodic shortening though the day - it's normal.
As things stood in 1980-81 I was in danger of losing all that I'd learned - stolen by father time and "progress" and the wheel of fashion.
THE QUEST FOR A NEW CORSETIÈRE
I was 40. I had experienced the service of a corsetière and I had lost that service. I was selfish, I was greedy, and I wanted nothing less than a new personal corsetière, not mail order. Like a headless chicken I didn't know which direction to go. I was about to get in touch with Diana Medeq when I received a form letter, which she’d sent to all her names on her books – I’d never been her client, advising of what came to be a move to work from home. In my new conversation with her, she said that apart from the prevailing high inflation that the difficulty of getting parts and materials and machinists meant that she wasn’t anxious to take on new clients but clearly she did not worry that I was a man. I thought of writing to one of the many magazines which had appeared like "Forum" and "Variations", but for that I would have to divulge my address, which I was not prepared to do. I thought of placing an advert with a box number but again I sensed a concern.
I wrote to my first outfitter of and asked her about Mrs. Norris who used to make corsets for her shop. Her reply only confirmed what I new to be true but she added that was now getting corsets made in Ireland I contacted a new outfitter, "Stage Door", where I met its owner Diana Marks. When I saw her face-to-face I realised I had previously met her in the late 1970s when I still patronised my first outfitter. I offered to write her advice leaflets on corsets and left her a sample of my writing but she proved not to be interested. As corsets declined it seemed the interest in cross-dressing increased but corsets were a very marginal part of that "scene" it seemed. I was further discouraged when my letter to Wilbro was returned. The store had closed. I wrote to "Corsetry and Underwear" magazine and the publisher replied that it too had closed not long before.
I even wrote to the USA and got the Finecraft and Caprice catalogues. The former had an attractive catalogue of models posing in real corsets. In the end I bought every set of the corset pin up photos, each set of which was actually a sequence of photos of a model posing in a glamorous way - not dispassionately like in Fanny Copere's catalogue and each of the styles they sold was modelled. The idea of buying at such long range, and with the prospect of customs duty not to mention the high prices they charged, it seemed imprudent, so I abandoned that the idea.
|I even resorted to contacting the rapidly diminishing number of retailers of corsets that were still listed in the 1982 Yellow Pages that should be contrasted with that of 1971 which appears earlier in the Odyssey . My request was simple. I had been the client of a personal corsetière as a man and simply sought the same and my old one would give references. Some phone numbers were unobtainable - as my mother's and grandmothers generations were dying out and corset demand was plummeting the attrition was going on. One or two of those who answered were hostile. More kindly ones recommended someone ease but those referrals had either given up or said they weren't taking any new clients because assistants were hard to find. No one said yes nor gave a lead that helped me in making contact.||
In the end I concluded that for made to measure and even for serious off the shelf corsets, to paraphrase the timeless words "all roads led to the Rome" of corsetry - Gardners" and to Mrs. Norris, who they had all relied upon, be it Wilbro, Fanny Copere, Cutler/Cover girl, Stage Door. Some time later when I showed Mrs. Norris the Finecraft catalogue, she immediately said. "Gardners made corsets for them". As she looked at the photos of the styles in the Finecraft and Copere catalogues she would brighten up and say "that's one of ours" and "that's another"...
The irony of such a situation was at times the cause of anguish but it was also the cause of being a strong motivation for me to rack my brains as to what to do for myself. I took to examining the busk and realized that to make one buy hand was all but impossible it required sophisticated machinery and - economies of scale and demand to make them available at a reasonable price. With the attendant punching, rivetting not to mention tempering and burnishing of the spring steel, the bifid busk was and is by far the most complex item ever used in clothing of any kind. I later found out that the minimum order in any size was 1,000. Spiral bones had to be cut from long lengths and I assumed would still be used in long line bras and orthopaedic corsets, but sellers of small quantities were had to find in the UK. Today, things are different.
AN ALLIANCE OF NECESSITY
I have to admit having always been fascinated by the pin-up image, which left a strong imprint on me. At first I simply sought out images of models posing in stockings, especially those in black with seams in the "small men’s magazines". Even then I remember being particularly fascinated by poses when they wore a merry widow or Basque as well as being pleased to see the interplay between the suspender of a girdle and its captive stocking top. It was those images that were the impetus for my starting to buy my own stockings. As I graduated to a corset, my search was refined to include photos of models posing in "real" corsets that were evident from the glint of the tell-tale slotted plates of its busk.
As the bounds of permissiveness widened throughout the 1970s, the magazines all flourished as did "Accord", the one I particularly liked because it specialised in included correspondence from real corset wearers of both genders. This really frustrated me because the general wearing of corsets was declining so fast. Occasionally I would see photos of women in corsets and letters from men, or their wives who claimed to wear real corsets, became more common.
There was slowly increasing number of photos of men wearing little more than a "corset" (sic), stockings and high heels and while I was in principle, pleased to see them, they appeared in magazines catering to what, in 2007, is lumped together as, "fetishism". Again I was not one of those people, but if they wore what I liked to see worn, I would look at those details in the photos and try to block out the circumstances in which they were being worn. I am not prudish and regard myself as fairly tolerant but I was not personally happy about it, though eventually rationalized it by paraphrasing the old adage that sometimes the devil does have some good tunes.
That said it is ironic that much of the impetus that has led to the rescue, albeit in very specialised form, in the making of real corsets and fully-fashioned stockings has, tended to come from persons of such persuasion. In times past, men who wanted corsets were lumped with such people and had to seek out and then rely on understanding corsetières, as Simon did with Mary, and I did when I found Iris Norris of Gardners. Today a novitiate corset wearer can piggy back his needs on stores by patronising stores catering for the Goth and Fetish cultures.
As the bounds of acceptability were tested in time photos appeared, initially of men alone and then in the company of similarly attired women, who were helping them to make up and look like women. I have to confess to being fascinated by them. If nothing else, it was a form of proof that, whilst I was alone with my secret, "out there” in the world at large, were others who felt the same compulsions as I did. It was then I started to dream of what life would be like with an understanding woman to share my secret. Many of these thoughts rose when I patronised Gardner's but the bombshell of Mrs. N's retirement was something else.
Most of the new magazines ran contact personal adverts and at first I all but recoiled at the idea of using such a service. I worried about being found out and at worst being blackmailed but, in another part of my mind, desperation was at work on my thoughts. I had to use the medium to contact others with my interest, but which magazine was it to be?
By the 1980s, again in response to the new liberal publishing climate the magazines were in turn replaced by those meeting interests in highly specific subjects. Not surprisingly, whole magazines devoted exclusively to each of the many "isms" emerged. At the time of the loss of Gardners, in early 1981 I identified those magazines nearest to my interests. The one I settled on catered for correspondence on transvestism, and the publisher was one and the same as that of the defunct "Accord".
Necessity was forcing me to come to terms with what I was. I also realise that most would even in 2007 label me as a transvestite or cross dresser. I now know I am not. I have met some and they are not like me. That said, I have to admit that until I met Mrs. Norris, over the first ten years of my Odyssey, there were many times that I felt I might be one. But as permissive times increased I read more and more of the "candid" letters in which men said how much they liked to wear women's underwear in the company of their wives or a girl friend. In time such letters were accompanied by pen and ink drawings of men usually in just a corset with suspenders and stockings. There had to be other men like me and with my needs and tried to live their lives as men.
As to why the magazines were tolerated at a time when there had been a latter day crackdown on all kinds of magazines that had appeared, thanks to Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, I do not know. I could only conclude that while the idea of a man wearing women's clothes was still the subject of ridicule or in the case of pantomime dame amusement, it no longer lead to jail. In fact the letters and photos in these magazines could give little offence compared to what was depicted of Mrs. Whitehouse's bogey woman - Mary Millington.
So I decided to buy them as part of my quest to perhaps getting information that might lead to finding a new corsetière. As ever, such magazines were sealed in clear plastic in the shop. They weren’t't cheap, so one was reluctant to buy all the back issues, especially as one was buying a “pig in a poke”, but I was already used to doing so and being disappointed at the content. Contrary to the old adage - "never judge a book by the colour of its cover" one was forced to do just that. I looked at the photos and words on the front and back covers and picked two back issues, which showed black, seamed stockings being worn.
My judgement or strategy
bad, for when I opened the first of them I was not disappointed, quite the
reverse in fact. I found an entire article on corsets penned by the "Berks.
Corsetier". It was accompanied by what I regard as some of the most amazing
pictures of corsetry modelling that I had ever seen. What particularly amazed me
was the incredible detail devoted to the lacings and to the design and number of
THE BERKS CORSETIER
Instantly I saw the photos submitted by Berks. Corsetier, I felt they were similar to those that I had seen in 1977 captioned "The Appeal of the Well Corseted Figure" submitted by a Berkshire reader. These were the photos, which first inspired me to go to Gardners. I had shown them to Mrs. Norris to illustrate what kind of corset I wanted. The fact that the result of that effort was my over ambitious leatherette corset does not matter now. It was Mrs. Norris's sincere effort to interpret the needs of a new ignorant client, who could only explain his needs with photos.
So, I went to my "Corset" file of articles and photos and compared the corsets worn in the 1981 photos with those of 1977. I concluded, given the Berkshire connection and the very complicated designs of corsets worn in both cases, that they had been submitted by one and the same person. It was unclear whether one or several persons had modelled the corsets but it was clear that the corsetier was certainly the same person. I concluded that the Berks. Corsetier had:
1) Admired the styles when worn by others.
2 Liked complicated fan lacing or under-belted corsets and many pairs of suspenders. Indeed these new studies featured corsets of the most complicated construction - more complex even than Camp or Jenyns that I had ever seen or was doing it for themselves.
3) Not being able to buy designs equal to those in his imagination he had resorted to making them for himself or for women friends to wear.
4 In his mind's eye he designed his "dream corsets". These incorporated individual elements found in a range of corset styles he had seen in catalogues and he had made his fantasies real.
As to the gender and the label "corsetier", not "corsetière", and given the subject of the magazine in which it appeared I had to assume of the two models, one appeared to been a man, and might be a transvestite, but as it turned out I was not entirely correct.
To see such complicated corsets being modelled amazed me as much as I had been when I first read of the corset wearing couple who claimed to wear extremely strongly boned corsets and who used eight pairs of suspenders back in 1972. In that regard, having been sceptical of its veracity in 1972, by 1984 based on what I learned of others, I was in no doubt it was true in that detail.
MY REACTION TO THE MAGAZINES
After the initial elation of finding such photos I read the rest of the two magazines I had bought. Almost the entire book was devoted to readers’ letters, stories, drawings and photos. The images had been submitted by readers of themselves. Too many of them were very unconvincing "women" and I found them to border on the pathetic. On a positive note it reinforced what I had concluded of myself and my motivation to wear what I did that I had no desire to dress or behave like a woman and given my own physique I would look very strange if not preposterous or laughable
I also realised that, while the photos were all of men wearing women's underwear or dresses, only about a third of them wore seamed stockings. In the twelve or so issues I read however there were very few letters or photos, which referred to, or depicted real corsets such as I wore. Clearly the readership regarded girdles and seam-free stockings as quite acceptable. I did not.
