II: ESTABLISHING THE CLIENT-CORSETIERE RELATIONSHIP
When I wrote what is now the first part of "Frangard's Odyssey", I thought that was enough. I had been inspired to write it after reading 'Simon's Story', and the 'Odyssey' became a companion piece in this section of Ivy Leaf's website. The Odyssey had started out as an adjunct to my contribution 'Why we are what we are' and endeavoured to explain the reasons why one man elected to wear corsets in an era when such actions and behaviour still engendered hostility and ridicule. I closed Part 1 with the words, "but that's another story" and planned to leave it at that. But it was only the catalyst. I went on to pen the history of Gardner's.
To recall, the first part of the Odyssey ended at a time when I had just met the woman who was to be my corsetiere for the next twenty-three years and I then felt it was time to write her biography. But writing the biography did not complete the distillation of my own memories. I had to record the rest of my odyssey and share how my ideas evolved and how they were attended to by Mrs. Norris. She guided me in my Odyssey. She made every kind of corset I have worn, and did so with the kindness and with the discretion that was always her hallmark, to the point of introducing me to other of her customers who became my new corset-wearing friends.
Writing this second part has proved to be a daunting task that has taken the best part of a year to complete based as it was on a chronology of what I did. I have also had the good fortune to rediscover originals of my diary and correspondence I kept from those early years of meetings at Gardner's, which also helped with the Gardner History, the Iris Norris's Biography and now present work. Still, my diary was a mere record of my thoughts at the time. It lacked the insight and as it stood could be of interest only to those fascinated by the arcane. As I worked to adapt it, I realized that it could all "come to life" if it were to be leavened by some of my insights gained over the years, added to which are those contained in the wonderful contributions to Ivy Leaf's website that I noted in my years of reading it, as well as some from elsewhere.
I make no apology that it is long and I hope though the good offices of Ivy Leaf and her web-site, it will be preserved for posterity to describe what life was like for a man like me in the closing years of what had been the golden age of tight-lacing and what influences there were and what I was thinking at the time.
I begin thirty years ago from the time in 1977 when I met Mrs. Norris and realized I could make what for me a man was the momentous commitment to integrate the wearing of tight lacing corsets which formed the perfect thing on to which to attach the suspenders I used to hold up the seamed stockings I had already been wearing with suspender belts under my clothes, all day every day, for close to a decade.
A REGULAR CLIENT OF GARDNER'S
Now that I had found my corsetiere, my Odyssey was not over. It would not be an exaggeration to say it had just begun.
Whilst it was clear that I could now get exactly the attire I wanted -although I noted that Mrs. Norris was not young, 57 in fact, I realised that she would not live forever. However the way I was choosing to live my life was threatened by Father time in two ways: Corset wearing was declining, as younger women did not take it up. Hence both the makers of supplies and makers of corsets were closing down.
From the time I met her, Mrs. Norris alluded to the problem of getting supplies of essential materials such as busks and what she quaintly called "ends" - the clips buttoned to stockings - especially chrome plated ones for wide (1 inch) elastic were hard to find as were those with the centrally rivetted buttons which went out of production in the early 1970's. Likewise good corset facing materials were in short supply. It seemed as though I had chosen to live in what later became known as a 'time warp'. The plummeting demand for corsets resembled what I had seen with fully-fashioned stockings a few years earlier. I had seen Morley, Wolsey, Ballito and Bear Brand stop production of the style. Charnos only made them in stretch, the sole crusader was Aristoc whilst Brettles and Lovely Lady revived briefly. Albert's in the USA continued until 1985. Aristoc finally dropped fully-fashioned stockings after 70 years in strange circumstances, refusing to answer all inquiries as to the situation in 1993. Today, specialist firms have revived them using the old machines.
My motivation to continue flagged but in the event I was to continue with Mrs. Norris for 23 years until not long before her death in 2000.
I was to encounter many challenges to my desire to be corseted. Looking back over 30 years I can summarise them as follows. Many things evolved for me by trial and error, since unlike a woman, I had no one other than my corsetiere, with whom I could talk to about the little difficulties I encountered. I only could see her periodically and as often as my spare cash would allow. In a perfect world, if I had been a rich man I would have achieved in a year or two what took me 10 years.
My 'apprenticeship' with stockings, whilst equally as solitary an experience, had been quite different. They were easy to buy. Even someone as self-conscious as myself could gain courage with a shop assistant if it was thought I was buying for, as most of them clearly thought, an older woman, such as a mother or grandmother. Whilst young women might well have given up seams, let alone stockings, for tights, elderly widows might well opt for black stockings with seams! Indeed on one occasion one assistant actually asked "Were they for an older lady?" Likewise, if I bought suspender belts, it could be thought that was buying for a girl friend, even if I always asked for the largest size, which at 28' was much too small for my waist and needed altering.
The same type of worry inhibited me from even attempting to go into a store to buy a girdle. They were never on the ground floor like stockings but on the women's section. As for Marks and Spencer, even though girdles and suspender belts were easily accessible on an open counter and came in stock sizes, their counters were always busy and I lacked the courage to even buy one there. Remember, that even in the late 1960s and then the 970s, when times were becoming more permissive, I would still be regarded as odd if anyone knew my secret. It has been so different since the end of the 1970s when almost any interest is accepted.
The concerns I continued to have included:
- Confirming to my satisfaction that, although I wore and liked to wear women's stockings and suspenders with my corsets, I was not and never felt seriously motivated to be a transvestite, although I did read related magazines.
- Identifying shops, other than an increasing number of outfitters specialising in transvestites in response to the new climate of permissiveness, where I could buy seamed stockings and get my corsets and suspenders made to measure. However although I had photocopied the 1970 yellow pages when I came to check out the addresses six and seven years later, many had closed.
It's hard to believe that Yellow Pages were full of corset merchandise even 20 years ago. Spirella and Spencer, uniquely, took out page adverts in the standard telephone directories! - Ivy
- Being worried and anxious about discovery of my secret, by family, co-workers and passers by which was ever present. I had even thought of being candid with the wife of one couple I knew, who I felt would be sympathetic, but I failed to do so. The fear of being found out overrode all.
- Identifying, by a process of trial and error, the multitude of different details that were 'appropriate' for wearing corsets to work from those I could wear for recreation or relaxation, without anxiety, discomfort or distress, such as number or provision of steels, the lengths of corset near the thigh in front and the number and length of suspenders that gave my stockings the pull I desired. At a more mundane level, I wanted to find a way, other than unpicking stitches and sewing again every time I had to change the suspender elastic, which succumbed far too quickly to the tension I liked to impose on them.
I came to realise that what I called "discovering my corset self" and the type, size and cut of corsets that would meet my needs was a process of trial and error. That some of the things I thought I would like to try were difficult to realise and that, learning to be as tightly-laced as I was motivated to be, was a slow process, quite different from learning to buy and wear stockings and suspender belts.
What I wanted to do was also more difficult, or so I thought, than for those men ready to be a overt transvestite. I wanted to outwardly live a so-called normal life, dressing as a man, but wearing a tight-laced corset, suspenders and black stockings under my male clothes all day every day. It was a tall order, as I was to find out.
In this regard a big worry was if there was any telltale evidence through my outer clothes, a matter to which Simon alludes more than once in his story. That is, if a woman's corset line is evident under her attire or it is a bra strap, it is a cause of pleasure to men, but if it is a granny corset it is the cause of amusement. I ran the risk of the latter.
In all these matters Mrs. Norris, which is what I called her for five years, was a kind, understanding mentor. On occasion I would say "I suppose you think I'm very odd wanting such things", to which she would always patiently reply in the same way with words to the effect that I shouldn't worry and that a lot of her customers were men who felt like I did. She never said it but Elsie's words to Simon "It seems so strange that men are not expected to wear corsets when you must derive just as much pleasure and comfort as any woman does.", would sum up what Mrs. Norris and I agreed. As for me, I agree with Simon's reply to Elsie that "Convention does not necessarily understand what the individual finds comfortable".
Over the years she was to share more and more of her own concerns and positively liked to talk about the things she liked and the problems she had with wearing her corsets, stockings and suspenders. Unlike Simon, my relationship with Mrs. Norris who was married never developed as his did with Mary his corsetiere.
For my part, while I was grateful for such opportunities to talk, I never quite got over my embarrassment at uttering to someone else, the actual words for those items that were the subject of my secret, either face to face or over the phone or with any one of the people, male or female, she was to introduce me to in later years. Looking back, I realise that such was not the case in writing to Mrs. Norris to place an order or to keep a diary or to correspond with others about such things. I am no great scribe, but perhaps it is those who become successful writers are inhibited from expressing their thoughts verbally for whatever reason, be it a lack of confidence, or in my case, self-perceived shame? To be granted the chance to record my thoughts through the medium of Ivy Leaf, the pioneer e-corsetiere's, web page is equally a privilege.
LESSONS FROM THE FIRST HIGH TOP
Resumption of my story would not be complete without referring back to my experiences with my first Gardner corset, the high top corset faced with leatherette, of which I wrote briefly at the end of Part 1 of the Odyssey.
I had learned that, in asking to have it made, to use an old metaphor, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. As a consequence, I was forced to learn that what had been made was what I asked for and couldn’t be reversed: that I should rely more on the corsetiere's advice and to learn to walk before I could run.
The high top was so challenging that, laced on as intended, it was extremely tight. I could not bend or twist at all while wearing it and I never dared venture outdoors in it. I also discovered a drawback of leatherette. It may look good but I understand it is not like real leather. Under the strain I put on in it, in my greed for tightness, it had ripped, not on the seams as Mrs. Norris' work was too good for that, but close to the seams. In addition several of the eyelets near the lacing loops had popped out of the fabric under the strain of my pulling on them with such force.
