Musings from a feminist corset-maker

I’m a corset and bridal gown maker, gin fan-girl, and feel at my best when I’m wearing matching lacy lingerie. I’m also a feminist.

I think from a pre-teen I was aware that as women we have a tough deal. Perhaps it was my friend’s older sister telling us that when we were older we would rip open and bleed (yay periods!) and then startled little me asking why it doesn’t happen to boys; just to be told that these aren’t things boys have to deal with. They are women’s suffering.

Alongside the thoughts and feelings growing up that I was disadvantaged by being a woman, I was also very girly. I loved dolls, and I knew I wanted to one day be a mummy. I have also been wearing my signature red lipstick and nail varnish since the age of 16, and prefer having shaved legs and pits. Apart from maybe in winter, I mean the legs get cold in winter…

Even at the start of puberty I found I was being sexualised for having larger hips, and the beginnings of a full bust appearing. I can hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t dressing for anyone else other than me, and I would’ve described myself as ‘the weird girl’ at school. Nevertheless I was paranoid about my bigger body, and hated the catcalling that made me feel self-conscious on a daily basis.

Fast forward to college and I start to notice that in the very female dominated world of fashion that I was entering, the majority of big successful names are all male. Weird. Seamstresses tend to be women; the heads of companies tend to be men. The figure heads: Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry. I thought I had a break through with Ellie Saab, but alas he was Elie Saab.  But so what, I would be a successful woman; I would be that competitive, ambitious figurehead.

Before I chat about present day, there is one freeze frame in time I want to chat about, something which has stuck with me. A friend’s mum was driving me home from her birthday party. It was a long drive so we had time to cover a multitude of topics. She started to ask if I ever wore ‘minimising bras’. Honestly, I hadn’t the foggiest what one was, but after her explanation and a little help from Google, I discovered something that I can quite safely say I would never wear.

To give you some context I am a UK size 16 with a 34HH bust. I style my hair and make-up based on a 1950s pinup, and wear clothes to accentuate my shape. There is nothing about me that is minimal. The friends mum then carried on her conversation to say that she was shocked I never wore them. She said how she felt far more comfortable, as a feminist, to not have her assets on display. That’s fine, that’s her choice.

I then decided, given the length of the car journey, that I would in fact put across my viewpoint. I said to her that I believe feminism to be all about choice. The fact that when I get up in the morning I can choose to put on a black lace plunge bra is a joy to me. The next day maybe I will choose to wear Harry Potter pyjamas. Both are fine, because both are my choice. To me, feminism is freedom. I count my blessings daily that I live in a country where I don’t feel oppressed into a lifestyle I don’t want to lead. I’m not forced to marry a man I can’t stand, and at an age where I don’t understand what sex is. I could almost see a light bulb go off in her head, she hadn’t considered that maybe the key to all of this is choice. I dress predominantly for me, and if I feel uncomfortable, I simply don’t wear it. That said, what I wear has no bearing on how I feel about tampons being taxed, catcalling, and sexual harassment in the workplace.

My company Rosie Red Corsetry & Couture focuses on bespoke wear for all body types. I predominantly design and create bridal wear, event wear and corsetry. These are all things which people may not see as complimentary of feminism. However, my whole aim is to make women feel bloody brilliant!

Corsetry does manipulate the body to give it a different shape; in the same way that wearing makeup alters the way we look. Body modifications have been around since the dawn of time, and I think doing something that makes you feel brilliant (if healthy) should be encouraged! I have recently started a hashtag over on my intstagram (@rosieredcorsetry) #RosieRednotjustadress. This is to show women that actually my garments are so much more than an item of clothing. Clothes do have the power to alter our moods, and on any of my bride’s big days I want them to feel so totally fabulous.

The models I use are important to me because I want to represent women as a whole. I want us to be a group that can stand together and if that is standing in 6”stilettos or 4 year old trainers, then who really cares.

The fact of the matter is that maybe I’m a very modern feminist; I’m not a traditional stereotype. I have many male figures in my life I adore, as well as many females. I do however think that choice is paramount to feminism, and that my choice to build up women, is not at the cost of putting down men.

It’s time we had more female role models. I am a feminist, and I don’t believe I’m any less of a feminist because of my penchant for pretty things.