What is a Straitjacket?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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A straitjacket is a jacket which is designed to be used to restrain someone. Historically, straitjackets were used to control patients in mental institutions, and because of the abuse of straitjackets, they acquired a bad reputation. In overcrowded asylums with poorly trained staff, these jackets were often overused. In the modern era, straitjackets are more commonly seen in the field of escapology, which involves the engineering of escapes from various confining environments. Straitjackets are also used by some individuals in the fetish community.

The design of a straitjacket is fairly simple. The jacket is typically made from a heavy material like canvas, cotton duck, or leather, with long sleeves which have been sewn shut to confine the hands. When the jacket is put on the body, it is firmly strapped shut, and typically a loop through the wearer's legs is used to prevent the jacket from sliding off. Then, the arms are laced across the front of the body, and the sleeves are tied behind the back, making it extremely difficult to wiggle out of the straitjacket.


Depending on the design, a variety of straps and buckles may be used to further restrict movement, making it even more challenging to escape the confines of a straitjacket. Once confined in a straitjacket, someone is incapable of self-harm, or of inflicting injuries on others, but he or she can still walk. However, being straitjacketed can still be dangerous, as the jacket can impair circulation and make it difficult for the wearer to breathe.

Being in a straitjacket for long periods of time could also be emotionally stressful as well as physically dangerous, as most people do not enjoy the sensation of restricted movement. For patients in mental institutions, being straitjacketed would have been confusing and sometimes agonizing, especially in the case of extreme depression, altered mental states, and schizophrenia, where the patient might not have understood why he or she was being confined. Because straitjackets came to be used in more of a penal application than a therapeutic one, their use in mental facilities came to be frowned upon.

However, straitjackets continue to appeal to magicians and people involved in escapology, because they present a unique challenge. Harry Houdini was one of the first to use a straitjacket in his act, actually dislocating his shoulders to escape, and many magicians have followed suit since. Escapology jackets are often designed with less straps or hidden slits to make them easier to escape.

Jackets designed for the fetish community are often made from materials like leather and PVC, with stylish fittings designed to make the jacket artistic as well as functional. While the use of a straitjacket can be reasonably safe when the wearer is supervised and carefully monitored for signs of physical or emotional distress, someone should never be left alone in a straitjacket or any other form of bondage restraint.


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