My upbringing was almost entirely by women, since the family had lost a number of men in WW2 and there had been various marital breakdowns also as a result of the war. So my mother and her sisters were my role models for behaviour and, to some extent, for modest, speech and appearance. There was no suggestion of gender-bending, but a distinct atmosphere that men were unreliable and should not be looked upon as role models by either boys or girls.
I mentioned that we stayed frequently with various aunties and all of them dressed and undressed freely in front of me so long as I was a little boy, perhaps under eight years of age. But the memories and visions stuck in my brain for many years after that age and the fascination with feminine underpinnings remained and became exaggerated as puberty approached. On a few occasions, someone would say "Who’s been rooting through my undies drawer?" My mother replied on one occasion that I can recall, "It's probably only our Paul - he gets everywhere." Little did any of them realise that I was trying on panties, girdles and stockings from those drawers, especially girdles at that stage. After that, I learned to be more careful and to note the positions of items in cupboards and drawers.
My sister was a few years younger than myself and didn't figure in any of my experiences until I was well into my teens, say 15, and she was approaching her own puberty. Then she got her first girdles, both open and pantie styles. There was a great family celebration with her partly dressed and showing them of in front of mum, aunties and me. I could hardly contain my excitement and probably blushed, which was a good response since it deflected much future potential as to my activities.
Then, one day a few weeks later, sister was dressing in her room and I walked in. She shooed me out but then said, "Come here." I returned and she showed me in detail how the girdles were made. "This one is really tight," she said, "you should try it on." I demurred but she said, "Go on, try it." Of course I did, over the top of my briefs. Once more the excitement was becoming apparent and she tittered with me. That was a defining experience in the development of my girdle and corset interest.
As a late teenager, perhaps in 1962, the family went on holiday to the Norfolk Broads. On the way back, a detour was made to the Spirella factory at Letchworth, Hertfordshire. There were many women, men and children in the tour and I was fascinated to see the layout and the "museum" at the end of the visit. Many years later, at the age of about 45, I visited the closed factory and saw the "museum" again, which was very evocative. Only in recent years did I obtain a Spirella corset for myself, bought from eBay, and rather a speculation in size and fit. In fact the waist is fine but the hips are far too big. After all, men and women are quite different shapes!
I have in my collection two Camp fan-laced corsets, both very similar to the Thena Italian examples shown on the Ivy Leaf page about Camp. They can be made to fit very well because of the infinitely variable lacing. And the fact that my figure had modified over the decades to be rather more shapely than a typical man. I like very much the height and overall length of these corsets.
Everything I ever did as a boy with women's underwear was secretive, even furtive and shameful. On one occasion, aged about 14 years I suppose, we stayed with an auntie (actually mum's cousin), a very glamorous lady, who never married after her fiance was killed at Dunkirk. I always slept in her spare room, where her wardrobes and drawers were. I used to rifle through the drawers and soon discovered her corsetry. Then I discovered in a drawer a swimming costume with a built-in corset. Because it was made of stretchy material and boned, it held me better than any item of her actual underwear had done. Doing up the zips was the most exciting thing in my life to that point. In those days my physical reaction was instant, and it happened then within a few seconds. There was a moment of panic when I had difficulty unzipping it, but it worked eventually and I carried the memory of the feeling for months afterwards. I can feel it now, to be honest, pressing on my waist and around my bottom.
As a boy at school, I used to arrange to stand on the pavement opposite a corset shop names Waddilove's, and simply absorb all the styles and shapes of the goods in the two windows. My vision was perfect in those days and I could see details such as suspenders, zips and hooks from across the road; maybe 25 yards away. I was attracted particularly to a small display of three or four fan-laced corsets, to one side of the main window. I wondered what it would feel like to be "installed" in one of those, and the many laces gradually tightened by someone else. I wanted my abdomen to be concave inside those corsets.
In my last year at secondary school, 1960-61, a new boy joined the class for one year. It turned out that his mother managed a shop near the cathedral in Manchester, and they lived in rooms over it. Guess what? It was a corset shop but he didn't tell everyone that. One weekend in Spring 1961, I stayed with him and his mother. There was no sign of a father. She worked all day Saturday but went to the cathedral on Sunday morning, from 10.30 to about 12.00. The son and I went down to the shop and "investigated" the displays, and some of the drawer-stock. I can still remember the thrill of holding those girdles and corsets in my hands and rubbing them against my face absorbing the aroma and the feel. I told him I found them exciting and then a miracle happened. He said "These are the throw-outs" and he pointed to a big cardboard box under the counter. It contained countless girdles and corsets which were removed from stock, for various reasons. I think they were shop soiled from display or from being tried on in the changing rooms. Anyway, he said, "Do you want one?" I didn't ask what normally happened to them, or if he would get into trouble, and I took two! One was a black Berlei high waist zippered girdle with four suspenders, and the other was a pink front-lace side-hook corset with many bones and six suspenders. I had the presence of mind to check the sizes and they were both waist 28 inches, which was less than mine I thought, but would give good compression. In fact, they were both too big on the hips but the waists did feel good. I sneaked them both into my weekend bag and kept them secret for over 25 years. They got destroyed only in 1986, when my wife at the time got angry with me and burned almost everything that was mine. Books, clothes, documents, LPs, photos; you name it. She was really annoyed about something or other, and we separated soon afterwards.
I should make clear that I'm sexually straight and I like women very much. I've been married three times but I suppose that's no measure of success, is it? I have been corseting and girdling my figure since the age of about 25; that's forty years. I agree with everything that Frangard says about Who, When and What; we are as men who corset ourselves. We do it for pleasure, certainly; but also because it's a sort of compulsion - an addiction. If we're lucky, as I've been more than once, we find a woman who agrees and takes part with the same enthusiasm.