This post was inspired by an email I received a few months ago from a client who was ready to graduate from OTR to custom, and asked me how I went about choosing which corsetiere to work with (amidst the hundreds of known options). Admittedly, I’ve commissioned a lot of custom corsets — and also admittedly, I’ve made a few mistakes along the way! I thought it would be great to share some of these experiences, what I learned, and what I’d do differently in the future.
Phase 1 (2010-2011): Price
I went with the cheapest corset maker possible; those that could make custom pieces under $200.
What I found with these makers is that they were not always incredibly experienced, and many were just trying to get their foot in the market — so there were often fitting issues, strength/ durability issues, communication issues, long wait times, etc.
My very first custom corset was a front-lacing piece and I discussed all my regrets around this cincher in a previous post.
My second custom piece was by Heavenly Corsets, which at first I defended (as you can see when I addressed some complaints from others about untidy seams, the bowing steels in the back, etc), but over time I had to make several alterations and corrections to this corset and ended up selling it off. Although there are some unicorns in the corset industry where you can indeed find a decent custom corset for under $200, more often than not, buying the cheapest custom corset available is a risky game.
Almost no corset maker keeps their corsets under $200 or $300 for more than a year or two – either there are “catches” to their skills or service that justifies “you get what you pay for”, or they quickly become too popular due to their competitive price and they burn out or they have to raise their prices.
Phase 2 (2012-2013): Proximity
By 2012, I had purchased three custom pieces (each under $200) and spent about $500. After continual disappointment in fit, comfort, or usability, I began to see the value in not flitting from one “cheapest” brand to the next, and instead investing in a local (but more expensive) experience corsetiere who can do it once and do it right.
So I started seeking out corset makers in the Toronto area, like Totally Waisted (now Bone & Busk Couture), Starkers Corsetry, and L’Atelier de LaFleur. With each of these corsetieres, I had a different experience.
In the case of Bone & Busk Couture, I visited Kate twice — first to have a bonafide mockup fitting where Kate was able to tuck loose areas and slash tight areas, and the second time to pick up my completed corset.
With Starkers Corsetry, I actually didn’t order a custom piece, but rather I took advantage of a sample sale and went to try on the sample before I purchased (so this wasn’t exactly a commission, but more on-par with trying on a ready-to-wear corset in-store before purchasing – an experience I never had before because there were never brick-and-mortar corset shops near me).
When I visited L’Atelier de LaFleur, because Mina and I wore a similar corset size at the time, I had the unique opportunity of trying on some of her personal corset collection and design samples, and we also got to chat and sit down to an interview together. While trying in several samples isn’t exactly like a mockup fitting (in that Mina didn’t slash or tuck the corset samples, she was able to determine what to change anyway. I then came back a couple of months later after the piece was completed.
Having an in-person mockup fitting is one of THE most valuable parts of the custom process. Depending on the corsetiere, they may offer a mockup fitting, or they might have samples for you to try on (depending on the size you wear; samples tend to be on the smaller side), or possibly even both if you’re lucky – but most experienced corsetieres will offer fittings. If you have any OTR corsets, I would even recommend bringing along your best-fitting one so you can show them how your body responds to the compression of a corset and you can discuss what you’d like to change. Trying on something in the presence of the maker and letting them know that you could do an inch smaller in the waist or you’d like two inches more height in the back, while getting their expert input as well on fixing certain areas that you may not have even noticed, is all included in the extra fee — you’re not just paying for a product (the corset), you’re also paying for the fitting service and for their expert input. In my case, buying locally meant that I had to pay easily twice the price of my first few customs, but it was worth it to me (I’m lucky that the Torontonian makers here all have close to 20 years of experience, as well as they all have made therapeutic / medical corsets in the past), and I also feel good about supporting my local artists.
(Incidentally, if you’re looking for a corset maker near you, check out the free Corsetiere Map. If you live in the US or western Europe, there’s a good chance that one or several makers are within driving distance of you!)
At this point I was still looking for my “perfect” Little Black Corset, but I started experimenting with getting little embellishments here and there (because purchasing a plain black corset from 10 different makers is boring). I also realized that there are SO many different construction methods, so many patterns and silhouettes that can come from the same set of body measurements, etc. It was a very expensive period of trial and error.
Phase 3 (2013-current) Prestige/ Ingenuity:
When I was ready to buy my first custom overbust, I immediately knew I wanted to work with Sparklewren, who was one of the most esteemed corset makers at the time (and some people still believe that she may be one of the greatest corsetieres of our generation). I knew that she only took orders sporadically but I trusted her quality, I loved her shaping and embellishment, and I knew that her prices would only go up over time, so once I had saved up enough, I jumped at the opportunity to own one of her luxury pieces.
I also jumped at the opportunity to own a summer mesh training piece from Contour Corsets once I saw that her prices were going to increase significantly soon. When independent artists announce that their prices are about to nearly double, they’re generally at a crossroads (they are overworked and underpaid and only have a finite amount of labor and time, so they are forced to either charge more or leave the industry).
It was already by this time that I realized that there is no “perfect” way to make a corset, just different ways that are more or less suited to your tastes. If you get an absolutely “perfect” corset for your very first piece, consider yourself a lucky part of the 0.001%
How to obtain The One (perfect corset) for yourself:
If I wanted one perfect corset for myself, I wouldn’t have flitted around from one corsetiere to the next for the past nearly 10 years. That’s on me because there is a veritable buffet of wonderful artists that I’d love to discover, befriend, support, and showcase their work. But for those who need an absolutely perfect corset (for lifestyle, medical, or training purposes), these clients tend to have some things in common:
- They are willing to travel (even sometimes crossing country borders) to seek out a well-reputed corsetiere whose construction methods, artistic style, communication and philosophy suit the client’s needs, aesthetic, and communication style. They often prefer to be fitted in person.
- They are excessively open and clear (but polite) with their communication, expressing their likes and dislikes during mockup/sample fittings, not being vague about potential fit or comfort issues (because lack of communication means this discomfort can be overlooked and perpetuated into the final corset).
- They tend to be “loyal” and build a rapport with one or two corset makers, and as their body might change with age, weight fluctuations, training, recovery of any past injuries, stabilizations of any weakness (in the case of therapeutic corsets), they express these changes and continue to buy corsets every year or few years from the same corsetiere, making small tweaks with each one.
- They are patient and understand that this can still be a pricey journey. (Medical corsets can be subsidized or covered by insurance depending on the maker and the country, but it’s still an investment nonetheless.) Perfection takes time and funds.
Did you have any distinct phases, major priorities, or criteria when you were choosing a corsetiere to work with for your custom corset? What mistakes would you be willing to commit to as you grew in your corset journey? Leave a comment below!