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Corsets 101 Part 4: Anatomy of a Corset

I was surprised when I started working on this post – and came up with 16 different terms to explain to you!  Corsets are a rather complex art – so to explain them well, it helps to dissect them into their parts – and define each one.  In this part, we’ll cover everything that goes into making a corset, as well all the terminology you need to become a corset afficionado.

We’ll start with the boning.  In most corsets, there is one steel bone along each seam, plus four in the back with the grommets.  The jury is still out on this – but in my opinion, the nicest corsets have spiral steel bones over the bust and all around the sides.  Sometimes you see them with flat steel – and some people prefer flat steel (saying it gives more support).  Spiral steel bones are extremely flexible (while still being strong as steel) and they mold to your form without digging in.  For me at least, the sensation of straight steel bones digging into my rib cage is extremely uncomfortable!  So I use spiral steel for my corsets.  The bones in the back beside the grommets, however, should be made from flat steel.  They will keep the edges of your corset straight as you lace up into it.

Steel boning
Spiral and flat steel boning.  I have spiral steel boning in long rolls because I use it in my evil queen collars!

The diagram at left shows how the bones are placed in most corsets.  This is called a “Single Steel Boned Corset”.  But some corsets are double steel boned – meaning they have two spiral steel bones along each seam in place of one.  To my knowledge, all double steel boned corsets are made with spiral steel.  With two bones along each seam, you need that moldability!  Waist training corsets are usually double steel boned, since they are extremely durable when made that way.

In the front of most corsets, you have a busk, with hooks all the way down.  In some corsets, you instead have swing latches (or box clasps).  You see swing clasp closures very often in Steampunk corsets.

Corsets are made of two fabrics fused together.  The outer fabric is called the “Fashion Fabric” and the inner fabric is called the “Strength Layer”.  The fashion fabric will usually be something pretty – and the strength layer will be a nice thick coutil or cotton twill.  There are boning channels sewn to the back of the corset, and the boning is inserted inside.

Corset Fabrics
This corset has a two-tone blue brocade fashion fabric, and a cotton twill strength layer. The boning channels (seen on the inside) are also made of cotton twill.

Some corsets have reverse boning channels, which are made from a contrasting fabric and sewn to the outside instead of the inside.  This makes a really cool decorative effect.

Reverse Boning Channels
My stripe corset has reverse boning channels.

Some corsets have waist tapes.  The waist tape reinforces the waist and keeps it from stretching.  I chose to leave the waist tape out of my hourglass corsets, because I find that the corset has a smoother shape without it.  I make these really pretty dress jackets, patterned to curve perfectly with the shape of my hourglass corsets.  The smooth shape in the waist looks nicer with my jackets, so that’s what I did!  But if you have bought a high quality corset elsewhere, you will likely see a waist tape on the inside.

Waist Tape
A waist tape.

In back under the lacing, your corset should have a modesty panel.  This protects your back while lacing up, and covers up the crease you’ll have in your back after laced into the corset.

Modesty Panel
This corset’s modesty panel matches its fashion fabric.

More rarely, corsets will also have a modesty placket in front, to protect your stomach while hooking the busk, and cover the tiny space that can happen in front.  My hourglass corsets have this piece.  I accidentally hooked stomach skin into a busk on a corset once.  (Holy friggin ouch!)  Let me tell you, that experience will make you insist upon always having a modesty placket in the future!

Modesty Placket
Get a corset with a modesty placket if you can. The skin on your stomach will thank you!

The trim at top and bottom of the corset is called binding.  It’s often made from the fashion fabric, or sometimes it’s made of contrasting fabric for a cool look.

Corset Binding
This corset has faux leather binding in a brighter shade of brown than the fabric, which provides a nice accent.

The lacing in back is extra long, so you can loosen the corset to a very wide gap in back to put it on.  It’s laced so that there are bunny ears on either side at the waist – so they are easy to pull to tighten the corset.

Lacing in a steel boned corset

That’s all the parts to a corset.  Was it a bit more complex than you thought it would be?  Coming next week, Corsets 101 part 5 – Pattern Matters

Corsets 101 Part 3: Real Corsets

Welcome back to my series on corsets!  Last week I talked about fashion corsets.  And I shared a bunch of pretty pictures.  Each and every one of the fashion corsets I carry has a “upgraded version” that I offer by special request.  In most cases, the real corset costs at least twice as much.  If you are new to corsets, you might be wondering – why buy a real corset, when fashion corsets are perfectly cute at half the cost?

I use this image in my etsy shop to show the real corset styles which match my ‘Lady in Red” steampunk costume.

Let me describe to you what it feels like to wear a real corset.  Imagine a hug.  A gentle squeeze, perfectly proportioned all around your torso.  Imagine the best support you’ve ever felt (better than your best fitting bra) but with no weight on your shoulders, no elastic digging in anywhere.  Then imagine looking at yourself in the mirror – and seeing this gorgeous curvy bombshell figure that you never knew you could have!