I was faced with the fact that I had now bought two very long corsets, each so long that I could never wear them to work either because they would show under my clothes, or they would limit my movements so much that it would be obvious something was wrong with me. Try as I may I knew I could never make that leatherette corset comfortable enough to wear it for 10 hours. I always had to take it off to get relief within two hours.
Good intentions were one thing, but useless if they didn't square with reality. If I was to progress, my revised ambition was to learn what design of corset I could wear all day every day. I would have to modify my thinking to what was possible. I would have to compromise.
MY FIRST FRANGARD G78 CASUAL CORSET
Close to a year had passed since I had bought the leatherette corset and now the main constraint on a return visit had been spare money to buy more. The kinds of corsets I wanted were not cheap and I was going to have to make sacrifices, or limit the rate I bought and, in truth, I was still experimenting. In this regard, having read Ivy Leaf's comments about appreciative husbands readily advancing what was the relatively high cost of the better of Spirella or Spencer's creations, I was not alone. Made to measure corsets were a relative luxury for most women, as they were proving to be for me.
So I arranged a new appointment with Gardner's. I had telephoned a week or so earlier to see if Mrs. Norris was free that day, knowing she didn't work on Fridays. On the agreed day, a Wednesday, I phoned early to confirm she was there. I didn't go to work. I got up and put on the white corset, the Wilbro PCRW2, to which I had now sewn on an extra pair of white back suspenders, making three pairs in all, to balance it up with all my other belts and corsets, for the appointment. I had also sewn folds or tucks into it so that it didn't gape at the top or bottom on account of the cut for a woman's hip spring.
After my first appointment years ago, when I had been asked if I was wearing stockings, I had subsequently made a point of always keeping such appointments whether with the outfitter or Gardner's while wearing one of my corsets with stockings. I felt if nothing else I was being sincere towards the corsetiere about the seriousness of my endeavour and sincere to myself. I wanted to be regarded as an equal.
I made my way over as rapidly as I could to 28 Barnsbury Sq. and rang the bell. Mrs. Norris remembered me and was cheerful and as matter of fact as ever. She was wearing her usual dark brown seamed stockings with point heels, Aristoc 222s, and as I saw by her deportment and gait, her corsets as I followed her downstairs, closing the door on request to stop the baby from venturing into that area and falling down the stairs.
Once in the fitting room I explained that I wanted a shorter corset that I could wear all day to work and that had to satisfy my concerns that someone might see the telltale lines through my shirt and equally important wouldn't cut into my thighs while sitting at a desk or driving a car.
Mrs. Norris understood and measured me pulling surprisingly tightly on her tape measure as she did so. We discussed material. She asked what I wanted and we went into the machining room with the giant cutting table in the middle of the room and looked at a number of single rolls on the shelves where they were kept. Some had silver beading, others had gold flecks, and some were in red and black leatherette. I settled for heavy black satin. The lining would be twill and proved to be a standard corsetry pink twill. Having been diffident last time, I said with a feeling of embarrassment that I would like four, rather than three, pairs of suspenders with the broad elastic and would like the rear two pairs of suspenders to have 9-inch long elastic straps with the front two pairs as usual 4˝ inch length.
She recommended and I agreed on a 12" long corset, as she wrote it down in her corsetieres shorthand - "12-5-7" - 12 inches long, 5 inches above the waist and 7 inches below. After my experience with the eyelets it was to have the reinforced eyelets. As I was to see in the Gardner's catalogue, it was style G78 - Casual. The whole appointment had taken no more than five minutes. I paid my ₤24 and Mrs. Norris said she wasn't so busy and suggested that I phoned next day to see if it was ready.
I could hardly believe it and in anticipation that it would be ready, I arranged a long lunch hour phoned at about noon and of course it was ready. I got to No.28 at about one pm and Mrs. Norris had wrapped the corset ready. As we stood in the machine room, she opened the parcel and showed me the garment and it looked perfect. It seemed a little short but that was the price of learning to be corseted properly. She quite matter of factly showed me the lengths of the suspenders and at this I felt flushed and red. As she was re-wrapping the corset in the brown paper, I noticed another parcel of similar shape but close to twice as long. It was a high top waiting to be mailed and I noted that it was addressed to a Mr. Jones in Aberdeen. The sight of that parcel proved to me that if I wanted corsets it was clear I was in the right place and also that there were other people 'out there' like me. In spirit I was not alone. Years later Mrs. Norris was to introduce me to a life long gentleman tight lacer from Aberdeen, who had over the years been a client of first Lenton and then Overett. His name wasn't Jones, but I'm sure it was to him that the package was destined. Pseudonyms were still the dictates of men with 'our secret' in that era.
There had never been any suggestion that I tried it on, I think she sensed my embarrassment and didn't venture to suggest it, though on my part I sensed that perhaps an established, more confident client might well have tried it on with her assistance. After I left, I regretted that I hadn't done but I was still gaining confidence in accepting all the consequences of my chosen path.
Over the next few months I had worn the G78 Casual as much as I could, mostly at the weekend and in the evenings and home then, one day before Christmas I wore it to work. I experimented with every possible way of doing so to the point of moving the pulling loops one row up and one row down in the lines of eyelets. Like Simon I was very conscious of my secret being detected. Until then I had often worn a sweater at work in winter but I realised that the corset might show so instead I took refuge so to speak within the confines of my jacket, which I usually took off at work. Apart from someone remarking that I looked very formal that day, I realised my jacket would hide any tell tale ridges, real or imaginary. I even thought of adopting a waistcoat, but when I tried mine on I could distinctly see a ridge as it fitted quite snugly.
With the four pairs of suspenders on the rigid corset I was able to suspender my stockings much more tightly than I had ever been able to with the suspender belts I normally wore to work. This was exactly what I wanted and what had motivated me to wearing corsets. I was reminded of this when I climbed stairs between floors of the firm and became suddenly aware that I could hear the material of my trousers sliding over my stockings in a way I'd never heard before. I put this down to the fact that they were pulled much smoother than usual and allowed the trouser legs to slide over a bigger range than they otherwise would. I felt I could get used to the fact but remained worried that if I was accompanied others might hear and point the fact out, but no one ever did and I came to live with the sound and even derived comfort from having another little secret.
THE QUEST CONTINUES - A SECOND G78 CASUAL
I was now ready for a second G78 corset. I was required to go on a trip overseas and so I arranged to stay with friends near the airport, and took advantage of an advance of cash and the trip preparation day I was allowed to arrange a call on Mrs. Norris and go for an interview at an office off Oxford Street for a new job. I would stop at my friend's house in Acton to leave my suitcase and continue into London.
As had become my practice, I would go to my appointment in corsets and, after getting up extra early and, knowing I would be wearing the corset for as much as 15 hours, I fitted it very carefully because it was a little too big in the top and by setting it high on my hips the top edge would lay closer to my rib cage. I adjusted the lacing very carefully and tightened up. Only then did I adjusted the tension of the suspenders till I felt they would be suitable for the rigours of wearing the corset for the first time during a day of physical activity driving around, walking a lot and on business. I drove wearing a corset for the first time.
I got out wearing my corset and greeted my friend's wife and though I felt very conscious of it, I was sure she couldn't tell I had it on and I sat down controlled but comfortable. It was a cold January day, there was snow lying on the pavement which made it a little slippery. The thought went through my mind not to slip and need an ambulance for all and sundry to examine me and find out what I wearing!
Before leaving Acton I finalised my appointments for the day and set out for the now familiar address in Islington. The traffic was lighter than usual and for the fifth time I rang the loud bell ready to discuss my third Gardner's corset.
Mrs. Norris greeted me in her usual way, just a sort of peremptory "Hello". She closed the door and I started to follow her downstairs. She was wearing seamed stockings as usual but this time she was wearing stockings with the longest point heels and thickest seams I had ever seen, all accentuated by the backless high heel mules she was wearing and all in a rich Chocolate brown shade. They were not only sheer but they were taut and shiny on her legs and had to have been tautly suspendered. As I had come to realise she walked and moved with the gait of a woman tightly laced into her corsets. I thought she looked wonderful.
She showed me into the fitting room and I stood and as before my eyes were drawn to the photos of models in corsetry on the wall. She asked me how I was. I said I was very well and that I had enjoyed wearing the G78 corset she had made last year very much only it was not quite tight enough at the top however I laced it and I was afraid the ridge could be seen by others. Also it seemed unable to wrinkle a lot around the waist and it cut deep grooves into me. I also said the steels on either side of the eyelets popped outwards when I bent because I couldn't lace it tight enough at the top.
Mrs. Norris looked at me standing and thought that the problem was with me that because I knew I was wearing it and didn't want anyone to see or know. She felt the top of the corset through my shirt and said it was a bit loose and that she could fix that up right there and then. I was excited by the idea but said nothing of an over-enthusiastic nature, as I was so grateful to even visit that I didn't want to do anything to offend her, or abuse that privilege.
As for the bowing out she asked me to raise my shirt and vest and I turned my back towards her. She said the lacing was quite loose and fingered it tight by pulling on the cross overs working in the prescribed manner from top to waist and hem to waist and said. “You’re not lacing yourself tight enough on your waist" and proceeded to pull it tight.
