Tight fit

Most women would take a deep breath before crushing their vital organs into a tight-laced corset. Pandora Gorey is different. And suddenly very fashionable ...
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Indy Lifestyle Online
You have to be dedicated to follow today's fashion for corsets as visible underwear. Pandora Gorey is dedicated. The founder of English Corset Enthusiasts, she is prepared to put herself through rigorous "training" in quest of an 18in wasp waist capable of squeezing into the sort of grommet- poppers that Jean Paul Gaultier pioneered for Madonna and John Galliano and Thierry Mugler sent teetering down their catwalks this spring.

Training for Ms Gorey, a 30-year-old American from Buffalo living in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, means losing seven inches in two weeks by giving up fats, bread and carbonated drinks and taking six snacks a day of rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables. "You get used to feeling hungry," she says.

Meanwhile, she wears a green brocade training corset to her work in pensions and annuities at an insurance company. As long as the laces stay hidden, it looks like a waistcoat under the unbuttoned black draped jacket worn with long straight skirt or jodhpurs. "It's precisely the image I like," she says, "though the whip does worry people ..."

Slimming to 20 or 19 inches is easy, she reports, "but the final inch is a trial - it's amazing the difference in pressure that the lacing puts on my back and ribs."

Wasp waist achieved, it's off to a convention of English Corset Enthusiasts, a style industry launch party, a modelling assignment or to London Gothic clubs such as The Slimelight or The Torture Garden, which welcome guests wearing anything on bondage lines.

"Actually," says Ms Gorey, "I feel supremely confident in a corset. It makes you walk differently and sit upright, gives you a far greater presence. People do take notice of people with a superior posture.

"I feel not only sexier but more ladylike. Sexiness alone will not get the chair pulled out for you at a restaurant. But if you really can't pick up a dropped hanky or close a car door easily, you do tend to get looked after as a lady."

Fainting? Displaced body organs? "Bullshit," she declares, reaching for photocopies of The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, published 1867-74. This was one of three Victorian magazines that featured fantasy letters describing sado-masochistic tight-lacing, which titillated men but did the reputation of corsets no good at all.

One such letter, signed "Wasp waist", describes being suspended by the wrists. "In this position, only protected by my stays, I received a severe whipping across the back, which gave me intense pain, but left no mark, owing to my being tightly laced. After this castigation I was very humble, but before the French mistress would untie my hands, she reduced the size of my waist to 15 Inches."

Ms Gorey says: "Corsets do squash you inside, but there is enough room in the cavity for organs to be nudged up or down with no ill effects. I prefer to lace from the bottom in order to nudge up - accentuating the bust. The whole purpose of a tiny waist is to emphasise other parts of the body - bust, bottom, thighs. It suits the more buxom woman rather than today's sick-looking stick insects.

"This was the fashion before 1910 - Camille Clifford, an actress of the 1890s, was big, but when she corseted, wow! Corsets came back briefly in the 1950s and I'm so glad now they're back again now. What 99 per cent of men like looking at is women like Marilyn Monroe. She was a size 16 at the peak of her fame."

We are in Ms Gorey's tiny flat, hung with tight-lacing memorabilia. She clicks on a video cassette at the opening sequence of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), featuring Monroe and Jane Russell at their most irrepressible.

"There!" she says. "Two fabulous women who have small waists and big busts purely because they're wearing the correct undergarments. The average woman could make her body exquisitely sexy if only she would corset."

And am I familiar with Gina Lollobrigida's corsets and riding kit in the duel scene of She Couldn't Say No (1952), released in Britain as Beautiful But Dangerous? Well, no. But, I venture to tell her, I was born in Letchworth, where my father was deputy sales manager of the Spirella company, the town's south-of-Watford equivalent of t'mill - so we youngsters often heard the term "foundation garment" bandied about the house. Back then, in the Fifties, a neighbour like Ms Gorey would have been the talk of the town.

As it happens, she is researching a history of Spirella, whose Garden City-style factory now stands empty near the centre of town. She clearly does not think much of foundation garments, those girdles and elasticated slips which, around 1910, began smoothing away women's curves, instead of accentuating them, under the banner of liberation. Spirella, she reckons, came into the business only when the fun of tight-lacing was on the way out.

And what fun it was. She enumerates four different sorts of fun rediscovered by today's corset enthusiasts: body modifying; male trans-gendering; fetishistic sensations of bondage; fashion. She subscribes to all but the fetishism.

Ms Gorey's fashion mentor in the United States is Ann Grogan, who after 16 years as an attorney, founded Romantasy, an upmarket erotic boutique in San Francisco. Grogan takes a more robust view of fetishism: "Making love while laced into a corset can be exhilarating, because one must breathe more shallowly. The resulting slight dizziness can produce quite euphoric feelings."

The corset, says Grogan, "is a technique to improve self-image and achieve a sense of power and control over one's life". Romantasy offers classes in "erotic power exchange". Gorey is co-authoring a book with Grogan (provisional title It's a Cinch: Corset Lore and Lovers).

In fact, says Ms Gorey, it is fear of discomfort that discourages many would-be corset wearers. "Corsets are something very personal and should ideally be made to measure. Off-the-peg ones will change your shape but are unlikely to give that feeling of being held firmly by a lover."n

Details of events and made-to-measure corsets from Pandora Gorey (01462- 631348 ). Romantasy, 199 Moulton Street, San Francisco, CA 14123, USA (001-415 673-3137), e-mail: corsets@romantasy.com. Website: http://www.romantasy.com. Also, the international German-based Les Gracieuses Modernes: Pandora Gorey (telephone above) or e-mail LGMclub@aol.com Website, http://home.pages.de/lgm If you are interested in having a corset made call C and S Construction on 01734 772 654 or e-mail hourglass@staylace.win-uk.net.

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