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Feb 28, 2012

Cinching and Padding

Friends, you don't need a degree in fashion history to know that what we choose to wear on our bodies expresses how we want to appear to others.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise to sophisticated MPB followers -- and really, is there any other kind? -- that if clothing's primary purpose is to keep us from freezing to death, its secondary purpose is to make the parts of our bodies we want to appear smaller, smaller, and the parts we want to look bigger, bigger.  Can we agree on this?

Different cultures fetishize different body parts for different reasons, but in the contemporary Western world, it seems that enhancing the female bosom, trimming the waist, and accentuating male shoulders (in outerwear at least) has been fashion's focus for a long time.  There are exceptions to every rule of course.  Fashion sometimes seeks to broaden female hips, or deaccentuate the bosom (just to keep us on our toes and in our corsets).   And there's (apparently) an emerging market for men's garments (and undergarments) that accentuate the butt, the waist, and beyond.

Long story short, fashion is all about cinching and padding, padding and cinching, and probably always will be. 

Some of my readers may take offense when I suggest that women cinch and pad to recreate a youthful silhouette because heterosexual males are biologically hard-wired to seek out the fertile female so as to procreate.  Since men can be fertile into their eighties, women are not biologically hard-wired to seek men with a youthful silhouette, since a youthful male silhouette is not necessarily a sign of fertility.  I certainly am not suggesting that this means that a young woman is supposed to want to bed down with octogenarian Hugh Hefner instead of Justin Timberlake, just that her biology isn't putting up any obstacles.  Does that seem excessively reductionist?

So, we continue to pad and we cinch, just as we've been doing for centuries.  Are we fooling anybody?  Probably not.

Historically, cinching -- especially to the point of near immobilization -- has been a sign of status.  If your feet are bound, you obviously aren't toiling daily in the rice paddies, and if you're corseted to the point of near asphyxiation, you're not mopping floors for a living.

The same could be said of crippling high heel shoes that suggest your walking requirements are limited to the red carpet or the occasional celebrity funeral.  Otherwise, you'll be taking the Lincoln Town Car.

Cinching makes things smaller, and it's no coincidence that the small, or dainty, has been a prized female trait for a long time, even if those days seem to be behind us.

Padding, in contrast, makes things bigger, and size suggests power, in both men and women.  Hence the Forties padded shoulder during WWII or the infamous power suit in the Eighties.

Padding is also more comfortable, since you're adding volume to, rather than restricting, the human body.  The downside of padding is that, in a moment of intimacy, we may reveal much less than had been hoped.

When it comes to female fashion of the last hundred years or so, some periods are more closely associated with padding (shoulders in the Forties; breasts in the Fifties), and others with cinching (bosoms in the Twenties, waists in the Fifties).   Perhaps the Nineteen Seventies was the first and only decade where fashion allowed for a minimum of cinching and padding, thanks to all those stretch knits...

For better or for worse,  we're still padding and cinching as much today as ever.  Only now, thanks to cosmetic surgery, we can pad and cinch permanently -- or the closest thing to it.  That's progress for you.

More men are getting into the act -- or so marketers would like us to believe -- with a plethora of new products to hold us in, up, and, er, out.  I don't know anyone who wears said garments, but I've seen them in stores.  Men's clothing is less body-revealing, so there's less need for holding things in.  As far as "up and out" go, that's a question of personal taste.

In closing, readers, how do you feel about all this cinching and padding?  Are you willing to do one but not the other, or do you just follow fashion's dictates?  (We do live in the world, after all)

Did you cinch or pad more in the past than you do today, for whatever reason?

At what point do you just decide, hey, this is me -- love it or leave it?

Loosen your corset and stay awhile!


  1. I have no problems padding -- I actually never really stopped using shoulder pads because I'm short, rather slope shouldered and a bit of padding in the shoulders squares up my silhouette and makes my waist look relatively smaller. Also, believe it or not, in the winter, I really notice it if I don't wear shoulder pads because (crazy, I know) they keep me warmer.

  2. I own a body shaper (I think that's what it's called) - it's a stretchy slip-like item (although not as long) that will shape my waist area. Well, it will shape other areas too, but I wear it for the wasit mostly. I rarely wear it, it's more for a certain type of garment. I also own push-up bras (well, that "push-up" style that is ever pervasive in today's world), but I generally prefer bras without wiring so I tend to wear the push ups less often than non-wired bras.

    So in summary: I don't mind either of those, but I don't do either padding or cinching very often.

  3. Genius post Peter. I've never thought about how plastic surgery is fashion from the inside out. And I'm all for it (the fashion, more so than the surgery - there are fewer life-threatening complications to come out of fashion). Some of my fave silhouettes are the most exaggerated. BTW, not into the penis-enhancing undies. I don't mean to be discriminatory, lord knows, I love anything that emphasises breasts, but I just think it's bizarre - and I'd prefer not to be drawn to that area while conversing.

