Last year I received several questions from viewers wondering if it’s safe to wear a corset if one has an ileostomy. Having no personal experience, I asked around. One helpful follower then introduced me to Kitty’s blog, and to my surprise I also found that there were a few different corsetieres who specialize in making corsets for ileostomates.
I love Kitty’s candor, and found it fascinating that she is not only able to wear corsets with her ostomy, but also that her corset is used for stabilizing her hepaptosis (floating liver) and scoliosis. Her posts on corsetry can be found here and here. I asked if she would be willing to share a bit more of her personal experience on my blog, and she graciously agreed.
(Please note that this is in context of an ileostomy only, and may not work the exact same way for other types of stomas. If you have a stoma and would like to wear a corset, please speak with your doctor!)
When did you take an interest in corsets? Was it merely aesthetic, or was there something else to it as well?
Kitty: I first became interested in corsets as a young girl. They resembled my TLSO backbrace I wore for ten years to stop my spine from curving any more with scoliosis, except they were beautiful–a celebration of the female shape instead of the hard plastic ugly shape I had been fitted for at the Children’s Hospital.
Are your doctors okay with you wearing a corset? Did any of them have objections due to negative myths?
Kitty: One of the doctors I had in British Columbia actually signed papers saying I needed a corset for my back, but stupid me, I never got around to fighting that out with the insurance company.
You had experience with back bracing when you were younger – many of my viewers/ readers have scoliosis, and some have said that they worry that wearing a corset might trigger unpleasant memories of being braced. In your experience, how does a corset differ from the back brace (comfort-wise, aesthetically or otherwise)?
Kitty: Ah, silly me, I already answered about the back-brace. It was a very unpleasant time being braced and physically and emotionally bullied by both teachers and my peers, but it really has no bearing on me now. I have gotten the perspective of years behind me, and to take that thick plastic foot-ball players’ uniform compared to my delicate corset–well, there really is no comparison.
How did you go about finding a corsetiere who was comfortable making the proper accommodations for your medical needs (e.g. asymmetric construction for scoliosis, access to your ileostomy, ensuring that your organs were properly positioned with the right silhouette and reduction)?
Kitty: I was fortunate enough to live near the same corsetiere as Dita Von Teese goes to–it is called Lace Embrace in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I found it quite by accident while searching for such on the internet.
How is your corset made differently to standard corsets? Are you able to access and change your ostomy bag easily? Does the corset prevent your bag from filling properly and create discomfort or bloating?
Kitty: My corset has a side panel that flows smoothly over my ileostomy bag, that I can simply unhook whenever I need to dump my bag. The bones were also removed from that section, though you couldn’t tell if you looked at it, which was the point.
I have suffered no ill-effects of my corset, I have even slept in my corset. I just have my normal bag on, and fit the corset over it easily, tie it up, and I am ready to go.
You mentioned in your blog that you have issues with your ligaments, and the corset helps keep your liver from dropping. How does that condition affect your daily quality of life (is it painful or nauseating), and how does the corset help?
Kitty: With the corset, it lifts up both my stomach and liver which otherwise float a bit inside of my abdominal cavity.
One of the concerns I’ve heard regarding stomas is the risk of hernias. Was the extra pressure from a corset a concern for you in this situation – or do you think that the specific application of pressure on your abdomen by the corset would help to prevent such a hernia from occurring?
Kitty: Because I tie it correctly, my organs are not being pushed down to the bottom of the corset, but lifted, and I have never felt like my stomach was bulging or that I might be getting a hernia. The corset lifts pressure from that area and transfers it up to my rib-cage.
Were there any drawbacks you found to wearing a corset?
Kitty: The only drawback is you will need someone to help you tie it up until you get a hang of it yourself! I still have yet to do it alone!
Were there any other unexpected benefits that you discovered from wearing the corset – either physically or emotionally?
Kitty: Of course the benefit is a sexy silhouette, you always have grand posture, and you feel pretty darn good doing so :)
What advice can you give to others who have an ostomy and are looking into corsets (either for fashion or for therapeutic purposes)?
