A Lifetime wearing Surgical Corsets
As a toddler I was a plump boy with a protruding stomach. This is not unusual and children usually grow out of this by time they start school. I did’nt. I was taken to our local doctor who said I should grow out of it by puberty. I did’nt. I had started senior school at the age of 11. And a young cousin one day asked quite seriously if I was having a baby. My shocked and embarrassed mother had me once more to see our doctor. After many questions and much poking and prodding he said that there was nothing wrong and that I was a very healthy boy. However, to be on the safe side he sent me to see a specialist at our local hospital. Again, many questions, poking and prodding plus an X-ray this time (no scans in those days) he could find nothing wrong except that I had an extreme case of ‘Abdominal Distension’ and he was sure that I would grow out of it hough my teen years. I did’nt. He did, however, strongly recommend that I be measures and fitted with a surgical corset, not only to improve my appearance but to give vital abdominal support.
An appointment was made for me to go to a surgical appliance maker in Birmingham. I was quite pleased about this as it meant a day off school and a half our train ride into the city. When we arrived we were shown into a fitting room where I was instructed to get undressed down to my underpants, I could keep my socks on! Measurements were taken and written down. We were to return two weeks later when my corset would be ready. While I was getting dressed again the orthotist explained the corset in detail to my mother, using terminology which I did’nt understand but would soon learn. We returned two weeks later but this time It was spring half term and so I did’nt miss a days schooling.
Once more I was instructed to get undressed but this time leaving my vest on. My trunks were now lowered to the top of my thighs being careful not to cause any embarrassing exposure in front of my mother. It was now that I saw my corset for the first time. To me it looked just like the corsets my mother and older sister wore. It was bright pink which I think was surgical grade coutil. The only difference was that it was plain with no self pattern like the ladies. It fastened with a 9 inch heavy duty busk and re enforced with a wide underbusk. There was a single hook and eye below the busk. It was very, very heavily boned throughout and laced the full length of the back.
The main difference now became apparent. There was an external abdominal belt which was tentioned by two wide straps which came from the back and fastened through two shiny buckles on the outer edge of the abdominal belt. To my surprise there were 6 wide suspenders. Why suspenders? It was the year 1941 and stockings for boys were not now as popular as they had been some years earlier when they were universal for both boys and girls. When I asked about this I was told that stockings and suspenders helped to anchor the corset down and keep it in place.
The corset was wrapped around me and the busk fastened with some effort, it was tight even with the laces fully open. The first tug of the laces nearly pulled me off balance. The corset grew tighter and tighter squeezing the whole of my body. I began to feel breathless. A gap was left in the lacing to allow for further tightening after the corset had settled and for me to begin to get used to it. The two straps were now threaded through the two buckles and cinched tight. My underpants were now pulled back up and I had the strange experience of the suspenders dangling inside the legs. Now I was told to sit down on an upright chair. This I did with some difficulty. My socks were removed and to my surprise mother produced a pair of light fawn Elbeo lisle stockings. Unknown to me she had purchased them in the intervening two weeks. They were rolled up my legs and I was told to stand again. I thought that they were a little on the short side as they only came to just above my knees. The suspenders were now each adjusted for length and stretched very tightly to my stockings. The corset fitted at the front from just below my groin up to my mid chest. At the back it fitted from just below my shoulder blades to right down over my buttocks. Following an overall inspection by the orthotist and mother, I was led to a mirror where I saw the final result. MY... what a transformation. I now had an almost flat tummy for the first time in my life. I was thrilled. For a reason I can’t explain I felt a sense of embarrassment at seeing the tops of my stockings and suspenders showing below my trunks and yet I didn't mind the corset at all. Of course the flesh has to go somewhere. Mostly it was compressed but also pushed upward and downward but kept completely within the corset. The overall effect was that I no longer looked like a slim boy with a protruding tummy, I looked like a sturdy stocky 11 year old.
