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Avoid Getting Scammed by Corset Re-Sellers

WKD Baby cincher Luna waspie avoid scam second hand corset sale

Settle in kids, today I’m going to tell you a story of how I possibly got scammed on a Facebook Buy / Sell/ Trade group.

I thought I was a savvy corset thrift-shopper – after all, I’ve made videos on how to prep and pack your gently used corsets for shipping, as well as tips and tricks when buying gently used corsets – but in this most recent transaction, there were so many red flags that I disregarded, and I wound up getting burned for it. So in this post, I’ll be pointing out the red flags and discussing what should have gone differently. (You can watch the video above, or read the written version below.)

 

Disclaimer:

I’m going to start off by saying that I’m not giving any identifying information about the other party in this video – this video is not about slander, I’m not going to name and shame the person, but I do want to share a cautionary tale so others learn from my mistakes.

The corset I tried to buy was What Katie Did brand, but I have never had any issue with this brand’s customer service or quality – I’ve reviewed this brand a dozen times on my channel before – their corsets have stood up over time. So there is no issue with WKD themselves.

 

It was a regular August afternoon, just like any other.

Each month I put up a poll on my Patreon page asking my lovely patrons which corset brand and style they want me to review next. In July there was a tie between an Etsy sample and one of the new WKD style (since they recently redesigned all their corsets).

I was about to purchase a corset directly from WKD’s site, but I decided to check some BST (buy, sell, trade) corset groups in various forums and social media pages, just in case someone posted a WKD corset in my size.

Almost serendipitously, there was someone selling their Luna waspie in my size! I messaged them right away. The price new would be £140 while this person was selling theirs for £100 plus shipping. (This is a reasonable price for a 2nd hand corset; I usually look for a savings of 60% to 75% of the original price, if it’s gently used with no damage and little signs of wear.)

I am very experienced with buying and selling lightly used corsets, so I didn’t anticipate this situation to be any different than the others.

 

Red Flag #1: Asking that I cover the Paypal fees.

First, the seller asked that I cover the Paypal fees. This is against Paypal’s terms of service (which I’ll explain later) but I know that this sort of this is common in these groups. So I made a mental note of this, but I thought “Whatever… adding another 3% on top of the discounted price is still a good deal.” I agreed to pay £119 total: £100 for the corset, £15 for shipping and £4 on top of that (which amounts to ~ 3% fees).

 

Red Flag #2: Asking additional fees after I had already paid what we agreed on.

I sent the payment through Paypal and when they received the money, they told me it wasn’t enough and wanted me to pay an additional amount on top of the fees I had already paid for. At that point I was getting a little bit suspicious, but I kept it polite and cordial – I explained that we did not agree to pay more than what we had previously discussed, so if it was going to cost more than that, I change my mind about the purchase and could they kindly give a refund. (The corset hadn’t shipped yet so it was still fair to ask this).

The seller said “It’s fine, don’t worry about it, the price is close enough,” and shipped the corset. (They said they would ship it on the 10th, but the stamp said it was not shipped until more than a week later – but this is small enough that I don’t consider it too big a red flag; after all, life gets busy sometimes.)

 

Red Flag #3: Overstating the value of the corset in the customs forms.

Several weeks later, I went to the post office to pick up my new corset, and was shocked to hear that I owed them $126 in taxes and duty. The reason for this is because the value stated on the parcel was (for some bizarre reason) £200, or $348 when converted. That is not what the Luna corset was even worth brand new (even with the price of shipping, VAT, any additional fees, etc, it still would not have come up to that much). This is twice the purchase price we had agreed on for the corset itself. The only reason I could think of for them overestimating the value of a parcel is if they:
a) wanted to cash in on extra money if the parcel were lost in the post (which is deceitful anyway), or
b) they might have been bitter about my refusing to pay more, and wanted me to get dinged by the post once delivered.

I had no choice but to pay the $126, but I will be contesting it because I still have the Paypal receipt for what I paid – but from what I’ve read, people do not often successfully get reimbursed when they’re overcharged duty.

Over $330 dollars later (more than I would have paid if I just bought the corset brand new), the corset is finally in my hands.

Finally, I unboxed the corset during this month’s Patreon livestream. I noted that it was very similar in its cut and construction to WKD’s old styles, but it was dark at the time so I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until the next morning that I was taking a closer look at it, that I realized it’s not the Luna corset at all.

 

Red Flag #4: It’s not even the right corset!!

After looking closely at some archived images and dimensions (thanks to the Wayback machine and my Corset Database), I realized that I had received the Baby waspie, one of their WKD’d old styles, which I have already reviewed in the past.

  • The measurements match the Baby, and does not match the stated measurements for the Luna.
  • It has a 3-pin busk (like the Baby) instead of a 4-pin busk (like the Luna).
  • It is single boned on the seams, with external boning channels, like the Baby (the Luna has sandwiched double bones).
  • It has an attached modesty panel like the Baby corset (the Luna does not come with a modesty panel, but a floating panel can be purchased separately).
  • The hardware, like the busk width/ quality and the grommets are all old-style, whereas they’ve changed their hardware sources for the Luna.

 

Normally I prefer to assume the best in others – what if this person purchased the corset in WKD’s shop, and they thought it was the Luna corset but they were mistaken? Maybe they couldn’t tell the difference. But then again, the Baby corset has been discontinued for well over a year now.

I also know that in some buy/sell/trade groups, some people will buy out dresses or products in side-walk sales, clearance racks, and liquidation events for up to 80% off, and then re-sell those items in Facebook buy/sell/trade groups for profit. (Oftentimes Facebook marketplace allows this – this type of resale of clothing is technically not illegal). Could this seller have done the same in this situation, snapping up a Baby corset at deep discount and selling it for more?

There was technically only one way to find out: I messaged the seller.

 

Red Flag #5: No response / ignored by the seller.

Again, I tried the sugar approach – I told them that the corset arrived safely, thanked them for the prompt shipping, but mentioned that I noticed that it’s not the Luna corset as advertised, it’s the discontinued Baby corset instead. I noted the evidence of the corset being the Baby and not the Luna (old hardware, old measurements, old construction). I asked them around what timeframe they had purchased this corset. I kept it cordial and asked a clear question, allowing them space to answer, or even give some kind of excuse.

My message was read just a few minutes later, but they never responded.

So, over $330 later, I have a corset that is… wearable (it’s functional!), but it’s not what was advertised and it’s useless for a review. However, I could (and I’m tempted to) re-review this corset out of spite, so that my money wouldn’t be a total waist waste. The last time I reviewed the Baby corset, it was 2011 and I hadn’t yet established my systematic order of doing reviews – so if you want me to review this corset again, comment below and I can do so – but I don’t know who it’s going to serve because this style is not available for purchase (unless you want to buy this corset off me, so I can get a bit of my money back).

I thought I was a savvy and seasoned corset shopper, but even I messed up this time.

 

So, what should have been done differently?