Kitty: For ileostomates: dont be afraid to try on or wear corsets. if you buy one already made, have the seller make a snap-panel over your bag area so you can let that bugger breathe and do what it does best. Eat as you normally would, but more grazing during the day and avoiding dumping one big meal all at once into your stomach.
I chose a corset in a pale peach so it would go under all of my clothing, but that is a personal choice–it’s up to you!
This entry is a summary of the review video “Ava Corsetry ‘Carmen’ Corset Review” which you can watch on YouTube here:
This style is standard sized: Center front is about 11.5 inches high, from underbust to lap is 9.5 inches, and the center back is 12.5 inches. Hourglass silhouette with rounded ribcage and rounded hip. Waist in this corset is 24″, ribcage is 30″ and lower hip is 34″.
2 main layers, fashion fabric is red poly taffeta, and strength fabric is black herringbone coutil. Black floral lace and tulle on the decorative front panels and “hip fins”. Very lightweight corset!
5 vertical panels, with a 6th semi-circle hip panel. Constructed using the welt-seam method. Internal boning channels are made with strips of coutil, and the herringbone lining is semi-floating in a couple of places!
Bias strips of matching red taffeta, machine stitched on both sides. I like how narrow and delicate the binding looks on this corset!
1 inch wide invisible waist tape, sewn between the layers. The partial tape starts at the seam between panels 1-2, and ends at seam between 4-5.
Back modesty panel is 6 inches wide and finished in the same red taffeta. Unstiffened and stitched onto one side of the back of the corset (easily removable). 1/2″ wide modesty placket in front.
Standard flexible busk (1/2″ wide on each side), and 10.5 inches long. It has 5 loops and pins, with the bottom two closer together. Two 1/4″ wide flat steels adjacent to the busk help to keep the abdomen flat.
16 bones total, 8 on each side. Two by the busk and 4 by the grommets are 1/4″ flat steels, while the side bones are likely spirals.
24 two-part grommets, size #00, small flange, quite sturdy. Silver finish. The taffeta is pulling away from the grommets (see discussion below).
Black flat shoe-lace style lacing, no spring, easy to pull and tie.
About £209 to commission the Carmen corset in your size. Upgrade to custom fit is very reasonable (starts at only £10 more) depending on how much your own measurements deviate from the standard size chart.
The Carmen corset is one of the most creatively constructed corsets I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing. It’s a clever combination of internal boning channels, and hidden boning channels to create a corset with a semi-floating fashion layer that allows for a comfortable semi-circular hip panel and decorative mini-pannier (hip fin). The corset is surprisingly lightweight overall, and the taffeta sits smoothly around the body. I’m usually not a “taffeta” type of girl, but I adore this corset.
The black lace against the fiery red fabric lends a certain Spanish flair, and I can’t help but wonder if the corset was named after the Bizet’s opera of the same name, based in Spain in the mid 19th century.
The only construction issue I found in the corset is that the taffeta started to distort in the back and pull away from a couple of grommets at the waistline. However, I have personally found that this is a property of taffeta – almost all of the taffeta corsets I’ve ever owned over the years have done the same thing, but this remains only superficial/ aesthetic damage – as long as the strength fabric does not distort, the grommet should not pull out. If I were to replace the grommet with another of a wider flange, the distortion wouldn’t be visible at all.
At the time I purchased this corset (February 2015), Ava Corsetry was operated by the incredible Danielle MacDonald. (The name Ava was inspired by the elegance of Ava Gardner.) The business has since changed hands and a new corsetiere (Lyzzy, who also works with Kiss Me Deadly) now runs Ava. Danielle was sure to choose her successor very carefully and ensures that her future customers remain in good hands. Check out the Ava Corsetry website here.
(Watch Habanera from Carmen below – with vocalists in genuine corsets!)
Back in 2011 I made an introductory video on corset liners, what they are used for and what you can use as a substitute (tank top, tube top, etc). But at the time I had only experienced one brand of corset liner, and in the past few years I’ve tried a few more from different companies so I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of each today.
What is a corset liner?
A liner is a thin, stretchy, breathable garment that you wear underneath your corset which provides a barrier or buffer between your skin and the corset.
Liners do two things: they protect your skin against chafing, and they help keep the corset clean. I’ll go into more detail below.
Liners are typically made from a very stretchy fabric and designed to be smaller than your natural waist. A well-fitting corset liner, when unstretched, should be about the same waist measurement as your corset’s closed internal waist measurement, so when you’re lacing down, the liner will shrink back with the corset and remain smooth around your body.
Preventing wrinkles or folds under the corset will help keep you more comfortable and prevent pressure sores that might have otherwise occurred if you wore a bulky shirt under your corset instead.
You can purchase specific corset liners, which look like hourglass-shaped tube tops. Most corset liners are for underbust corsets – they cover only from the underbust to the upper hips.
Corset liners help protect your body
If you are lacing without a liner, the rigid corset may drag against your skin and pull it in uncomfortable ways, resulting in chafing and bruising. Laces can also cause rope/friction burn if the corset doesn’t have a modesty panel. Corset liners are sometimes made with a relatively slick fabric which allows the corset (and laces) to glide over the liner, reducing the risk of chafing.
A good liner can also prevent your skin from being scratched by a split or rough grommet. All proper liners will also be breathable and moisture-wicking so will help keep your skin comfortable and feeling cool and dry throughout the day.
Corset liners help protect your corset
If you’re wearing a corset on a regular basis, especially in warm weather, you’re going to sweat quite a lot. Your body also produces sebum, and trillions of bacteria and yeast cells grow all over your skin and feed of the oil and cholesterol in your sebum, kept in a careful balance to protect you from external pathogenic germs. You are also constantly sloughing off dead skin cells and losing downy little hairs from all over your body. Also, if you use skin products like lotions and perfumes, these can also transfer onto your clothing! This is why some people are understandably disgusted to learn that corsets are rarely (if ever) washed.
Corsets should not be washed regularly, for several reasons which I discuss this article. It’s imperative that the corset be kept as clean as possible and washing be kept to a minimum.The catch 22 is that corsets can be damaged by being washed, but they can also be damaged by not being washed! The salt in our sweat and the acidic pH of the mantle of our skin can break down fibers in delicate fabrics like silk. Also, an unwashed, dark, damp corset can create a breeding ground for microbes, and affect that delicate balance of critters on our skin – making us more prone to skin infections – yuck!
But wearing a liner between your body and the corset means that the liner will take this abuse instead, and the liner can be washed regularly, saving your corset and keeping it clean and fresh.
Are you absolutely required to wear a liner under your corset? Of course not; a garment is yours to do with as you wish – but if you want your corset to last as long as possible, then it’s a great reason to start!
Thin stretchy shirts can be a corset liner substitute
If you don’t have access or can’t afford real corset liners, there are many products that will do as makeshift liners. Some of my favorites include thin cotton babydoll t-shirts (as they are thin, close-fitting, stretchy and breathable), seamless microfiber camisoles and tank tops in the summer, and microfiber turtlenecks in the winter. I have even heard of people wearing body stockings or leotards – just make sure you have some way of going to the bathroom in these, as you don’t want to be in a rush and discover that you have to remove your corset to do your business!
However, most shirts have their limitations: they are usually cut to suit a natural waist, and they’re unlikely to shrink down enough with a corset – the result is a few wrinkles in your shirt under the corset. This is usually not the end of the world, and many people are fine with this especially if their corset is only a moderate reduction and they’re not training 23 hours a day. In shirts that tend to wrinkle on me, I will slide my hands under the corset before tightening and try to bring the fullness of the fabric away from the sides of my waist (where there’s the most pressure) to the back, where it’s less likely to irritate.
Corset liner =/= Faja
Both liners and fajas are stretchy and designed to fit smooth around the body. However, they have some important differences:
A corset liner is breathable and moisture-wicking. It’s not shapewear, it’s not so strong that it’s going to pull your waist in by more than an inch or so.
A “rubber cincher” or faja is still stretchy, but it has more resistance so it may bring in the waist by a couple of inches. But the main difference is that it’s not designed to be breathable. The rubber or neoprene coating keeps you warm and encourages you to sweat. The rubber cincher makes you hot and sweaty, whereas a corset liner keeps you cool and dry – literally opposite effects!
Let’s compare the stats of all the corset liners:
The table is pretty wide, be sure to use the slider at the bottom to see all the brands.
Synthetic spandex fabric (feels like swimsuit fabric).
Cotton and lycra (thinner than Madame Sher).
# of seams
2 seams (I wear the corset with the seams to the front and back, and the tag on the outside).
Zero seams (woven tube).
2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).
2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).
2 seams (I wear it inside-out, and rotated so the seams are at the front and back).
1 seam which is designed to be worn toward the back of the body, where the laces are.
1 seam, and the seam is kind of lapped so it's flatter than a typical seam allowance.
Custom or Standard
Custom to my measurements
Standard (sizes S, M, L)
Standard (I wear size small). Available in size XS - XXL (18 inches to 42 inches)
Made to match my corset size
Made to order? (I received samples)
Custom to my measurements
Standard (size medium)
Nude / beige
Black, white, ivory, nude
11” (size medium), 10" (size small)
Circumferential measurements (Unstretched)
Waist is 20", underbust is 26", hips are 32”.
Size small is 20” along the entire length, size Medium is 24” along entire length.
Waist is 24", underbust is 27", hips are 34”. (corresponds to size 24" hourglass corset measurements)
22" waist, same as my corsets - but the underbust/ hips were not to my measurements.
Waist is 24", underbust is 26", hips are 30".
Waist is 21", underbust is 28”, hips are 29”.
Waist is 24", underbust is 27", hips are 27”.
Elastic ribbon on the top and bottom helps keep it in place. You can fold your liner over the top and bottom edges of your corset, which helps protect the binding from wear, abrasion, or underboob sweat. Very slick fabric and has very little friction. Very thin and stretchy.
Smooth, moisture-wicking, soft to the touch, no seams. Mostly natural fibers (good for those who are sensitive too all synthetic liners).
Breathable and cool, great for those who have a skin sensitivity to synthetics.
Breathable and cool, great for those who have a skin sensitivity to synthetics.
The fabric is infused with a skin toning / conditioning moisturizer (lasts up to 15 washes)
Very slick fabric and has very little friction. Very thin.
Pretty stretch lace on the top and bottom edges, which is flatter/ lower profile than a thick folded sewn hem.
Not quite as breathable as the cotton fabrics. Most expensive option (worth it, in my opinion).
Fabric is more plush and less slick. The woven hem may leave temporary marks on the skin.
Cotton knits tend to wrinkle a bit more compared to some synthetic knits (like nylon jersey). If you can cinch down more than 6" in the waist, you may want to go up a size.
When on my body, it tends to shorten a bit so it doesn't cover the full length of my corset. Cotton knits tend to wrinkle a bit more compared to some synthetic knits (like nylon jersey).
Needs to be hand washed to maximize the moisturizer. Stretches out the more you wear it.
Not quite as breathable as the cotton fabrics. Also it's a weird shape, and the seam creates a point at the top and the bottom that tends to extend beyond the edges of my corset.
The lace has a habit of rolling over on itself - if this annoys you, go with one of the other corsets with a more sturdy hem. Also, cotton wrinkles a little more than the synthetic liners.
Most stretchy, most smooth under corsets. Lucy’s personal favorite.
Affordable, moisture-wicking, soft to the touch, 2nd-most stretchy. Lucy’s 2nd favorite.
Comes in the biggest size range. Breathable, moisture-wicking.
2nd least expensive, most moisture-wicking.
Least expensive, unique skin moisturizing properties.
If you plan to immerse your corset under water (in order to wash it, dye it a different color, or you plan to wear it to the beach, pool or water park), there are a few things to consider. I have received a surprising number of emails (in the past month especially) from various people wanting to know if it’s okay to swim in their corset.
Although I know of at least two people who have occasionally taken a dip while wearing a corset, and a handful of other models who have worn corsets in water-themed photo shoots (see below), I know that I would not personally swim in a corset. I am not a very strong swimmer, and I need to have full lung capacity and full mobility when I swim – so I know that I’d prefer not to cinch my waist or restrict my ribcage when swimming laps. If I were frolicking in the shallow end and just wearing a corset under my swimsuit for a bit of shape without intending to swim, this might be a different story.
Why do so many corsetieres not recommend washing their corsets?
If your corsetiere creates a custom piece for you and they mention in their wear & care information that the corset should not be washed, please follow their directions. The biggest concern regarding consistently wetting your corset is that the steel bones may rust over time. Also, fabrics like silk and even polyester satin can water stain, and fabrics that are not colorfast will have the dye bleed and fade. JoAnn Peterson (owner of Laughing Moon Mercantile) also taught me that if multiple-layer corsets are made with different fibers (for instance are strength fabric of cotton and a fashion layer of wool suiting) they will have different shrink rates – especially if the fabric isn’t pre-washed – so your corset may end up warped, wrinkly or bubbly if it ends up shrinking.
Why were so many advertisements for washable corsets in the early 1900s?
Corsets made in the 1800s that were designed to be worn every day (especially for the working class) were often made from a single layer of hardy cotton and not made in vibrant colours – so there was little worry about different shrink rates or dyes bleeding. Back when corsets were made with reed and whalebone, these come from plants and animals that live in the water, so wetting them occasionally actually helped to condition them, and keep them supple and flexible. Old, dry baleen was brittle and prone to snapping or splintering (which is where the rumors of corsets causing “broken bones” likely came from – it was broken baleen, not broken human bones!).
(Above is a silent film advertisement from the 1910s for Warners corsets, which were guaranteed not to rust, break or tear. By the 20th century, the vast majority of corsets did contain steel bones, though.)
When baleen was first replaced with steel, it was initially a type of ‘mild steel’ ribbon. While in England last year during a visit to the Symington collection, I had the opportunity to see how thin, flexible, and badly rusted these older steel bones were. A few styles of corsets back then had little deliberate slits or gaps in the boning channels, which allowed you to remove the bones before you washed the corset and easily replace them afterward!
Lara Corsets comments: “This ad showing a corset getting wet was shocking at the time because it was common knowledge that soaking a corset would ruin it. Corsets of the 19th century in general are often starched and steam molded to have a certain shape. Washing will literally wash out all of that shaping. They were never intended to be washed. Steel busks were usually paper, fabric or leather wrapped and would absolutely rust. The enameled steel was a big step forward in the 1890s but on OLD enameled flat steels the surface crackles and rust forms quickly. Washing often causes huge rust stains. These Warner’s corsets that claimed to be washable were boned with coraline which was thread wrapped reeds. The only metal on those corsets was the busk, grommets and side steels (if there were any).”
Today, modern technology has greatly helped prevent rusting and corrosion of steel. Flat (spring) steels are covered with a white coating and tipped with a tipping fluid, silicone or teflon. Wide busks are made of stainless steel (similar to modern silverware or your kitchen sink) so it’s more resistant to rust. Spiral steels are galvanized – they’re given a thin coating of zinc to help make them more resistant to rust, but even zinc can corrode over time, so nothing truly makes steel bones rust-proof forever (especially in the case of poor-quality steels sometimes found in budget corsets, which are not coated or galvanized properly).
The difference between workhorse corsets and collectible corsets
Please note that the recommendations and antique ads for washing your corset were intended for workhorse corsets – garments that were designed to be used every day, hold up to high tension for a short time, and eventually wear out. Other brand advertisements of the time boasted that their corsets lasted up to a whole year of use! (Consider the mentality today, where so many people think they can purchase one OTR corset, wear it daily and have it last 5, 10 years or more – not likely today as it wasn’t likely then!)
I’m sure that in 1910, hardly any woman of the time would predict that one of their daily undergarments would become a collector’s piece today – yet here we are. Again, it’s important to note that these garments were not intended to last 100 years. Areas of the cloth can become thin from damage by the elements: fluctuations in moisture and humidity, UV and other radiation, too acidic or too basic pH, or can even be eaten away by moths and microbes. Fibers can dry-rot and become delicate, and you may not see microscopic damage until you handle the corset in some way!
I’ve gotten some traffic recently from antique corset owners who are interested in washing their corset to get rid of the staining and grime the corset has collected over the years. Personally, I would not wash an antique. While the salt and oils from the body left over from the corset’s previous owner can cause some damage to a corset, the strong basic pH of cleanser and the agitation of washing is by far worse for the longevity of the corset – even if that antique contained baleen, and even if it was once intended to be a workhorse.
Additionally, there is a catch-22 with how thoroughly to cleanse an antique. If you use a gentle cleanser, these sometimes contain conditioners that stick to the fibers of the corset and can cause product build-up. Washing with a gentle cleanser will also not kill all the spores that may have settled into the fibers of the corset over decades, which, once wet, can encourage the growth of mould and mildew in your valuable collectible. If you use a harsher cleanser, this will undoubtedly damage the fibers irreversibly! Please consider carefully the ramifications of washing an antique. You will notice that museums don’t wash all their corsets; and many of them are very badly stained. They know that cleaning an antique can possibly destroy it, and would rather put a dirty corset on display than none at all. Despite their manufactured sturdiness, these pieces have become precious and delicate with age, so treat them as such.
Therefore, the information below on getting your corset wet (and in the video, for suggestions on how one might wash a corset) are intended only for contemporary corsets – often modern OTR and workhorse corsets – and not for couture pieces or antiques. When in doubt, always ask the corsetiere or seller their views on wetting or washing your corset.
What should you do if you get your corset wet?
If your corset does end up being immersed water, either for dying reasons, washing, for a photo shoot, or just by accident, it’s best to air-dry it as fast as possible, perhaps in an area with a warm breeze, out of direct sunlight if you’re worried about color fading. If the corset is white, then the UV rays in sunlight have a bleaching effect, and can also naturally deodorize and disinfect – but do be aware that UV rays can also break down the fibers of a corset faster. Absolutely never throw your corset in a tumble dryer!
Still want / need to dunk your corset in water?
If you do plan to wet your corset on a regular basis, here are some tips to keep your corset functional and beautiful for as long as possible:
Don’t be incredibly attached to your corset. There is a possibility that it’ll get ruined, even when it’s made to specifications below. Perhaps have an OTR corset set aside for those soggy situations, instead of wetting a custom/ couture corset.
If your corset has multiple layers, be sure that those layers are the same fiber (e.g. cotton inner and cotton outer layers). These fabrics should preferably be pre-washed and pre-shrunk before the corset was constructed.
Your steel bones need to be properly coated, galvanized, tipped or otherwise made rust-resistant.
Your grommets should preferably be iron free (and also nickel free if you’re sensitive to that). The most common is brass (an alloy of copper and zinc). Some grommets are made with aluminum as well.
If you are a really hardcore trainer and you’re invested in having a corset for all types of situations, and you’re also not allergic to latex or rubber, consider a rubber corset. Bizarre Design and Fantastic Rubber are both well-known for their rubber corsets. Cathie Jung and Michele Köbke both have been seen wearing ‘swimming corsets’ (although it’s not known whether Cathie has really been in the water with hers!). But know that rubber does not breathe and wouldn’t be best for your skin or your internal body temperature if you were to wear it for long hours in the hot sun.
Lara’s Expert Tips for Washing a Corset:
Don’t wash your antique corset unless you are willing to take a chance in compromising it’s strength further if not completely as well as possibly making it worse that it’s current condition. Now, when I am willing to wash a corset here is my method and what I recommend to my customers for the corsets I make them:
Place corset within, and push it around a bit. Spot scrub any stained spots gently – consider the fabric before you brush or rub too hard – a brocade would not withstand harsh treatment. No need to soak. Rinse immediately – Do not wring ever.
Lay out a thick dry towel and lay the open corset upon it. Roll the towel with the corset and gently press as much water from the corset as possible. Repeat with a fresh towel as needed.
Hang the corset over a rod, hanger or something similar with a fan or two blowing directly upon it. This will get it dry as fast as possible and help to discourage rust from forming.
Do you swim in your corsets, wash them, or otherwise wet them regularly? Leave a comment below and let us know what steps you take to keep your corset in tip-top shape.
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