Corsetry 101

Posted by Ophelia P on


Come here.

A little closer. That's perfect.

Can we get real for a moment here?

(psst) In case you haven't heard...EVERYBODY loves a great corset. (Or loves to look at one on occasion.)

If you're like a pretty large segment of our customers, you've most likely either dabbled in corsets, considered it (but aren't quite sure yet - perhaps for reasons we'll discuss below), or have crossed completely over to the sculpted side and are full-throttle corsetfan, perhaps even for daily wear.

But just why do we love them? (Besides the obvious - you might be surprised.) What draws certain communities to corsets? And is corsetry right for you?

Let's peel away the layers and discover the why, where and how of all things corseted and lovely. Then we'll show you EXACTLY how to measure for, choose and wear your corset. Read on, corset explorer!


Corsets: Why We Love Them...and How They Deliver







It's true that corsets deliver that wasp waist and hourglass shape that makes eyes pop (and there's NOTHING wrong with that). But perhaps just as important to those who love Victorian, vamp, cosplay or just good old-fashioned role play, corsets and the shape they deliver hearken to an earlier time, making them the ideal under-accessory for alt fashion.

And it's not just the alt collection of communities (such as cosplay, roleplay, or steampunk) who are sporting these voluptuous undergarments nowadays. Corsets, cinchers and other abdominal support and shaping garments have a variety of uses, from the practical to the fashionable, among very, very mainstream communities.

Why Wear a Corset?

So why wear a corset? There are so MANY reasons! Corsets can...

  • Flatten your stomach and midriff
  • Increase the measurement difference between the waist and bust, and waist and hips (hourglass)
  • Deliver back support and encourage upright posture 
  • Help you fit better into clothes, which are often cut with a universal "female" shape in mind that not everyone fits into
  • Add "va-voom" and an authentic feel to costuming/role play; cosplay
  • Make you look amazing for weddings, proms and other special occasions

People who corset have many reasons, and they wear corsets for many different occasions. You might wish to wear a corset only during cosplay, or you may be going for actual semi-permanent * shape modification (we'll talk about that below). You might simply enjoy the look and feel of a corset and not be seeking any sort of shape change. Your reasons are your own...and they're ALL legitimate.

* NOTE: Semi-permanent refers to a change in shape and/or size that lasts for more than a few days once the corset ceases to be worn. This will usually only occur with correct and consistent waist training and will revert to a larger size or original shape after a period of time of non-corset wear.


Corsets: A History Primer


Though externally-derived body shape modification or illusion tactics go back to prehistoric times for both sexes, people - predominantly women - have been reshaping their bodies in a more classically corset-esque way since approximately the 14th century, during the dawn of the Renaissance. At that time, though, corsets were not an overall fashion, even among the nobility.

In the late 15th century (1400s), corseting as we think of it today began to come into fashion and remained so in various styles through the Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian eras, when nearly any woman, from the lowest classes (for celebratory functions) to the nobility (day to day) corseted in various ways, including from the mid-breasts downward as was a perennial Tudor period trend (it returned at various times, particularly in 18th century France, other parts of Europe, and Colonial America).

The practice reached what we think of today in corsetry terms as its classical apex during the Victorian era. At this time, even young girls wore corsets in order to "train the waist." There is evidence of some form of corsetry on girls as young as four to six years of age.

During the Victorian era, the common practice was to start girls off in their first corsets at about age 10-13, when they began developing breasts and showed other signs of puberty impending or in progress. The idea was to shape the body, and potentially the bones (the jury's still out on whether this regularly happened), while the girl was growing so she would have a "permanent" wasp waist as an adult.

The corset craze dwindled after the Edwardian era, when around the time of the first World War, less restrictive fashions became the rage. However, during the 1920s, various types of bindings were practiced regularly, including breast binding, particularly during the Flapper era.

As corsetry and home binding methods went out of fashion, girdles and breast-lifting/breast-shaping bras came into vogue. From approximately the 1930s through the late 1960s, various segments of society, including the middle and working classes, wore girdles. These did not produce as dramatic an effect as corsets had in previous eras, but they flattened the abdomen and lifted the breasts for a perceived desirable shape.

Girdling dwindled in the 1970s, but during the late 20th century, women began wearing "shapewear," quickly followed by a full-on corset revival, perhaps due to the de-shaming of late 20th century fashion body shaping. Today there's a corset community and many sub-categories, but even people who don't identify with a style or ideal in this regard are exploring cinchers, bustiers and corsets.