Here are some tips for buyers so you can avoid getting scammed in these BST groups (and sellers, so you can learn to play by the rules properly):

(Also see my second-hand FAQ article for more tips and tricks)

  1. The seller should never ask the buyer to cover Paypal / bank fees. It is a common occurrence in buy/sell/trade groups, but you have to know that this is against their terms of service. If they catch you, they could terminate your account without warning or appeal. If you’re a seller and you hate the idea of losing $3-4 on your $100 corset, you can inflate your sales price (e.g. $105 instead of $100), and it’s up to the buyer if they want to meet your price. But you cannot specifically demand that others cover a sales fee.
  2. Send your payment as “goods and services”. The seller should not specifically ask or demand that you send payment as a family or friend (unless the seller really is family / friend and you trust them a lot). If you send money as a friend, then as far as the system is concerned, you are sending a loved one a monetary gift, and there is no buyer protection – so if your parcel gets lost in the mail or if the seller doesn’t ship anything, you’re not able to easily dispute it.
  3. When you’re sending payment, there is usually a box to write comments – spend the extra 30 seconds or a minute to fill it out with the details of your purchase. Break down the cost for each part – for instance, write, “Hello [seller’s name], here is $80 for the [brand, style name, color, size] dress, plus $10 for shipping.” Sellers: if you are sending an invoice, you can break down the price like this too – so you have absolute proof of what you agreed on, in case you need to contest the value, or you accidentally received something different.
  4. If you are selling and shipping an item, state the purchase price of that item on the parcel as the value, no more, no less. Don’t include the shipping fee in the value of the item. Don’t include the tax of the item (if you’re shipping to a different country, that international customer DOES NOT pay state/federal taxes!). Buyers, DO NOT ask a seller to declare the value of a parcel as less than it is (like stating that a $100 item is only $10 or something) because that’s illegal, and the highest penalty for that could be tax fraud. But there are also problems with stating the value as too much – like the government charging too much duty.
  5. Do save the listing of an independent seller and compare it with the original listing on the brand’s website. Screencap the listing if necessary, and compare both the pictures and the descriptions, side by side. Count the busk pins if it’s a corset. Ask for more info if the listing is sparse. Ask for close-up photos if none are provided in the listing (especially if there’s any damage declared). (In my case, the listing was removed before I could save it, but I do have FB messenger evidence.)
  6. If you doubt the label/ brand of the corset, ask for photo evidence. In my case, I received a real WKD corset (not a knockoff), but if you have doubts about whether someone might be selling a knockoff of a certain dress or design, ask for a photo of the label. Ask the seller to include a post-it note with your name or the date written on it, stuck beside the designer label so you know that the seller didn’t just swipe a picture of the label off the internet and send it to you.

 

What do you think – rookie seller mistake, or scam? What other tips would you include to avoid getting scammed? Leave a comment down below!

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3 Tips to Keep Cool and Prevent Overheating while Waist Training

Hey everyone! I’m creating this in the middle of a heat wave, it’s a humidex of 40°C here or (~105°F) and I realized that I hadn’t really made a video solely dedicated on preventing overheating while waist training. (Despite my Caribbean heritage, I’m actually a bit heat intolerant so I have to be extra careful not to get heat exhaustion, so I have plenty of experience with trying to stay cool in the summer.)

When you’re wearing a corset, you have several extra layers of fabric around your core, holding heat in — so it’s all the more important to stay cool and hydrated.

Every once in awhile I will hear or read of another corset wearer who fainted at a nightclub / convention / Renfaire, and oftentimes it can be explained by dehydration and overheating, low blood sugar, or exhaustion. However, the Victorians’ weird preoccupation with swooning ladies did not help with the rumors around the alleged dangers of corsets (read more about the Victorian swooning culture here, because it was definitely a learned behavior and not necessarily due to the corset itself).

I will make another video in the future on tips for wearing corsets as part of your cosplay, but for now, let’s jump into my 3 tips for keeping cool in general, whether you’re wearing your corset over or under your clothes:

1: Invest in a mesh or ventilated corset

Choose a corset that’s thinner or more breathable. Mesh corsets are the first and obvious choice that comes to mind, but they have their pros and cons. I have a whole other post dedicated to comparing mesh corsets here. Mesh corsets are more thin and breezy, which allows heat and sweat to escape — but they usually don’t have the longevity of an all-cotton corset.

Click here to see the post where I compare all these different mesh corsets.

Victorian corsets were often made from a single layer of strong cotton, which you can do as well. Upon the resurgence of the corset’s popularity in the last ~10 years, single-layer corsets used to relatively unpopular because they seemed a bit flimsy compared to the “4-5 layer super-duper heavy-duty training corsets” that certain OTR corsets were touting as higher quality — and subsequently, this formed the misconception that fewer layers meant less strength — but it makes more sense that a single layer of good quality coutil is more breathable, and also stronger/ less resistant to stretching out compared to 3 layers of cheap elastic satin, for instance. and as the community of waist trainers has grown in recent years, including many who train throughout the year and some who live in hotter climates year-round, I think the demand for thinner and more lightweight corsets has grown.

Victorians also had mesh and ventilated corsets to help keep themselves cooler (despite the several layers overtop). Lace Embrace Atelier makes recreations of mesh and skeleton corsets, as well as corsets made from cute cotton eyelet fabric.

Melanie Talkington, owner of Lace Embrace, models her own summer mesh Victorian reproduction corset.

Narrowed Visions also has recreated 1895 ventilated corset below which looks gorgeous. (I had experimented with making my own skeleton corset, which came out hideous but it was a good learning experience that later led to my sports mesh corset.)

Nikki Swift of Narrowed Visions made this lovely ventilated corset from an 1895 antique pattern, made with drab coutil.


2: Stay hydrated.

It’s probably obvious, but it’s too important to leave out. Even if you don’t think you’re sweating under your corset — believe me, you are. Even if you’re in an air-conditioned building (and air conditioned spaces tend to have dry air), still take in water. But especially if you’re out and about, bring a water bottle and sip it every half hour at minimum, and do not down it all at once. Because if you feel dehydrated and nauseated, and then you chug a pint of water all at once, you’re probably going to feel even more sick. If you’re sweating profusely, you’re also losing salt, so put a pinch of salt or an electrolyte mix in your water bottle and sip frequently.

Related Content: See the Guided Galleries, Lucy’s regularly updated master post on some of the most gorgeous Summer, Mesh, Sheer, and Ventilated Corsets by OTR brands and custom corsetieres


3: Try a Bodice Chiller!

If you have a tendency to overheat, one amazing thing that was recommended to me was a bodice cooler or bodice chiller. It’s essentially a metal vial that you put in the freezer in advance and stick it in your cleavage or down the front of your corset to keep you cool. This works better with overbust corsets than underbust, because most overbusts leave you a bit of space between the breasts and at the sternum, whereas underbusts tend to fit more flush around the ribs.

Now, these are surprisingly difficult to find. Sometimes they are sold at Renfaires, they can be made from metal or glass — I’d personally be afraid of putting glass that close to my solar plexus (but if it’s designed to go from hot to cold frequently, then most likely it will be tempered glass that’s resistant to shattering). I’ve found one on Etsy here made from stainless steel — it’s available in several different colors and designs, and best of all it’s $20 USD which is much less than you’ll find at most Renaissance Faires.

If you can’t find a bodice chiller nearby, you could also get one of those long stainless steel chillers designed for beer or wine. I have actually not bought a bodice chiller yet, but what I have done is take small freezies or ice pops, wrap it in a paper towel so the plastic doesn’t risk cutting me (and the paper towel also catches condensation and prevents frostnip), and the best part is that they’re easy to find and only cost ~20 cents each. Since they’re sealed, you can pop them back in the freezer when you’re done — but let’s be honest, I usually end up eating them.

What did the Victorians do to keep cool?