Of the photos of seamed stockings I could tell by the ladder stop pattern in the after-welts that many were wearing and hence still buying Aristoc "Harmony” as they were the only brand s still available. On that shared detail I did feel I shared a common bond with the wearer I saw in the photo. This also manifested itself as a form of reassurance I was far from being the only man going into stores to buy stockings for himself. There were tens, if not hundreds of us who did the same.
Being hard to please, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was relieved that there were others in the world who felt like me about suspenders and stockings, but I was disappointed that so few of the readers liked to wear the real corsets I liked and I still felt uncomfortable reading the magazine since it essentially catered for transvestites. Only my compulsion to wear corsets seamed stockings and suspenders drove me to read it. My preferences differed from theirs. I was satisfied to wear just those items. They needed the total effect.
I liked to see read letters and look at drawings of other men wearing corsets, suspenders and black stockings, so I subscribed to it for a while. That said, much of what was written quickly degenerated to the level of much of what is today posted in "Girdles and More" and I didn't renew my subscription. Added to which I came to realise that very few transvestites shared or even today share my deep interest in busk-fronted, back- lacing corsets and fully fashioned seamed stockings.
During the time I subscribed, I read several real accounts and other fanciful stories related to the readers having a real life tolerant and understanding woman friend who would allow them to meet her and she would help them to dress up like a woman.
A series of drawings accompanying the narrative depicted a central "Auntie" character wearing a corselette, French or the Directoire knickers, favoured by Simon, (Link )and stockings helping a man friend to dress up as woman at least as far as the underwear. I had a mixed reaction to this.
On the one hand it struck a chord as in my fantasy like many of the readers I too cherished the idea of being able to appear, in my chosen items of attire, in the company of a woman similarly attired. As I now know from "Simon's Story", he made it reality with his corsetière Mary. As far as I was concerned such a woman could even be fully dressed as long as she accepted seeing me in my corsets, etc. I was hardly to know that within months this would happen to me.
On the other hand, I was repulsed by some readers' accounts or stories of several men, so dressed and in company of such an “Auntie”, because of homosexual overtones. That offended my belief that male wearers of women's underclothes were most commonly heterosexual.
Having experienced the sensation of being laced in by Mrs. Norris at Gardners and knowing what she said, I did at least have proof that "out there somewhere" were individuals like myself. The problem was how to find them. If and when I did do so, I resolved that my goal was to find the company of others persons, ideally women, but men if need be, who would appreciate meeting another man such as myself, when we were both dressed only in our corsets and stockings. It would most expressly not be for sex, it would be platonic and we would discuss those items of attire and enjoy the mutual lacing-in of our corsets and the suspendering of our stockings.
In respect for Mrs. Norris’s memory I have to say that, while I was well aware that she wore the same items of clothes, never in the four years I knew her at Gardners, nor the following 19 years, that she accorded me the privilege of being a client in her home, did it ever once enter my head to think of see her wearing them.
It was a sufficient and continuing source of comfort to me to simply know that, at each and every one of my 50 or so appointments, both she and I were wearing real busked, boned and back-laced corsets as well as tautly suspendered, seamed stockings. I also valued the fact that we both knew that we were both wearing them and that, if she regarded wearing them as something important to her, there was no reason why I, though I was a man, I should not do so too.
EMBOLDENED BY DESPERATION
However, back to 1981 and the quest at hand. With Mrs. Norris out of the picture as far as my future corsets were concerned I knew I had to contact the contributor of the "Berks. Corsetier" article and photos to know if he or she would use his or her skills to make corsets for me.
I had noted in the contact adverts of the magazine that a person from Brighton had placed an advertisement wishing to meet others for "mutual fitting of corsets". So, I threw caution to the winds wrote my own advert and sent my money for it to appear in the next issue. I was quite precise. I asked if the "Berks. Corsetier", to contact me, c/o the magazine box number, and invited any others interested in tight lacing corsets to do the same.
I got just three replies. The first, as I had hoped, was from Berks. Corsetier, who proved to be a man who went on to found his own business as a very innovative corsetier and who became a lifelong acquaintance. The second was an elderly man who liked to wear front lacing Spirella type pink or white corsets and stockings under his male attire. It turned out had worked as a young man as an English teacher in pre-war Japan. He wrote of his lifetime of corset wearing and even of Japanese corsets! The third from Norfolk wrote to say he liked Victorian Fashions. I began serious correspondence with the first two respondents.
Do remember, all this happened 15 or so years before the advent of the Internet which has so revolutionised such things. However, I fear it is too late for the last generation of old style corsetières and the wearers of corsets with "real" suspenders and the correct stockings to pass on their knowledge and experience to the new generation. Fortunately however we all have the chance though the generosity of Ivy Leaf our e-Corsetière.
CORSET ADVICE FALLS ON STONY GROUND
Since the magazine didn't have much about corsets, I wrote to the editor. I explained my idea of writing articles with the aim of "rescuing" the art of making tight lacing corsets, and stimulating an interest in the wearing of them. He accepted my offer and published my articles followed by a Question and Answer column though all was actually written by myself. He even included my theory of how and why fetishism grades into transvestism based on the number of items of apparel worn.
All my contributions were published over a two-year period but my effort generated almost no response. I was forced to conclude that basically the average reader did not have a deep interest in corsetry. There were a few exceptions. In one issue appeared two, quarter page size sketches of a French maid lacing a person of indeterminate sex into very long corsets. It had short notes on the text. I was truly fascinated that someone was actually producing sketches like this and years later discovered they had been prepared by a French couple who were friends of Cora a German woman who had cultivated a very small waist in the 1960s and 70s and had been a client of Hella Knabe a corsetière in Berlin and a Swiss known as "Corset Hans".
My conclusion after two years was that the majority of TVs have so many aspects of attire to consider that they regard corsets and stockings as props - essential props - but of no special interest to them and most important, I lacked the motivation to ever be one of their "fraternity"- only an interested bystander.
By happy coincidence I had just read David Kunzle's book.
DAVID KUNZLE'S BOOK
One unexpected benefit of subscribing to Reflections was that I was put on the mailing list and I was notified of and they sent me a flyer about a new book "Fashion and Fetishism" by David Kunzle. I instantly ordered a first edition and have cherished it ever since. It was devoted to the wearing of tight corsets from mid-Victorian items to the present day. In 2004 it was updated as a second edition and has the status of being a seminal work on the subject.
It was amazingly illuminating and well illustrated and named about 20 persons Kunzle had consulted, including the renowned historian Basil Liddell-Hart, who is now known to have been a regular corset wearer, a historian of corsets and aficionado. Likewise I deduced that "Sir W" was almost certainly a conservative MP for close to 50 years representing a Scottish constituency, and who always made certain he wore corsets to make speeches in the House of Commons. Others named by Kunzle had died in the five or seven years that lapsed between the time he interviewed them and the time the book was published. They included Basil Costin, who died in about 1980 and whose vast collection of material on corsets was bought by one of Mrs. Norris's clients. In later years I met the buyer and he lent me many of them to copy. Costin and his wife had lived in North London while another Col Wintle, was a writer of the 1950s and 1960s. Others acknowledged by Kunzle were clients of my corsetière and had been referred by her to him when he met her at Gardners. Eventually met most of them through her good offices
Included in the illustrations was a reproduction of an advertisement from 1908 placed by one Madame Dowding who made Edwardian straight fronted corsets for women and several styles for men. I was truly inspired by the Carlton style, which was so similar to the high tops I had started to wear more regularly, though they lacked the shoulder straps I was starting to value as an essential element of the high top style. In fact for a number of years I knew what I ultimately wanted. I was held back by the fact that I was not ready, or able, to tolerate wearing one on a long-term basis so that they remained not a fantasy or dream, but the possibility, for which I was still not ready. As a man I did not have the essential spur of the waistband of a skirt or dress that was so tailored as to dictate the waist size to which the wearer's corset had to be reduced by lacing of the corset in order for it to close.
1980-2: A TIME FOR REFLECTION – THE IMPERATIVES
I took the opportunity to take stock of what is was that I wanted out of the corseted and stockinged life if it was to continue. Close to a year had passed without my having a corsetière and despite the multitude of thoughts that entered my head as a result of the ideas and subjects raised by the new liberalism it was time to take stock. I had to think what I really wanted. It had taken a decade and more of trial and error. A mail order, or off-the-peg corset is no substitute. One feature was paramount - the colour of all the items I wore had to be black. It was de rigueur. On that detail I could not compromise, my psyche was imprinted with black as the colour, be it for corsets, stockings or suspenders. indeed I felt very uncomfortable wearing any other colour including pink and white and which paradoxically I perceived to be too feminine. Quite what a psychologist would say of my choice I can only but speculate, but I think it was related to the fact that to like pink one needed many more transvestite tendencies than I had, and I recognised that Mrs. Norris as a corsetière, knew and understood this. It was ironic that it was her wise counsel and services that I was losing.
During the lean year or so, I had the time and peace to reflect on how I had progressed. I realise I might have gone into a depression but in truth I wanted to plan the future as best I could but to do so implied that I "knew what I wanted". I will summarise my thoughts for each item below. While no individual item is unusual, what I was losing was a corsetière, who could bring all my very specific requirements – identified as they were by a decade of by trial and error - all together in one corset. I am sure any reader who has had the benefit of the services of a corsetière with an encyclopaedic memory like Mrs. Norris, who seemed to remember each of her customers preferences, will understand. I also hope that those who might think I have gone in for too much detail will indulge me as I hope the information will provide present and future generation of corset wearers some insight as to what motivated me when seeking my “ideal corset”. What is more, wearing corsets which had the exact details I wanted made me more self-confident and wearing the G78 casual style to work was becoming second nature
IMPERATIVES - CORSETS
My corsets had to be made to measure and this was the very cause of my taking stock. It looked as if I would be left high and dry. I had spent too long trying to shoehorn myself into off the shelf corsets and suspender belts. In made to measure I was still learning. There were the things I liked and things did not need.
On the corset, I was now familiar with their construction and this was what I liked.
Busk First and foremost I needed my busk to suit the length of corset and a matching under-busk. I would accept a wedge busk. By now I had hooked up busks of several lengths and kinds. First there’d been the 4-point, 8-inch busks in the first red corset I ever had, as well as in the under-belted pink one. In the four point 10-inch length I had worn both wedge and standard designs in my G78s. There’d been an 11-inch for pointer in the white Wilbro corset and all four of my high tops had 14 inch busks with five points. I was not to know that within two years in my quest for the highest of high top, high back corset designs that Mrs. Norris would introduce me to the piece de la resistance of all busks, the 16 inch, 7 point design, for which the rules of hooking relating to the “key stud” and to the order of hooking and Mrs. Norris’ helpful demonstration were of no use.