Before You Begin: 5 Things to Consider

In a moment, we'll talk about how to measure yourself for and how to choose the perfect corset. Before you begin your corseting adventure, make sure you're keeping the following points in mind.

  1. Know what your goals are. Do you want to create a semi-permanent waist size reduction/shape change? Do you want to wear a corset only for special occasions? The type of corset you choose will be different depending upon your answer. (We'll talk more about this in How to Choose Your First Corset, below.)
  2. Are you over the age of 20? If not, we DO NOT recommend that you attempt to semi-permanently reduce your waist size. Your bones are still growing and shaping until the age of approximately 19-21 in women (it’s a bit later in men), and we don’t recommend that you mess around with that. You can still corset, but you’ll want to be gentler with it.
  3. Be in good health. If you have asthma, chronic bronchitis or some other issue that can affect your breathing, you want to be as unrestricted as possible. That DOESN’T mean you can’t corset; it DOES mean you’ll want to choose a corset with more flexibility (non-boned or plastic boned, for instance). When in doubt, ask your doctor.
  4. Know what your budget is. You probably won’t get a quality corset for $20 (unless you luck out at a consignment shop or elsewhere), but you don’t necessarily have to spend $150 on upward (unless you’re seriously into corsetry for a period of time and have specific corset needs). You will want to set a budget and look for QUALITY inside that budget.
  5. Don’t settle on the first corest you see. Shop around. You may find exactly (and we do mean exactly) the same corset for a lower price or from a more reputable seller - we have (and we choose our suppliers very carefully). 

How to Measure For Your First Corset

Hardcore waist trainers generally choose a corset with a waist measurement 4-6" smaller than their actual waist. However, to get started, we recommend going 1-2" smaller than your waist.

"But that's hardly any difference at all!" you might be saying.

We disagree - and we believe you will too when you try on your first corset. For one thing, it's not just the total size that makes the difference. It's the fact of the waist being pulled in more than the bust or hips (to create a wasp/hourglass shape), as well as the overall reduction in bulges or bumps on your silhouette all the way down due to the boning and the structure of the material.

Start with this slight waist reduction so you can get used to wearing a corset in the first place, and/or if you only plan on wearing your corset for special occasions. You can go down from there as you become more experienced in choosing and wearing corsets, if you so desire.

1. Bust

You will not need this measurement for an underbust corset, and some manufacturers don't list it even with bustiers, but have the information on hand just in case. Your bust measurement will be at the fullest part of the bust. Usually, this will be approximately at the center of the nipple. Measure closely but don't pull the measuring tape tight. 

2. Underbust

This is directly underneath the breasts. As above, don't let the tape go slack, but don't pull it tighter than the actual size of your relaxed (breath let out) measurement.

3. Waist

Contrary to what you may have been told in the fashion world, the waist measurement is generally 1-1.5" above the bellybutton, approximately where your lowest ribs begin. It is  NOT necessarily the smallest part of your abdomen. Be careful with this measurement.

4. Hips

Measure at the upper hip, about where the band of your hipster jeans would begin.

Here's a great video detailing how to measure for a corset. Please note: she does not take the actual bust (breasts) measurement. We included this measurement above for manufacturers who utilize it. This way, you're (wait for it) covered:



How to Choose Your First Corset

At last, it's time for the fun part! 

  • Decide how dramatic a reduction/shaping you want. If you desire a more dramatic shaping, opt for steel boning in your corset. Steel boning is less flexible than most plastic boning and is sturdier.
  • If your preference is to gently shape yourself and achieve a more hourglass shape, but with less restriction, opt for either plastic boning or ties only/no boning. Technically, if the item has no boning at all, it's not a true corset in the classical sense, but if it is made of sturdy, flexible materials, such as spandex, and has ties or buckles, it will give you a corset look with support and shaping.
  • If you plan to choose just one good corset and wear it with multiple outfits, a neutral or standard color will probably be best. Luckily, these can be the sexiest, too. White, black or leather brown are all beautiful choices for corsets.
  • You may want more decoration for your corset if it will be showing. Be careful with lace and other additions; make sure you're comfortable wearing these and that they don't scratch, come up too far, or interfere with the rest of your clothing.
  • Make your purchase based on an actual measurement (inches or centimeters). "Large" for one corset manufacturer may be a U.S. size 10; for another, a U.S. 12. Yet another may import from various countries where sizing is smaller, and a "Large" may be U.S. 8! (We've seen it happen.) In addition, different manufacturers will give varying differentials between the waist and the bust/hips. ALWAYS measure.

Please note: the rules are somewhat different for waist training than for occasional or supportive corset-wearing. Waist training, which is serious business and too much to cover in one blog post. Please see a corsetry expert to begin waist training if that is your goal.