While Victorians didn’t have air conditioning (currently my best friend), they did have ventilated, mesh, or skeleton corsets as mentioned above — other ways that Victorians kept cool was by using fans and carrying parasols to shade themselves from the sun. There are patents dating back to the 1800s showing that they even had ceiling fans in some areas, although they worked using a spring and crank, and were usually operated by slaves / servants (another reason why we can feel better about modern air conditioning). Lastly, Victorian women also had summer dresses made from lightweight cotton and linen, which despite wearing multiple layers can sometimes still be cooler than modern synthetic fabrics.


Ready to buy a mesh or a lightweight summer corset? Hey, I’ve got them corsets in my shop! Support this blog and stay cool this summer at the same time.

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How to Attach Garter Straps (Suspenders) to Your Corset

I recently received an email from a client who had purchased a corset and garter straps (suspenders) from my shop. They had assumed that when they’re purchased together, they would come attached, but in reality the garter straps are detachable and interchangeable (which means you can use them in many of your corsets!) but it does mean that there is “some assembly required.”

Most brands of corsets come with garter tabs, which are small loops at the bottom edge of the corset – they’re usually sewn upwards so that when they’re not in use, they are out of the way and not visible from the outside. They are also pressed very flat so as not to irritate your skin in any way.

When you do want to attach your garter straps to the corset, you take the “hook” side (it looks just like the hooks that come with interchangeable bra straps) and slide it through the garter loops.

Make sure that you’re not attaching your garter strap inside out! There’s an inside and an outside. The outside has the metal slider which allows you to adjust the length of the strap. You will also see that the “button” part of the garter clip faces outwards, for ease of use and to prevent your skin from touching the metal wire loop.

Check out the video below to see how to attach your garter straps to your corset. It’s much easier to do this before you put on the corset as opposed to when you’re wearing the corset.

You can also adjust the length of the garter strap (if it’s your first time attaching your stockings and you’re not sure how taut you need the straps to be, it might be easier to lengthen the garter straps as far as they will go when you attach to your stockings, and then tighten to your preferred amount once everything is attached.

To adjust the length of your garter straps:

  • Flip up the metal slider to unlock it – this helps it glide easier.
  • To lengthen the strap, grab the upper portion (with the single layer of elastic) while pulling down gently on the slider, allowing the lower portion (the double-layer loop of elastic) to glide freely. This makes a smaller loop, lengthening the strap.
  • To shorten the strap, pull up on the metal slider with one hand and you may also need to pull gently on the loop of elastic below the slider as well, if there is tension on the strap from your corset being attached to your stockings. The aim is to make that loop bigger, which shortens the strap.
  • Once you’re happy with the length, remember to flip down the metal slider – this makes the “teeth” of the slider bite into the elastic, keeping it in place!

My corset has 6 garter loops, but I only have 4 garter straps!

This can happen if you ordered your corset from a different shop as your garters, or if you lost a couple of garter straps – but not to worry! You can still use your straps.

There are 3 garter tabs on each side of your corset – I would recommend attaching your straps to the first one (closest to the front busk) and the last one (closest to the back laces), leaving the side seam without a strap.

Or – if you have a bigger bum, or if your garters just don’t like to stay attached at the back of your stockings when you sit down or stoop, you can attach your straps to loop 1 (by the busk) and 2 (on the side seam) and leave the back unsupported. This does mean that your stockings might sag a little at the back, but if your skirt / slacks are long enough, this won’t be visually noticeable.

My corset has only 4 garter loops, but I have 6 garter straps!

Keep those extra two garter straps for backup in case you lose a couple. ;)

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How to Curve your Corset Busk

 

Today I’m going to demonstrate how to curve the busk of your corset for a more deliberately dished front on the longline corset in the video above.

  1. The first curve will make it resemble more of a spoon busk, so it wraps around and slightly underneath a full lower tummy, and helps pull it up and in.
  2. The second curve will bring in the lowest tip of busk to prevent the look of a distracting “pelvic protrusion”.
  3. The third curve to the busk is creating a concave “dished” profile to make the side-view look more curvy and slender.
  4. The fourth and last curve will push outwards the very top edge of the busk – this will help those who have sensitive sternums, as the top of the busk will put less pressure on your diaphragm / not poke into the solar plexus area.
Do you have to bend your busk?

Not at all! If you already get great abdominal support from your corset, it gives you good posture, and you’re comfortable, and you like the look of the profile, feel free to keep your corset as is!

Can you buy a corset with a pre-curved busk?

Very rarely do OTR corsets actually come already sold with a curved busk – busks are manufactured to be straight, and then some spoon busks are curved or pressed after the fact to give their characteristic shape. WKD used to sell spoon busk Morticia corsets, and I think Corset Story sold quasi-spoon busks that were wider at the bottom but not curved. But usually if you want a corset to come with a busk pre-curved, you will need to go custom and specifically ask the corset maker to curve the front for you.

If you DO want to go the custom route, the corsetieres I know for certain will curve the front busk for you if you ask them, include:

Before you start: Respect the brand / shop policies…

When you can’t afford to go custom and your only option is OTR – in pretty much all OTR corsets, the busk will come straight, and if you curve the busk yourself this means you’re deliberately manipulating the corset – this will, in all likelihood, render any warranty or return policies void and they will not accept the corset, so before you bend the busk, be sure you’re going to keep the corset and not send it back.

Bend each side of the busk separately or together?

You have the option of bending each side separately or bending both sides of the busk together.
If your corset has a boned underbusk that has an extra wide, stainless steel bone under one side of the busk, and the actual busk itself is a very flexible, standard width busk, I would first manipulate the side with the underbusk – then I’d put the busk together and see if curving the other side is even necessary or not, because sometimes a flexible busk will bend to the curve of the stronger underbusk.

If your hands are strong enough, I’d curve both sides of the busk together, clasped closed, so that both sides of the busk have the same amount of curve – this will ensure that the loops and pins will always line up. You’ll want to support the areas where the loops and pins are riveted in, so the busk doesn’t break there or the pins don’t fall out. What you’re aiming for is for most of the curve to occur between each bracket, and not much right at the bracket.

If your hands are not strong enough, you can curve each side of the busk separately – it is the more careful way of doing things, but it also takes longer to make sure that both sides of the busk are curved the same amount, and that all the loops and pins line up exactly.

Does the type of busk matter?

If your corset has carbon fiber bones adjacent to the busk (which will only be included by special order in a custom corset), don’t even bother trying to bend it. It will be too stiff to manipulate significantly with your hands, and carbon fiber is designed to be strong but relatively brittle. Rather than holding a curve, poor quality carbon fiber would rather shatter – so if you want a curve to your front, you will have to remove those carbon fiber bones and replace them with steel.

A wide stainless steel busk and a spoon busk may be more tricky to bend, but it is possible. Flexible standard width busks are relatively easy to bend.

Some extra tips:

Like I said with my other article on curving the back steels – only bend a little bit at a time, try it on, and then if you find you need a little more curve, then take it off and bend a little more, just small amounts at a time. Go with what is most comfortable and compatible with your body, not just the amount of curve that happens to look dramatic and cute, because that might be too much curve for you.

If your hands are too weak to curve the busk on your own, use the curve of your thigh or your knee, or a tailor’s ham. You can try (very gently) to curve it over certain rounded countertops, but don’t bend it too much as to form kinks, and try not to bend it back and forth because bending it too much one way and then the other will weaken the steel. Below you’ll find a guide on which countertop edges are best for curving steel, if you choose to go this route.

The shapes with green circles are the best for curving your busk / steel bones. Yellow is okay (proceed with caution) and avoid the countertops that have red Xs.

For all of the descriptions of the different types of curves below, you can check out the video above for the demonstrations!

