Friday, 6 February 2009

Of corsets

Corsets. A good corset is flattering and theatrical - and very very sexy. They vary massively, though, in price - so what makes a good corset, and which one will suit you?

Corset construction is a hardcore process. Steel bones are encased in at least one layer of special, close weave, stretch proof fabric, and often another layer of fabric, such as satin, brocade, leather, velvet etc is also part of the building process. The reason for all these heavy-duty materials is that a properly made corset is capable of reducing your natural waist size by 2-4 inches. It won't fray at the seams, warp or distort under the pressure, and that's quite a task. The term corset can be applied to almost anything with a pannelled bodice, but if it hasn't been made properly, it should only be worn to fit your existing shape. If you pull a cheap corset in, it will pucker and lose its clean vertical lines, and it may become damaged. Meanwhile bones will often poke through cheap fabrics, and plastic ones will twist.

Things to look for:

  • Price. There's no getting away from it, a decent corset will cost a fair bit, because much of the process is very skilled and has to be done by hand. The cheapest underbust corset I've seen lately was £55 - but usually expect to pay more like £75 and up, and £100 and up for a full corset.
  • The opening. Forget hooks and eyes, the only appropriate opening for a corset is a busk (above). This is a series of steel buttons and loops, welded onto strips of steel. It will probably have very little if any flex. Some corsets don't open at the front, which is massively impractical, but not actually detrimental to the function of the corset, as long as there are lots of bones at the front. Ditto front lacing in addittion to backlacing.
  • The back laces. Ribbons won't last in a corset - a real corset should be supplied with something similar to woven bootlaces. The laces should go through metal eyelets, of course, but there needs to be a steel bone either side of each column of eyelets, shown clearly in the picture of the fairly ugly corset above. This stops strain on the eyelets and ensures the vertical shape is held. Occasionally you might be able to feel that the eyelets themselves have been set into apertures in a wider steel bone - this is also fine. There may be a modesty panel (a flap or corset fabric to go behind the laces) or not - it's a matter of taste.

  • The top and bottom edge. These should be bound seperately - the outer shell and the lining should not just meet at the top, or you'll end up with protruding bones. If you can, follow the stitches as they go around the top of each bone - they should encase the bone completely - not just run in a vertical line from bottom to top.

Good corset manufacturers are proud of the work that's gone into their garments, and often publicise this on labels attached.

So which corset is for you? There are two main types: Over and underbust. An overbust corset is great for all but the curviest girls - if you do have large boobs, though, you should be prepared for the fact that although they offer excellent support, you really will look quite spectacular, and perhaps a little over the top, particularly in a standard, horizontal topped design. See the picture of me below and imagine it without the black shirt... well, quite! An underbust corset is a solution to this problem - you can simply wear a gorgeous bra on top. An underbust will offer a more natural profile, too.

If you have a very defined natural waist, but you still want to reduce your circumference, look for a corset with gored hips (and bust, though these are rarer). Goring means that the panels aren't parralell, but instead flare out to accomodate parts of you that are wider. Conversely, if you have a straighter figure, go for a corset with less pronounced or no goring. Corsets are different lengths, and the more tummy you have, the longer you'll want your corset to be.

Corset sizing is misleading to the uninitiated, but really quite simple. Measure your waist in inches, and subtract between 2 and 4 inches, depending on how dramatic a cinching you desire. Regular 'tightlacers' can achieve reductions of over 6 inches, but that's just not possible for the beginner, and the look is something of an aquired taste. It's important not to be too uncomfortable, too. I've worn my trusty Vollers corset out dancing on three occasions now, and I genuinely find it very wearable all night, partly because they prevent me getting lower back pain.

Corset-making is quite a growth industry for small designers. A judicious google will find you a myriad of options. Secondhand ones occasionally go on ebay - but it's going to be harder to sort the good from the bad there. Vollers are probably best for quality, and I love 'What Katie Did' for their fun designs, particularly their pretty underbust styles (example above). Bear in mind when clicking links, that some corset photography may be considered 'not safe for work', in a burlesque kind of way.


  1. I think corsets are beautiful.

  2. i think corsets have to go back in styl somehow. theyre beautiful

  3. yeah i agree corsets should go back in style.. i mean not only petite woman can use them but bigger girls too.. im medium and i do have a waist but ive always wanted a corset.

  4. i was wondering if you know any 'old style' patterns for a tie up corset because at the moment i dont have quite enough money to buy one due to my last splyrge:)

  5. Vena Cava designs have masses of corset patterns here: but be warned - corset-making is quite a hardcore hobby.

  6. corsets are awesome...but i live in ontario canada...and have no idea where to find a decent trusty place to buy my first real corset...not just fake plastic bone crap...

  7. Love this. I'm always looking for corsets online and especially information about them. I'm going to buy a 'steel boned' underbust from ebay... and it's coming from Hong kong, so I have my suspicions if it's actually steel boned or not, but we will see... for $26 it's better than nothing!

  8. This is a wonderful guide. I love dressmaking and I'm about to try making my own corset. There's a lot of great advice out there but the terminology has baffled me a bit. I found your glossary to be extremely helpful. Thanks :)

  9. Were can i find a corset like the one or that one in the third picture. I have been looking around and have had no luck. Thank you


Thanks for commenting - always nice to know I'm not talking to myself...