Whilst fetishism is normally associated with males, clothes can become fetish items for both males and females. Some women like the constraint and firm support that girdles and corsetry provide, and this may also be taken to extremes.
|Fashion and Fetishism|
|Male Girdle Fetishes|
David Kunzle has written extensively on the topic of fashion (Fashion and Fetishism 1982), and this is an interesting book covering the topics of corsetry, tight lacing, and fetishism. Sadly this is currently out of print and almost impossible to get hold of. However it is understood that the author is working on a revised edition.
Kunzle argues that tight lacing provided an enjoyable and sexual experience for many women, and argues that the restriction and control of corsetry was both erotic and arousing. Much of his arguments are based on an analysis of popular literature, including letters to Victorian periodicals extolling the virtues and pleasures of tight lacing. Kunzle does not appear to consider such literature likely to be male fantasies, and uses such material as evidence of tight lacing and corset fetishism in women. The fashion historian Valerie Steele has questioned this interpretation, arguing that there is little historical evidence for extreme tight lacing in women, and that remaining Victorian costumes provide evidence that tight lacing was not common.
However tight lacing and restriction have been indulged in by a number of people throughout history, and there is well documented evidence of tight lacing having occurred. In recent years the most famous example of this was Mrs. Ethel Granger who was officially recorded as having a 13 inch waist by the Guinness Book of Records in 1974.
Corsetry was also essential to achieve Dior's New Look of the 40's and 50's and it is reasonable to interpret the enthusiasm for such restrictive garments as having some fetishistic element. However as most fashion designers were men, perhaps this reveals more about male fantasies of how women should be, rather than the fantasies of women themselves. The genders were expected to dress and behave very differently, and the corset dresses designed by Fath in the 1950's illustrate the heavily polarised views of male and female sexuality at that time.
Kunzle reports that at this time there were a number of articles in the popular press emphasising the pain and discomfort of such corsetry, and these appeared to take a fetishistic interest in the discomfort that women were prepared to put up with for fashion. Interestingly a fetish for small waists by popular newspapers is still with us, as this recent Daily Mail article shows. This is from March 1st, 2001, and differs little from earlier investigations. A £1000 reward is promised for the woman with the smallest waist in the UK! However unlike in earlier times, the expectation was that this would be a natural measurement rather than being due to the effects of good corsetry.
Kunzle also argues that the girdle and corset became eroticised through advertising, where objects are turned into "repositories of emotion".
Kunzle argues that underwear lends itself to take on the role of lover and love substitute as underwear is by it very nature embracing the body. Being held in gently but firmly clearly has some sexual overtones.
Corsetry was often advertised with such imagery during this period , as this 1950's advert for the Warners Merry Widow range demonstrates. The advertising line "How can you look so naughty and feel so nice?" also says it all.
Corsetry was even used as part of publicity stunts, as this illustration of Marilyn Monroe shows. The photograph included the invitation to "squeeze me" and was soley used as a publicity shot as she did not appear in any film wearing it.
Corsetry and girdles are a relatively common fetish object for men, along with other items of clothing and underwear. Some people may only become aroused by having their partner wear the fetish item, whilst others gain arousal by wearing the items themselves. Corsetry and girdles also feature extensively in transvestite fiction, as a way of achieving a much more feminine appearance. Transvestism as its name suggests is merely the desire to wear the clothing of the opposite sex, and needs to be differentiated from transexualism, where the individual desires to be of a different gender. Most transvestites are heterosexual and do not wish to be women, but rather get some degree of emotional satisfaction from wearing women's clothes.
The reasons for this can be complex , and the condition is not really very well understood. One theory is that the individual feels they can relax whilst wearing women's clothes as they do not have to live up to their everyday male role that they find stressful. When cross dressed the individual is also forced into a more submissive role. Some evidence for this can also be found in transvestite literature where another common theme is for men to be dressed up as little girls or babies. Women as authority figures is a popular theme in transvestite literature, and transvestism may be more common in households where the mother is dominant, or the father is absent or of little impact on the growing child.
A common theme in transvestite literature is of being forced to wear woman's clothing by a dominant woman. Usually this is some form of authority figure like a mother or mother in law, who forces the hapless male to cross dress and then do what he is told. Punishment by an older woman is therefore a common theme in transvestite literature, and may reflect the transvestites desire to be punished for the 'unnatural desires' that they have.
The corset or girdle is a perfect garment to assist in this punishment process, and is probably the main reason why it is such a common fetish item. As well as imposing a more feminine shape on the male body, the corset or girdle acts to remind the individual at all times that they are being dominated. For some people the physical restraint and discomfort imposed by a girdle or corset can be arousing in its own right, and erotic discomfort may be one of the reasons why such garments are worn.
Another theory is that the forbidden nature of transvestism is exciting in itself, and the individual enjoys taking risks when being dressed in this way. Certainly there is some evidence from transvestite literature that this is the case, as often scenarios are depicted where the individual is put in increasing risk of being found out. Common themes are that the individual has to pretend to be a woman for some reason, and then is at increasing risk of exposure and subsequent humiliation. These themes have even appeared in mainstream cinema to some extent. The Dustin Hoffman film Tootsie is a good example of this, but my own favourite is the 1973 film 'Carry On Girls', where one of the characters has to pretend to be a woman in order to discredit a beauty contest.