Was it fate that decreed that some 20 years later I would have chosen to wear one of those corsets fitted with such a busk on the day I attended a showing of the film “Moulin Rouge” in 2001? “Why fate?” you ask. Well, who could be entranced by the sight of no less than seven, yes seven, hook plates flashing like cats’ eyes, (http://www.staylace.com/films/moulinrogue/index.html) to a 28 second clip from the film on her busk, which is fitted into the magnificent, black, satin-faced corset worn by the seductive female lead, Nicole Kidman, who exploits its allure to the maximum?
Could the costume designer’s inspiration have been the memorable scene of Sophia Loren disrobing for Peter Sellers 35 years earlier? As for the spoon busk I had seen one and I knew they that men were anatomically precluded from even attempting to wear such a thing
Bones After trying flat steels I knew that ¼ or ⅜-inch width spirals were for me. After two years with single boning I tried double bones and for my last three years at Gardners all my corsets were boned with double spirals. The only worry was their availability in lengths above 14 inches.
Back Steels I liked a pair of back steels by my lacing eyelets. Having had an eyelet or two fail and struggled with a hand eyeletter to replace it I remembered Mrs. Norris advice when I tired to 'salvage' the ripped out rings on my first leatherette and had brass not chromed steel reinforcing rings on every new one she made. Again finding lengths above 14 inches was not easy.
Panels I noted that Gardner’s patterns were based on either five or six panels in each half of their corsets, compared to four I had noted were used on all the off-the-peg ones I had in my drawer. I would take what the corsetière judge the most appropriate pattern for the length. As a man I’d never need a fluted hip style of which Mrs. Norris was such an acknowledged expert in creating. All panels had to be “lined and interlined”, terms I had noted in Copere's catalogue descriptions in 1977 and must have been given to Copere’s owner by Mr Gardner of Mrs. Norris. Pick up such a corset and it feels sumptuous in comparison to an unlined model or even a lined one that lacks interlining.
Cut In any corset the most important item is its pattern or cut of the corset and as I related in Part 2 of this Odyssey, after trial and error Mrs. Norris it was well worked out for the 12-inch G78 casual but I could not lace it as tight as I'd like to go to work because try as I did to avoid it a spare tyre always formed at the top - hence the high top. Even the high top created too firm a ridge in my shirt at the top and I had to think - if there was a future in wearing one, ideally with a high back - to work and it would certainly mean shoulder straps.
At home at weekends I would indulge in what might best be described as "excursions in tight-lacing. Typically it would begin when I would take advantage of my privacy and close down the G78 casual corset I habitually wore and laced it the limit and I would then shorten all the suspenders to the limit. Within a short while I felt the need to experience the sensation over a greater length of my torso and would change into one of my high tops and repeat the procedure. On occasion I even tried the leatherette one with the shoulder strap and subject to the fact that the leatherette facing would rip a little more each time I wore it, I found I could even close it down.
When laced so tight I found that my focus on the world narrowed as if one had taken a drug, but in time it became irksome and ultimately I had to admit defeat and loosen off the lacings and get back into a G78, which almost felt loose. Yet these excursions sowed the seed for my future corseting plans, which meant being contained - arm pit to lower hip - as I dreamed of since seeing the photos of the model wearing Copere's "Isabella".
From the outset with Gardners I realised that after taking a client's measurements, the true skill of the corsetière lay in deciding, based on her assessment of the customer’s experience, the cut and sewing up the panels that would suit him or her. I found that, as Copere related in their instructions, producing a corset cut to leave the back lacings two inches open, when correctly fitted was wise. The wisdom of this lay in their understanding of anatomy, which, in all but the most obese, results in a depression in the thorax at the line of the spine. In so doing, the laces and eyelets are not in contact with the skin at all, so obviating the need for the “lace protector”, which is so often advocated today. That said, I also noted that, if I laced down beyond this point, the corset edges would "push" subcutaneous fat "ahead of them so that it bulged into the corset lacing. Lace the corset closed and all gets compressed behind the steels on each side of the eyelets and the lacing would keep the skin clear of the metal of the eyelets, which in any case was smooth because the crimping - sources as it is of abrasion and wear of any corset lacing - is done on the outside
As for measuring, I noted that Mrs. Norris only took measurements to the inch. As I found out later, she pointed out there are always times when you want to close it a little more and its best if you keep a little "in reserve" should you wish to do so. Apart from the fact that the wearer may lose a little weight on the basis of the revised regimen of tightness, because that helps reduce the intake of food at any meal to an amount compatible with limiting discomfort. That said, some years into the future of my being her client, Mrs. Norris was to introduce me to several women with very small waists. Several had surprisingly large appetites but in each case that may because they had really known no other life that to be corseted day and night for 30 and even 40 years.
I investigated why my high top corsets got rid of my spare tire at the top but that a ridge still showed. I concluded that the top edge was extending to a point on the torso where the body started to “curve away from the corset towards the shoulder. All that was needed was to fit a pair of shoulder straps , which would gently pull it sufficiently flat against the body. If the high top was stopped too low, one got the spare tire
It was this detail that Mrs. Norris helped me with very much. All that said corsetières are individuals and at times have to improvise. I never knew whether I would get one wide back steel or a pair of equivalent narrow ones in my new corsets. Likewise, depending on the busk lengths available Mrs. N would be forced to provide one or more corset-grade hooks and eyes above or below the busk. I valued the fact that she had thought about it and about what I might like and she would always take the time when showing me the details of a new corset. She never suggested that I might change what I wanted. She had so many years of experience and knew what the range of preferences her clients’ had, to be reasonably sure she was doing the right thing.
IMPERATIVES - STOCKINGS
Stockings had been my first interest and as readers of previous parts I've written will know were what had in fact had set me on my Odyssey. The stockings I wore had to be seamed, fully fashioned - and black.
If the portents for corsets were bad, the portents for the stockings I liked to wear were not good. Both in the USA and UK the styles of fully-fashioned stockings were getting fewer and fewer. Aristoc still produced "Harmony" and I used all my spare cash apart from that needed for corsets to build up a large stock of them fearing that any moment as at happened to Charnos "Commonsense" and Aristoc "Oxfords in the late 1960s would be discontinued before I knew. Unlike women my potential for gaining the ear of a friendly store owner or sales clerk was effectively denied me for I am sure such people advised customers before their preferred brand or style was discontinued giving them the chance to build up a reserve.
Top details. I liked to see labels embossed on the tops/welts. I still had some stockings by post from the USA which had the kormograph or maker's label, embossed on the tops. It had always fascinated me to see the detail in the pin-up photos. I pored over in my youth. From time to time in my early purchases I bought a style, which had them and was amazed at how fragile. By the late 70s only one brand still added them and that was Albert’s in the USA and I was pleased to pen them up and found I had bought some. That was in the era when a box of six contained individual pairs folded in tissue paper, and not individually packed in plastic bags.
Over the years the length of sheer leg had increased and the depth of stocking top had decreased from what was the norm in the golden age after World War 2, in recognition of the mini skirt’s hem, and before the advent of tights. Happily 30 D styles continued to be made with deeper tops , as they were worn by older women who, favoured more modest hem lengths and so could tolerate deeper stocking tops without fear of them accidentally showing. Now, in 2007, stocking tops as a glamour detail often in fancy lace with stay-us have been rediscovered
Afterwelts I liked to have a pattern in the after-welt and for me, the one I encountered on the first pair of stockings I ever bought in 1967 - Charnos "Moonbeams" - was still the sine qua non of all designs. Those who revere pattern in "Harmony Points", now available again from "Gio", or that found in those made by Eleganti, have clearly never seen the "Moonbeams" design.
Knit They had to be plain knit and they had to be fully fashioned - with seams, heel and sole reinforcements, narrowing marks and the finishing loop. Periodically, I had tried seam-free RHT, and even Charnos stretch yarn fully-fashioned stockings, to see if I had revised my negative opinion of them, but I had not. In part, the imprinting of my youth was too strong but I will challenge anyone who tries to deny that there isn't a difference in tactile sensation between the styles.
Heels I preferred the square cut, Cuban heels I knew from by youth, and which I could still buy in the USA, though, I often chose to wear point, or French, heels because they were still being made and easily available and as I laddered them they could be replaced.
Yarn Yarn had to be non-stretch, twisted or monofilament, and I preferred 30 denier but by 1979 I could only get them in the USA. Otherwise I wore Aristoc 222, renamed "Harmony" and finally before their 1993/4 demise "Harmony Points", which from the first had seemed more forgiving of my clumsiness and lack of good manicuring than the classic 15 denier because their yarn was actually at 20 denier, an all important one-third stronger.
Length I made a point of checking the sizing of every batch of purchases as I had found that they were not very consisted. As I now had more spare cash, I took to buying a box of six at a time and graded them into those best to wear with corsets with different levels of hemline.
I had tried tights - pantyhose - and did not like them except, as I will reveal later, I wore them "underall" to ensue I was modest when occasion demanded it. Flights of fantasy had on occasion driven me to try lingerie and even long gloves, but unlike others, I found my experience of wearing them was such that those times would not be part of even my occasional attire.
The irony was not lost on me that out there in the real world was a minority of the generation of women - which included Mrs. Norris - who still wwore the kind of stockings I liked, rarely in black usually dark brown or blue and almost al with point heels. They were well-dressed women, and the seams on their legs were almost always straight. I noted that they were usually drawn from the better off classes and imagine that they were the type of woman Ms. Adburgham was thinking of when she wrote her memorable phrase back in 1971.
Generally, they were half a generation older than me - in their 50s at least - and it was now the early 1980s. Elementary maths would tell me that these women had "graduated" into adulthood in the "age of seams" when they were generally worn by any woman with pretensions to being well dressed – which also mandated that they kept those seams straight which, suspenders sewn to good a girdle, corselette or corsets would ensure. After noticing their seams I would look for a hint of the wonderful gait and deportment of my corsetière Mrs. Norris, but sadly never did I detect this. With the availability of corsets in steep decline, only a few styles of fully-fashioned stockings still produced, there was a whole, smaller world of women for which the wearing of such clothes was clearly a key part of their dress. The paradox was, the bulk of the younger generation of women would have regarded stockings and seams as being beyond countenance.
I also noticed that, even if it was set in the present, and a film or television program wanted to convey elegance, the camera would focus on the seams displayed by an older women. Sometime later, in about 1990, I can recall the navy blue seams and point heels, surely Aristoc Harmony, besported by Gemma Jones, (who had been the corseted Duchess of Duke Street in the 1970s), when she played the middle-aged wife of an aristocrat in the Television series "Chelworth". The costume designer clearly thought it appropriate that even in the late 1980s, the character of her age and standing would wear fully-fashioned stockings.
IMPERATIVES - SUSPENDERS
As for suspenders, I liked the classic width that was traditional with real corsets which is now called “wide”, or 1⅛ inch on all my corsets and deep suspender belts. I had however found that it was no longer readily available in the strength I liked. In contrast the ¾inch width, which had become the new standard for suspenders on belts girdles and basques. was easily found.
Number As for the number of pairs I had now moved up to four pairs and was contemplating a fifth pair for everyday wear.