Although my first real corset, the red satin one, had been laced on me, that had been done over my shirt, while this time I was already wearing the corset. I was as surprised and pleasantly surprised at the feeling of another person lacing in my corset, a new experience that I had not been prepared for. Mrs. Norris took hold of the lacings and really pulled strongly, much more than I'd do myself. Suddenly I was taken with concern that it would too tight for me to carry on wearing it for the rest of the day. "There it should be all right now; now bend" she said and I did and she watched and of course when I bent forward the bowing didn't happen. As she finished knotting my lacings, she said "There it should be OK now, let me see." With the one I had on now laced properly, she took another look to see what was wrong at the top and said she would take it in a bit right there and then. She asked me to take it all off and bring it to her in the machining room.
She left the room and I unknotted the lace she just tightened and loosed off the corset. I unclipped the suspenders unhooked my busk and took off the corset. Dressed again but conscious of my stockings hanging loose around my knees I left the fitting room to take the corset for Mrs. Norris to fix. The suspenders were dangling and if she didn't know already she had to have been able to put two and two together and know that I was wearing stockings. I felt myself blush as I handed over the corset but she didn't react.
What happened then really amazed me. Mrs. Norris took a razor and proceeded to cut the stitching on the hem of the corset at top and bottom. She did the same with several of the panels and exposed the lining. I was horrified by the amount of work she had undone in about a minute. She then cut pieces off several of the panels and in next to no time began to sew it up on an automatic sewing machine that worked like it sewed a panel in literally five seconds or less. In no time the panels were stitched and she then began to sew up the edges of the top and bottom. In about five minutes flat she had sewn up and edged the corset again.
We conversed while she worked and I watched. As I looked round the walls at the shelves with rolls of corset fabric and many drawers, I realised she might sell me some sewing spares. I said I would like some spare eyelets for the big leatherette one she had made me. The eyelets didn't have the reinforcing rings and had partly pulled out under my efforts to lace in, and as I mentioned it had split under the strain of being pulled tight. As for the eyelets she was willing to give them me but said that they needed a machine to fix and that the silver steel ones were harder than the brass to fix. I said that I had a hand tool that worked and she was pleased but surprised and gave me a whole lot of them of both types. I also asked if she could sell me some of the wide black elastic to replace some stretched suspenders. It was then that Mrs. Norris said that black elastic was hard to get and that for some reason it wasn't as long lasting as white or pink elastic she thought it was due to the weakening effect of the black dye on rubber. As for repairing the splits, she also said that it was best to glue patches on leatherette as stitches weakened it and then it would rip easily, so she gave me a piece.
During our conversation I said how I found that lacing in got easier because the laces seemed to move more easily after the corsets had been laced on a few times, and she said she found that herself to be the case after a week or so, as did a lot of people. She suggested it was because the punching leaves some cloth fibres behind in the lacing holes and pulling on the lacing smoothes it out and the lace itself gets a bit polished as a result of running in the metal.
REFITTING THE ALTERED CORSET
In what seemed like five minutes she had handed me back the altered corset I went back into the now familiar fitting room to hook it on and lace it up. I opened the altered corset lacings to the limit and as I went to hook up the busk I immediately felt the difference on my rib cage. It was a little harder to hook the top, key stud on the busk. After a bit of a struggle I managed to complete the job, clip my suspenders back on and lace it tight. It certainly was much snugger in front and came close to my form. I was still in my thirties and to use Mrs. Norris's phrase, wasn't yet suffering from middle-aged spread.
To my surprise there was a knock on the door. She had come to help and, still being shy I contrived to slide the corset down behind the waistband of my trousers. She stood and then laced me tight again after which I felt very relaxed and superbly corseted after Mrs. Norris had laced me in so expertly. I tucked in my shirt and vest and those suspenders that had got hung up on the waist band and she cast her eye over me as I stood and reassured me that she couldn't tell I had a corset on that should be all right and reassuringly said "That fits you nice and close. No one will see now and there's still a bit open at the back if you ever feel you'd like it a little tighter later on". She discreetly left me to lower my trousers and deal again with my suspenders and stockings before I rejoined her in the machine room.
I HEED MY CORSETIERE'S ADVICE
She then asked me what exactly I wanted in the new one. I felt I was now being accorded the full treatment as an experienced customer. I said I wanted another G78, the same as last year but with double boning, flat steels not spiral and with the smaller chest measurement, the rest as before. She asked if I was sure, pointing out that it would be heavy and the flat steels might be uncomfortable if I wasn't used to it. I said I felt sure I wouldn't mind the weight and indeed I would like to try it heavy and that I thought the double flat steels smooth out the wrinkles. She respected my view and didn't complain but said she'd bone it with spiral steels not flat but I took her advice and agreed to have the double spirals. There seemed no point in having a personal corsetiere if I didn't heed her advice.
Finally I said I wanted the first two pairs of suspenders slightly longer than the July 1978 G78 corset. That is 6 inches long, instead of 4˝ inches, with the back two pairs 9 inches long as before, and all in the same places around the corset hem.
Then she asked about material. "Do you want black satin again or something else?" She continued, "the 'gold spot' is very nice and popular but I can't get any of it at the moment I'm afraid." She showed me a number of single rolls of corset facing material in the drawers where they were kept. Some with silver beading, others with designs of green and orange brown on a black base, figured broches and red and black leatherette. Satins came in red, purple, white, peach and black. I thought that most of them were too feminine for my needs, and I settled for heavy black satin. She had looked up my old order and said she would make the chest measurement a little smaller, the rest exactly as before.
As we had got on so well, I then plucked up courage and said, I didn't want to embarrass her but could I ask her where she had bought the stockings she was wearing. At that she laughed and said that I was the second person to ask her the same question that day. She was not annoyed, in fact she seemed pleased I'd noticed, and said she had got them either at the Coop or Selby's. She said they were Aristoc adding "They're not stretch you know," a point she always made and that I realised was an important part of the whole image she offered the world. I said they looked very smart and she said "Yes they are. Go to the Coop or Selby's in the Holloway Road".
I gathered my coat and bag and she saw me to the door. Again I privately admired her stocking seams and heels and if she knew I was she disarmingly said, "See you" and reminded me to try the Coop or Selby's for the stockings. I left and said I'd be back in about three weeks to collect the new corset and would phone ahead.
As it happened, I didn't have time to go to Holloway road and find the Coop or Selby's stores as I had an interview. I got back in the car, feeling bolt upright on account of her lacing me in so tight.
AN INTERVIEW WHILE CORSETED
The office was near Oxford Circus and I got there only just in time, my transactions with my corsetiere had taken longer than I had planned. I parked in the garage by Cavendish Square. Before I went into the office, I found a toilet and checked the lacing knot was still holding and there was no risk of a suspender clip slipping, so that I felt confident.
This was the first time I had been in a formal position wearing a corset. It was a good interview and throughout I felt reassured by feeling the busk constraining my movements and stomach. Just to wear the corset was rewarding in itself and I almost enjoyed and savoured for the first time the discipline of the busk.
Indeed, I came to appreciate the existence of the busk very much. Even today, years later I never cease to be pleased if I see a photo or video of a corseted woman only to see the shining hooking plates glinting in the arc or flash of the photographer's lighting. I always count them and I inevitably put a hand to my chest and finger the studs through my shirt. It is as if the acceptance of such a hard item close to a person's body causes the difference of gender to simply melt away. By us I mean the men or women that all have all experienced what it is to have hooked up a busk and felt its presence and I like to think we are members of a special circle of experience undivided by gender.
After the interview, I walked to both D H. Evans and John Lewis, which were nearby to see what hosiery they had. The two stores had neither black nylons nor 'sheer mischief', so I stopped in the S. Weiss store, the last survivor of the many lingerie stores there used to be on Shaftesbury Avenue that were referred to in the film "Sapphire" I had seen in my student days 20 years or so earlier. I had recalled this when I started to buy stockings and suspender belts for myself. I bought three pairs of Aristoc 222s. I went back and got in the car
AN UNDERSHIRT BECOMES AN IMPERATIVE
My friends were expecting me back for dinner and I drove down after 5 pm to West London. The traffic was heavy and the driving slow. As a result I felt my corset hem cut into my flesh just above my groin. I had experienced this problem before and realised that the corset snagged my body hair, which chafed my skin until it felt on fire. I had never worn the corset next to my skin for so long before and I was paying the price.
During the journey I was glad of the waits at traffic lights, which gave me a chance had to slacken off the lacing so as to move my corset hem higher and away from my groin. This was the worst experience I'd had of that kind and I wished I could have taken the corset off there and then. When I got back to my friends' house, my skin was burning.
I retired to the guest room they had given me and was glad to take it off. Yet I was surprised to find my skin was not at all raw as I had expected and recovered overnight. However I was pleased to see that it had disciplined my figure just as I hoped. I'd had no less than nine hours of strict corseting. My most active day ever in a corset and I was well satisfied.
However, I had leaned an important lesson. Henceforth I would wear the corset, over the T-shirt I liked to wear and never again next to the skin - just as is shown in the drawings in the Gardner Leaflet illustrating their Gentleman's styles.
AIRPORT SECURITY IN CORSET, SUSPENDERS AND STOCKINGS
The next day I had breakfast with the lady of the house and decided to have a bath. Since she was not around, I took my corset to the bathroom and after my bath, I put it on ready for the flight ahead. I felt well corseted and tautly suspendered but a little conscious of the corset when I went back to join her in the living room. I phoned to check my flight was on time. There was sprinkling of snow on the road, which had packed down as ice, and it was very slippery in their side street.