    1. Agreed, Peter has done it again; brilliantly dissected a topic to its core truth - that ability, and anything Cathy, are why comprise the congregation in the Church of Peter Lappin.

      Now, as for male enhancements, all's fair.

      While contoured pouches, and the man panties equivalent of underwire (a reinforced hole where "everything" is passed through for elevation and projection), create something tending toward a profile from a comic book illustration, maybe men are currently in something akin to the "cone bra phase" women were offered mid-century.

      Fashion is the fun-house mirror of our times, and now, so is elective surgery.

      That said, K. Line, brace yourself, as man-lifts are but a decade away.

    2. Testosterone: I know what's sauce for the goose... (But really :-)

  4. I grew up in the late 60's and 70's with the "natural" siloette. This was great for me in my very slim, young days. I am now a little heavier and a lot saggier. I'm tempted to rearrange, but I'm not willing to be uncomfortable. I think a little enhancing is no different from using a little makeup. Both can be exaggerated to grotesqueness, but a little is fun.

  5. I hate wearing anything that cinches, pinches, or otherwise causes pain. Padding, as you say, it not as uncomfortable, but it looks ridiculous on me. My ideal clothing is stuff I can forget I'm wearing that flatters my existing shape. I say accept yourself as you are and make the best of it. (Lightbulb moment: when I realized that most of the flat stomachs I see out there are thanks to Spanxx.)

  6. Hey, this is completely off topic, but if you are still obsessing about Ultrasuede, I found this cool 70's book:

  7. Wow, you write quite thought provoking posts. And informative, who knew about the varied array of products available from Amazon! While I do wear "slimming" garments, they are usually for special occasions and most times I wish I wasn't wearing them. Perhaps working out more should be higher on my priority list.

  8. I think so often fashion relies on the proper undergarments. And I think that is perhaps part of the reason so many modern looks appear "sloppy." Before, wearing uncomfortable undergarments were more of a requirement than an option - everyone wore them, so they were considered "normal." I think today people feel the need to look as good without clothes on as they do with clothes on, which is why there is more obsession with fad diets and surgery than before. The trend has gone towards more revealing clothes, which means less opportunity to hide shapers under the garments, and hence more focus on having a perfect body - rather than using artificial means to shape it. Of course, while I am not a fan of extreme body shapers (foot binding or corsets that produced 19-inch waists), I don't see anything wrong with wearing things that will help shape the body. I am sure most of us would find it impractical to wear such things on a daily basis, but for some garments (like slinky evening gowns, etc) it doesn't really matter how amazing your body is - a little extra support can't hurt!

  9. Very interesting post and thought provoking.I was amazed at the photo of the bound foot. I always wondered what happened to those poor women that endured that. I had no idea it would be that horrible. Ouch!

  10. Interesting indeed! The big problem with the 70's however was that if you didn't have the kind of figure that looked great as nature made it, there was no option for faking it a bit. No wonder the 80's went so fako.
    I'm all for a bit of fiddling with nature, but within moderation. I own shapewear of various kinds, none truly restrictive or damaging, and I don't wear heels as my knees refuse to let me. I disapprove of any fashion that is self destructive - high heels, tanning etc. and I think that is where I lay down the boundary. If a particular fashion fiddle makes one feel more comfortable, more fabulous, and is harmless short and long term and the wearer is not indulging for the wrong reasnos then why the heck not? But when it hurts, warps or damages short or long term, and is done for reasons of fear and assimilation, then it is baaaaaad.
    I'm also not keen on the codpiece undies, but then I am married and so I don't tend to look anyway and I sure don't want my man to be advertising! ;-)

  11. This is what good tailoring and a perfect fit does - it minimises the faults and accentuates the good. Can't beat a couture garment made specifically for a particular body, no matter what shape they are!
    I do agree with the evolutionary thing though - I'd go for Hugh - he has more money!

  12. I hate artificial padding or cinching when it's subtle - if there's doubt as to whether it's natural, it bothers me to no end. Just be yourself, whatever you actually are! It can only be bad for your self esteem when people react to the fake you, right? Then you have to go home and take off all the "good bits" that you were accentuating.

    I will absolutely carry it to excess for effect: I'll dye my hair blue, wear huge, sparkly false eyelashes and crazy colors of makeup, and don't mind cinching in a corset completely for a short amount of time.
    But I won't dye my hair any natural color, wear 'day' makeup, or wear a padded bra. I've been known to break into loud swearing when faced with a store full of padded-underwire swimsuits; the human body is beautiful, and it's horrible to be told that your individual, natural shape isn't good enough.