Attachment The hardest task was the change an over-stretched elastic and the time it took me to due to my limited ability trying to push a needle through the multitude of layers of material near the hem of a corset. Doing so taught we the value of a steel thimble, I had all but speared my finger when a plastic one broke. Then I was reminded of how as a youth I has seen an old seaman sewing sailcloth with a leather patch he wore below his thumb to give full pressure behind what was more like a bodkin. There had to be a better way though my experience with detachables on the off the peg waspies and basques in the early 1970s was entirely discouraging.
Adjusters Back on my early suspender belts the length adjusters did not have the sharp triangular teeth rather they had raised dots embossed on a semi cylindrical piece that pressed into the elastic when the length was judged right and the adjuster clip or regulator was closed down. As long as the tension in the elastic was low they were fine but they quickly slipped down the length of elastic under the kind of tension that is created in back suspenders when the wearer sits down.
Width Fortunately I had never seen this detail on wide suspenders, only on the ones used with the narrower elastic that was usual on suspenders sewn on basques, waspies and suspender belts.
Frame The frames had to metal and chrome plated, not enamel painted. I didn’t have a chrome allergy and I’d tried and rejected the plastic ones I’d found on some suspender belts. I preferred the frames to be shaped from wire with the articulated link between the frame and the strap link rather than the all in one design which came into vogue which was stamped pit of flat plate, but beggars can’t be choosers. I am sure I can blame the sudden appearance of holes in my stocking tops to the fact that the sides of the flat frame design, if not perfectly burnished prior top plating can cut into yarn of a stocking top, especially if a stocking shrouded button with a rivetted centre is being slid “home” into a “slightly tighter than usual” frame.
Buttons By 1983 Mrs. Norris complained that the yarn used to knit the Aristoc Harmony she wore had become too shiny and as a result her stocking tops were slipping off her suspender clips. As I found out what was really the cause was the thin flexible buttons in the suspender clips, which were inadequate for the task. She solved the problem by bulking them with tissue paper. Another women’s husband glued discs of rubber on top of the wives suspender buttons. The real answer remained the discontinued central rivet button if one could find any, on either wire frame or stamped flat clips
THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PLUSES AND MINUSES OF CORSETING
On the plus side my backache was cured and driving a car even in a high top became second nature. I had bucket seats and they were not adjustable but I made an arrangement with blocks of wood screwed on a plank which placed under the rear of the frame raised the seat more upright. Even then until the bottom edge was cut higher, I found the hem and spiral bones would dig into my groin. I found that the strong back steels helped though Mrs. Norris said she sometimes put extra ones in her corsets to cure the backache she sometimes got from hours sitting and machining.
Bones pressed against my lowest front rib bones but that was unavoidable. It took getting used to. I imagined callouses forming on my rib bones at the areas of contact until I got used to it. That said I came to welcome the modest discomfort associated with prolonged corset wearing. I took it as challenge directly caused by my choice of under apparel and in time I came to welcome the sensation of touching the warm corset and the hard steels through my shirt at any time of day or directly if I partially disrobed to watch television.
Sometimes I would forget what I had on but was soon made aware when I stood up and felt suspenders pulling the bagging in the knees of my stockings taut.
Walking the alternating pull of front, and then the back, suspenders was a constant reminder of their presence while walking along. The only time I would forget was when I was distracted by company on a bus or train or in a store it is only on emerging that one is alone and again becomes aware that one was corseted.
Since it was cut to wear two inches open, I found that at home I could indulge my curiosity and see what it felt like to be laced closed. Slowly the time I could tolerate it increased and I identified with those I read of who followed training regimes. The problem for me as a man was, when I was laced tight, the waistband of my trousers would slide down and I needed trousers with shorter legs! This was crazy, as I couldn't go to work like that or afford a tailor to do what was wanted, without again revealing my secret.
I came to realize that regular wearing was very different from the idealistic images of posed women. Seams strayed off line and needed straightening and comfort overrode the theory. I was hirsute and body hair interacts badly with the harder spots on a wearer's corset leading to abrasion and even breakdown of the skin. Wearing a tee shirt under the corset for every day totally eliminated the problem.
At first the very
difficulty of putting or hooking on a corset left me feeling at a disadvantage
and to a feeling that the corset was in control of me. As I got more used to
wearing it, I came to realize that it should all be the other way round and that
one didn't need to suffer from things that might be avoided.
Nevertheless I also realized that the use of a corset by a man as a means of exerting control over his female partner has existed and may still exist. Over time Mrs. Norris introduced me to one such couple, where the woman, for whom the man had left and divorced his wife, was prepared to let him take charge of her corset lacing and training to cultivate a waist and hip spring that he admired. In effect he visited on his new wife a regime that his first wife would not tolerate. Whilst he did wear a corset and stockings every day, he did lace his corset with the severity he imposed on his compliant new wife. When I was last in touch with her after Iris's death in 2000 she was in her late 60s and had been the victim of a mild stroke but she told me she was still as well corseted after close to 50 years. For many years she wore corsets with exclusively flat steels. She did have to what the Victorians would have termed embonpoint - but such was her lacing regime that over time the revision to her breathing pattern had slowly subtly but permanently moulded her sternum so that it had a distinct outward curve between base of neck and bosom. This was the result of her having her waist so tightly held that she could only breathe thoracically for all those years’ - day and night - and ended up with this anomalous by product of what was regarded by her husband and like-minded friends as an attractive physical and skeletal change.
I hoped that for me things were different. I was always in charge of what I did. However I felt I had an imaginary contract with the corset. Initially it was simply to give me an immovable hem to which suspenders could be anchored. Gradually the scope of my "contract" broadened from meeting my initial need to feel a modest element of tightness all day. Sometimes I would continue to wear it over night. What was more the cut was such that it close even more and so offered me the capability for short "excursions" into the realm of real tightness, should l I feel inclined. On such excursions I would be transported into a different world where my mind was focused on what I was experiencing and time stood still.
This may be hard to understand for someone who wears a corset just to contain excess flesh - as many women did - but I could pass and do many hours simply sitting and reading and stopping periodically just to savouring the joy of being corseted with my suspenders shortened to their limit so as to pull my stockings so tight that I feel that merely flexing my legs would induce a ladder!
What is interesting is that, over a period of about seven years, from 1977 to 1984 the degree of tightness I tolerated grew and so did the length of the torso over which I wished to be contained climatic temperature permitting. That is, what was extreme in 1977 became the norm by 1984. After that, to use modern sports parlance, I "plateaued".
THE SEARCH GOES ON
In December 1981 I wrote two final letters. The first was one last pleading time to Mrs. Norris. The second was to Rigby and Peller, holders of the Royal Appointment as Corsetières. I had many times seen their advert in the "Corset Personals" of Vogue in years past but I couldn't remember their name. So, as ever in this Odyssey, detective work came into play. Given the year and the accelerating demise of corsets to my great fortune, the advert was still in “Vogue” in late 1981, located on South Molton Street, in the upper end of Mayfair, just south of Oxford Street. Other corsetières had or recently operated not far away. In Hanover Square, until 1962 was Mr Overett and on Duke Street was Madame Medeq, until just a few months earlier.
Mindful of what status the company had, I wrote very carefully. I explained I was not asking to become or presume to become a client; I simply sought to know if they could advise if they knew of a firm or person which would make bespoke corsets for men by personal appointment.
Early in the year I got a reply dated, Jan 4, 1982, signed by Mrs. Tessa Seiden who suggested I contact a Mrs. R Koppel of Porchester Terrace in Paddington who she said could copy any corset I sent.
Later in the year I saw an interview in the Guardian with Mrs. Tessa Seiden. She was the owner of the Rigby and Peller and was lamenting the decline in corseting. The firm intended to continue but, within two years, I read that Mrs. Seiden had sold out and the business had moved to an address near Harrods.
Before I could write to Mrs. Koppel, I received a small envelope in unfamiliar handwriting and there was no place on the stamp franking. I guessed it was from Mrs. Norris and I feared what it might contain.
IV: MY EFFORTS ARE REWARDED - THE FUTURE IS ASSURED
By now I was used to disappointment so, somewhat to my surprise, Mrs.. Norris had written a short letter to tell me she'd changed her mind. She had decided to start up on her own account, working from her home. In doing so she earned my life long gratitude. I phoned her up to talk and she did caution that it wouldn’t be the same as at Gardners. She did not have an eyeletting machine and would have to take the corsets to be finished to a person in the town to have the holes punched and to have the eyelets and reinforcing rings set in place.
Pleased as I was, I had initiated quite a lot of inquiries, and as I did not want to put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, it was many months before I gave up searching elsewhere. I had been given a shock and wanted to be ready for the worst just in case things didn’t work out for Mrs. Norris, and she became discouraged again.
An account of her concerns after retirement is contained in my biography of her.
PLANS ARE MADE
Even though I hadn't had my first appointment with her, I sensed the future was fairly assured. My mind turned to thoughts of where my life in corsets should go and I was full of plans. I also realised I had sometimes come away from appointments at Gardners having forgotten something important to ask or tell her. Now it would be different. I began preparing a list of things to remember to discuss and order on my next visit - a sort of wish list
In Part 2 of this Odyssey, I wrote a section "the Ever Present Lure of the High Top". Now that I was wearing high tops more regularly I noted that they could be higher in both front and much higher in the back. Mrs. Norris herself had talked of what she called a "hi back" design that one of her lady clients liked it. I had also seen the style in several photographs. Also, I had taken a first step with shoulder straps. In time I would get her to add them to the other two high tops from the Gardner days.
TRAVELLING TO MY FIRST PERSONAL APPOINTMENT
I kept in touch with Mrs. Norris and in June she said she was ready. She could do everything except make eyelets and was using an industrial sewing machine she had at home. We finally agreed on a day on which she could see me but it was in mid-week when her husband was at work, which meant I would have to take time off from work. We arranged to meet at 11 am. The day before I phoned and she gave me directions and reassured me that it would be fine. It had been close to two years since I’d last seen her and she’d given me the bad news and 18 months since she’d left Gardners.
On the appointed morning I got up and immediately put on the last high top she had made me. It would have been the farthest I’d been wearing it. Hence in order to get as comfortable as I could, before I set out, I was careful to do a final lacing in and final suspendering. I was also glad of the cut in front to permit sitting without it digging into the thighs.
In making my decision to go wearing a high top I decided that I wanted more than anything for Mrs. Norris to accept e as a serious client. By arriving wearing it and being able to wear it to drive the car for such a long time I wanted to demonstrate that I was used to it. I Realised that if it had been a fine day I was risking the possible of being over-hot in the car -it had happened before and I'd had to go either go home, take it off with difficulty in the car or other confined space. Mindful of the need to patronise her I would get a new corset ordered and have it with shoulder straps and I would leave.
her to add shoulder straps to the one I had on. I carried along the white Wilbro PCRW 2 she had altered for me back in 1978 to wear to leave.