I had a 12 hour check in so I was forced to leave sooner than intended. Later in the day, I remembered that I had forgotten to tell Mrs. Norris that I wanted a full inch under-busk so I took the chance of phoning 607-2007 from the airport. Another lady, presumably the mother of the baby and one of the Gardner family, answered and said Mrs. Norris wasn't there but I could leave a message. I gave my name and asked her to tell Mrs. Norris that I wanted an under-busk and no flap over the busk. The woman didn't exactly understand so I told her to give Mrs. Norris, the exact message and that she would understand. In the event, I need not have worried. As I was to find out over the years Mrs. Norris's memory for a client's preferences was phenomenal right to the end of her life.
I went to have lunch and I wrestled with whether to keep the corset on or take it off before clearing departure formalities. The moment of truth had arrived and I decided to be confident. I almost flew through passport control and before I knew it I was face to face with the security personnel. I knew I would set off the metal detector so I explained to a jolly man that I had back trouble and had a spinal support on and he asked me to step aside.
My fears almost instantly evaporated when, before he frisked me, he said he'd be careful not to hurt me. He started from my shoulder passed over the corset saying nothing. When he reached my thighs I was afraid that he'd feel the buttons on my suspender clips and check what he'd felt and would put two and two together. If he did, he said nothing and it was over in moments.
When I look back on the fact, I passed through security like that for another eight years. It took the 1987 Lockerbie bombing and the heightened security to force me to give up the idea though I did still travel wearing stockings and corsets, but ever after I put them on after clearing security and no one ever questioned the presence of the items in my hand baggage! I wore the corset and stockings all the way but just before landing I took them off and carried them in my hand baggage. I wasn't confident enough to wear them in a foreign country yet.
MORE ADVICE DURING CORSET FITTING
I was overseas for several weeks and I arrived back in London mid-morning. I phoned Mrs. Norris who said she could see me right away and I got there at 3.30 pm and she let me in. She was as pleasant as ever and I followed her, noting to my slight disappointment that her shapely calves and ankles were not graced in the 'sheer mischief' but the more usual brown Aristoc 'harmony' but as ever her seams were straight and shiny.
Some readers will question why I write about seeing Mrs. Norris's stockings each time I recount a visit. As justification I can only say that I wrote a diary after every visit and the words, now slightly edited for continuity, are the basis of what is written here. I could have eliminated them but they represent only a few occasions over several years' span. By writing them I also hope to convey to readers, who do not share my motivation that, for someone like me who was obliged to keep my secret to myself, it was a great release to be in the presence of a perfectly normal woman like Mrs. Norris who clearly wore real corsets and seamed stockings out of choice. I was amazed at the coincidence and my good luck to find that Gardner's, whom I had contacted purely because I wore a corset and seamed stockings, should have an employee who wore the same items as me. I marvelled at the fact that this was unbeknown to me when I first contacted them and her. For me it was as if for once the moon and stars were in alignment.
On this last point I was not to know it for some years, but I was far from alone with my secret and slowly she dropped hints to me that this was so as part of giving advice on what to wear and do. I was to find out there were other men like me who were her clients as well as the fact that there were many women clients and their husbands or partners. These people had, despite the change of fashion with the passage of time, remained loyal to their own fashion, the corset to create a cinched waist and the straight seam of classical nylon stockings. These details of the 'New Look' may have gone out of fashion but in the years of their youth they had liked them and were not prepared to abandon them rather they chose to wear them as proud symbols of their commitment. Later I was to find, as did David Kunzle in his book on tight-lacing, that small waists and straight seams went together.
So, we got to the machining room, and the now familiar brown paper roll was there. She had got my telephone message about the busk and the flap, but said she had been a little confused about the under-busk because she usually called it a 'front steel'. Over the years I was to find that she had a vocabulary of such terms which she must have picked up in the machining room and not the text books or manuals from any courses she or Mr. Gardner might have attended.
She immediately unrolled the corset from its package and went through the things she had done. I looked at it with its eight wide black suspenders hanging from it and felt shy to be confronted with the synthesis of such taboo times for a man. She said she done the double boning and reminded me it might feel heavy when worn all day. Inwardly I felt elated. She had made what I wanted.
We also discussed the lacing up of a corset and she said of course it was best to do it in the early morning. I felt bold and asked her if she suspendered her stockings before or after fitting her corset and she said she always laced in first and then put on her stockings. I said I found that when I did it the other way that the tension of the suspenders dragged the corset too low on my waist and she said yes that's what happened. It was unreal I could hardly believe I was discussing the finer points of wearing a corset and stockings with someone who understood and was ready to talk about it.
Despite her unprepossessing and honest nature, Mrs. Norris had my highest respect. Not only was she an expert corset maker, but she was a corset maker who believed in what she made. She wore corsets herself and she wore beautiful plain knit seamed stockings. She tight laces herself every day, all day and has clearly come to find it natural to have her body compressed in a way anyone other than a habitual tight-lacer would find uncomfortable if they tried it.
Not only did Mrs. Norris know that I did, but when I suggested to her that she must think me odd, she was earnest and sincere in her dismissal of my thought. Moreover she was actually happy to talk about such things and over the years as we knew one another better she would share experiences, concerns and amusing incidents with me and to make allusion to the likes of others who did the same. Even then there were moments when, despite her empathy, natural attitude and friendliness, that I would have liked the floor to open and swallow me up. One of them came over me when she asked me if I wanted to try it on.
I was coward, I had to decline and said I realised we had talked for more than usual and I was tired from my journey, a fact she then commented on. I cannot explain it but it all made me want to leave the one place where I could truly share my secret and talk about it. So I had regretfully declined saying how I had just got back and I was in a hurry. Since it was cut like the one I was wearing I said it would be fine and she showed me out.
SHEER MISCHIEF - NO: ARISTOC AND BRETTLES - YES
My journey home took me along Holloway Road and as I still had 'sheer mischief' in mind I decided to try and find the Co-op or Selby's stores. I stopped the car near where Liverpool Road joins it and asked a man where Selby's was. Fortunately he wasn't the proverbial stranger and he smiled and pointed - it was right opposite! It was at moments like these that I had to steel my nerve and venture into a place where I almost always felt a lack of confidence. Motivation and desire were one thing - realising them was another. I crossed the street and went in and found the hosiery department. The point heel and calf seam of what I recognised as Aristoc 'harmony' was displayed on a model leg on the counter. They had other fully-fashioned hose but no 'sheer mischief'. I asked for 'harmony' in black size 10˝ or 11.
The middle-aged lady assistant asked me to wait while she went downstairs to get them. Somehow I was not surprised to notice she had seams and point heels on her stockings too and wondered if she knew Mrs. Norris. In the end I bought the entire contents of the brown cardboard box of Aristoc 'harmony' she had brought up - all six pairs. Of the others styles she showed me I passed on Charnos stretch but, even though I noticed they were knitted in what in my experience was the unforgiving 15 denier, I bought two pairs of Brettles, fully fashioned, purely because I liked the fact that they had long cuban heels.
Later, when I looked at the Harmony box, it turned out I had bought "Undergrads" or "seconds", which was also proclaimed on a magenta sticker on the cellophane of each packet. However they seemed fine to me and only years later, thanks to the information on the Internet, did I learn of the problems of knitting fully-fashioned stockings exactly to size, and the ones I bought were probably correct in foot size but were either longer or shorter in the length of leg. Now nearly 30 years later I know what I'd bought but would have liked to have known at that time what most women probably knew about "second" in nylons in the 1950s and 1960s!
LEARNING - THOUGHTS ON A SPARE TIRE AND BACK ACHE
I recall reading of one woman who had worn both corsets and girdles commenting that in a girdle there is no escape, meaning that at all times all the elasticated material was under strain and was trying to return to its un-stretched length and that this was tiring. In contrast while wearing a corset that is not excessively tightly laced if one sucks in the stomach or breathes out one can create voids or spaces in the corset and that this gives relief. Likewise if one moves from sitting to standing or walks, the sense of containment, whilst still there, changes a corset because it is rigid.
I learned that when sitting down, upright chairs, as Victorian ladies found, were more comfortable to sit in even to watch television. I also found that in moving to sit down that there was a definite way to do it that would allow one's form to use the corset to help itself alter in position inside the corset and find a point of most comfort and also appreciate the revised sense of control.
As likely as not I felt perfectly comfortable sitting in what might be called "bolt upright" position with no need for the support of a chair back if necessary for several hours at a time. I even adopted this position to sit in a car or when taking a flight by aircraft. I can only put it down to the fact that corseting helped maintain the various bones in the spine in the optimum alignment, which reduced back strain. I also felt that I walked differently in what might be called better deportment in the days when corsets where commonly worn.
One reads of horror stories of corsets and girls' boarding schools in the undercurrent of literature. Yet as Michael has alluded to, they had a basis in fact in that, if a well-fitted corset is worn, the wearer' deportment improves. This is of course evident in many of the un-posed photos of fully dressed corsetieres in Ivy Leaf's pages.
Indeed, perhaps young women should have realised that the trade off for being corseted was that they avoided the admonition of the last century - "stop slouching!" Indeed perhaps lower back pain is the consequence of not being corseted and comes from the slouching that a proper corset would preclude. This was the case whether I was in a G78 or a G72 high top with shoulder straps. However, I found that leaning back too far produced uncomfortable consequences from the corsets.
LEARNING - THE LITTLE DETAILS
Over the years I was to have many G78's made. True to the modern concern for recycling the same steels and busks found their way into most of them in five or six incarnations.
I came to like the four point (stud) wedge busks especially when they had developed what an engineer would call 'permanent set' in what was really spring steel. I was to observe that even with a good and trusty under-busk, which Mrs. Norris explained stopped the gap between the two edges of the busk from pinching the skin to be excellent and very flexible but, being over an inch wide and heavy gauge spring steel did their part in preventing the wearer from over bending and snapping the busk itself. I was amazed to see that without difficulty the busk and under-busk would almost bend back upon themselves without any effort other than bending on the part of the wearer. Yet try to apply the same force with the hands and one realises the stresses and strains that a confined body places on the corset being worn.