 

SUPPORT LOWER TUMMY POOCH (FUPA)

This first example is for those who have a panniculus, which is the medical term for lower tummy pooch, mother’s apron, or (more crudely) a “FUPA”. Curving the busk just a little bit under to cradle the bottom of a protruding abdomen can sometimes help fight that gravity that wants to pull your tummy out from under the corset.

  • You want to create a convex curve at the lower tummy, usually below the belly button. If you need to try on the corset and mark the area lightly with tailor’s chalk, go ahead and do so.
  • Again, focus on curving the areas between the brackets, and support the brackets as you place pressure on it.

GET RID OF THE “PELVIC PROTRUSION” (corset dingdong)

Curving the very bottom of the busk inward will help prevent a distracting point from poking out at your pubic region. (But as a general guideline, starting with a corset that’s cut straight across or at least gently rounded will help hide the bottom edge much more effectively than a pointed or dramatically contoured lower edge.)

  • Here you want to start as low down as possible – if you have a longer busk with fewer brackets (pairs of loops/pins), then you could possibly even start below the last brackets. If not, you can start curving from the area between the last and second last brackets. Curve towards your body.

Just a note: if you have a very low body fat percentage or very flat lower tummy, curving the bottom edge of the busk too much can cause it to jab into your pubic mound or pelvic bone uncomfortably, so be careful here and curve less as opposed to more here, until you get a comfortable compromise.

CREATE A DISH IN THE WAIST

If you find that your corset is too “thick” or flat in the profile and you prefer the look of an inwardly dished front at the waistline, you can create a gentle concave curve.

  • Start right at the waist tape, and unlike the two curves above, focus on curving outward instead of inward. Try not to create too dramatic a bend here – curve the busk a little at a time, and keep trying on your corset as you go. The inward curve does not affect your posture or cause you to lean forward. It should also not put any uncomfortable pressure on your diaphragm.
  • The more dished a corset is at the waist, the more it kicks out the top and bottom tips of the busk. You may need to adjust the bottom edge more to prevent that pelvic region from sticking out.

CURVE OUT THE STERNUM

I deliberately left this one for last, because if you had curved inward the waistline, sometimes that is enough to kick out the top of the busk enough to take pressure off of the diaphragm.

Some corsetieres sew a tiny pillow or cushion to make the top of a busk more comfortable at the sternum like Creations L’Escarpolette, but another potential option is to gently curve outwards the top tip of the busk so it points just very slightly away from your sternum.

  • It is essentially the opposite of the “pelvic protrusion” bend. In this situation, you want to start as high up as possible – above the highest set of loops and pins – or if that is not possible, then you can start curving from the area between the first and second sets Curve towards your body.

 

If you apply all of these curves to the same corset, it will end up looking slightly like an S shape. Again, I’d recommend doing only a little at a time, and keep trying it on. Obviously you don’t want to overdo all of these and end up giving yourself a worse posture than before.

Before and after curving the busk.

 

Hopefully this guide is helpful for you! Do let me know if you have any questions, and if you have any other tips leave a comment down below.

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Thin or Thick Corset Profiles: Comparing Silhouettes and Cross Section

How many of you have stood in front of the mirror while wearing a corset, admiring the narrowness of your waist – and then you turn to the side and find that your profile leaves something to be desired?

“With and Without a Corset” by Liz (The Pragmatic Costumer). Click through to read her post!

Everyone knows that wearing a corset nips in the side of the waist (at the obliques), giving you the illusion of a more narrow waist. And the interesting thing is that a corset can also do this without really reducing the waist at all: where a cross section of your torso is usually oval or ellipse shaped (wider from side-to-side than it is front-to-back), a corset makes it more into a circle – simply by placing pressure on the body bilaterally (on either side of the body), and allowing that volume to distribute more front-to-back. Liz from the Pragmatic Costumer wrote about this in more detail a few years ago on her blog.

The downside that some corset wearer’s see, especially if they naturally have a more flat abdomen, is that a corset often makes you look wider in the profile than you did without the corset – this is due to the redistribution of your flesh, combined with the thickness of the corset as well (you’re a couple of inches smaller underneath your corset).

Your Corset Profile can have Two Shapes:

For simplicity’s sake, there are two main ways the front of the corset can look – it can be totally flat, or it can be “dished” or curved to create a more concave front. The Victorians were known for their dished-front corsets and sometimes exaggerated lower tummy pooch (likely more exaggerated in medical illustrations and fashion plates than in real life) but the lower pooch was actually considered attractive and womanly at the time.

But with the popularity of the straight-fronted S-bend corsets at the turn of the century, you can see that it resulted in the illusion of even more dramatically nipped waists, as the majority of the volume was coming off of the sides and little to none in the front. Arguably, if you were to take an Edwardian corset and a Victorian corset with the same waist size, the Edwardian might look more nipped in in the front view but thicker in the profile view.


Early 1900s illustration showing the difference between the Victorian “dished front” corset on the left, and the Edwardian “straight front” corset on the right (causing a forward-leaning posture).

Late 1800s artist’s guess as to what is happening inside of the body when wearing a Victorian style corset, likely as part of Edwardian propaganda to promote the S-bend “Health” corset.
We now know from modern imaging that this hypothesis was incorrect (the liver is not pushed down by the corset).


I should give a disclaimer here: whichever corset you personally find “prettier”, there is no universal right or wrong way that a corset should be (despite the Edwardian propaganda above). Some people like the concave dished front, while others like an extremely flat and rigid front. It often comes down to the corset maker’s aesthetic, combined with the natural body type you have, the effect you’re striving for in a corset (including how much waist reduction), and what you personally find comfortable.

So the “dished vs straight” debate is not only subjective, but it’s also conditional.

This isn’t my xray, but it looked very similar to this. Normally my neck is slightly lordotic (normal) but in this particular corset, my posture completely changed. Photo: e-Health Hall.

It also depends on the posture you want to achieve. The straight-fronted, S-bend corsets had a habit of thrusting the body into an overcorrected posture – they weren’t slumping, but they were also flexing their lower back in an unnatural way. When I had X-rays done of myself while wearing various corsets, my chiropractor found that rigid-fronted, Edwardian-inspired corsets encouraged a very unnatural, kyphotic neck curve in my body. The corset pushed my chest forward, and my shoulders and hips back, which forced my head to come forward as a counter-balance. In some people, this might eventually lead to neck strain, pain, cervicogenic headaches, etc.

Meanwhile, when I wore a more Victorian style corset, it allowed me to maintain a more neutral posture and my spine was in a more natural alignment. So, just because a corset gives you a flat front does not mean you have necessarily have a healthy posture.


A couple notes on terminology before we start comparing corsets – I’ll be using layman’s terms here as much as possible:
so when I say “cross section” that means the transverse plane,
when I say “profile” that means the sagittal plane,
and when I say “front view” that means the coronal plane.

My Uncorseted Waist

This is a screenshot of me from 2012, around a time where I was not consistently waist training. My natural waist is around 27 inches.

Natural uncorseted waist, 27 inches. I believe I was not consistently waist training around this time, but I was wearing several different corsets for a few hours per week.

It’s well and good to compare different corsets, but keep in mind that I am naturally very wide from the front, but when I turn to the side I practically disappear, so my cross section is very oblong. My oblique muscles might “resist” compression more compared other people, and my lower abdomen is not prone to “pooching” – if I and another woman were to wear the same corset in the same size and stand side-by-side, it might look very slightly different on each of us.

Contour Corset “Summer Mesh” Mid-Hip Underbust

My Contour corset is almost totally flat in the front. This one is 20.5 inches in the waist, laced closed.