She gave me good instructions of how to get to her house. It will soon be 10 years since I last did a journey I made close to50 times and I remember it well. I went round the A 412, which predated the M25, through Rickmansworth and along to the M1 and took the exit 13 just north of a service area. All the roads signs pointed to the new town Milton Keynes or Bedford, but I wanted Old Bletchley. Along a mix of roads I meandered through quaintly named villages such as Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands, heading for the A5 - a road I had travelled on many times in pre-M1 days. I was aware that some of the road numbers had changed over the years and after one wrong turn at a giant new roundabout near Bow Brickhill I somehow managed to get onto what is no longer numbered as the A5 road. It was all but unrecognisable from the busy road of pre-M1 times. I turned left at a sign for Bletchley station. On that first visit I recall I passed it on my left, but with new road layouts, it was later on my right. I found myself passing a long curving brick wall on my right, which I later found out enclosed Bletchley Park, where the Enigma code was cracked. Subsequently I found a more direct way to get there and over the years I learned all the possible ways and could “home in” on No. 114 from any direction.
I spotted the Six Bells pub she had mentioned almost, straight ahead at a fork in the road. I took the right fork and was quickly in Church Green Road itself. I was intending to go but at the last moment noted the old school she mentioned and saw that Church Green Road took a sharp left turn. I slowly followed the road as it curved slightly right up a gentle slope, past single storey bungalows and noted the street numbers reached the 100s and quickly worked out that No 114 had to be the nearest of a pair of taller, semi-detached, red-brick houses. Though the road wasn't too wide there was room to park right outside. I got my briefcase containing several corsets that needed running repairs beyond my ability.
After nearly two hours I
had stiffened me up and I got out of the car with difficulty. It was the
furthest I had driven wearing a high top corset and was glad that, in wearing
something so high and warm in June, it was a wet if not cloudy day. I felt very
conscious of being watched and wondered if the neighbours were aware of Mrs.
Norris's business and were looking to judge what sort of man might wear corsets,
much as I felt in Barnsbury Square I walked along and knocked on the door of No
AT 114 CHURCH GREEN ROAD
However, now that my search was over I was not going to be put off and, as instructed I avoided the front door went along the side alley and at an opening in a low brick wall approached the door
As instructed, I knocked hard. At the time she had told me that she couldn't hear the doorbell above the noise of her sewing machine. Only later did she relax her pride and confide in me that she was hard of hearing and had hearing aids in her glasses. Writing this years later and after watching the video of her machining, I have wondered of perhaps more than 40 years of bending over her sewing machine close to such a constant noise had gradually compromised her hearing as surely as is that of the youth of today, who are exposed to too much over-loud music.
The door opened and the woman I had imagined I would never see again stood there smiling warmly, her figure with its belt-cinched waist as attractive as ever. She backed into a narrow kitchen and invited me to sit at the kitchen table. She was as natural and matter of fact as ever and I quickly lost my feeling of embarrassment about what had been my secret was now share with her.
I accepted her offer of a cup of tea at which she turned to put the kettle on. It may sound silly, but I breathed a silent sigh of relief, since I need not have feared that she'd relax her fashion sense. I’d seen her waist and now I saw the seams of the same dark brown stockings as she usually wore at Gardners. I was again amazed how far up her calves her point heels reached and I again noted the ridge of her seams showing she deliberately wore them "wrong side" out. It was first seeing those ridges that made me decide to do the same and as I’ve said, I liked to touch my trousers as I sat behind the privacy afforded by my desk at work and feel the presence of my warm suspender clips. Wearing stockings like that, allowed me to feel the seams and finishing loops in the tops as well. I also found that one was less prone to snag the sheer fabric when running one’s hand inside them, against the “correct side out”, the knit of which was smoother, prior to putting them on - but it was to be several years before I felt I knew Mrs. Norris well enough to discuss why she did so.
I thanked her profusely for agreeing to see me and I gathered that she had not been able to get as much "outwork" she'd expected. She also confirmed that many of her old customers had urged her to work from home. She again said she had a problem with the eyelets and I gathered that Mr Gardner had found no one to replace her and that he had hoped she would return and hence would not lend her an eyelet machine which she needed, not only for the eyelets but to rivet the corset strength hooks and eyes in place.
She was very casual and almost dismissed my thanks for her starting again and for being willing to see me and have me as a client. Since my thanks were deeply felt and I was careful not to be over-profuse and alarm her. Later I contrasted her understanding with that of the corsetières I had phoned and who had rebuffed me. Reading of such rebuffs to men in the early years of "Girdles and More” 1999-2001, reminded me of them.
We discussed what I wanted and said it was the same high top as I was wearing but with shoulder straps. I said I was still conscious of a ridge showing through my shirt even if as she had suggested years before at Gardners I deliberately wore shirts of striped or patterned material and avoided plain shirt material. I really felt that straps would pull the upper edge flatter. I said I wanted to leave the one I was wearing and get her to add the shoulder straps too.
DECIDING ON SUSPENDER LENGTHS
Out of my briefcase I took the G78 Casual for repair. Feeling slightly embarrassed I told her I would like to have five pairs of suspenders on all my corsets and deep boned suspender belts and over time I'd bring old corsets and belts in for her to change.
Mrs. Norris said she would unpick the eight existing suspenders, sew on five pairs of loops on corset hem. As for the suspenders she would replace any stretched and make up two sets of five pairs, all with loops on the top ends of the straps. She'd do the same for the new corset. That meant thirty rings in all. Amazingly she never wrote anything down except the elastic lengths I wanted which on most of my corsets which usually ended even inches below my waist were as follows
At front close to busk (No 1), thigh front (No2 and mid Side (No3), all 42 inch.
Seam (No 4) 7 inches.
Back, near lacing eyelets 12 inches
Suspender loop Nos 2,3 and 4 would be positioned to divide up the space between loops No 1 and No 5 equally.
We'd start with the new corset and one of my old ones.
INTO HER "SALON"
She then asked me to go into the dining room and take off your shirt and I'll have a look. She pushed open a white sliding door and I walked into a small heavily furnished room. She followed me, slid the kitchen door shut. She put on the light, which I found odd, but at once she went to draw the curtains explaining that the window overlooked the side passage, which was a public footpath.
She watched me take off my shirt and moved to examine the corset lacings. She asked me to untie the knot and took over the lacing and I felt her pull the top much tighter and the top hem came much closer to my form. She all but chided me for not lacing it in enough but agreed that shoulder straps would help. She said that right there and then she could add a pair of shoulder straps. If I took my shirt off, she'd pin them in place if I took the corset off she'd make them right there and then. As for the new high top she'd make it two inches higher with shoulder straps.
Somewhat shy I said I'd take off the high top and give it her and at that she left me alone. I too off my trousers to unclip my suspenders and with difficulty reached up to unlace what after her ministrations had become a very tightly laced corset - at least by the standards I could achieve lacing alone. I had worn it for close to five hours. In its stead I took my white Wilbro PCRW2 still single boned but which I had selected as I found the car hot in summer and that it would prove cooler to wear because on account of it not being lined was lighter in weight.
I now had a chance to take in my surroundings. There was a mirror hanging at an angle above the mantelpiece. In it I could see myself hooking up my busk in Mrs. Norris 's dining room cum salon, with black stockings hanging around my knees waiting to be suspendered again. The sight of photos of children and grandchildren added to the air of unreality. What would they think of me, I thought?
Once I'd completed my chores, I redressed, slid back the door and, carrying the high top rejoined Mrs. Norris in the kitchen. While I was there, she'd made me another cup of tea and a salmon sandwich as she thought I "looked tired". At this my heart leapt, for I felt she had really accepted me as a client and, for what I was, and the future suddenly looked much brighter. My year of turmoil was over. I guessed she was 60 and could go on for 15-20 years buy which time I would be her age with enough corsets to last me out. The only concern would be the availability of those metal parts that were unique to corsets - busks, long spiral and flat steels and wide suspender clips.
WE CONCLUDE MY FIRST APPOINTMENT
Having competed our transaction - new corsets, more suspenders and tabs on suspender clips she asked me Awhat corset are you wearing now? Do you want to put this one (meaning the G&* casual now with five pairs of suspenders) do you?" I told her I was wearing the ready-made white one, which she'd added the bones to while at Gardners. (That being the Wilbro PCRW2 corset, which at the time already had ten suspenders, three pairs of which I had added myself). She said to go in the dining room and said that if I was keeping it she'd check to see that I was laced in right. Clearly she didn't have much of an opinion of my skill at self-lacing.
I returned to the dining
room one last time and raised my shirt and she looked at it and told me to untie
the lacing and she worked over the crosses of lace at which point I said, don't
lace me too tight as I was driving a long way to see my family. She laughed and
finished the job and I straightened up my clothes. She asked if I wanted more
tea and I gratefully declined. Carrying my brief case I returned to the car, and
that was the end of my first day as a client when she was working on her own
THE CASE FOR FIVE SUSPENDERS
Before concluding my narrative on my first day at Mrs. Norris's home I must digress and explain why I wanted the extra pair of suspenders and how I settled on having all my suspenders detachable.
I wanted to do so because now that I had found in Mrs. Norris the perfect source from making corsets for years to come, I felt I could indulge my desires and make my dream of having perfect corsets but perfect suspenders come true. My plan for suspenders would be done in stages and I would alter them each and every one of the corsets and deep suspender belts in my drawer like this:
1 I would have five instead of four pairs of suspenders.
2 All my suspenders would be detachable.
3 I would try out ribbon tabs on the suspender clips on one set of suspenders.
4 I would use old style clips with central rivets on all back suspenders and that meant all the light suspender belts that on occasion I wore.
My decision to switch from four to five pairs of suspenders per stocking was not taken lightly. In going for a fourth pair in 1978, as I noted in part two, the number was already more than Mrs. Norris had recommended, or in fact used herself, but I was so captivated, not by a need for straight seams - no one could ever see mine - but by the sensation of taut suspenders that I gave in to my desires and wanted four pairs. Having used four pairs for four years, I had for some time I had felt that they were not enough.
My concern was where to add an
extra pair. In the end I solved my dilemma with geometry and concluded that the
positions of suspenders on the corset hem left a lot of stocking un-gripped
between the fourth, or back, suspender, at the back of my thigh and the front
suspender on the inside front of my leg. The only way the un-gripped length could
be reduced was to have an additional -fifth suspender clipped "beyond" the seam,
towards the inside of the leg. At first I feared that such a location would
result in the strap migrating uncomfortable towards the cleft in my buttocks.
How could I test it? I did so by using corset clips to fit a whole set on a
casual corset. Finding out which to clip on and which to leave off was taxing
but the experiment - give or take a corset clip slipping off the hem once or
twice - really worked. The fifth pair of suspenders had 12 inches of elastic and
I attached the corset clips very close to the eyelets on my corset.
CLIPPING FIVE SUSPENDERS
If doing up my back suspenders had been difficult with four pairs, the fifth pair made it close to impossible. I thought hard. There had to be a way and there was. I had been doing it with my corset laced tight so I tried with it simply hooked on. That was easier, but still not easy. The answer proved to be simple. I would clip the back pair on with only the top stud hooked on, so that I was free to twist and turn to access the side of my thigh. Doing this and then rotating the stocking top brought it far enough to the side to allow me to clip it on the top "beyond the seam".
