NOTES ON STRAIT-JACKETS
The image of a strait-jacket.
A 'Regulation' or Officially Approved strait-jacket: The very existence
of such a barbaric device should, surely, make most people cringe. Suggestion
that such a piece of equipment might have been used in real-life situations
should make the whole idea repugnant? So why do crowds regularly gather
to see someone strapped into such a threatening and challenging situation?
I won't attempt to analyze the reasons - the fact is indisputable: vast
numbers of people enjoy seeing such a happening. Just what percentage of
the crowd speculates on what it might be like to have it done to them /
do it to somebody else / have a shot at escaping .... who knows? The fact
remains that being 'interested' in strait-jackets isn't all that unusual.
What is a strait-jacket?:
In Britain 'The Home Office', the authority which has responsibility
for most Police and Prison equipment, has at various times in the past
approved specifications for pieces of restraining clothing (although all
information on the garments is 'strictly classified'). Inevitably, the
existence of such equipment has led to it being used as punishment as well
as a last resort. In places where such an item would find very little actual
use, to have some form of restrainer hanging around serves as a useful
threat, to keep would-be troublesome patients in line.
Factors affecting escape:(A) Whether straps or tie tapes are used.
(B) If canvas is supple enough to use fingers through it.
(C) If it is possible to work the arms upwards or downwards.
(D) If arm-holes are wide enough to work arms out of sleeve by twisting jacket around the body
Quick release.......1 . Slack is gained mainly by expanding chest and faking tightness by bracing elbows against sides as jacket is strapped on. Extra space can also be stolen by gripping a handful of fabric under the arms out of sight.
2. When ready to escape relax all muscles, hunch shoulders forward to bring all available slack to back, pushing arms deeper into sleeves. This leaves all available slack in-back allowing buckle of arm-strap to be worked systematically upwards until arms can be pulled free over head - or downwards to bring arms under seat. This, of course, can only be achieved in jackets which have no side loops through which arms have been passed. It will be noticed that virtually no Escape Artist uses an S/J with side loops. On TV if the Hero escapes from a jacket, arms are not through the loops.
3. To complete an escape once arms have been un- crossed, fingers through canvas can usually work at straps or ties, or by shifting the jacket around the body, teeth can often reach buckles
4. HOUDINI often made his jacket escapes out of view, inside a 'cabinet'. Who knows what clips, hooks, razor blade and other useful gimmicks were concealed within what was, essentially, a conjuror's magic cabinet.
Escape from any jacket is very much a matter of practice. To improve chances of escape by methods 1/2/3, when jacket is applied the right arm should be crossed over the left (unless you're left-handed), placing right hand on left bicep (that is, if you are allowed to 'get away with it') otherwise under left elbow. It is best to avoid allowing arms to be 'folded'. When trying to work both arms upwards and over the head, brace the elbow against a wall or door-handle. Or kneel down on one knee, using the other as a Pushing Post. The same effect can be accomplished by lying face down on the floor and rolling alternately from one elbow to the other, forcing the elbows closer together to increase slack in mitt straps. The easiest way to escape from a strait-jacket is to be sure that it is only ever strapped on by someone who has never done it before.
To prevent escape:Having studied and experimented with ways to escape from a strait-jacket it becomes more easy to devise ways to make escape more difficult. Jackets used by Escape Artists usually have longish wide sleeves, loose neck-bands and no strap between the legs. (Crotch strap) and certainly no side loops. A jacket with short, tight sleeves, snug under the armpits presents a much more exacting challenge. A close high collar also adds to the general 'cling', and straps connecting sleeves should be short with holes right up to the end .... and be very strong. The strain in all directions on a well applied jacket can be intense, seams should be double sewn.
Additional defenses against escape:A crotch strap to prevent the body of the jacket being dragged over the head. In addition to side loops, arm straps anchored through one of the back straps to stop arm strap buckle moving either up or downwards. Sleeve-ends around hands being made of heavy material or leather to prevent tampering with buckles through sleeves will defeat many would-be Escape Artists. A small strap added around each wrist before the arms are crossed makes 'slipping' the jacket virtually impossible. Extra reinforcement of seams, elbows and neck will stop any attempts to wear a way out of an otherwise escape-proof jacket - but most important of all is to eliminate 'slack'.
Getting the jacket on in a challenge situation:Even with a willing victim, applying a jacket single-handed needs practice. A particular awareness of the various tricks for gaining slack is essential. One way to eliminate stolen slack is, after threading the arm-strap as far as possible, to then stand to one side and brace your body against that of the victim, use the free hand to clamp prisoners elbows together. The back-strap can then be wrenched tighter at the same moment elbows are pulled closer together.
Two people applying a jacket:
Unwilling victim being forced into a strait-jacket:
Finally, extra defenses against a would-be Escapee:
This article is included in the book, "So I Like to Get Tied Up -
So What?!!", available from
It is a nice book. Buy it!