Contour Corset, closed waist 20.5 inches (underneath the corset). The cross section of my waist is very close to a circle (and perhaps even a touch wider in the side than the front).

  • In the profile, it makes my body look slightly thicker than it is naturally (while not wearing a corset)
  • In the front view, it looks shockingly nipped in on the sides (this isn’t even my smallest corset!)
  • In the cross section, I might actually be a bit thicker from front to back than I am side to side.

Puimond PY09 “Curvy” Underbust Corset

My Puimond corset is actually half an inch smaller than my Contour corset (it’s 20 inches laced closed), but despite being smaller, it looks less dramatic.

Puimond underbust corset, closed at 20 inches. The cross section of my waist is a bit wider in the front view compared to the profile (very slight ellipse).

  • In the profile, you can see that the front is slightly dished, but in an attractive way, at least for me. It’s nipped in slightly at the front but it doesn’t create a dramatic ski slope at the pelvis. Also notice that I don’t look that thick in the profile.
  • In the front view, the sides are obviously nipped in, but it doesn’t look as dramatic as the first corset.
  • So in this corset, if you looked at the cross section, the distribution of my waist is still slightly ellipse shaped with more of that length being side-to-side rather than front-to-back.
  • This shape is nearly a circle though – probably the closest to a circle compared to any of the other corsets here.

C & S Constructions

Let’s look corset with a more dramatically dished front like the one below from C&S Constructions. This corset is also 20 inches, but I’m wearing it at 21 inches because it wasn’t custom made for my body (the ribs of the corset were a bit too narrow for my own ribcage).

C and S Constructions longline corset worn at 21 inches (under the corset). This has a very dished front – so it is wider in the front view than it is in the profile.

  • In the profile view, the waist is pulled inward, and actually I have a slight forward leaning posture which is interesting. It is a deliberately curved front to make sure that the profile looks slender. (But it also gives a forward leaning posture.)
  • In the front view, the waist is still nipped on the sides, but it’s still wider in this view than it is in the profile view.
  • So the cross section of my waist is still an ellipse, that is wider from side-to-side, just a smaller one.

Sparklewren Cranberry Butterfly Overbust

Let’s look at my Sparklewren overbust, which is closed at 23 inches (so we can see how less of a reduction / a bigger waist may affect the cross section and silhouette).

Sparklewren overbust with a very flat front (laced closed at 23 inches).

  • In the profile view, her corset gives me a very flat front here, in fact possibly slimmer than some of my smaller corsets that are patterned differently.
    I vaguely remember having a conversation with Jenni (Sparklewren) about this probably 5 years ago. She told me that she likes to preserve the flatness in the profile as much as possible, but once the waist is reduced by a certain amount (i.e. under 18 inches in circumference), some dishing in the front may become necessary to achieve further reduction.
  • In the side view, there’s nipping in at the waist but it appears to be very clearly wider than the profile, but it’s still a lovely silhouette.
  • So the cross section is more clearly an ellipse.

Versatile Corsets “Mimosa” Cupped Overbust

The “Mimosa” overbust by Versatile is another corset that gives me a slender profile and flat abdomen. This is a size 22″, but I’m probably wearing at 23.5 or 24 inches here. (It wasn’t a full custom, just the waist measurement and bra size were taken into account).

“Mimosa” cupped overbust made by Versatile Corsets – flat profile and gentle nip in the waistline on the sides (size 22″, with a 1-2 inch lacing gap).

  • The profile view is relatively flat, similar to how my abdomen looks naturally.
  • The front view is a bit more gentle and sweeping – not a super dramatic silhouette, not nipped in sharply at the sides.
  • Obviously the cross section of my waist is more of an ellipse.

All this being said, it’s worth reiterating that this might be subjective for my own body. I naturally have a pretty wide waist, but if I turn to the side my abdomen is very flat. It is more likely that a corset would make me a bit thicker in the profile compared to a different person who has more of a protruding abdomen.

Profile Silhouette in Someone with a Protruding / Hanging Tummy

My aunt, without her corset and with, front view (she wanted a relatively natural silhouette from the front).

My aunt, with her corset and without, profile view (she wanted back support and a flattened tummy).


(Thanks to my aunt for modeling this early custom corset I made for her back in 2012). You may remember my aunt from this tutorial on pulling a hanging tummy up into your corset. She’s had a few children and she’s a more mature woman and has developed a bit of hanging tummy. She asked for a corset to provide back support and to flatten her tummy under her work uniform, but not give a shockingly dramatic waist from the front, which is why it’s not that much of an hourglass. This corset is a size 34″ if I remember correctly; drafted to give her a 6 inch reduction which is about 15% reduction.

  • I specifically used a spoon busk for her, and you can see that this corset makes her slimmer in the profile. Arguably, most of the reduction came off the front instead of the sides of her body.
  • In the front view, it gives a relatively natural looking hourglass from the sides.

If you want to see whether your corset makes you thinner or thicker in the profile view or front view, you can measure this using calipers.

 

If you want a very rigid front (as rigid as possible), you might be interested in adding carbon fibre bones adjacent to the busk – they’re about 24x more stiff than a flat steel bone, and you’ll find these exclusively at Vena Cava Design.

Conversely, if you want your corset to have more of a dished shape, I will make a video next week on how to curve your corset busk to your preference. The process is very similar to curving the back steels.

I hope you found this helpful! Just a note that there is no right or wrong way, some people like the concave dished front, some people like an extremely flat and rigid front. it all depends on your body type, your subjective preferences, your natural posture, and the aesthetic of the corset maker and how they pattern your corset as well.

Leave a comment below telling me whether you prefer the flat front or the dished front better for your own corsets. If you have any question regarding the “flatness” or “dishiness” of any other corset in my collection, as well as the rigidity of the busk, the posture it gives, etc., feel free to ask.

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Comparing Different Mesh Corsets

Over the past little over a year, I reviewed a whopping nine different mesh corsets, and many of them had very different types of mesh (different fibers, weaves, stretchiness and quality), and not all mesh corsets are made equal! It can be a little different to tell them apart on video and confusing when there are so many different terms, so let’s go through the most popular types of mesh for corsets and discuss the pros and cons for each one.

Fishnet

Jolie longline corset in black mesh, by Glamorous Corset (from $74).
Jolie longline corset in black mesh, by Glamorous Corset.

Featured in my past reviews:

This is a very open type netting made with cotton or polyester – it looks a bit like string or yarn twisted or knotted together. It is very flexible, can be a bit stretchy, and usually has a hexagonal shape to it. (As we know from nature, hexagons maximize the area inside each hole while minimizing the materials used for each wall – so the fishnet can cover a large surface area while not using much fabric to do so.)

Pros: fishnet is probably the coolest and breeziest type of mesh, and it comes in many different colors – Mystic City used to sell these with red mesh, blue, orange, green, etc. Orchard Corset regularly keeps these stocked in black and tan (and sometimes white), with occasional limited colors like red, gold, and navy blue. This is the most ubiquitous type of mesh corset, so it’s easy to find.
Cons: this fabric has a lot of give and definitely stretches out over time. Because there’s technically only a few threads holding in each bit of the fishnet within the seams, it can rip over time.

(I don’t know whether you call it a pro or a con, but the net leaves temporary impressions in your skin so when you take off the corset it looks like you have lizard scales. It looks cool but can feel rather itchy.)