I liked the result but when I sat down one of the corset clips of a back suspender pulled off the hem. If it did not pull off the hem then the stocking top slid off the button because I was using a “modern” all- in-one suspender clip with a flexible rubber button…
I realise many may question or criticise my decision to use what are usually regarded as “too many suspenders” and in the future some did. Even the woman who would become my dear friend and confidante, Mrs. Norris would often remark when helping me with my suspenders during a fitting "I don't know how you manage with so many suspenders", or "I don't know how you have the patience to have so many suspenders" or even "Don't you find it takes time with so many to clip on?"
Yet, in all the time I knew her, Mrs. Norris was always the perfect professional. Her memory, for what to her were the details of what the customer liked,, was phenomenal. She would always do what the customer wanted if they insisted. In this regard she was honourable to the dictate of the corsetière, which was to explain the choices the client and drawings on her wide knowledge of clients preferences would say phrases such as:
"Some like a lacing up the front as well as the back, but I'd never recommend it" or
"Some like to use window cord for lacing but I think it's too hard and if its nylon it stretches."
She understood the adage the "The customer is always right" and, once I had settled on my ten suspenders she always provided them without question. If there were any doubt about a choice she would provide what she thought right and it was often what she would use for her own corsets. On the point about suspender lengths she would say "You've got to have them (the suspender elastics) in the right lengths otherwise they'll be pulling off when you don't want them to" and she would chuckle.
In reflecting on my experience later, I realised that what I had read about the matter was influenced by the concerns of women for seam straightness. In my teens, a girl friend had told me that clipping a suspender on the seam kept the seam straight. That advice was given to the general body of womanhood for whom two pairs of suspenders on a suspender belt, a girdle, of even a corset, was more than enough and this usually solved the straightness problem. The third pair, found on more expensive foundations was considered give the more affluent and elegant woman added insurance that her seams would not twist as well as giving them the tautness that helped them to feel trimmer.
THE PERFECT DETACHABLE SUSPENDER
My capitation with feeling of taut suspenders and stockings on my legs was the root cause of more and more gradual elastic failures due to over-stretching in some of my sewn-on suspenders.
What had happened was that with more and more regular corseting I was able to satisfy my desire for tautly suspendered stockings all day long with no problem of pulling down the waist band of my suspender belt which was the reason I had been propelled to the first outfitter back in 1972 in a search for the solution. I might be thought to be greedy for tension and but the increase tension I liked had a consequence - frayed elastic. But there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to why some failed and not others. Examination revealed that not all elastic was the same and my needs generally called for strong elastic, which even Mrs. Norris found hard to get at times.
I dreaded this happening but give the choice I would change them to always get the pull in them that I liked, but sewing was not my forte. As I wrote in Part 2, '"Making My Own Suspenders" it that required the needle and thread on the hem to fix them every time as well as the trial of unpicking the stitching, with the risk of damaging the hemming tape.
Detachable suspenders seemed like the answer but I had the experience of the waspie and Basque I had bought from Kesman in the early 70s. (See Part 1 "Desire for a corset grows") but what was suitable method given that the bra hook was so prone to pull off?
I thought and thought and hit on the idea of simple chromed mild steel rings, which had the advantage of lacking bulk. Since I used the wide elastic I hit on the idea of using a matching diameter and bought a packet to try out. I would sew one pair of loops for the side suspenders onto the hem of a G78 corset. I did so painstakingly and thimble or no thimble I pricked my fingers several times trying to sew the Petersham tape loop on the corset hem and then sewed a loop on the end elastic of a pair of new suspenders. In doing so to my surprise I discovered that the Mrs. Norris used the style of length adjusters that did not rely on crimping steel onto elastic but with which it was possible to form a loop of elastic and sew it to the "fixed" (not flap) side of the length adjuster.
I felt confident that I had hit on the answer but was surprised to find that the rings proved to be as unreliable as bra hooks. Under tension the elastic always seemed to find the gap where the two ends of the steel that formed the ring butted up to one another. The elastic could somehow strain it open enough or manoeuvre itself during my movements when as anyone who had watched a person's suspenders when they are walking will see that they move significantly back and forth across the wearer's thighs. I watched what happened on myself. The loops on the straps moved enough to let the tiniest a smidgen of the edge of the elastic into that gap and in a trice the loop on the elastic end would break free of the ring. I tried to put the gap inside the corset loop and the same thing happened. If the gap was away from the loops during wear, the ring seemed to turn itself to the "fatal" position. Simple rings were no better than bra hooks.
I was a loss until suddenly when one day I was adding a key to my set I hit on the solution - key rings or as they are correctly known - split rings. If I had thought, I would have remembered that back in 1977 on my leatherette corset Mrs. Norris had used a split ring to connect the top edge of the corset to the shoulder straps. But it was an enormous split (key) ring such as a 19th C jailer in Pentonville Jail, nearby to Gardners, might have hung his keys from. I had failed to think of it as being part of the answer to my problem!
Threading the ring through the loop in the elastic and then in the loop in the hem of the corset proved more difficulty than I could have ever imagined. The cause of this lay in the fact that the utility of a split ring lies in the fact that is made of spring steel and not mild steel. Used as a key ring it holds keys securely. Thus, it could safely connect a corset loop to a loop on the elastic of a suspender.
Prising them open was hard on fingernails and was easier with dextrous use of a tiny screwdriver. In the end I found the small item in a manicure set that is used to push back an advancing cuticle worked best of all! Even then one had to pay careful attention to the task at hand first to do the final connection with the clip button facing out and, in the early days of using them, I still suffered pull offs at inopportune moments until I realised that was due to careless threading of the loops. They had to be completely threaded on and the spring end had to close flat on its "other side".
Yet again as they say today "the devil was in the details" and I found that some foreign made split rings used lower grade steel that was less springy and would not close flat and stayed gaping. Therein lay its own problem. Suffice to say, I needed rings made with good quality spring steel and apart from reducing to 3/4-inch rings I have used them with extremely infrequent slippages for close to 25 years. The only times an elastic slips off its ring occurs if I have been careless and failed to checked that both loops were fully threaded into each and every ring.
Finding rings of good steel wasn't always easy but in the end noticed an ironmonger in Bletchley not far from Iris's home and they stocked them. Before collecting a new corset I would stop and buy a new set.
Together we would do all the necessary threading of rings in the suspender loops and across her kitchen table we would both thread them into the loops. Mrs. Norris would set about the job with gusto - she had done it before no doubt - and she used an old blunt table knife from her kitchen drawer as if to the manner born.
It would be happy to report that this was the end of the detachable story but the choice of loop material on the corset hem mattered. The edges of the split rings cut into some fabrics. In the end 1 inch wide, black Petersham tape proved best
I was proud of my new system. It meant that if ever any elastic failed prematurely, I could simply detach its loop from the key ring and install a spare. In this regard I had got Mrs. Norris to make an extra set of suspenders as well as spares in different
RIBBON SUSPENDER TABS
I had always been fascinated by the sight of the tab ribbons on the ends of the suspenders of luxury class corselettes that I had seen advertised on the cover of Observer in the 50s.
Back in the mid-1960s while travelling on the tube to work I recall being aware - I rarely rode the tube and had never looked for such a thing - that I could see the outline off her suspender buttons on the front of the thighs of a girl in a tight orange skirt. Clearly I thought she could not be wearing a girdle or corselette with the tabbed ribbons and it made me aware for the first time of why they were provided.
I kept this memory because in addition to my concern about leaving imprints of buttons on the seats of buses I did sometimes notice as I sat that if lighter weight and pale coloured trousers stretched taut on my thighs I could see the bumps of my front suspenders and worried whether others could to. Ironically now in 2007 I doubt if many women under 50 could make the connection, let alone men who a generation earlier were s fascinated by such things. Now I was back with Mrs.. Norris I resolved to fit ribbon tabs on all my suspenders to see how they worked.
To return to 1982, I thought the ribbon tabs might reduce visibility of bumps. Iris' never commented and accepted my motivation. Over tea and sandwiches we chatted a little more. She was getting a few orders from old clients not only in England but from the USA and Germany too. Her only worry was the delay in getting her eyeletting done, but the owner of the machine lived quite near by so it wasn't too bad. She had got Devines to supply her from Southend so she could get the fabrics for facing, lining and interlining as well as tape and elastic.
The reality of the ribbons was that they made clipping more difficult rather like wearing gloves to put on and suspender, very hard to get used to. The ribbon got caught up in the clip as did gloves materials at times, and one couldn't sense if one had got a crossed thread.
SHOCK AND PANIC
During the summer I was walking along the beach with friends and passed a couple, and the woman looked like Mrs. Norris. I knew she visited her daughter and family in that area. I was seized with panic in case she spoke to me, as I would be forced to explain who she was and how I knew her to my friends.
Nothing was said but for over an hour my head spun for what I thought was a close shave with the truth. I was wearing a deep suspender belt and stockings and I could not wait to get to somewhere where I could take them off. It took me weeks to recover and I was even reluctant to contact Mrs. Norris.
In the end I did several months later. When I finally did, I asked her if we had seen one another on that beach and she said that she hadn't been away to the beach that summer. My panic had been in vain.
FULL ACCEPTANCE AS A CLIENT
I will never forget my second visit to No 114 Church Green Road in December 1982. On the basis of what had passed the previous time, I realised that Mrs. Norris had implied that if I took off not just my shirt but my trousers as well, that she would be quite ready to help me with lacing on my corset with me dressed like that. I also realised that this would be the ultimate acceptance a woman corsetière could accord to a male client. I realised too, that to be offered such a service, was the ultimate privilege a man such as myself could expect and that it was crucially important to behave decorously.
I also knew it was one where any departure from the utmost in propriety on my part would mean not only the instant withdrawal of the privilege I was being accorded and my dismissal as a client -something which had taken me four years to gain plus a year in turmoil. I knew I was fortunate and I thought of every preparation I might make to maintain the decorum of the minutes it might take. To that end I concluded that if she did come into the fitting room to help me, I should on my part in addition to my normal briefs wear a pair of white, support weight tights "under all" to demonstrate positively to her of my sense of propriety and of course of my respect for her.
In addition to my shock and panic noted above I had also delayed visiting to collect the new corset and the suspenders because it had taken longer to realise from by modest income the ,55 for the new high top. Inflation was high this was the time of the Falklands war, corsets were expensive and stockings laddered too often and were getting close to £2 a pair - ironically more than twice the price of tights and for times what I’d paid in 1972.
On the appointed day I laced myself into the last high top she had made me, Cinched in the waist nicely and felt really under control of the corset. In my brief case I had also brought with me my pink under-belted BLBU4 corset from Wilbro, to see if Mrs. Norris could alter it to fit a little better,
I then drove to 114 and on the way stopped to buy some spilt rings at the ironmonger. I bought 40. He must have thought I was a landlord's agent. On the phone, Mrs. Norris had said she already had my new high top and the shoulder straps partially finished.
I felt a little more confident now and called at the side door to the kitchen and she asked me in to sit at the kitchen table. At this risk of boring my readers with detail I will quote from my 25-year diary
It was a delight to see her walk around - tight, cinched waist, full hips and straight stocking seams.
