The big squeeze

By Claire McCall

Curves are in. Corset shop owner Jill Peterson is well-placed to create the hourglass look that is so hot right now.

Jill Peterson, owner of Corseterie boutique in K Rd, with one of her wedding corsets. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jill Peterson, owner of Corseterie boutique in K Rd, with one of her wedding corsets. Photo / Babiche Martens

It's no surprise to Jill Peterson, owner of Corseterie, a K Rd boutique dedicated to selling corsets, that American actor Christina Hendricks was voted the "sexiest woman in the world" by female readers of Esquire magazine last year. She's picking men would be in vocal concurrence. Christina is the buxom size 16 star of the Mad Men series feted for her hourglass figure and according to Jill, the humble corset plays an unacknowledged role in her allure. "Those 60s dresses were made for women with a tiny waist and big hips," says Jill. And the corset provided the perfect framework.

Growing up in the county of Hertfordshire, where Jane Austen's novel Pride & Prejudice was set, perhaps made Jill more aware of the fashions of period England.

"We knew all those bodice-ripping stories and the fact that girls got 'the vapors' because their corsets were too tight."

At the age of 13, Jill's mum pronounced it time to get her first roll-on girdle.

"It was made of thick elasticated material and came with suspenders attached. We all wore stockings in those days; tights had yet to be invented."

Then, in the mid-60s, fashion designer Mary Quant invited young women to throw away their suspender belts and feminist Germaine Greer ranted against the restriction of the bra. The corset became one of a number of undergarments that symbolised the abasement and repression of women. No longer. "I think we've come full circle," says Jill. "We're back to wanting to enhance that natural hourglass shape."

Jill's idea to open a corset shop was sparked by customer demand. As the owner of the Peachy Keen vintage clothing store in Real Groovy records, she was often asked for corsets - and not just by women who were involved in the burlesque revival. "So I scouted around to get some ready-made styles at affordable prices."

She is under no illusion about the different way men and women view the corset. "Girls get hooked up in the romance and historical aspects; for men, it's the sex," she says bluntly. "Women like the way they feel in a corset; men like the way that women look in one."

Corsets range from $85 to an investment buy of $400. They are plastic-boned or, for more-serious cinching, steel-boned. There's every size and colour - from tartan to polka dot, gingham and velvet.

Jill's range also includes finely crafted cream or white corsets that complete a bridal outfit - worn under a dress or as a showpiece outer garment. They come in plain satin or with a brocade finish, can be trimmed with ribbon, fitted with suspenders and sometimes with a rufflette top. "The point is that they should be beautiful, something a bride will feel great in."

While Jill does not advocate the practice of "waist-training", a long-term process whereby the corset is tightened a little more each day and can take up to 10cm off your figure, she says corset-wearing has other advantages.

"Many women are still a bit sceptical about buying one as it feels a little 'naughty'. But at the point they actually try one on, that's when they really want one."

Jill says a corset immediately improves posture. "It's like stepping into a vase," she explains. "You can't help but stand more upright and so you instantly look slimmer."

When held erect by this "outer rib cage", it's also impossible to slouch when sitting. And, Jill believes, corset-wearers become more aware of their midriff. "So they're less inclined to overeat," she laughs.

But many wear them just for sheer fun and fashion sense. Jill's oldest client was an 80-year-old who tried on a waist-cincher and was hooked. She also sells many in school ball season.

"As I point out to concerned mothers, a corset is not revealing - it's a bit like a strapless top, only you can't get out of it in a hurry."

Naturally, the burlesque brigade beat a sassy path to her doorway - not just professional dancers but those who enjoy performing on amateur nights. "Corsets suit women of all shapes and sizes and 'ordinary' women love to get up on stage and perform. A corset makes them feel sexier and more exciting."

Yet, there's a fine line between sexy and sex-object and Jill thinks her fashionable line of shapely garments is on the right side of it. "My corsets are chosen to be demure - they're not like the ones you buy in adult shops," she explains.

There is one word of caution she would give, though.

"They're not uncomfortable to wear but they do change your shape - and your attitude. Once you get used to wearing them, it's hard to be without one."

How to care for your corset

* Lightweight plastic-boned ones can be washed by hand

* Spot-clean the steel-boned corsets and dry clean occasionally

* Visit corseterie.co.nz for more information

- NZ Herald

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