Even on the details of busks Mrs. Norris would lament the deterioration in quality which meant that the tolerance used on modern busks resulted in too big a gap in between the two edges, which added to the tendency to pinch the skin making an under-busk more necessary than ever. Even then some years before she retired, she said it discouraged her enough to make her think of giving up and I sensed she felt it had affected her employer too
Sometimes Mrs. Norris would put a hook and eye above or below the busk to be hooked up or released as one's need for control or time of day dictated.
By the 1980s the G78 had become my summer corset of choice when it was too hot to wear a high top. I settled into a regime of periodic renewal and followed the procedure of having three casual corsets and three high tops, "One worn, one in the drawer and one in the wash".
For years I patronised a launderette and to avoid comment I created what I called a washing sack out of a pillowcase and would tie it closed and run it though the cycle with the other items. Like this, none of the metal would clank around on the drum and draw attention. I never put it in the drier but would wrap it in a towel and put it on the towel rail in the bathroom to dry which took several days.
Since my discussions with Mrs. Norris I was lacing much tighter than before and really enjoying it very much. As a corset wearer, I had started to mature. It was to be a serious exercise and task. I was learning what the corset could give me and what I couldn't take from it, except that whereas I could control what the corset gave me when lacing in, I then had to live with what I had done until I could adjust it. The degree of lacing in was a judgment of what one wants or what one wants to try to enjoy because when one first laces really tight it feels good but, as time passes, it becomes difficult to enjoy it and one has to slacken off!
I was pleased to find that even when fairly tightly laced I could bend enough to change my stockings and fit them over my toes. Gradually I was learning a new routine however of first putting on pants, then my stockings and rolling them just to the knees and only then fitting the corset and doing up my suspenders outside my pants and then lacing in as I wanted. On the matter of inside or outside a man has fewer problems to contend with than a woman. With the corset set and laced up I would only then clip on my suspenders with all the straps unadjusted. I was getting used to eight suspenders and the ideal place to set each clip for maximum effect and only then adjusting the length to give perfect tension and tug on the stockings.
The Spirella 305 may have been that company's all time best seller, but for me, Gardner's 'G78 - Casual' was to prove to be my most worn corset style. Thanks to Mrs. Norris' skill with repairs and alterations while waiting I used the G78 to refine my preferences and learn more about boning, busks, numbers and lengths of suspenders and the cut of the corset.
The more I wore the G78 corsets, the further I pushed this boundary between what I found to be acceptable or tolerate and what was unacceptable and to be avoided. What was clear in those early years was that I was far from the limit of what I could accept; my powers of toleration of tightness or as my outfitter had called 'constriction'. I found that if I ever returned to my corset drawer and elected to try on what I might call abandoned corsets that I had worn years earlier and at the time found tight, now, even when laced closed I felt the tightness they could offer me was inadequate. I then knew that I was able to adapt to tightness, and that what a level of tightness that had caused discomfort now afforded me a level of satisfaction, and a degree of reassurance that I needed. I also realised that if I were to corset regularly I would alter my natural shape. With just weekend and evening wearing I thought that my reduced eating had meant that I no longer had so much fat on my belly and my jug handles were reduced. Thanks to corseting some of my flab had, in the words of the 50's girdle advertisements, 'melted away'.
SHEER MISCHIEF AT LAST - BUT THE SEAMED STOCKING REVIVAL IS SHORT LIVED
Every visit to Mrs. Norris encouraged me to seek out and buy more seamed stockings. She had alluded to shortages and quotas and that she bought extra when available. This time I called Aristoc and got details of the hose from a very friendly girl who told me all about them, special seams and heels and they were called 'sheer mischief' and I could get them at The Civil Service stores in the Strand.
I drove straight to the West End - no congestion zone in those days - and searched for a place to park. I found a spot near Trafalgar Square and walked across to the Strand into the Civil Service store and up to a hosiery counter and asked the assistant for 'sheer mischief'. She was quite young, dark haired with a Welsh accent. She said they were proving popular and I sensed a little knowing of my intent. Yet now I was living more openly with my secret and had mixed feeling of relief and embarrassment in that she clearly knew I was buying for myself. There were not made in black and I settled on three pairs of "Rain" in size10˝." (27 cm). The reverse side of the packet showed a very prominent seam and a very long heel reinforcement both in contrasting shade of charcoal gray.
When I examined the 'sheer mischief' packet it included information such as "Fully fashioned stockings with exciting coloured point heels" and a magenta label with the words "Another new idea from Aristoc". There was a colour photo which featured a stylish young woman of the time who was clearly an aficionado of the disco dancing craze of the time, dancing in her 'sheer mischief' displaying long magenta point heels, matching seams and a skirt with a length just on the knee. To complete the information it said "Matching shoes by K"
As for the stockings, they were in fact almost identical to Harmony Points and by feel were also knitted in 20D yarn with the same after-welt details. The heels were certainly longer, to reach further up the calf, and had been knitted with a contrasting colour of yarn. Sadly, they soon went out of production, the demand cannot have been sustainable. I tried but failed to get more and I never saw Mrs. Norris wear them again.
Perhaps disco fashion was a revival of the 'Mod' mentality of the early 60's and I saw more than one girl wearing a pencil skirt with black nylons with seams and heels, which had to be Aristoc 'harmony', teetering along the street on the arm of a 'Mod' young man.
Even a periodical like 'Farmer's Weekly' espoused the cause. I chanced to pick up a back issue in a friend's house and it included an article on fashion, which mentioned the charm of Aristoc Harmony seamed hose. This must have an effect on its readership because, quite by chance later that year, I went to an agricultural show and mine was not the only head to turn when two attractively dressed women walked passed. Each wore an attractive blue floral print dress, with navy blue straw hats, white gloves and blue medium high heels, not quite the attire for such a show but ..... They were clearly friends - one in her 30's and the other in her 40's - and as they walked away I noticed straight dark seams on their shapely calves above the long point heels of what had to have been Aristoc 'Harmony' in the dark brown that Iris wore. They were perfectly fitted, no wrinkling at the instep and hence they must have been quite tautly suspendered. Judging by their deportment, I am fairly confident that each of them was wearing a full corselette. They were obviously old enough to appreciate that the potential of such foundations can only be fully realised when anchored by suspenders clipped to stockings knitted with no-stretch yarn. And this was 20 years before the idea of a 'Goodwood Revival'.
In the meantime, my source of 30D stockings in the USA, Albert’s, must have changed its supplier of its 30D 'Walking Sheers'. Instead of the 13 rows of very fine holes in the after-welt the new style had eight rows of holes and was knitted in such a way that it was extensible. I had seen the style being worn my models posing in them and realised these were the same. Twenty-five years later again, thanks to the Internet, I find they had also been marketed as 'Park Lane'. Later on, the style that Albert’s sold reverted to the old style but with a modified style of heel knitting, so all in all I have three styles of that brand in my stocking drawers.
ADAPTING TO LIFE IN A CORSET
I learned new things about myself, not only did I like the taut suspenders and tightly pulled stockings, I found that I was never quite satisfied with how tight I could lace myself. I can't explain it but it was like a challenge to see how tight I could tolerate the corset. With several to wear, at home I would experiment and grew to like the challenge of the high top.
I found that at times the need to slacken off the lacings became overwhelming. In the event I always gave in to the need to relieve the discomfort.
I had found various tests in which the question of how tight and how to stop lace loosening occurred. Unlike a woman I didn't have the imperative to stay laced tight so that a waistband would fit. I had the reverse problem, of not being able to keep laced as tight as sometimes I wanted because if I were to do so then my trousers would be too slack on my waist. There was no way I could wear fitted waist trousers without eliciting comments that I would find embarrassing to have posed.
The upshot was that if I wanted to go to work in a corset I would have to compromise. In the event it was not so difficult. I found as I had done when I first started wearing stockings regularly that if I didn't wear the corset to work then I missed it and would resolve to wear it. I was always faced with the dilemma posed by the fact that I could not overcome my sense of unease that the top edge of my corset would reveal itself even in a striped shirt. I solved that problem by keeping my jacket on at work. At home I had tried wearing a pullover but that seemed to accentuate any hint of a ring, especially with plain colours as it tended to shrink to fit the form and compress the shirt. The real answer would have been to wear a loose waistcoat but it would have aroused its own comment. I resolved to keep my jacket on at work and to adjust the heating of my office. However in summer this was not possible so again had to compromise and I would have to keep the corset off in summer and just wear stockings and a suspender belt.
THE EVER-PRESENT LURE OF A HIGH TOP
Although I was pleased with the G78 Casual, thoughts of a high top would not go away. In retrospect I realise that the images I had seen in my teens of the women in the line drawings in their corselettes, that had caused me to wonder what it could feel like to be them, would not go away.
These were very strong and deeply embedded and had propelled me towards ordering my early corsets, which to use Mrs. Norris' term, were known to her and Gardner's, and then to me as 'High Tops'. Paradoxically, through it all, my concern was not to look feminine, but rather to experience fuller encasement in a flat-chested version that I could wear as a man.