She had a cup of tea ready and after a few casual comments I pointed at the two brown paper packages one long, which contained the new corset. This is what I transcribed from my diary:
"It was surprising how natural and relaxed I felt with her. She knows my secret - she knows many men wear corsets - and stockings too. Once she said, "Some people think it odd with men wearing corsets but it doesn't bother me, a lot of men did years ago"
So we were together talking about corsetry and suspenders too because she had made me a mass of beautiful suspenders of no fewer than six different lengths. Each with the black satin ribbon tabs covering the clips and of course, all were of the wide type.
As usual she teased me about how particular I was about the lengths of my suspenders. But she is always very helpful in making sure she does what a want. She can never resist a jibe about the extra pairs that I use compared to her - I found out she used three suspenders per stocking. I said, " I hope you don't think I'm odd to like five pairs and she said, "Not at all, its what you are comfortable with that matters."
Anyway, she opened out the new high top corset for me to examine and I ran my fingers up and down some of the double spiral boning and the back steels. The hank of lacing looked plenty for the 30 rows of eyelets and then I produced my key rings to secure the suspenders to the loops she sewn on its hem. Together we paired off the suspenders by length and as she watched and sipped her tea, I began to thread the rings through the loops on the suspender elastics. She said she thought the rings were a good idea and said she didn't like the ordinary hook-ons or corset clips. We both tension our suspenders so much that they would pull off in course of normal wear and I feel so uncomfortable walking with a complete suspender clipped to a stocking hanging on and against my thigh all loose.
She said she was having trouble with her stockings slipping out of their suspender clips and said to counter the problem she was putting tissue paper on the buttons before shrouding the button with her stocking and sliding the button into its metal frame.
All the time I was doing this we talked about corsets and wearing then. She talked of her forty years of making them. She said she loved making them and wearing them and I said how much more contented I felt tight-laced and tautly suspendered. She said "Oh yes it's a pity more people didn't realise it"
I finally got all the suspenders hung from the hem loops on the corset and she said '"Do you want to try it on?” I said "yes", trying not to appear too keen, but determined to let her help.
She motioned me to go into her dining room and promptly jammed the chair under the doorknob explaining that her husband was home. She pulled the curtains and put on the light. When I saw them, I remembered the mirror and family pictures. She slid the door shut and set let me know if you need some help. I had already planned what to do. I would ask her.
I was wearing the high top and took off my shirt. Just in trousers, I showed it to her how I wanted her to alter the top so that it fitted more snugly on my chest with shoulder straps. I handed it to her to add the straps and noticed it still retained some of my body warmth and I flushed as I noticed the trailing suspenders. She then left me alone to fit the new one.
I had come prepared to take her up on her offer if she said she would help me fit the corset. As I did not want to embarrass her so, when I stripped off, I put on first a pair off brief white pants, white support tights and another pair of black pants. I then put on a new un-snagged pair of black 30 denier stockings, pulled them to my knees and finally hung the corset by its straps from my shoulders. Before handing it to me Mrs. Norris had opened up the lacings about 5 inches all the way to make it easy to fit. It was a delight to see a professional do it so quickly. I learned the same technique and could not do it as quickly as a person with 40 years experience.
INTO THE FITTING ROOM
I just managed to wrap it around myself and to slot up the busk with some difficulty I made a poor attempt at the lacings, and knew that was the moment to call for help. I slid back the door slightly and poked just my head out so that she couldn't see me in just corsets and stockings and said words to the effect, "Mrs. Norris, I am having a bit of trouble with the lacing, do you mind helping me, please?"
She was working at putting the straps on the high top I'd arrived in and stopped what she was doing and came in. I was afraid of what she might say. This was the first time anyone had seen me in women's clothes. She would also be able to see I was wearing black nylons. At least she knew I wore stockings, as I always had suspenders fitted on all the corsets she'd made me.
SUSPENDERED BY MY CORSETIÈRE
I need not have worried. The idea that I was a man in stockings clearly never entered her head for as soon as she came close she moved to roll my stockings over my knees and instantly started to help me suspender my stockings from the back. She started to put my very back suspender on the seam, and I noticed and asked her to put it 3 inches towards the thigh, and she said "so that's why you need the extra suspender."
I had expected her to help with corset lacing but not with my suspendering too. I hope readers can share my feeling of amazement and imagine that here was I, a man in corsetry having his suspenders attached to his stockings by his lady corsetière. As she helped with my suspendering she seemed to chuckle nervously. I glanced at our reflections in the mirror to my right and I was fascinated to see her bending so low and concentrating on the action of clipping the suspenders.
She was clearly well used to doing so for her clients. What really surprised me was how firmly she tugged at my stocking top to get enough room for the clip button. I instantly imagined that she must do exactly the same when she was doing up her own suspenders, and it made me feel warm inside that a woman could share what she privately did for herself, with a male client. She was very quick at it and I was still doing the front suspender on one leg, when she came around the front and started to do the other leg.
LACED IN BY MY CORSETIÈRE
I mumbled something about the lace loops and she stepped behind me and quickly found them. She was quite casual about it. I was amazed by how hard and quickly she pulled on the lacings. At times I was on the point of calling out for her to slow the rate of pulling as the friction of the staylace against my skin caused a sharp burning sensation.
I again glanced at our reflection and I was able to look up at us both as this was being done. Her pulling me in and me standing there in corset, suspenders and black stockings! . I felt like Alice in wonderland. As she closed down the lacings it seemed the most natural thing in the world to flex my torso to ensure it was fitting right. She said "Raise your arms above your head that's how it's done you know" and she chuckled and as I complied she really started tightening it and closing the gap.
I experienced feelings I had never had felt before. Until then I had thought that statements like "I felt I was being crushed by the corset" were the stuff of fantasy. They were not, but not wishing to appear a novice I said something like "That feels good, Mrs. Norris". I again flexed myself and said I thought the waist was laced a bit high so we checked the position at my armpits and she declared herself satisfied.
I was relieved when she stopped pulling, and she said "that's about an inch open now". I was sure I was closed down. I felt more tightly laced over a greater length than I had ever been. She didn't wait for an answer and started to pull in again. Now it was all much slower and harder. In the end she stopped and said very matter-of-factly "That's just over half an inch open. Plenty of room to lace it tighter if you want, do you feel all right? I said yes.
To complete the task she pulled me in really tightly on my waist. Without saying another word she moved her arms around me to deftly pass the lace around the front and back again maintaining a hard pull as she did so before tying a bow knot at the back. She had clearly done it many times before. It also instantly struck me that what she had done was what she expected her customer wanted. There was no doubt that Mrs. Norris understood what it meant to lace and wear a tight corset and for me it was much tighter than anything I had ever experienced felt before. I thrilled to be accepted by a woman who tight laced and I hoped that eventually I would become as serious a tight-lacer as she clearly was
I next became aware that she had started shortening the suspenders. So I made as if to bend to do my front ones but found I was now so stiffly corseted that I could bend very little and had to adjust the front suspenders do it by touch, which thanks to close to 20 years of handling suspenders had become second nature to me. I could hardly believe how hard she pulled on the length adjuster clips and could only conclude that was how she shortened her own suspenders. No wonder her seams were always straight with ne’er a wrinkle in the ankles, and how she lamented laddering them.
Ivy Leaf writes of a
recently widowed elderly lady commenting on how much she missed her husband's
help to do up her back suspenders. Over twenty years ago in
Mrs. Norris’s dining room I first learned the truth of the lady's
In amongst all the activity as she pulled down on the elastic of the suspender I was surprised to notice that she had laced me so tight that the corset was so rigid on my form and because it was I got absolutely no sense that the down-pull of the suspender strap on my corset hem was pulling the corset down. This was exactly as I had dreamed it might be when I sought my first real corset a decade earlier.
CHECKING THE FIT
Once she had finished she stood back as if to admire her handiwork. There was me a man in corset and stockings standing in the room and her smiling at me and saying "that looks very nice on you" That was the zenith of my corseted life to that point. The incredible thing is I didn't feel shy or awkward and neither did she. The fact that she went ahead and automatically attached my suspenders to my stockings and shortened them was because she clearly considered it to be part of her job as my corsetière.
I walked around in my corset imagining my suspender straps swaying and she watched. I didn't feel embarrassed. Somehow now she knew my secret I felt absolutely comfortable and confident in my corsets suspenders and stockings, completely contained and discreet inside my tights.
I test what it was like to sit down in a low armchair feeling my suspenders tension as I did so. It then became clear that the shoulder straps were too long and we agreed she would alter them there and then and when I stood up again she pinned them as I stood there. By now I felt quite comfortable to be in her presence in corset and stockings and obviously to her it was a completely normal situation. So she left me to take it off, slid the door shut and returned to her machine.
I reflected that being laced in while wearing just corsets was very different from just lifting one's shirt as I had done with her in the past and many times better than having it laced over a shirt as had been done when I had first been laced in by someone else for the very first time by my first outfitter in 1972. Mrs. Norris did it so professionally and being a tight-lacer herself she can make a much better judgment of the degree of tightness her client might like or aspire to, than a non-tight-lacer.
I almost had to pinch myself to believe it was true. Yet I wasn't embarrassed and neither was she because after five years of knowing her I have to assume she trusted me to be discreet and sensed that I respect her and be decorous. Indeed I gradually felt relaxed and calm which is how it should be if one approaches the thing rationally. I was the client, I had to wear the corset and I wanted it and it was only right that it should fit.
This is a passage from my diary
The corset proved to be very good. nice high back with 2" steels. I love the lower front with three hooks and eyes below the busk. In time I think I can wear it regularly. I'll try and have it on when I call to see her.
I came to appreciate the high back and back steels more and more over the years. Combined with the shoulder straps I felt reassured whenever I leaned back that a pair of unseen hands were caressing and supporting my shoulders. I also appreciated the utility value of shoulder straps which allowed me to hang the corset off my shoulder and let me wait and get my back two pairs of suspenders on my stocking tops even before I hooked up the busk and have enjoyed this unexpected benefit now for more than 20 years.
By now Mrs. Norris knew this and hence was quite confident in my presence too. It is nice to think in this world where the idea of men in corsets and stockings is thought strange at least one person accepts me as normal and reasonable. As I've said before it is because she enjoyed tight lacing herself. She said she loved making corsets and does it so well -a real art. She knows just how to bone them and always introduces something extra because she knows one has "advanced" in one experience to the point one would appreciate it.
I believed we had reached the point where we had become friends, whose friendship is cemented by the fact that we both like wearing corsets and seamed stockings and talking about them. On reflection I realise that her willingness to deal with me in this way was that she was a good judge of character. If ever advantage were taken she would cut off the privilege instantly.
THE GRANNY PINK CORSET IS CONDEMNED
I took off the high top, slid open the door and walked into the kitchen in my white tights with black stockings around my knees and handed it to her to sew up the pinned and shortened to shorten the shoulder straps. She said to wait as she'd almost finished altering the shoulder strap of the high top I'd arrived in for me to put back on.