  13. I make corsets, so I'm not exactly unbiased on this :)
    I'm quite happy to cinch and pad where necessary (well the padding is within reason). Especially with retro silhouettes. I cinch more than I pad certainly. Generally I like exaggerated shapes, and often that requires help :)

  14. Great post, lots of food for thought. I think one should take whatever help they feel comfortable with. Temporary or permanent! On behalf of cinching, I am currently building a Civil War era ball gown from the skin out . I must say the corset ( while not laced to faintness) is surprisingly comfortable and fetching. It makes me stand up straighter and really makes my back feel better! I also have always loved the wide shoulders of the '40's as I have a long and not well-defined waist. Thanks for the info on the men's spanx. My husband needs some!

  15. I don't wear anything that adds or subtracts from my real self. I have a tough enough time just holding it together!

  16. I have been told repeatedly to wear a girdle (spanx?) since that is wear I gain all of my weight but ugh, so uncomfortable.

    I am at the love it or leave it point now. :)

  17. Great post!
    I'd just like to add that historically, we are, and have been since the mid-19th century, in an era which focusses on the way women look. That seems like such a long time that it's tempting to think it has always been the case but that would be incorrect. Also, when one studies historical cinching, male corsetry and the 'body bindings' used under 19th century military uniforms are worth a look. Oh, and the scary case of the stock collar...

    Personally, I'm ambivalent on the whole cinching and padding thing. As a seamstress and a woman who loves fashion history, I am fascinated with the means by which people got those silhouettes. And I think padding and cinching is always to be prefered over plastic surgery (with the obvious exception of those cases where health rather than vanity is the issue, like with the reduction of very large breast which put to much strain on the spine).
    I have an A cup and a flat stomach and I own two victorian style corsets (from my goth days, I will only wear them very occasionally but I am sort of planning to use one as the foundation under a New Look inspired suit) and only one push-up bra. I wouldn't mind padding for a specific silhouette but the way lingerie stores make thick padding the norm for small cup sizes annoys me endlessly. I don't have a problem with mine.

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Lauriana!

    2. Yes, Lauriana, most of us forget about the male corsets! I would like also to point out the use of them at the Elisabethan time. Many fashion history books find the use of them at that time connected with the appearence of the first "Dandys's fashion".

    3. "Topsy-Turvy," one of my favorite movies, is about the making of "The Mikado,' among other things. In one scene, a proper Scottish tenor is upset that he won't be allowed to wear his corset under his Japanese costume.

      Of course, most of the audience doesn't realize until that point that men of that era regularly wore corsets and we're allowed to briefly think the singer is a bit of a perv.

  18. I love the ability to temporarily alter your form with fashion. Funny you should post this - I'm just in the midst of hosting a french corset garter belt Sew Along (Ooh La La Pin Up Sew Along), with a fellow blogger who sells vintage patterns on Etsy.

  19. Guess when the big push for everyone to get in shape began? When it was un-cool to wear a bra or any kind of cinching or padding, if one didn't have a "perfect" body, there was the "Jane Fonda Workout" to do the cinching and padding "naturally." I was a work-out junkie in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and looked great, st the expense of lot's of time and energy. Now I am satisfied with wearing clothes that are attractive, comfortable, and no cinching or padding for me, except the occasional tiny shoulder pad for support in a tailored jacket, or an underwire bra so the darts in my purchased clothes end up pointing in the right direction!

    1. I hate styles in which you have to wear your body. Not liberating or empowering.

  20. Brilliant post, Peter! Especially with the mainstream resurgence of compression shapewear. Padding and cinching preferences are as individual as the wearer or the wearer's taste for that day. I have some garments that I wear Spanx all-over body smoothers. They are great and hold everything in place, so I'm not pulling and adjusting my dress as I am wearing it. The dress hangs smoothly over me. And there are no lumps or things riding up in the rear view. I wouldn't wear Spanx everyday though.

    I do wear shapewear under vintage garments to re-create the effect... and in many cases just to get the darn thing on.

    I have made a corset for a Steampunk outfit, and I love the corset! It is fun to manipulate your silhouette for effect. I think I need to make more of these.

    I am not the type of person, though, who would corset/constrict/compress just to squeeze into the latest fashion. I aim for individual style (custom fit, of course) that suits me... and sometimes that does involve shapewear and sometimes it doesn't.

  21. There are other beneficial side-effects to picking a "shaper" over traditional underpants, as the Spanx "Oh No/ Oh Wow" photos reveal:

    I do have some shapers, and some are not really cinchers, but instead smoothers when compared with traditional women's undergarments.
    Commando or shaper, that's the real question - womens undies are only good under jeans in my opinion.

  22. Total interesting post, Peter! I wear a bra (underwire, minimal padding) but can't think of any other cinching or padding I do.

    Actually, thinking about it, in Winter I wear tights to stay warm which have the incidental effect of a little shaping (I don't get control top, but do wear thick tights rather than sheer pantyhose). It is a bit weird the first couple weeks when Spring comes and I am jiggling all over again.

  23. I keep a few padded bras around because some of my clothes fit better with a little more in the bust. It's easier than tailoring!


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