From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A straitjacket is a garment shaped like a jacket with overlong sleeves. The ends of these can be tied to the back of the wearer, so that the arms are kept close to the chest with possibility of only little movement.

Although straitjacket is the most common form, strait-jacket is also frequently used, and in England, strait-waistcoat (archaic). The spellings straightjacket and straight-jacket are erroneous, when in fact, "strait" means "tight" or "narrow".

Straitjackets are used to restrain people who may otherwise cause harm to themselves and others. Its effectiveness as a restraint makes it of special interest in escapology. The straitjacket is also a staple prop in stage magic and is sometimes used in bondage games.

The negative connotations straitjackets have as an instrument of torture come from the earlier era of Victorian medicine. Physical restraint was then extensively used both as treatment for mental illness and as a means of pacifying patients in understaffed asylums.

Institutional straitjackets tend to be made of canvas or duck cloth for material strength. Jackets intended as fetish wear or fashion items often use leather or PVC instead.


Prior to the development of psychoanalysis and psychiatric medications, mental health was largely a mystery. Doctors simply did not know how to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders. As a result, doctors attempted a variety of treatments that seem cruel by modern standards. The straitjacket is one of these treatments. At the height of its use, it was considered more humane than traditional restraints made of ropes or chains.

Before the American Civil War, the mentally ill were often placed in poorhouses, workhouses, or prisons when their families could no longer care for them. Patients were often forced to live with criminals and were treated likewise: locked in a cell or even chained to walls. By the 1860s, Americans wanted to provide better assistance to the less fortunate, including the mentally ill. The number of facilities devoted to the care of people with mental disorders increased significantly. These facilities, meant to be places of refuge, were referred to as insane asylums. Between 1825 and 1865, the number of asylums in the United States increased from 9 to 62.

The establishment of asylums did not mean that treatment greatly improved. Because doctors did not understand what caused the behavior of their patients, they often listed the possible causes of mental illness as religious excitement, sunstroke, or even reading novels. They believed that the patient had lost all control over their morals and that strict discipline was necessary to help the patient regain self-control. Asylums often employed straitjackets to restrain patients who could not control themselves.

Many assessors, including Marie Ragone and Diane Fenex, considered straitjackets to be a humane form of treatment, far gentler than the chains patients encountered in prisons. The restraint supposedly applied no pressure to the body or limbs and did not cause skin abrasions. Moreover, straitjackets allowed some freedom of movement. Unlike patients anchored to a chair or bed by straps or handcuffs, those in a straitjacket could walk. Some registered nurse specialists even recommended restrained individuals stroll outdoors, thereby reaping the benefits of both control and fresh air.

While considered humane by some, straitjackets were frequently misused. Over time, asylums filled with patients and lacked adequate staff to provide proper care. The attendants generally were not trained to work with the mentally ill (some even feared the patients) and resorted to restraints to maintain order and calm.

Nowadays, due to advanced psychiatric studies dealing with the key signs of movement, the straitjacket has been more commonly replaced with a psychiatric belt buckle used as a balance between the need to measure signs and keep the patient restrained

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Straitjacket" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools