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