Lacing Your Corset

Some corsets lace both front and back. Others lace in the back only. And then, some have zippers or buckles and no laces at all. If your corset does have laces (a traditional and very sexy look), you may be wondering exactly how to lace it.

For play, crossing your laces in zig-zag fashion is sexy and is a classic look. However, for waist training, some pros recommend relacing with a “bunny ears” technique to reduce friction and to keep you consistently supported. Here’s a vid describing the bunny ears technique if you choose to utilize it:


Caring For Your Corset

  • Even if you have a polyester/washable corset, we ALWAYS recommend HAND-WASHING and wringing GENTLY dry. This is to maintain not only the longevity of your beautiful corset, but to make sure the corset keeps its shape.
  • Before washing, take the laces out and set them aside. (If the laces require washing, swish them gently in the detergent as follows, wring, and hang to dry.) Use a good gentle care detergent and follow directions. Wring gently but firmly section by section. Hang to dry.
  • Hang your corset to store. Folding it in a drawer may bend it out of shape over time.
  • Do not iron your corset unless the manufacturer's directions explicitly state you can.


General Corset Questions

We've had so many corset questions from our clients, and we truly enjoy answering every one. Though we're not professionals in corset design or wear (please consult an expert for details), we'd like to cover our most commonly asked questions to help you get started.


Q: Can Any Size/Shape Individual Wear a Corset?

A: Yes.

You thought it would be tougher than this, didn't you?

Just yes. Go for it.


Q: Can Men Wear Corsets?

A: It’s rarer to see a man wear a corset, but it’s far from unheard of, particularly in alt circles. Men won’t usually get as dramatic an hourglass shape, although that’s not unheard of, either. Bottom line: yes, some men wear corsets.

Because of their (generally) less feminine/small-waisted shape, men should beware of purchasing too small a corset and/or trying to overly compensate for this by pullling laces too tight and compromising breathing and movement. It actually takes more force than you might think for any such risks to occur, but we've seen bruises from one or two very enthusiastic individuals. Go ahead and corset, but be aware of your body's limits, too.


Q: Is Wearing a Corset Harmful?

A: In general, no. You CAN pull the laces too tightly and restrict your breathing. In very extreme cases, with an ill-fitting corset or bodice with steel boning, you may experience bruising. However, actual, long-term damage is exceedingly rare; anecdotally, we've never heard first-hand of such a thing happening.

Use common sense; if it hurts or you can't breathe, loosen it or purchase a larger size. And if you have compromised breathing for any reason, such as asthma or chronic bronchitis, choose a less restrictive corset and less restrictive clothing in general. Of course, if you have recently broken or bruised a rib or hip, have spine issues or if you have had surgery, do not wear any clothing your doctor does not recommend.

Why, then, is there a little underground buzz of horror stories about corsets, particularly pre-modern ones? Corsetry began to get a bad name in the early 20th century, though it's had its critics throughout its history. Imagined "damage" to internal organs was vividly portrayed by various medical professionals, including the following depiction (we don't know how the pancreas and intestines morphed into that yellow striped thing, but it sure doesn't look good):

However, actual X-rays of women who have waist trained with corsetry do not generally show as extreme an issue, hence debunking horror-story cautionary tales:



Should I Wear a Corset That Covers My Breasts?

A: Technically, a corset that has full coverage bust cups is a bustier. Either way, that's up to you. A bustier will hold your breasts in place and you will not need to wear a bra with it, so there is a convenience factor at work. In addition, it creates a smooth line from the hips to the top of the breasts.

On the other hand, a blousing froth of low-cut white material over a non bust-covered corset is a great look for steampunk and goth outfits and for some types of cosplay, and may feel less restrictive to some individuals.

Corset wearers may prefer the look and feel of one or the other, or may switch between both styles. It's up to you.


Q: Should I have My Corset Custom-Made?

A: You certainly can. Please know that the price point will generally be higher. You're paying the person not only for her materials and her time but for her years of experience and for her personal craftsmanship. You may also be receiving a fully unique item; in other words, your corset designer may make a slightly different design for each client.

Having your corset made for you can mean a better fit, though it doesn't always, particularly since you'll be lacing the corset yourself. We recommend starting with a more basic corset, perhaps with an initial fitting consultation at a reputable boutique if you're not sure of your measurements. Later, you can bump up to more personalized, and more pricey, selections.

If you can't get to a boutique, be sure to purchase from a supplier with a good returns policy so you can be sure you'll wind up with exactly the product you need. 




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