Madame Sher mesh ribbon-style cincher

A slightly more tight-knit version of fishnet is used in Brazil, and I noticed that their mesh corsets have smaller, square shaped holes instead of hexagonal – I feel that this might work better for corsets as it has a clear warp and weft to follow.

My Madame Sher mesh cincher is still holding up very well and I’ve worn it every summer for the past 4 years. It can still show a little damage over time, due to the nature of the fabric, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its longevity.


Corsetry mesh

Featured in my past reviews:

Galaxy Mesh hourglass standard length underbust corset. Available in my shop!

I believe that the newer stock of Mystic City corsets also use this mesh, and this is becoming probably the standard in many custom corsets.

Corsetry mesh is a synthetic fine woven net. It is fairly stiff and slightly reminiscent of the fly screens that you would see on windows and doors (except this is polyester/ nylon, and not aluminum or fiberglass which real window screens are made from).

Pros: corsetry mesh is smoother, stronger, and less likely to warp with wear. You can somewhat achieve a more conical rib with this type of fabric, but I’ve found that it still has relatively more give compared to more rigid, multi-layer cotton corsets.

Cons: this mesh is not as breathable as the holes are smaller (and it’s a synthetic fabric so it can feel plasticky). It can occasionally rip (usually if the seam allowances are not wide enough and it pulls from the stitching. Also, this type of mesh can be quite pokey. If any seam allowances do end up poking into the body, these threads can be snipped off with nail clippers and the rest pushed back under the fabric.

Tips for corset makers on reducing the “pokey” seams while using this type of mesh:

  • Some makers if they’re very particular, they might melt the seams with a small flame or a hotknife, but this can also risk warping the mesh from the heat.
  • Another simple way around this is by sewing the corset with the seam allowances on the outside of the corset (facing away from the body) and putting thick boning channels overtop so they won’t poke through.
  • Vanyanis uses a plush velvet ribbon on the inside to further protect from any pokiness, and she taught Timeless Trends this finishing technique as well when she styled their OTR mesh corsets.

Bobbinet

Featured in none of my previous corset reviews.

“Champagne” underbust made from custom dyed bobbinet, Crimson Rose Corsetry. Photo: WeNeal’s Photography

Bobbinet is almost exclusively used in custom corsets by specialist corsetieres, for very lightweight corsets and foundationwear under couture dresses. It’s been used by designers like Crikey Aphrodite, Morúa Designs, Sew Curvy Couture, Laurie Tavan, Karolina Laskowska, Crimson Rose Corsetry, Ivy Rose Designs, etc.

It’s made from cool and breathable cotton – it flows well over curves and is super lightweight. It has a lot of give, and as such it’s often used in a double layer for extra strength (and a bit more opacity if desired). Because it’s cotton, it can also be dyed – but it’s such a delicate fabric that I wouldn’t train in this. You’re not likely to see this used in OTR corsets.

Tips for corset makers: Ivy Rose Designs made a tutorial on working with bobbinet for Foundations Revealed. If you’re not an FR member and you would like to become one, please use my referral link (there’s no difference in price).


Aida cloth (or Java mesh)

Featured in none of my previous corset reviews.

Summer corset made from cotton Aida cloth (The Bad Button, courtesy of Foundations Revealed)

Aida cloth is less well known, not used in OTR, but some corsetieres have experimented with this for custom corsets, like The Bad Button and Bridges on the Body.

When you look at mesh corsets in the Victorian and Edwardian periods (e.g. their activewear corsets while playing tennis, or the corsets used by British women during the colonialization of India and other places of warmer climates), the mesh they used sometimes looked similar to this. Aida cloth is intended for cross stitching and comes in various weights and counts, so not all Aida cloth is made equal.

Pros: Aida cloth is cotton, so it’s a natural, breathable and cool fiber, and it can also be custom dyed.

Cons: Aida cloth can be difficult to source, and can also fray and shred.

Tips for corset makers: The Bad Button made a tutorial on working with Aida cloth on Foundations Revealed. If you’re not an FR member and you would like to become one, please use my referral link (there’s no difference in price).


Tulle

Featured in my past review: Contessa Gothique semi-mesh sweetheart underbust

Contesssa Gothique tulle semi-mesh corset

This is a beautiful lightweight fabric (think of the stiff tulle you’d find in crinolines / underskirts), but better suited as a semi-mesh corset with plenty of reinforcement. The tulle in this corset is limited to relatively straight panels (not super curvy ones), and the tulle is flanked on all sides – bones on either side (as well as the center of the panel), and even the binding at top and bottom is coutil to prevent stretch or warping.

The waist tape also takes the tension at the waistline, so the tulle is mainly just preventing the flesh from bubbling out of the “windows” but it’s not contributing to the actual reduction of the waist in a significant way.

Pros: it’s pretty, easily sourced, and comes in almost any color imaginable.

Cons: I think if it were forced to take more of the tension, it might risk tearing. The tulle makes for a lovely and delicate look – but I wouldn’t use this for everyday intense training.


Sports mesh

Featured in my past review: JL Corsets / Sultry Confinement “Christine” underbust

JL Corsets “Kingfisher” mesh corset, using 3 colours of sport mesh

This (I’ve been told) is also the type of mesh used by Restyle for their mesh CU underbust, and I think Mystic City has experimented with this in limited styles as well.

Sports mesh is also known as athletic mesh, tricot fabric, or (especially in the US) “football fabric”. This type of fabric is what’s often used in shoes and team jerseys, and also the non-stretch mesh pockets found in luggage and schoolbags, as well as non-stretch mesh laundry bags and gear sacks. It’s made from polyester and can come in a rainbow of colors.

While it may look similar to fishnet at first glance, it behaves very differently – it has little to no give or stretch, and the holes look more circular (or sometimes square), as if they were ‘punched’ out of the fabric (this is what gives it its tricot look) – however, if the holes were really punched out, this would weaken the fabric. Where fishnet looks like the ‘yarn’ is the same width everywhere, the sports mesh will have areas that look thicker and thinner – many of them have an almost ‘checkerboard’ appearance.

It’s a bit difficult to find the right type of sports mesh online, even when trying to use the correct terms and definitions, as fabric sellers on Ebay, Etsy and Alibaba will often use long strings of vaguely related words. If I can find a reliable source for this fabric in many colors, I’ll link it here, but I recommend going to a local fabric store and testing the stretch out for yourself – the right type of mesh should have little to no stretch, whereas fishnet is designed to stretch and give.

But the sports mesh costs only maybe $2 more per yard than the fishnet (therefore costs $1 more per underbust corset, depending on the size), and it comes in as many colors, for better quality and strength – so I would encourage more OTR corset manufacturers to test this fabric.

Pros: Imagine all the pros of fishnet without the cons. Sports mesh has bigger holes more on par with fishnet, so it’s more breathable than the corsetry mesh (which is a “plasticky” feeling fabric). It also doesn’t stretch out or warp as easily as fishnet. Sports mesh can come in a huge range of colors, as JL Corsets demonstrated with the corset to the right.

Cons: while sports mesh is stronger than fishnet, it’s not invincible – where there are holes, there is the risk of it catching on something and damaging the fabric. Also, while I actually prefer sports mesh compared to the fishnet, but I suppose because of the sports connotation some people might think it’s less cute than the fishnet.


Heavy Duty outdoor mesh

Featured in my past review: Contour Corset summer mesh underbust

Contour Corsets blue summer mesh underbust
Contour Corsets blue summer mesh underbust

This is a heavy duty mesh, similar to synthetic outdoor upholstery mesh. The only thing I can compare this to is the type of fabric you’d find on deck chairs or boat seats, but to this day I have not sourced the exact same fabric that Contour Corsets used to use.

Pros: this heavy duty mesh is the strongest type of mesh in this list, and comes in a rainbow of colors (in the video above I showed my gold corset, Strait-Laced Dame has a metallic silver and purple corset, and the one to the right shows the sky blue option).

Cons: this mesh is difficult to wear against the skin, absolutely requires a liner but I pretty much always wear a liner anyway. It takes a long time to form over curves, Fran said that the break-in process for one of her corsets lasted up to 100 hours of wear.


Powermesh

Featured in my past case study: Homemade Sport Powermesh “Corset”

Morgana Femme Couture cupped overbust corset-girdle with brocade and powermesh (from $510)
Morgana Femme Couture cupped overbust corset-girdle with brocade and powermesh

One of the corsetieres who made this famous for corsets and corset girdles is Sian Hoffman. Also Morgana Femme Couture makes an overbust option (shown right) and an underbust option as well.

This is specifically designed to have stretch and give, with mild compression – it has spandex in it. You’d find this more in Merry Widows and girdles as opposed to “real” corsets. However, it has its uses (especially those who love a strong cinch combined with maximum mobility).

The rough version of a powermesh corset I made for myself featured satin coutil front and back, boning channels and diamond waist tap – but never finished the binding on it (it means I can wear it under my clothes and it creates a surprisingly smooth line – and this mesh doesn’t really fray as it’s a knit).

Pros: it makes a very flexible and comfy corset, allowing you a lot of movement.

Cons: are that although it is still a single layer corset, because it’s a finely-woven synthetic material, it can get a little warm compared to the other types of mesh. This corset will definitely not give you a conical ribcage, as it stretches around every natural curve of your body. Also, the bones a not placed relatively close together, there is a risk of parts of the corset shrinking or rolling up in places (which is why it’s most often used in girdles, where the garter straps / suspenders keep it pulled down and smooth).

 

These are the most popular types of mesh and net used in corsets, but if you’d like to see even more examples of mesh, sheer, and summer corsets, (including some made from lace, organza, and horsehair), I have a whole gallery over on this permanent page! Do you know of other types of mesh that are used for corsets that I didn’t mention here or in the gallery? Comment below and let us know.

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A Brief History of Hysteria

The history of the “medical condition” of hysteria is a long, winding, somewhat convoluted one. In its earliest definitions, hysteria was a term to describe trauma or disease of the uterus (hence the word “hysterectomy” to remove the uterus) – or even to describe a vengeful or mischievous uterus that detached itself from the pelvic region and wandered around the body.

4000 Years Ago, Ancient Egypt:

It’s said that the concept of the wandering womb came about around 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, although the term “hysteria” wasn’t coined until around 2400 years ago by Hippocrates. Now, in general there was some stuff that Hippocrates got right – indeed he’s considered the father of western medicine. But he had some really interesting and wrong ideas about the uterus.
In old Greek, “hystera” (without the i) referred to the womb, which is where we get terms still used today like “Hysterectomy” – removal of the uterus.

2400 Years Ago, Ancient Greece:

Hippocrates lived around 400 BCE, and wrote / taught about the “wandering womb” – that the uterus was not anchored in place but was like an animal with a mind of its own, traveling around inside the body and wreaking havoc on other tissue and organ systems like a delinquent. All the symptoms caused by the womb’s antics is what they collectively described as hysteria.

The wandering womb was said to cause heart problems, liver problems, respiratory problems, it could cause a host of neurological issues, everything from headaches, to epileptic seizures (known as “Hercules’ Disease”), to unexplained paralysis (which might now be classified as conversion disorder).

Symptoms of hysteria include:

  • Sleeping too much, or too little.
  • Becoming disinterested in past hobbies, or too interested or obsessive in hobbies.
  • Showing apathy or lack of care, or having anxiety, irritability and caring too much.
  • Having high libido, or low libido.
  • Being too quiet and mute, or being too talkative and loud.

I think you get the idea. There was a very narrow range of “acceptable behavior” and if a lady swung too far out of that range on either side, she could be diagnosed with hysteria.

1500-500 Years Ago, Middle Ages in Europe:

In the middle ages, hysteria was tied to sorcery, witchcraft and demon possession and so – naturally – of the treatments was exorcism. Hysteria was a disorder of exclusion – if every other known disease had been ruled out and doctors couldn’t come up with an official diagnosis, then they believed that it was a disease brought about by something “intangible” and “not well understood” and therefore a result of the devil. And of course, since women were thought to have brought about original sin (re: Eve and the serpent), women were thought to be either naturally prone to “evil”, and/or more naïve and impressionable to evil spirits. Exorcism often involved physical and mental torture of the patient, and many women didn’t survive this “treatment”.

150 Years Ago: Victorian Era in Europe:

By the 19th century, at the height of Victorian fashion, hysteria had become a blanket term for emotional, sexual or mental disorders suffered exclusively by women. Some people blamed quintessentially “feminine” objects and garments for the disease (like corsets!) while other people thought that corsets helped prevent hysteria. But honestly, when I first started researching the history of hysteria, I was surprised by how little it was tied to the corset (the real history of corsets and stays are only close to 500 years, while hysteria is 4000 years old, so this is unsurprising).

Hysteria was a particularly popular diagnosis in the 18th and 19th centuries – in fact the 2nd most diagnosed condition after fever. According to author Laura Briggs, one doctor in the 19th century had a 75 page publication listing all the possible symptoms of Hysteria (and said that list was still not exhaustive)! It was estimated that 25% of the female population was affected by hysteria in some form or another. So Hysteria was still this vague, catch-all, umbrella diagnosis that could manifest in any different ways (it had hundreds or thousands of different “faces”) – as long as the patient possessed a uterus. If you, as a lucky owner of a uterus, disturbed the peace in any way, you could be diagnosed with hysteria and hauled away to a sanitarium or insane asylum.

We’ve discussed the many “symptoms” of hysteria, but what were the causes?

Some claimed that hysteria was due to the uterus becoming too dry and light. (Did the uterus become a helium balloon and just float off somewhere else in the body??) So doctors recommended ways to keep the uterus moist and weighted…. Except not really, because another source said that hysteria was caused by too much fluid retention in the pelvic region, specifically because the female was not purging her body of “female sperm”. (!?!!?)

In the 1700 and 1800s they also blamed “bad air” for hysteria, so when a woman “got the vapours” it meant their womb was acting up. You might have heard of smelling salts which were used to rouse fainting women (this worked by creating a sharp inhalation reflex, which was said to oxygenate the body), but the salts also were supposed to help with hysteria. Smelling salts were not pleasant in aroma; they were made with ammonia. Taking in the pungent odors through the nose at the top of the body was thought to repulse the uterus so it would be driven down through the body. Doctors also recommended applying sweet perfumes and scents to the groin to lure the uterus back to its assigned seat, so to speak.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of contradiction and nobody could really agree as to what caused hysteria, what the mechanism is, or how to cure it.

The horrific “treatments” in the name of hysteria:

Smelling salts, while not pleasant to actually smell, was probably one of the ‘preferred’ treatments for mild hysteria. Others recommended spreading dung on the upper lip or in the genitals (which is anything but hygienic).

Hippocrates said that pregnancy could keep the uterus anchored in place and prevent it from wandering – but the caveat, he says, is that the action of childbirth could cause the uterus to act up again and encourage it to wander. So, he seems to have implied that regular relations with one’s husband to keep the patient like constantly impregnated would be the answer.