The sight of the wonderful photos of the models who appeared so relaxed and natural and the all encasing 'Isabella' and 'Margarita' styles in Fanny Copere's catalogue (link) added great impetus to my ideas or fantasies of what was possible - but added not a jot to actual experience. I should have understood that I had usually been disappointed with anything I had bought on the basis of its description in a catalogue. In the case of corsets I came to realise there would be no substitute for the real thing, made to measure and for which I had the benefit of a skilled corsetiere, and a corset and seamed stocking wearer, like I had found in Mrs. Norris. I also realise that my motivation was driven by my imagination and not, as it should have been, based on experience of wearing corsets regularly.
I have also thought back to why I was not attracted to a girdle. The primary reason I realise, is that they were sold by waist size and my effort with the black 'Contessa' in 1972 showed my male hip spring was far from the female norm. Moreover I lacked Simon's courage and knew I could never venture into the lingerie section of Marks and Spencer, let alone into a small store to buy a corselette and modify the bra section to flatten it!
All I had to go on was a result of experimenting with the Contessa which fitted better if fitted upside down using the suspenders clipped to one another as shoulder straps. Below I wore the plastic boned elasticated Kesman waspie to pull in my waist and with its detachable suspenders to precariously hold up my stockings. It all looked ridiculous but on the basis of wearing the arrangement for just half an hour I made the decision to that high top corsets were for me. As I have alluded, the result of my purchases was such that I could wear them for no more than an hour or so and each was too long to sit down in for more than minutes.
I realised that by having a higher corset, if it extended beyond the point where the chest starts to shrink, the spare tire of fat pushed up would end under the corset. The trick was to continue to the point where this happened so long as it didn't mean the top edge stuck out clear of the wearer's body.
I was now wearing stockings, almost always the Albert's 'Walking Sheer', 30D, and suspenders every day I could. I became acutely aware of the back suspenders leaving an indentation on the vinyl or plastic seat of a bus, or train seat and even on such seats at work and on the bus or train in the last few minutes I would contrive to move without giving the impression of being a fidget, so that the indentations which form with prolonged immobility did not occur. Yet that was a price I felt worth paying to have the satisfaction of feeling the back suspender on my bottom and upper thighs all the time I sat. Trade-offs had to be made.
THE G72 HIGH TOP - MEASURING
I had been able to save out of my allowance for the overseas trip and that put me in mind of getting a better design of high top corset- rather like a higher cut version of the casuals I had bought. Basically it would be Gardner's style 'G72 high top' that took in my chest (see image) and I arranged an appointment with Mrs. Norris. On the day, I laced in extra tightly.
I telephoned Mrs. Norris to make the appointment. I introduced myself and told her that I wanted her to make me a high top double boned corset and could she double up on the boning of my second G78 casual corset, which was single boned. As I spoke, I found my corset was so tight it was affecting my very breathing and speech. I was conscious of this as I spoke to Mrs. Norris and wondered if she had noticed that my speech was affected by my tight-lacing. Finally I asked if she could make me a suspender belt with eight suspenders and she could do it all. It was great and I was delighted.
On the appointed day I had reached Barnsbury Square at 1.30 pm to see Mrs. Norris. I rang the bell and she greeted me like an old friend. She led me downstairs and I admired her controlled walk, which showed she was tight-laced into her corsets. As usual she wore a full dress and backless high wedge mules. As usual she wore superb seamed stockings with the very long point heels that were her trade marks. They were a pleasant dark brown shade but they were not the 'Sheer Mischief' she had worn on my previous visit. As ever my heart leapt to see her superbly proportioned legs with the seams straight and perfectly positioned on her calves and heels absolutely wrinkle free with the sheen that only plain knit hose can make which showed she was tautly suspendered.
I felt relaxed and confident to be visiting my corsetiere to discuss a subject which is close to my heart. The second casual corset she had made me felt good and I enjoyed the hug of my stocking tops and the pull of my suspenders as I walked behind her.
She showed me into the fitting room and I stood and looked at the pictures of corsetry on the wall and she asked me how I was. As I recollect my many meetings with Mrs. Norris over the previous two years, I had now reached a point in our relationship in which I could discuss the factors about corset wearing that concerned me as well as tell her about the things I liked.
Mrs. Norris knew that I liked strong corsets above all else, that I wore stockings, and that double steels, under-busk, reinforced eyelets were essential to me as well as eight suspenders.
With her it was possible to discuss absolutely anything associated with a corset. She had laced herself up for 40 years and probably never a day passed without her wearing corsets. Her work is the making of corsets and fitting them.
She showed me into the fitting room and I told her how pleased I had been with the double boned corset she had made me in January and that now I wanted a high top version of the same corset since I was still conscious that it showed under my clothes. She looked at me and said she would worry as she couldn't see it, but of course she could make me one. She looked up the old order copied over some of the dimensions and then measured me around the chest.
I said I wanted a corset up to my armpits and fully boned right up to the top. She said it might be harder to breathe and recommended that she put in a gore of elastic at the sides to enable me to expand my chest if necessary. We agreed on the double boning and she said she had a 13-inch busk and under-busk. I said I did not want a back flap. By now she knew my suspender requirements and I had a set of eight as before.
Next I took my original Casual corset out of my brief case and said I'd be glad if she'd change my original casual over to double boning, flexible type which I'd found very much more satisfactory. She had doubts about being able to put them in the corset but said she'd try and strap the bones in pairs on the inside, and would that be all right as she had done it before for other customers. I also asked her if she could remove the flap that covered the busk as I found I couldn't see what I was doing either directly or in the mirror. She reminded me that the 'bobbles' sometimes caught in material but that most people preferred not to have a flap, but she usually put did it in for a new customer.
I then said that before she did the alterations, could she get it dry-cleaned for me, as I knew it needed laundering. She said that it was difficult to clean them and she said she washed hers, then rolled them in an old dry towel to remove most of the moisture and then dried them over a radiator. It took several days she said. As ever she was giving me her knowledge that only a serious experienced corset wearer could know. I had come to value Mrs. Norris very much because she was so knowledgeable about corsets and so ready to talk about them and to give advice.
I paid her ₤28.45, ₤26.45 for the new corset and ₤2.00 for the alterations to the original G78 casual. I said I would call in about two weeks to collect it.
FITTING THE G72 HIGH TOP THE ARM PIT V GUSSET A THOUGHTFUL UNSOLICITED ADDITION
When I did so, I rang the bell and Mrs. Norris greeted me. I went in and she showed me to the fitting room and brought in the brown paper bundle almost as long as the one I'd seen at my very first appointment addressed to Aberdeen. She showed me the G78 first. She had removed the single bones and strapped new ones on the inside and had got rid of the busk flap quite easily she said.
Mrs. Norris unrolled the new high top, pointing out where she'd met my request, double spiral bones, long back steels, 14-inch busk and above it three pairs of hooks and eyes, a matching length of under-busk and, at that time still sewn on, eight suspenders with wide elastic. She said she'd had trouble getting the 'ends' I wanted (I insisted on chrome plated suspender clips which were 'ends' to Mrs. Norris.)
She then pointed out a detail that to my eye was invisible in the sea of black lining fabric and that were small vees of black girdle grade elastic sewn in between panels two and three on each side close to my arm pits. She said that her other clients with high tops liked the gussets. "It helps you breathe a bit more deeply after you climb the stairs even if you're laced very tight", she said and she chuckled. It was typical of her attention to the practical. I also felt honoured that she was really trying to make it possible for me to wear a high top to work.
I asked Mrs. Norris if I could try it on and she said yes go ahead. I closed the door and took off my shirt and vest and unlaced my casual and unclipped the suspenders and took off the G78 I was wearing.
Then began one of the hardest jobs I'd ever had. She had not offered to help. In fact I am sure she had sensed that I still felt shy about our transactions and discreetly left me in the fitting room alone. I wrapped the new corset around me and started to slot up the busk but was overcome with the difficulty of doing so. I could not hook up the busk, however I tried. To me, it was a big stiff corset. Finally, I decided to clip the suspenders on my sagging stockings and tried again. By now, Mrs. Norris called to ask if I was all right and I not wishing to betray my situation as such a novitiate, I said yes and that I'd be just a minute or too. Telling that white lie somehow inspired me to get some of the bobbles or studs hooked in place and in no time it was all hooked up and I did up the three upper hooks and eyes. The corset felt so high, much higher than the leatherette one and I looked in the mirror and began lacing it in I adjusted the lengths of the suspenders and then I was ready. I put on my vest and shirt and walked in to the machining room where Mrs. Norris was working.
I felt upright and controlled and she looked up and smiled. I said I don't think it shows and she said no it seems fine. I said I thought it was a bit loose at the waist and she said let me see. Back in the fitting room I lifted my shirt and she said "You haven't laced yourself in." I saw in the mirror she was looking for the knot and laughed to see I'd knotted it in the front. She took hold of the laces and with a careful pulling with first fingers on the crosses and then using her arms she pulled the corset in until it felt a new dimension in tightness. "There", she said "You'll have to learn to pull much harder on your laces and it'll fit fine". She ran her fingers over the bones and panels so professionally to check and tied off the laces.
She returned to her work while I just stood there and took in the experience of being properly corseted in a high top.
I then went back in to see Mrs. Norris and she was sewing up a pile of corset panels enough to make a dozen corsets. She looked up and with a cant of her head smiled and asked if things were all right. So I said I'd had a lot of trouble fitting the busk and did she have any special way of putting on a corset that she could recommend. It was such a basic question that she couldn't answer and had to go through the motion of putting one on and said she did. At that she took hold of my corset and then just pull the bottom till I get the studs to catch. She went through the motions of what was a conditioned reflex to her as natural as putting on one's shoes and lacing them. I realised then that this was what it meant to have personal service. I could discuss such things with her. She was an expert who wore corsets, was wearing them as we talked and could make them. It made me feel inwardly warm that I too was a corset wearer, and we were talking about the problem of slotting up the busk!