But I had other ideas and told her I'd like her opinion on another old corset and that I'd go back to put it on. It was the Under-belted Granny Pink corset Wilbro BLBU 4 type corset in pink which I wanted altered, so I returned to the room and started to put it on.
This was so low on my hips that first I changed into a very short pair of stockings whose length I found matched the suspenders and which I rolled up with it whenever I put it away.
When I had done this, I asked her to come in the room again and watch or help me fit it. What she thought as she watched me dealing with the hooks and eyes of the under-belt while the two halves of the outer belt with its short busk ends flapped around as I did so I will never know. She sat and watched my clumsy technique I don't know but throughout we talked all the time. To my surprise I didn't feel embarrassed and she chuckled, sayings word to the effect that with a figure like mine I had no need to be bothering with an under-belt. When I got to hooking up the 8 inch four point bask she said, "that's not much of a busk is it?” and “Where did you get this?” I told her Wilbro and she said that Gardners used to make their specials for them. Even if Wilbro had still been in business I could not have got what I wanted.
She watched me starting to clip on the six suspenders and as I twisted around to do up my back suspenders she got up and said she help. After she'd clipped the first one I noted that in her professionalism had clipped it on the seam above the finishing loop. After telling me to do up the other clips, she got working at the lacing. With the best will in the world she could not reduce the fact that it was gaping between the edge steels at the top was meeting half way down wile in the hip section, the unlined fabric wasn't even taut. I sensed she was quite amused by the sight but I asked her if she could do something about it and she said it really wasn't worth it and that knowing what I liked she doubted if I wouldn't be happy with the result. o I said that she might as well take it and remove and reuse whatever bits she could for spares.
So I bade farewell to the Granny pink, which had lain in the drawer for almost five years. Yet I had no regrets, its purchase had not been in vain. I had learned a lot from fitting it. I'd bought it years ago when experimenting with different styles and preferences so I said to her that's one I'll put down to experience and she said one needed lots of experience to enjoy tight lacing corsetry. She was 61 and was a corset wearer since 14 and had always tight laced.
She left me to take it off and went back to finish the shoulder straps on my new high top. l was left to take of my short stockings and white "modesty" tights, get back into the stockings I'd arrived in, and put on the older high top - now with shoulder straps added - that I'd been wearing when I arrived.
By now we'd been fitting and unfitting corsets for the best art of an hour, yet Mrs. Norris remained cheerful through it all. As had become our salon routine I called her back and laced me tight and again helped me with my suspendering for my return journey.
It was half past twelve I'd been there two hours. I now had a notion of what it felt like to be a fashion mannequin. Mrs. Norris had laced me in four times and I changed my stockings three times because of the different levels of the corset hems. That was the zenith of my corsetry life so far. The incredible thing is I didn't feel shy or awkward and neither did she. In fact she went ahead and attached my suspenders to my stockings automatically! She clearly considered it to be part of her duty as a corsetière.
I must reiterate that everything I have set out in these paragraphs is the absolutely truth of what happened on 2nd December 1982.
LIVING WITH TEN SUSPENDERS
Away from the salon and assistance of Mrs. Norris, not surprisingly, my first experiences with ten suspenders added to what I had found was one of the more difficult physical activities and that was the problem of doing up one's back suspenders by oneself. Years later I was to find that it had been a problem for many women in that read in Ivy Leaf's site the words an old recently widowed lady who lamented that among the many things she missed about her ex-husband was that she missed him because she now had no one to help her do up her back suspenders.
Until I was to meet some of the persons I was put in contact with by Mrs. Norris the only time I ever got such help was at the time of the corset fitting when Mrs. Norris helped me. I was thus ill prepared for the first time I commenced to fit the 10 suspenders to my stockings at home alone.
I experimented with a number of ways of doing it and eventually I learned the best way to do it, but like all else with corsets finding out was a matter of trial and error.
My order of securing my suspenders to my stocking top is to begin with the back suspender, which had the longest elastic, which I clip three inches from the seam towards the inside of my thigh. I then clip the one next to it right on the seam. The very front one by my busk is the next to be secured and before I do so I rotate my stocking top around my thigh until I can just see the knob of my back suspender. If this was done right it is about six inches from the back one. I next clip up the fourth suspender in the centre front of my thigh as close to vertical as possible. Finally I clip on the fifth and last one directly on the side of my thigh close to the knob of my thighbone, again vertical.
While I know few would be interested in arguing such intricacies, but believe the result I had settled upon offers the wearer as near to suspendering perfection as it was possible to achieve. It is ironic that this should be long after anyone else is interested in such detail - but in some things I am a perfectionist.
Add to which was the misery of having a clip slip off the top art an inconvenient time and as all who wear corsets know it is the suspenders under the most strain as a result of bending or sitting that are most at risk of slipping off. This was especially true in the early 80s when rivetted centre buttons were phased out in favour of all rubber and it mattered not whether they were the “So-Lo”, beloved of Marks and Spencer on their girdles, or thicker "knobs", the stockings always pulled off. In the end I solved the mystery and it related to the central rivet in the button, which prevented its distortion by the stocking top.
Some may ask "Why did you stop at five pairs of suspenders?" and “Why not more as can be seen on occasion in the pin-up photos in the Internet”. Well, yes, I did try more, but reality trumps fantasy. The weight of yarn used to knit the tops of 30 and 20 denier stockings is such that if any more buttons are clipped on those tops, they will make them act like tourniquets on the thighs. In addition, the top would already be stretched to the point where it is all but impossible to clip another suspender on to it in any case. It appears that it can only be done with stockings knitted from stretch yarn or 15 Denier monofilament yarn too. There is certainly enough evidence in glamour images where Gio or Eleganti, 15 Denier stockings are worn satisfactorily with no less six suspenders per stocking. On that point my thoughts also turn to the correspondent to Janus back in 1972, whose accounts of his and his wife's experiences in corsets had inspired me to pursue my dream. I had marvelled at his eight suspenders per stocking and on the basis of my experience I can only conclude the couple wore stretch stockings. However I also recalled him say how he when he was tightly laced into long corsets he couldn't bend enough to reach and clip his suspenders to his stockings. That was something that I came to experience wearing a high top and I thought and still think how fortunate he was to have, a wife, who understood "his needs" and how nice it would be to find someone to do the same for me and me reciprocate the activity for her, but I feared even in 1980 that that generation of woman in no more.
A PERIOD OF TRANQUILLITY
Now that Mrs. Norris had accepted me as a client I sometimes had to pinch myself to realise that my original quest was over. The days of altering items made to fit a woman's height and girth of hip waist and my discovery of "hip spring" were over. The days of pulling at the largest standard size of suspender belt just to get in hook on and cut into my waist were over.
The trials and tribulations with suspenders were over. No more nervous purchases and semi-anonymity of serving myself at the 60s style counters of Woolworths, or running the gauntlet of the quizzical looks in the haberdashery section ladies of department stores like DH Evans. The days of enamelled suspenders were over. Mrs. Norris could always get me chromed clips. The problems of the knurled adjuster grips were over. Mrs. Norris fitted ones with real teeth to grip the elastic adjusters. I thought the days of variability of suspender elastic strength were over, but they were not as she couldn't always get the strength of elastic she wanted for her customers.
I could not believe how familiar I had become with the finer points of corset design, the busk, the provision and weights of flat and spiral steels, the elasticity of suspender elastic, the problems of clips slipping off suspenders when they shouldn't. Yet though I was wearing items of apparel that were identified with women, I wore them as a man. For me they were simply items of attire that gave me an inner feeling of "comfort" if I wore them and a feeling of "missing" a part of what had become my life when I was not wearing them. It had become second nature to have my movements restricted by the stiffness of my corsets, and to be aware of my stockings being pulled by suspenders with every step I took.
I remain obsessed with checking whether the upper ridge was visible over a range of movements. Mrs. Norris never seemed to tire of my earnest requests for confirmation that the ridge was not discernible. She would offer calming comments, like, well because you know you've got it on your looking for a ridge and maybe you're not seeing it but it's in your imagination. Again the crazy thing was it never ever occurred to me to imagine that any other man was actually wearing a corset. In fact I recall a colleague had a fusion of vertebrae and returned to work wearing a lumbar brace. I was unaware of why he'd left and he explained and then said, "Punch me there and feel what I'm wearing". I did so and at the time was astounded at the rigidity of what he had on. If anyone were to do that to me now in the front or back they would get the same reaction, though of course all the corsets are much softer where boned with spiral steels. For this reason one of the few concerns I had was be sure to avoid anyone’s hands making contact with me and either looking quizzically or asking for an explanation though I cultivated an identity as a choric back suffer, which had the merit of being true.
It is one reason I came to value the utility of the deep boned suspender belts I had worn off and on since 1972. I had of course discovered them back in 1970. I had bought several off-the-peg and had made first made by Gardners in 1979 and regularly made by Mrs. Norris after 1982. I wore such a belt for visits to close relatives, who might embrace me and accidentally discover that I was wearing a corset. The suggestion, which would pass at work, that it was an orthopaedic corset, would have opened up a whole new discussion that was best avoided. Such belts were so tight on my hips that they barely moved down under the pull of suspenders, yet allowed me to keep my stockings as securely held up as I liked them to be.
I can hear people say with all the trials and tribulations "Why did you persist?" The simple answer is a paraphrase a modern bumper sticker message "I'd rather be corseted" Moreover, almost form the outset of corset wearing I have had a feeling of "regret" when I took off the corset, even if I was doing so because it was uncomfortable. I came to find that within minute of taking the corset off, I found I “missed” it. On balance, I had subconsciously decided that the advantages and satisfaction from being in a properly sized corset, properly, that is not to “ambitiously aced in, outweighs the short periods of discomfort, which usually. I found that most discomfort would arose when sitting at one's desk for a long time and was usually alleviated by the simple action of standing up and walking around the office for a minute or two and sitting again. I have heard that being corseted is like a "lover's embrace". I agree with that and like to lean back and feel my shoulders "held" by the supporting “palms and fingers” of the “hands” that are the pair of spring steels at the back in my high-top high back styles.
Some call it masochistic, but what about millions who positively liked it; the old ladies to whom Ivy Leaf often refers in her commentary? As regards the irksomeness of dealing with no fewer than 25 buckles and suspenders clips when fitting some of these creations, remember the wearer tolerated this because the alternative involved chronic discomfort or pain. I cannot speak for the Jenyns fan lacer but I am sure, based on what I found myself, that anyone who is experienced in fitting and adjusting one as required during the day would attest that once the way of dealing with the "lappet" straps is understood it is better to trust oneself to it than not to wear it. Cumbersome it may appear to the uninitiated, but to the habitual wearer the rewards far outweigh its disadvantages.
My story would not be complete if I didn't tell how my meeting went with the Berks Corsetier but that's another part of my Odyssey. It would not be betraying a confidence to say that when I met him he said his ambition was to make for ladies, not for the likes of me, and he succeeded. He went on to become an internationally acclaimed corsetier for more than 15 years. He made corsets for many well-known possessors of small waists and assisted a protégée in establishing a successful personal and e-internet bespoke corsetière’s business, which trades today.