This post deals primarily with differentiating a real corset from a cheap bustier – not necessarily all the different levels of quality when it comes to a corset. When you get into differentiating a hand-designed piece from a factory piece, it can sometimes get tricky, especially when there are cases of photo theft. Learning to recognize photo theft and who wholesells to whom, will come with experience and familiarizing yourself with the work of various designers.
Do see this video if you would like to see two specific examples of a company that doesn’t market their corsets effectively, and a website that does have effective marketing. I would have liked to include many other corset companies (and even individual designers’ websites) in this video, but Orchard was the only company who had agreed to show their site on video.
Analyzing the photo
The model should preferably be alive
The corset should preferably be modeled on a real person, not just a “floating” corset or on a mannequin that already has a wasp waist. It’s nice to see a back view to be sure the gap in the back is nice and even. When the corset is shown at multiple angles, it will prove that it wasn’t laced in a biased way.
If you can see all angles…
When you look at the corset from all angles, try to count the number of panels – there should be no less than four on each side, but preferably 5 or 6 panels.
The grommets should be reasonably spaced apart – not too far apart; 2 inches between each grommet is too much space to give a decent and controlled cinch in my opinion. Eyelets or grommets should also be sandwiched between two bones (unless use of a lacing bone is mentioned), and in the pictures, the laces should not be crumpling up on itself.
When looking at the boning channels, you should not be able to see the whirls of the spiral steel boning underneath the satin. If you do, this means that the satin may not be reinforced and the bones may wear a hole through the satin eventually.
Panels should be somewhat smooth, not too wrinkly, not asymmetric and not gaping away from the model or mannequin. Sometimes, I will see a more or less reputable company that has a picture of a very wrinkly satin corset, and it looks rather sloppy. In these situations, I’m actually confused as to why that reputable company would make an uncharacteristically wrinkly piece, and/or why they would use such poor photographs. Regardless of the reputation of the seller, if I see a corset that is quite wrinkly and wobbly, it’s a pretty good sign that it’s not laced onto the mannequin tightly, and it may not be designed to be laced tightly – as a result, I wouldn’t purchase it.
Reading the description
Make sure you check the whole page for full description – and read ALL the small print. If it says plastic or acrylic bones, don’t buy it. The description should say all steel bones, or fully steel boned, or will list the number of steel bones. There should be no less than 12 bones, but preferably over 20 if you plan to wear this on a regular basis.
A decent corset will also usually have a waist tape – either see the outline of this in the photos, or look for it mentioned in the description.
The website should mention that the corset has at least 1 layer of sturdy cotton (a strength layer) so it doesn’t stretch. Most companies use twill, but a few do use coutil. Often they don’t specify, but they should at least make mention of a strength layer being included.
If they can trick you with wording, they will.
Make sure they don’t use tricky wording such as “Steel busk and bones” because they want you to read that as “steel busk and steel bones” but in reality it can read as “steel busk, and-also-there-are-bones-but-we’re-not-telling-you-what-kind.”
When buying off-the-rack corsets, then a busk is your safest bet. Zippers may or may not be strong enough, depending on the brand. You generally don’t need to worry about closed-front corsets since no front fastening means no weak areas here – the only caveat is if you don’t have the patience to unlace it completely and slip it over your head when putting it on or taking it off. If a corset laces up in front and back, this is fine as long as both the center front and center back panels look to be the same quality grommets or two-part eyelets, and both sets are sandwiched between a pair of bones.
Other things like a modesty panel and garter tabs and the like – these may or may not be mentioned. It’s up to you whether these are a “requirement” or a “nice-to-have”.
Be wary of freebies
Some companies will offer free sets of garter tabs with every corset – I actually tend to avoid these unless I can see the quality of them. Some sellers will always offer something free like that to sweeten the deal but if you ask me, if they have to entice someone by throwing in freebies ALL the time, it means that the corset is not worth the price they listed it at.
Do you have any other ways of picking the “real” corsets out from the plastic-boned “corset tops” and bustiers, which aren’t so obvious to a beginner? Let me know in the comments below!