THE straitjacket. Or straight jacket. You choose.
Invented in Paris in 1790, where it was referred to as the camisole de force, the straitjacket was considered a humane advance to the chains in use previously to restrain unruly and dangerous patients. Not only was this seen through Victorian-era art, such as A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth but in literature at the time; describing scenes of, (excuse the phrase) bedlam, filth, confinement and madness.
Seen at various points throughout AHS: Asylum, these methods of restraint were rarely used for their proposed purpose, as we will discover further on…
The straitjacket was designed as a jacket with full-length sleeves, which a patient would wear and have each arm crossed over and fastened at the back, to ensure they could not cause self-harm or injure others. This cliched, classic epitome of insanity depictions was sadly a common and recurrent form of restraint, and in fact, it is this recurrent use which led to the demise of the jacket.
As asylums gained popularity and more patients were committed, the jacket became a common treatment to not only the most dangerous and violent patients, but for those whom they simply did not have the experience to deal with. Poorly trained staff and ill-equipped asylums quickly became inept and unable to properly care for patients, and abuse of this piece of equipment became rife. Abuse for punishing patients was most common, and became obvious that it was largely used as a penal application, rather than a therapeutic one.
Sadly, not only were these debilitating for those on whom they were unnecessarily placed, but they could cause physical complications with breathing, not to mention mental and emotional distress and confusion.
During the 20th century, medical advancements, coined as ‘chemical straitjackets’, such as thorazine were increasingly used to sedate patients who required it, and straitjackets fell into disrepute. Eventually discredited as barbaric, inhumane and dangerous, the era of the straitjacket was over, giving way to more holistic and actually therapeutic methods (even if this was only sedatives!)