Every now and again my eyes subconsciously strayed and I found myself looking at the seams and heels of her stockings. On this occasion the way the light caught the sheen on her stockings had, accentuated the ridge of the seam showing clearly that they were worn 'wrong side out' from the way they came in the packet when new. I felt emboldened and asked if I was right about what I thought. She chuckled and said I was right and she preferred the look they gave worn like that.
Again she answered in such a friendly way and again I realised how fortunate I was to be able to discuss such things without embarrassment. All the time I knew her, I remained acutely conscious of the privilege she had granted me by accepting me as customer, though hardly her equal in experience of corset wearing! When she spoke of others, who had been presumptuous, it reinforced in my mind the importance of reciprocating the privilege by always behaving with the utmost decorum and discretion.
Over the years when I had been introduced to other customers, I did drop a remark which made its way back to her and she was always careful to point out what she perceived as a lack of tact however unintentional on my part.
As I was to record in my diary she was "of that generation raised on suspenders and stockings who has remained loyal to them in a new world of tights and easy attire, and who corsets herself every day and takes time to check her seams and set her suspenders correctly, so that she feels and looks good."
I went back to the fitting room, and had quite a struggle taking off the corset because of the long busk. Finally I did it and unclipped the eight suspenders and wrapped my G78 Casual around me again, re-hooked its busk, re-suspendered my stockings and rolled and wrapped the G72 high top and altered G78 corsets in the same paper.
As I went through the business of taking off one corset and its eight suspenders and putting the other back, the thought crossed my mind that the process was all a bit repetitive and I had to quickly remind myself that this was what I sought and what the commitment to corsets was all about. Now close to 30 years later I read in Ivy' leaf's delightful piece on The Corset Shop, complete with the Jan Sander's cartoon of a corset shop and Ivy Leaf's accompanying observation that:
"A lady could spend an afternoon struggling in and out of a dozen pairs of corsets, encouraged, chided and "brought back down to earth" by her close friends, the corsetiere herself and her daughter, the latter secure in the knowledge that it was her turn was next."
Years later with the friends Mrs. Norris had introduced me to, I was to experience the pleasure of mutual fitting and lacing of corsets of different styles and lengths with a group of like minded and dressed friends, both men and women on a platonic basis for the shared enjoyment of our commitment to the tight-laced life.
MAKING MY OWN SUSPENDERS
Meanwhile, I found out that wearing corsets and suspenders more regularly had its consequences. As I mentioned in part one, I had learned the rudiments of sewing to replace suspenders. One thing I had found out was that the tension in suspenders is no respecter of the sewing stitch or of natural rubber fibres, and that if a needle penetrated the filament of rubber that too, could lead to shorter life and added strain on the remaining filaments. I found that since the lengths of elastic provided were inadequate, I would make up my own by removing fittings from those I bought and buying elastic separately. It took time but I did find sources of elastic that I found were equal to the level of elasticity I expected a suspender to have. I did find that it wasn't necessarily the same at any suspender location. In time I landed on using the strongest elastic for the very front suspenders near my busk plates and in the pair on the seams - fourth from the front when you use five. I used my skill to make up suspenders. However my commitment was taking more and more of my spare time and I continued to experiment especially with suspenders. I had started with the three pairs and before deciding to ask Mrs. Norris to fit a fourth pair I had bought for myself in D.H. Evans haberdashery department, two pairs of suspenders 'Pikaby' brand with wide white elastic and what the packet referred to as 'corset clips'. When I made the move from four pairs to five pairs of suspenders I was to make the same experiments first.
I had accumulated some during my numerous suspender purchases at the haberdashery counters that I visited periodically. For those who don't recall, there were three types of suspenders available - sew on, loop ended and clip-ons. The latter should not be confused with the bra hook fitting that is hooked onto a loop on the corset hem, this type bites directly on to the corset hem above the edge binding. It comprises a chrome-plated, hinged clasp, which is opened to allow about half an inch of the corset hem to be inserted into the clip assembly at which time the flap is closed and a flat edge, pressed into the corset cloth to create friction to hold it. At least I took that to be the theory.
I was always intrigued by the clasp provided by 'Sphere' brand which featured a complicated pattern of a star circumscribed by a circle not un-akin to a Mandala, and included the word "Lift" on it as an instruction to an uninitiated launderer wishing to remove a suspender, though I wondered how a wearer who had not inspected the details could ever bend over to read the tiny letters of the word.
In practice, to my dismay, I found that things were different. The steel used was not springy and could be bent by accident too easily. Given the thickness of the corset layers, as the flap was closed to grip, it had the effect of unintentionally bending the back side of the clasp very slightly. As a result over the course of a day despite efforts to bend the offending piece back it lost its grip and a suspender would unceremoniously slip off usually with a sound a wearer was sure everyone else could hear!
Years later when I discussed them at a mutual tight lacing session with a person who habitually used them it was explained to me that the clasp design was really developed for use on corsets which had thick piping deliberately sewn around the hem cloth or, in the case of rubber corsets was part of the moulded rubber design. Each type had the purpose of providing a ridge over which was passed the open jaws between the flap and the back plate after which the flap was closed. Like this, the clasp could not be pulled down over the piping while the teeth of the flap lightly gripped the cloth or rubber above the edge to stop the clamps being pulled off line sideways. It had to have been developed when rubber panelled corsets came in vogue in the 1930's and it had probably been found that the fact of sewing a cloth suspender onto rubber actually made perforations in the panels which a taut suspender could quickly exploit and so rip itself off like tearing a postage stamp.
Anyway, for the purposes of my 'number tests', the corset clips worked well on the hem of all my corsets and stayed in place for the period of several hours during which I sat down, walked and stood, and found that having 'very back' suspenders posed no problems for my anatomy and were in such a position that I have rarely sat on their clips that was the bane of girl friends from my schooldays.
In addition, I found that with more suspenders, the stocking tops were pulled much more evenly, with fewer over-taut areas, that strain the welt and which are reflected in distortions in the after-welts and show that there will be extra strain close to the sheer part of the stocking which could contribute to laddering if there was a nearby snag in the knitting. On the basis of my test, I resolved to convert over time, all my corsets and deep suspender belts to have ten suspenders.
In the early years I had felt embarrassed to even raise the subject of suspenders with Mrs. Norris, but, as the professional corsetiere that she was, it was clear that I was the client and she would do as I wanted. On matters of boning and fit, if she felt my ideas were wrong she would say so. Hence in the matter of number of suspenders she never ventured such an opinion and I could only conclude that she had other customers who did the same
Sometimes when lacing in was done and she was assisting me with my suspendering she would occasional say something like "I don't you how manage on your own with so many suspenders". I told her that the number felt right to me and that if I had four pairs I felt I wanted a fifth pair and had even tried clipping on a sixth pair but had found I didn't need them, to which she said simply that one had to feel comfortable.
I LEARN OF "LONDON LIFE"
Despite having found Gardner's and Mrs. Norris, I continued to feel alone with my secret. I continued to trawl magazine shops for magazines that included items of interest to me. Among the materials I found were reprints of a magazine called 'London Life' dating to the 1920's and including letters on a variety of items of attire and including discussions on corsets, suspenders and silk stockings in that era. Some were believable but much material on waist sizes and the supporting photographs, which had been doctored, were the stuff of fantasy. I was on the trail of what is clearly an old interest and that 'out there' were other men like myself as well as women who were either their girl friends or who were married to them, and who tight-laced too.
Another magazine was essentially a catalogue for corsets and included illustrations of women in busk-fronted, back-lacing corsets and a number of drawings of a slightly fantastic nature featuring men in corsets and stockings in the company of like-dressed women. I read the names 'Eneg', 'Bilbrew' and 'Stanton' but had no way of knowing who they were. Now with the benefit of the internet I know and I am amazed how the material has stood the test of time, inspired as it was by artists to whom laced corsets and seamed stockings with cuban heels - a la Bettie Page - were the norm in glamour. Now much of it is now reproduced on the internet.
At the time, the fact that someone had judged it worthwhile to risk money to publish magazines on such subjects meant that they knew that 'out there' were enough persons like myself interested in wearing corsets. How was I to find them?
LEARNING TO WEAR THE NEW HIGH TOP
The new high top was everything the leatherette one was not. My experience with the G78 was paying off. So long as the weather was not too hot I could wear the high top all day at weekends. However wearing it changed the way I did things.
With the higher corsets I found it a little more difficult to drive a car. Even getting in and out was more difficult because I was essentially rigid from Shoulder to hip. Once seated one needed to be very upright to stop strain on the body. Once seated I had full mobility of my neck and upper shoulders, but reversing required a little more technique as I could not twist, rather I had to turn the whole body and the flexibility of my neck which had previously tended to rick, certainly improved.
I realise that an orthopaedic specialist would say I was now keeping my spinal vertebrae in good alignment, but in my case it was my high top corset that was doing it. Again I realise some detractors of corseting will say that people like us have tendencies to like 'bondage'. However I will argue back that in years past they would never have levelled such a charge against the likes of Alison's manager who clearly wore very restrictive corsets and insisted that Alison herself wore them all the time she worked for Spencers. In her own words she said she came to appreciate wearing her Spenall as did her husband. I side with Alison and her manager. Corsets are much more than a short term 'high'.
Finding the best way to hook up my busks proved to be quite a challenge. Watching Mrs. Norris demonstrate had helped with the 10-inch busk on a 'Casual', but a 14-inch busk with the high-top corsets that were 17-18 inches long -10 inches above the waist was different. I eventually realised that the key was deciding on the best length of lacing to do the job.
