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Jewish World Review May 23, 2002 / 12 Sivan, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

The return of the tight squeeze | If you've got it, flaunt it. If you've got too much of it, not to worry.

The girdle's coming back.

Wait! Wait! Come down from that ledge! You don't have to wear one unless you want to! And they're far softer and sexier than the rubber tummy terminators of yore. And besides, the whole point about girdles and their kissing cousins corsets is that they're not considered confining anymore. They're empowering.

As empowering as stiletto sandals.

Okay, so even if it's hard to totally trust the girdle's feminist credentials (wouldn't real power constitute the right to jiggle with pride?) there must be something to the current girdle craze because even skinny Minnies like Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman and the pre-pregnant Sarah Jessica Parker have been embracing these embracers.

These ladies need slimming like Barbie needs Botox. So why? Well, as Parker once said, "It gives you a certain feeling of stature when you wear those things."

Of course, stature is what corseting has always been about, says Colette Wong, an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology who teaches a new corset-making class there.

"Corsetry goes back to Greek times, and it's all about status," Wong explains. "The higher you were in society, the more you were structured."

A woman corseted to the point of near immobility was clearly a woman of leisure. She couldn't work even if she wanted to.

As simple a thing as sitting down was tough for women wearing a proper corset, says Wong. Because it was impossible for them to bend or slouch, "They literally had to lower themselves into a chair."

For about 400 years, women used corsets to reshape their bodies every way imaginable. For instance, in the 1800s, the ideal female torso was flat as a man's. Other eras had women bursting out on top.

But by the turn of the century - the 19th into the 20th, that is - corsets started to lose favor, says Valerie Steele, acting director of the museum at FIT: "People had already decided you needed to internalize the function of the corset through diet and exercise."

In other words: Rather than having stays and laces shaping their bodies, independent young women wanted to shape themselves.

Our long national march to the gym had begun. Steele recalls reading one 1903 interview with sexy actresses of the day bragging that they didn't need corsets. They were in perfect shape already!

That's why girdles, which came along after corsets had already begun to fade, never really acquired the same sexy status as their laceup forbears.

"Whereas prior to [the 20th century] everybody wore corsets," says Steele, "by the time girdles came into fashion, it already seemed that if you were stuck wearing one, you were sort of a failure."

Corsets had reshaped the body to be fashionable.

Girdles were simply for solidifying flab.

But now that both garments are coming back - sometimes as underwear, sometimes as outerwear - the girdle is gaining new allure. Maybe that's because high-profile waifs are wearing them.

Or maybe it's because guys know that any gal in a girdle is usually anxious to take it off.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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