Silver Siren Corset

There is one very simple way to tell if you are purchasing a real corset or a fashion corset.  How is it sized?  If the sizes are Small/Medium/Large/etc, that’s a fashion corset.  If the sizes are numbers, that’s a real corset.

Real corsets are designed to actually shrink your waist size, so they are sized by waist in inches.  They have steel bones, a busk in front to clasp (typically), and lacing in back that is laced in an over-under style that makes them easy to pull tight.  A good corset will be made nice and curvy, so that when you lace it tight it will squeeze your waist but curve out to give enough room for hips and bust.

Overbust Corsets

Overbust means, well, over the bust!  An Overbust corset covers the bust, so you don’t need to wear anything underneath to cover your chest.  I find that looks with overbust corsets are more elegant.  Many people say that overbust corsets can have fit issues in the chest area, but I find this to not be a problem as long as the corset has a good pattern.  My hourglass corsets, for instance, have been officially verified to fit perfectly on cup sizes from A to G.

Underbust Corsets

And similarly, I’m sure you’ve guessed that underbust means under the bust!  If you’re wearing an underbust corset, you’ll need to wear a chemise or blouse underneath (at least to be legal in public!)  You’ll have more mobility in an underbust corset, since it ends lower on your rib cage than an overbust.  If you can find an underbust corset that fits you perfectly in height as well as size, you’ll find it to be the most comfortable style too.

Midbust Corsets

You see these much less often.  Midbust corsets are somewhere in between under and overbust, and they are typically straight across the top.  Authentic historical corsets were often midbust – as there would be several layers worn over the corset, and the corset wasn’t supposed to show!  Midbust can be a great choice if you want to do a look inspired by the Tudor or Baroque era – since the necklines were extremely low and straight across in those days.  Depending on your level of endowment, you may be able to get away with wearing a midbust corset without a chemise.

Midbust Corset
My “Airship Pirate” corset has a very similar shape to a midbust corset.

And those are the primary types of real corsets.  Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I will talk about all the bits and pieces that go into making a corset.

Corsets 101 Part 2: Types

Shopping for a nice corset can get tricky.  Because there are a whole lotta things for sale today that are called “corsets” that aren’t really corsets!  Here’s your buying guide for exactly what’s out there today, and how to tell one type of corset from another.

“Corset” Trainers

If it has latex, or rubber, it probably isn’t a corset.  Yes, there are real latex corsets (drool) but these are the exception to the rule.  Corset trainers are basically one step up from a girdle.  What’s cool about these is, they come in steel boned styles.  The steel boned styles can sometimes be used to train the waist down, depending upon your level of “squish”.  I’ll write about waist training later.  What you can do with a corset trainer, you can do way better with a real waist training corset.

This appears to be the best rated waist trainer on Amazon. (affiliate link)

“Corset” Bustiers and Bridal “Corset” undergarments

If it has bra cups, it probably isn’t a corset.  There are exceptions to this rule too – real corsets can be made with shaped cups – but a cupped corset is very unlikely to fit you unless it’s custom made to your measurements and costs at least $300.  The distance between waist and underbust (bra line) tends to vary greatly between women!  Bustiers solve this problem by being made of elastic, and not having a real waist point, only a gentle curve that can be placed higher or lower on your waist if necessary.  And they are usually plastic boned.  They’ll smooth you out a bit, and look quite nice under a strapless dress (or by themselves at a club!), but they do not truly alter your natural form.

I linked this because I kind of want to buy it! But haven’t yet. If I do, I’ll update this note. (affiliate link)

Lingerie “Corsets”

Lingerie corsets aren’t actually a thing – it’s just something I’ve noticed.  Anytime I’ve seen a “corset” in a lingerie store, it has been the most seriously poor quality corset EVER.  And it has cost a lot too for the bit of poorly sewn fabric, lace and plastic boning.  So just a little warning for you – beware the corset that is made by a big brand lingerie store!

Fashion “Corsets”

Now here’s where it gets extremely tricky.  Fashion corsets are typically copies of real corsets made by various manufacturers overseas.  And they often steal photos to sell them!  So they’ll look just as nice and as curvy as a real corset in the photos, but what you receive could surprise you. Most of the time, fashion corsets have plastic bones.

There are also steel boned fashion corsets – but those aren’t quite the same thing as a real corset either.  The steel bones are thinner than the bones in a real corset (they are called “soft steel”
bones), and most of the time the fabrics used are thinner too.  And we all know that manufacturers (and pattern makers) often do not understand female curves!  Lol fashion corsets will most likely be less curvy than your natural form.  So it isn’t possible to reduce waist size with a fashion corset.

I still love fashion corsets (the steel boned ones, at least).  Sometimes I just want something cute, and I don’t have enough for a real corset in the budget!  I sell the cutest steel boned ones I’ve found in my store.  I don’t use the photos my supplier sends – instead take my own photos for each and every one of them, so you’ll know exactly what you are getting!  I also don’t sell fashion corsets in plus sizes.  Remember what I said earlier about the thinner steel bones and fabric?  Because of this, fashion corsets provide slightly less support than a strapless bra.  So if you are a plus size women, I’ll recommend a real corset instead, which will be better designed to handle your beautiful curves.