Walking back along Colmore Row to Snow Hill station I experienced a whole new set of sensations. My whole body felt as if it was in a clamp. I could feel the bones all pressing in with the pressure of the busks being relentlesss. Together with the side boning I felt as though I was several inches taller. At the back I could feel the boning pressing into my back giving a most reassuring feeling of back support. Where the corset came down over my buttocks it felt like my bottom was being pushed as I walked. Finally I could feel my suspenders stretching and contracting with every step I took.
Back at the station we met our neighbour Mrs Lewis and her son Gerald. Gerald was an overweight surly boy who didn't make friends. They had been into Birmingham to do some shopping during the half term. We shared the same carriage, Gerald and myself in opposite corners with Gerald looking even more sulky if that was possible.
I wriggled trying to sit in comfort and constantly in fear of the tops of my stockings and suspenders showing. Our mothers were chatting when Mrs Lewis suddenly asked if I was wearing corsets. My mother said yes and gave some explanation. Mrs Lewis expressed her approval and saying that the stockings were an excellent finishing touch.
I have been thinking for some time that Gerald should be put into corsets, said Mrs Lewis, but I keep putting it off because I know it will be a daily battle to make him wear them but I know that he desperately needs to wear them. I had a tremendous job suppressing a fit of the giggles because of the look of horror on Gerald's face. I think it is interesting to note at this point that after the passing of the Victorian and Edwardian times it was still acceptable for boys and I guess men to wear corsets.
Up until now my corsets had not been to uncomfortable to wear but now we’re starting to become irksome. By tea time I was in a high degree of discomfort. I asked mother if I could take them off as this was my first day wearing them. Mother refused saying that they must always be kept on untill bedtime. I now had a lecture about the necessity of putting them on as soon as I get up in the mornings and not removing them untill bedtime. I have to admit that tears followed. All of my family and friends immediately noticed the difference in my appearance. Even my school teacher asked if I was wearing corsets, adding that it was more the pity that more boys did not wear them these days. My corset took many weeks, indeed months, before it could be truly said that I could wear them all day long in relative comfort. My mother helped me to put my corset on for the first week or so and then I managed on my own. In a strange way I liked the feel of my corset until about mid morning and then the feeling of discomfort started to increase through the day. Over the next weeks and months this became less and less.
It was some months later That I could see that Gerald was wearing corsets and Yes...he was wearing stockings too. I attempted to speak to him but he almost snarled at me ‘don’t say a word. It’s all your fault’. I never did find out what his corsets were like.
My corset lasted for about three years, with the last year needing numerous repairs such as new laces, new suspenders and the occasional bone protruding through the material. Finally mother said that I must get measured for a new corset. It was agreed that my corset had been so successful that the design should be kept the same. The only changes being an increase in the measurements due to the fact that I was a rapidly growing teenager and so the busks were increased in length from 9 to 11 inches. This took a little getting used to but nothing like when I had my first corset.
During my school years I only met one other boy who wore corsets apart from Gerald. The other boy I first met when I was 15. He went to a different school to me. I met him while riding on a push roundabout in the local park. He lived on the other side of the park known locally as the ‘posh’ side. I well remember that the legs of his short trousers were hitched up clearly showing his brown stockings and pink suspenders. I was very curious. He was obviously not at all bothered by this exposure as different to me who had a constant fear of mine being seen. Over some months we became friends and I dared to ask him about his corsets. I will never understand why I did’nt ever meet other boys who wore them, although I had been assured on several occasions that there were other boys who wore them. To George it was a normal thing in his family. His older brother wore them as did his cousins and he new of numerous other boys who wore them too. And I believe because of the war years and rationing ladies corsets were easier to obtain. He was quite open about the fact that his mother insisted on him and his brother wearing them as it was the “correct thing to do”.