Not enough lace and one would become quite breathless with the fruitless effort of trying to engage even one of the busk hooks onto its stud, or as Mrs. Norris called them, 'bobbles'. The problem was engaging the middle studs as one busk plate bent inwards while the other tended to bow out under the strain of pulling the corset edges together around my form. Try as I could, I was always left with one stud unhooked. Too much lace was best even though many coils ended up with enough to wrap several times around the waist. Yet, even now 25 or more years later I still find that the act of hooking a longer busk is never entirely without stress.
Writing this nearly thirty years later, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have seen videos of the likes of modern lady tight-lacers like Cathy Jung, Pandora Gorey or Karen Wright, all women with large hip springs, being laced in to their corsets. They have cultivated waists in the range 15-18 inches but at the start of their lacing one sees the back or lacing edges of their corsets are as much as 6 to 8 inches apart. The result of course is great lengths of lacing loops, which have to go somewhere, but the resulting bow, almost a bustle in itself, has its own appeal.
As I had done with my very first corset, the 'Contessa' of close to 10 years earlier, I experimented with different levels at which to set the loops on which to pull (the 'pullers' to use the unladylike term favoured by the Women's Institute book). Re-threading resulted in my frequently missing an eyelet or threading from the wrong side and it was quite a challenge to correctly lace the 25 or so pairs of eyelets that Mrs. Norris would put on high tops such as mine. I could only marvel whenever I watched her threading lacings how very accomplished a corsetiere she was.
Another detail which began to matter was that sometimes I would end up with loops that were of such length that even after wrapping I ended up with no choice but to knot at the back. I then hit on an alternative, which was to thread the laces so that I would end up with unequal lengths, which allowed me to from a knot a bow at the side. Since no one ever saw and being man who was not seeking a visibly small waist, the coils of lace and the bow were hidden by the inevitable rumples of shirt material just above the waistband.
In summary once a high top is correctly fitted, it certainly eliminates any spare tyre at the top and can be very comfortable to wear, as I was to find.
AN EIGHTEEN MONTH SOJOURN
However as a result of my corseted interview I changed my job and moved far away for over a year.
The weather was hot and corset wearing wasn't easy and high top wearing was impossible except in the evenings. I was saving money and could easily afford now to get more corsets and decided that as soon as I was back in the London area I would get another. I investigated the height of my corset. It wouldn't lie flat so I needed shoulder straps to pull it flat.
I contacted Gardners, spoke to Mrs. Norris and in a day or so was back in Gardner's fitting room discussing the idea of a second high top, this time with shoulder straps as I felt it would help it lie closer to my form at the top. It was a pleasure to meet Mrs. Norris again. She greeted me like an old friend and enquired of my goings on and I of hers.
THE LURE OF THE HIGHER CUT CORSET
Now here I was on my own quest, not just to be corseted all day, but to be corseted all day over a greater length than a 12-inch G78 casual would give me. I felt I had learned enough in the 18 months to feel I could go from wearing the high tops at weekends to wearing them all day every day -weather permitting. I should try to explain my continuing quest for the ideal high top.
Until I had met Mrs. Norris, my ideas were based on impressions I got when I had first seen pictures of women completely contained in corsets, I had marvelled that anyone would want to voluntarily subject himself or herself to wearing such a garment all day. But now as I looked at Mrs. Norris's figure again I felt she understood that, as a person matured they needed to be corseted. That the price of aging was lacing one on everyday.
In the late 70's I had admired Gemma Jones as the Duchess of Duke street walking, almost marching, which was attributed to the fact that she was rigid from hip to shoulder in the straight fronted corset of the Edwardian era. From the moment I met her, this was How Iris walked and I could only attribute it her being laced in well in a high cut corset. I was only to find out later that she wore the style that Copere called 'Jean' with the fluted panels for a large hip spring.
From thinking of them I concluded that if one felt one had to corset, then one should accept all the consequences and if possible, enjoy wearing them and get them made-to-measure to ensure that each of them fitted exactly. That the feeling of being 'stayed up' added to one's sense of well being. I also realised that Edwardian Men did corset quite strictly but had no confirmation until I first saw the advert of Madame Dowding in Kunzle's book and later saw Klaus Brandauer playing the part of Colonel Redl, an Edwardian general, and unsnapping the busk of his high cut military corset.
MY LAST VISIT TO GARDNERS - ANOTHER HIGH TOP
A few weeks later I phoned to arrange to collect it. Mrs. Norris could see me the next day. I rang the now familiar doorbell. Mrs. Norris greeted me but seemed more subdued than usual. I followed her downstairs walking her well-corseted walk in high-heeled mules and paler seamed stockings than she usually wore.
The corset was ready and wrapped in the now familiar brown paper. She unwrapped it and opened it out for me to see. It was black satin with black lined twill although Mrs. Norris said that she had been unable to get the satin she wanted though what was provided should be all right. I gathered supplies were getting harder to find as the supply firm Devine had moved to Southend-on-Sea. She felt that the satin would prove to be all right but it was not the type she preferred because it wasn't as strong. She'd fitted the suspenders with chromed ends, which she had got from an old corset and I could see she had put on the shoulder straps.
TRYING IT ON
She was going to wrap it up when I asked to try it on and she said of course. I went to the fitting room and closed the door. I stood in front of the mirror and took off my shirt and vest took off my trousers and stood in just my corset and stockings
A first I opened out the lacings on the new corset and then I unlaced my high top lacings and undid all eight suspenders and then un-slotted the busk. I felt completely relaxed and comfortable and I stood with black stockings hanging at my knees. I took the new corset and hung it from my shoulders by its straps and it had fantastic crossed straps. I tried to slot the busk but I could not. I took it off my shoulders and tried without the straps. I could get the top stud slotted but try as I could I could not manage to close it up. After about five minutes, I had to stop. I pulled on my trousers and shirt and went out to Mrs. Norris who agreed to add a piece of lacing. She did this by unlacing the lower section up to the waist and threading in a new section. It was amazing to watch how quickly accurately she worked, not like myself who got missed eyelets or sewed suspenders on backwards, until in a moment the whole lot was done up again.
She opened it out and I went in the room to try again with about five inches open all the way down. This time it slotted very easily and I began to lace in what gradually became miles of lacing. I quickly secured the suspenders one by one and thrilled to be wearing a corset with five, yes five pairs of suspenders for the very first time. The elastic was the light ribbed type, not my choice, but by the time I had all the suspenders secured, the tension in each one was perfect. As I looked in the mirror I thrilled to see myself in such a wonderful corset with suspenders and stockings.
I continued to lace in but with the new laces and eyelets it was very difficult so I relaxed in the knowledge that I was among friends and doing what I was expected to. I felt no embarrassment or shame at putting on the corset. It was what I wanted in every detail after so many years of a quest for perfection - shoulder straps, five pairs of suspenders with wide elastic and chrome clips - it was wonderful. I laced in steadily until I found the shoulder straps were interfering.
By now I had literally five yards of lacing in each hand and I wrapped it around and pulled up my trousers and walked out without my shirt on to show it to Mrs. Norris, pointing out that the shoulder straps needed moving. We discussed the matter and agreed that it would be better if the back location were moved slightly to pull the high back tighter, so she secured it with a safety pin. I pointed out I couldn't lace right down. So she came in the fitting room and I stood in front the mirror and she laced it right in. It was so tight that, as the lacings ran though the eyelets the friction on my skin felt hot like it was burning me and I involuntarily called out as she pulled steadily in. It felt superb to be laced in by an expert so much better than doing it alone for oneself. She worked up and down until it was all closed down to less than an inch. By now the corset was smooth to my form with my waist well defined. It felt so different, so I tied the lacings around my waist and tried sitting. Mrs. Norris said she thought it looked very nice on me.
THE BOMBSHELL IS DROPPED
At this point she said she was going to retire at the end of December. I was never sure but I did think she was only person working for Gardner's. I asked who would take her place and she said "He's got nobody". She always called Mr. Frank Gardner "he" and, as I was to find out later, "my chap" was not a lodger, it was her husband. She told me later that she thought that Mr. Gardner had expected her to change her mind. But she'd found the journey very tiring four days a week and her husband was going to part time on different days and as it was they drove to the station it wouldn't work out. I didn't know where she lived, other than it was in Buckinghamshire. I had become used to disappointments in my Odyssey but this was the worst.
So I left 28 Barnsbury Square where I had been just 10 times in all and had had five corsets made.
MY FINAL GARDNERS ORDER
I was so pleased with the new high top that I decided that since Mrs. Norris was retiring she should make me another one. But time was running out. It was now November and she was retiring at the end of the year. My problem was getting to London before she left.
After some efforts to write a letter, I finally decided to telephone Mrs. Norris direct from work. I dialled the number, hesitated, put the phone down then dialled again 01-607-2001. Very quickly the ringing tone came on and Mrs. Norris answered. I asked if it was her and introduced myself. I asked her if she still had my measurements from the summer and she confirmed she had and could make me up another corset. I prepared my order and as she was finishing I thought I'd get her to make me a suspender girdle of the type I'd bought at the outfitter, at the same time.
Two weeks later I phoned again and she said yes and that both corset and belt were ready. I then said I would be unable to call in as planned and she immediately volunteered to post them to me so I said I would send the money.
I asked her if she had changed her mind about retiring and she gave me an adamant "No". She'd made up her mind to stop as the journey was too tiring and supplies were affecting the quality of her work.
So the year 1980 closed. I had made a good start on the corseted life but now it might be ending just when it had begun. I did not know where the future lay and knew not how much longer I could continue corseting.