These are my favorite fashion corsets (at least the ones that I’ve taken real pictures of so far!)

Real Corsets

Now that we’ve gotten all the random out of the way, we can talk about real corsets!

And there are so many types and so many styles of them that it will require an entire other post to share them all with you!  Watch for it coming next week.  🙂

Corsets 101 Part 1: History

If you were born in the Victorian Era, you would most likely be wearing a corset right now! Most girls started wearing them in their young teens in those days. Victorian times were the heyday of corsets, but to search out their origins, we must go further back in time – to the late Renaissance.

So imagine with me a setting a bit like your local Ren Fest (but less fairies, more unpleasant smells… ok let’s not imagine the smells!) and travel to the French Court. Corsets as we know them today got a big push to fame because of Catherine De Medici.

A Portrait of Catherine De Medici

 

She’s on my “historical figures that would be fun to cosplay” list because she was kind of a badass (and possibly evil too.) One of the weirder things she did in her lifetime was to put a ban on “thick waists” at court. And a trend took hold.

In the early days, corsets looked like this:

18th Century Corset

They attempted to give you a torso shaped like an ice cream cone! The illusion was furthered by the style of the dresses women wore. They changed over the years, but they always featured a rather stylized figure. Here’s a gorgeous example from 1770:

Robe à l'Anglaise in Silk Damask

The corset as we know it today came into being during the Victorian era. They had been using the corset for hundreds of years as a foundation garment to help dresses fit and look a certain way. So when the style evolved to have a small nipped waist, and tons of voluminous petticoats, corsets got nice and curvy to help the silhouette.

The Victorian corset started out short and curvy – but when the skirts got more form fitting in the 1880’s, it extended down to shape and smooth the hips and abdomen. My designs are mostly inspired by the 1880s. I absolutely love the silhouette in those days!

In the 1890s (Edwardian era), they made corsets with straight fronts and backs shaped in a way that forced your chest out and your hips back. It made the gowns look so elegant – but it made the corsets rather uncomfortable for your back.

As modern feminists, we would like to think that one day, we decided to be liberated women, and spontaneously burned all our corsets and switched to wearing only practical clothing. But it didn’t quite happen that way! The thing that really made us stop wearing corsets was World War 1. They needed more steel to make weapons/ammunition. So women helped the war effort by giving up their steel boned corsets. We still wore shapewear – like girdles, and lighter elastic corsets for decades after that.

In the 60’s – a slim athletic figure came into style. So exercise replaced shapewear for attaining an ideal figure. And for a long while, corsets were a rare item for those not into historical reenactment or the fetish scene.

Now the corset has come back into fashion – as something we wear for fun! And I’m glad that they have. I’m a mother of two who hates to exercise – so as you can probably imagine, I don’t have an ideal figure according to modern standards! But oh, do I love how I look when I wear a corset. ^.^

If you are curious to learn more about the history of corsets, may I recommend this book:

I purchased and read it before writing this post to be sure I was dotting my i’s and crossing my ts correctly!  But it turned out to be a fascinating read with lots of interesting pictures.  (The above image is an affiliate link – if you purchase with the link Amazon will pay me a small commission on the sale.  I’ve found some awesomely recommendable things on Amazon over the years – and it seemed that the easiest way to share their images in my blog was to sign up for the affiliate program!  So that’s what I did.  ^.^)

Coming next week – Corsets 101 Part 2: Corset types!

The Ultimate Guide to Corsets

What is a corset? Nowadays the word refers to a whole bunch of things – including girdles (Corset purists feel free to gasp and look offended with me!) and bustiers. When I talk corsets, I mean “real” corsets, or the historical definition of a corset:

Corset (noun): a close-fitting undergarment, stiffened with whalebone or similar material and often capable of being tightened by lacing, enclosing the trunk: worn, especially by women, to shape and support the body; stays.

I’m writing a series of posts on corsets. I have rather a lot to share on the subject! Lol I come from a making-ball-gowns-out-of-curtains type background – so my first experience with corsets came from spending a VERY long time drooling over them, dreaming of owning one, researching how I could make one without being able to afford the proper boning and fabric, and attempting to (multiple times) from the wrong materials!

A custom made wedding corset
I’ve made lots of corset-ish things – but this is one of the only true corsets that I’ve made myself. For a friend’s custom designed wedding dress!

Now with what I do for a living, I wear at least 20 new corsets each year for photoshoots! And despite getting to lace up so regularly into all the new pretties, I don’t think my obsession has died. I LOVE corsets.

This is going to be an 8 part series. When I post each new part, I’ll come back here and update the link!

The Ultimate Guide to Corsets
This pic features just a few of the corsets that I wore last year for photos.

And here are the parts!

Part 1: History of Corsetry

Part 2: Types of Corsets

Part 3: Real Corset Styles

Part 4: Anatomy of a Corset

Part 5: Pattern Matters

Part 6: Find your Perfect Corset Size

Part 7: Wear a Corset like a Pro

Part 8: How to Care for your Corset