Also it was to him quite normal that they wore exactly the same corsets as girls. They were less expensive than male corsets and anyway you did’nt get to wear a mans corset untill you were ‘grown up’ so he said! They were taken to the corset shop in the high street to be fitted and this was seen as normal for a school child. The only problem for a boy was the fact that a ladies corset usually comes down lower over the buttocks. and needing a deeper skirt at the front. This extra front depth can make it
more inconvenient for boys to go to the toilet, and so boys often sat down like girls. I was most interested in boys wearing ladies corsets as I had believed over many years that this used to happen.
And so it was with the greatest satisfaction that this was confirmed in recent years when I read Simons and Paul’s stories published on IvyLeafs wonderful Website. and I am sure I read about another teenage boy who was compelled by his mother to wear Twilfit corsets.
I had now left school and well settled into my apprenticeship. I was working in the large drawing office of a large electrical engineering company who had been largely involved in the war effort. It was the General Electric Company situated at Witton in Birmingham. I soon made good friends there especially two other apprentices just a little older than me. The one, Phil, became a very good friend and to my satisfaction he was a corset wearer. Dress code in the office was quite strict and fairly formal dress was the norm. White shirts and tie expected. To my interest the wearing of white shirts, especially when jackets were take off, made it quite easy to see that a surprising number of men wore corsets or other types of support belts. When I mentioned this to Phil he explained that corsets or a firm body belt provided invaluable posture and back support when having to stand for long hours at a drawing board. While talking to Phil one day, he sensitively told me that my corset was more noticeable through my shirt because it was pink.
Mother told me I was in need of a new corset and the fact that I now worked in Birmingham meant that if I requested an extended lunch break I could get to the surgical company with ease. Surprisingly my girth measurements this time had remained the same but because I had grown much taller the busks were now increased to 13 inches, an extra hook and eye fitted to below the busk and a second pair of straps at waist height was added to the abdominal belt. I also requested that it be made from white material. It was during this period of my late teens that I had to explain to a couple of girl friends why I wore such rigid corsets.
Phil and I had now finished our apprenticeships and to our delight the company employed us as full time draughtsmen. On my recommendation Phil obtained his new corset from the same surgical company. The difference being that he wore a ready made busk front back lacing corset. It was at this time I fancied a young lady who worked in the general office at the GEC. Often when we left work we caught the same bus into the city centre. There we went our separate ways, me to catch my train and Angela another bus. Sometimes we would be in the same queue in the mornings.
I would like to think that Angela sometimes deliberately waited for my train to come in.
It took a pep talk from Phil for me to ask Angela to go out on a date before someone else did. To my relief and delight she accepted. For our fist date we did something very original....we went to the cinema! The friendship blossomed and we got engaged a year later. Angela was a great encouragement in my corset wearing. She was a dedicated corset wearer herself having been encouraged by her mother when she left school at 16. Marriage followed and Phil was my best man.
It is now that I must pay tribute to my mother who had cared for my corsets since the age of 11. Also she purchased all of my stockings saving me the embarrassment of having to buy my own. After our marriage Angela took over the responsibility of both for which I am most grateful. I did over the years try the occasional men’s support belts but nothing supported me the same as my surgical corset and certainly did not pull my tummy in enough. I remained with the same surgical company until they finally closed down in 1995. I had the forethought to to have two corsets made before they closed. They lasted me out untill 2002 when I had a lengthy stay in hospital after major surgery. During this time I couldn't wear a corset at all. Following my discharge from hospital I made the decision not to wear a corset again. My wife did procure a support belt for me as I missed the support, but it did nothing for my tummy bulge. But then, as I was approaching the age of 90 did it matter?
If I were to be asked if I regretted being made to wear such restricting corsets when I was 11 years old it would be an emphatic no. Yes it was difficult for the first few months but effect for me was well worth the discomfort and it didn't take to long before the discomfort was greater when not wearing it. If anyone reads this story I would strongly recommend that any man from mid teens upward try wearing a sensible medium boned corset. The benefits of better posture and especially the relief of many modern back complaints especially sitting for hours at a computer is beyond telling.