Guide to Corset Laces and Ribbons
In this post we’ll be discussing the 7 most common types of corset laces, their pros and cons, which ones are my personal favorites in different situations, etc.
Round Polyester Cord
You’ll usually find this style of lacing in budget OTR corsets. It’s a round type of corded shoelace, not flat, and often 1/8 inch in width. Being polyester based, it’s a fairly strong fiber.
You may recall that I will almost exclusively use cotton and natural fibers for my strength layer in corsets because of its breathability, but when it comes to laces, I will almost exlcusively use nylon or polyester based laces because they’re so strong.
Polyester cord tends to have some “spring” to it, and when you’re dealing with laces that are often 8 yards (7.3 meters) in length, this “springiness” can become annoying or frustrating, especially when a corset is new, because you just feel like you’re stretching out the laces as opposed to closing the corset.
The thinness of the cord helps the bows and knots to hold well without slipping, but I personally find that such a thin cord cuts into my hands when I’m trying to lace up, and makes my palms sore – for this reason, round polyester cords are one of my least favorite types of corset laces.
This cord comes in a multitude of colors online, and they can be purchased in 100-yard lengths in bulk and in any color you can imagine. This is the strongest type of cord used in corsetry today; it’s called 550 because it’s able to withstand up to 550 pounds of tension before breaking, and it’s called paracord because it was often used in parachutes. You’ll find paracord in emergency situations, like sold in bracelets that you can wear while camping, hiking or rafting, so if you fall down a cliff or get swept away by a current, you can unravel the bracelet and throw the paracord around a sturdy object to stop yourself.
In Ann Grogan’s “Corset Magic” book, she mentions that a corset can put up to 90 lbs of pressure around the torso, so this paracord would easily be able to withstand the tension.
In my opinion, this is where the positive things end. The cord has the colored outer coating, and then 7 smaller cords inside. Even while using a proper square knot, I find that my bows are not quite as secure as when I use ribbon or flat laces, and I also find the cord to be quite bulky and conspicuous especially under clothing. Because the inner cords and the outer sheath are not attached in any way, the outer part tends to twirl around the core and twists and bunches up in weird ways, making my corsets difficult to lace up. And once again, I find it painful on my hands when I’m lacing up.
Some people pull out the 7 tiny cords in the center and simply use the colored sheath for their laces – it will be more flat (but more springy), but you won’t have to sacrifice any of the color! It won’t withstand 550 lbs of tension without the internal cords, but it should still hold up fine for corsetry.
LibertyProducts sells 100ft (about 33 yards, enough for 4-5 corsets) of 550 paracord in 30 color options on Etsy for $5.99.
Satin Rat Tail Cord
I consider this a hybrid between round cord and satin laces. It’s called “rat tail” lacing because it’s so thin. I’ve heard it’s diffciult to source in Europe, but I’ve been able to walk into my local Fabricland (here in Canada) and find 3mm wide satin rat tail cord in a multitude of colors. It’s also quite inconspicuous and not bulky under clothing because it’s so thin.
It has no springiness to it, and it’s surprisingly strong, especially for its tiny width. I find rat tail cord great for small grommets (#00 or even #X00 size) and it comes in a multitude of colors. I’m not sure why, but despite its small width it doesn’t cut into my hands as much as the bulkier round cords above – perhaps less friction due to the satin outside.
However, because it has a satiny coating, if there are any splits in your grommets then the laces can catch and cause scarring or fraying of the laces.
Because the satin cord is more slippery, you do have to know how to tie a proper bow and proper knots (not granny-bows) otherwise they can easily slip and your corset can easily loosen.
Cchange sells 25m of 2mm wide rat tail cord (easily enough for 3 corsets), in 24 different colors on Etsy for $3.50.
Single-Face Satin Ribbon
Depending on the corset maker, they will either recommend using ribbon or they won’t – it’s a matter of personal preference. Some claim that ribbons don’t last long, and they either stretch out or break – if this has been their experience, most likely they have used single-faced satin ribbon.
Single-face ribbon does not look the same on both sides. One side (the “good side”) is shiny and smooth, while the underside is more matte, a bit more rough or scratchy, and may even look similar to grosgrain ribbon. Single-face ribbon tends to be a little harder on the hands compared to double-face ribbon.
Double-Face Satin Ribbon (DF ribbon)
Double-face ribbon has the same texture on both sides (smooth and shiny), and is often a heavier weight/ slightly thicker than single-face satin.
DF ribbon is also used in single-layer ribbon cinchers, as they’re quite strong, have no “springiness” or stretch, and hold tension well. DF ribbon is stronger than SF ribbon, more lush and softer on the hands, but it’s also more expensive.
Regardless of which type of satin ribbon you use, if your grommets have splits, they will catch on the ribbon and cause fraying and scarring, which eventually leads to weakness and your ribbon may break after months of regular use. Fortunately, ribbon is easily sourced and laces are easy to replace.
One of the big advantages about ribbon laces is that they’re very flat and low-profile under clothing.
Most ribbons in corsets use 1cm (or 0.5 inch) wide ribbon. Some brands have slightly less wide ribbons (Starkers uses 3/8 inch wide) and some brands have wider ribbons (Totally Waisted uses 1 inch wide). The wider ribbons feel more luxurious, but consider the size of the grommets in your corset. Using a thin ribbon in large grommets, your corset may loosen as soon as you let go of the laces because they’re so slippery. On the other hand, thick ribbon through small grommets increases the friction, which may make your corset more difficult to unlace.
I will always use DF satin ribbon in my couture corsets – it can usually be perfectly matched to the rest of the corset and it has a luxurious finish – plus I rarely wear my bespoke corsets, so I don’t really have to worry about wearing out the ribbons for long time.
Little Mint Company sells DF-satin ribbon (4 units [8 yards long] and 12mm wide is usually sufficient for a longline corset or overbust) for $5.20 on Etsy.
These are ubiquitous – they’re easy to source, they’re often cheaper than ribbon, and they’re a “workhorse” lacing that will last you a long time. You will find flat shoelace most often in corsets (both OTR and custom waist training corsets). Because they’re flatter they will hold knots and bows well, and they’re “middle of the road” in terms of bulkiness so it’s possible to hide these laces under clothing. They’re quite strong, with minimal spring. They also don’t cut into my hands in a painful way while lacing, as long as the laces are flat in my hand and I don’t hold the laces on their edge, or they’re twisted up.
White cotton laces are more eco-friendly and can also be dyed to match the rest of your cotton corset perfectly. The cotton flat laces are softer and fuzzier to the touch – but for a more definitive test, burn a small sample of the laces (outside) – cotton will create an ash, whereas polyester will melt. Polyester laces take dye less readily, but they can still be dyed.
I personally find that when it comes to waist training corsets, that the polyester lace is a better choice because it seems to have less wear over time compared to the cotton laces (I’ve had cotton laces snap after a few months of wear, whereas I’ve never had polyester laces snap on me yet, even in the corsets I’ve kept for years).
Historical Designs sells 1/4 inch wide flat lacing in white and black on Etsy.
FTC: I purchased these laces for personal use, and all opinions are my own. Tiddly links are Etsy affiliate links which help keep this site online and the articles free for everyone. Photos courtesy of Etsy.