Rachel Maines, author of “The Technology of the Orgasm”, has written extensively about the “treatment” for hysteria involving what we would now consider sexual abuse. Forced vigorous pelvic massages – manual stimulation administered by the doctor, or this task could be delegated to the nurse or midwife. According to this chapter in her book, when doctors complained that they were getting too tired stimulating the patient or it took too much of their time, that’s when sexual vibrators were developed as a popular substitute.

Lucy’s Added Thought: Even though hysteria is millennia older than the Victorian era, perhaps one of the reasons why it seems to be so intertwined with this era (apart from more literacy and more surviving written documents about the disease during the 1800s), is that there seems to be this connotation that compared to all other times in history, the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain seemed to be the most sexually repressed and these values were said to be spread to other cultures and countries around the world through colonialism during this era.

1885: Sigmund Freud and Male Hysteria:

Sigmund Freud was erroneously blamed for the widespread belief of the wandering womb, when really the theory had existed for millennia. When I looked more into it though, Freud started learning more about Hysteria from Jean-Martin Charcot around at the end of the 19th century, around 1885. Charcot popularized the theory that men could suffer from hysteria as well, especially soldiers. Many of the symptoms Charcot described would later be known as “shell-shock” and then post traumatic stress disorder. Freud put forward the belief that female and male hysteria was basically the same thing, related to anxiety neuroses – which was sort of laying down more framework for what we now know as anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and PTSD although that wasn’t what they was called yet.

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Freud and Charcot and a few others were working to reclassify many of hysteria’s symptoms into new diagnoses, admittedly a lot of those were also wrong and often harmful and now rejected too – but they did claim that hysteria was a psychological, neurological and emotional disorder presented by survivors of trauma. It was not physical disease reserved only for those who own a uterus, and they promoted hypnotism and talk therapies. Freud even diagnosed himself with hysteria at one point, but there was so much resistance around male hysteria from the rest of the medical community that he flip-flopped and started calling hysteria a “feminine” disease again later on.

Meanwhile there was still a lot of messed up shit happening in the name of “treatment”. It seems that spreading dung on yourself and exorcism had both fallen out of favor by this time (thank goodness), but of course there was still sexual abuse and smelling salts as I had mentioned earlier, they were also injecting things into the uterus, cutting or burning away the genitals with fire or chemicals (Dr John Harvey Kellogg was said to be particularly supportive of female circumcision), using electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy, among other stomach-churning things. And this was all happening well into the 20th century.

1920 – 1980: The Fall of Hysteria:

Hysteria as a diagnosis plummeted drastically after the 1920s in part due to women’s suffrage, but also a huuuuuge factor was because so many people, men and women, across different countries and cultures, started to present symptoms of PTSD during and after WW1 and WW2 that doctors could no longer deny its association with experience and trauma, and that it had nothing to do with gender. However, hysterical neuroses was still mentioned in the DSM-II in 1968, and was only officially deleted when they came out with the DSM-III in 1980.

 

Like I said before, Hysteria has about 4000 years of history, and it’s a convoluted history. Obviously there were multiple and contradictory hypotheses that existed at the same time about both the cause of Hysteria and the symptoms as a result of the condition, and also there’s a lot of disagreement about the timeline of it and who believed what about it prior to the 1900s. Also it’s worth noting that I am not a historian (I’m trained in modern biology) but I’ve tried to touch on events as fairly as possible in this article and clear up some misconceptions about hysteria.

I’ll post links below if you want further reading on this topic. Comment below and let me know the most absurd thing you’ve heard about hysteria!

 

Links for Hysteria (for further reading):

https://www.jstor.org/stable/30041838

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/maines-technology.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25273494

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480686/

Did Victorian era doctors use vibrators to treat hysteric female patients with orgasm therapy?

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Why Do So Many Corsetieres Go Out of Business?

Almost every month I go through my corsetiere map and make notes on which corset makers are inactive, which have closed down their businesses and websites, and I add new makers that are popping up all the time on Etsy. Like with many craft / creative home businesses, it’s difficult to make corsetry a lucrative career.

Even I took custom commissions for a few years, and while I had no shortage of clients wishing for a corset (I was one of the lucky ones), I had my own reasons for going on an indefinite hiatus.

Because of my corsetiere map, corsetieres contact me when they want to be added or when they would like to be removed. In the latter situation, while I never pry as to their reasons, they often tell me anyway, and many of their grievances boil down to the same main points over and over again.

Although I cannot (and will not) go into the specific set of reasons as to why any one specific corset maker has decided to shut down their business (as that would be betraying their confidence), I can speak generally about it – perhaps discussing this would be helpful in having customers understand that corsetieres are human too, and for other corset makers out there, it can help them avoid the same mistakes.

 

Corset Supplies are Scarce and Expensive

Making a corset is relatively complicated, as far as garments go. There are a lot of specialty components that go into it (like a busk and steel bones) and depending on where you live, sometimes even good quality 2-part grommets are difficult to source. Most people can’t find these at their local fabric shop, and most corsetieres order online. The materials themselves can often add up to at least $50, before you even put your time into making the corset! This is one reason why corsets themselves are more pricey than other, more common articles of clothing.

Many corset makers end up supplementing their income by creating accessories – corset liners are simple and fast to make, as well as storage bags, or boleros, or dresses or other outfits that go well with their corsets. These are not only made from materials that may be less expensive / easier to source, but they typically take less time to make, so the designer can bring in enough to support themselves.


Corsets Take a Long Time to Make (and have a steep learning curve!)

Someone can buy 2 yards of fabric for $20, make a dress out of it in 2 hours and sell it for $50, so she ends up paying herself $15 per hour. Many people wouldn’t even bat an eye at spending $50 for a simple handmade dress. But let’s say you buy corset materials for $50, and spend 20 hours making a corset. If you paid yourself the same hourly rate ($15 per hour), then that corset will cost a minimum of $350, and (while this is actually a very reasonable price for a custom corset these days) so many people are not willing to pay that much.

Too often, fledgling makers enter the scene with competitive introductory pricing, such that some of them are not even paying themselves minimum wage, and this influences the market and drives down prices for everyone. (And we haven’t even gotten into the hidden costs of running a business… see the “Unexpected Expenses” section.)

There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day, so how do some corset makers make more money with the time that they have? A lot of them get help or take on side jobs:

  • More and more corset makers are now holding sewing classes classes, where people come in for a weekend and pay a fee to be taught how to make their own corsets. These classes are seemingly pricey (many start at $300 for a group class, up to and above $1000 for private instruction), but it’s a way for makers to supplement their income. As a student, if you think about the fact that you can buy a corset for $300 or learn to make as many corsets as you like for $300, the price of a class becomes justified (if you enjoy sewing, that is). And for the corsetiere, it’s an opportunity to take a break from the laborious work of crouching over a sewing machine all day.
  • Some makers take on interns to help (maybe once a week), so the interns learn how to make corsets for free without having to pay for a one-on-one class, and in return the maker gets… essentially unpaid labor. (From what I understand, depending on where you live and the type of industry you work in, this is an ethically grey area.)
  • Some fashion schools allow (or even require) at least one semester of free study, co-op experience, or internship. These “private study” semesters can dramatically help local designers, as flocks of students look for corset-making instruction and need to get their minimum hours filled.
  • SO many corset makers ask their husbands or siblings for help, even if it’s just tipping bones or setting the grommets.
  • Some makers even hire a virtual assistant to take care of customer service and admin (because dealing with people is not everyone’s strong suit – more on that later in the “Artists Sometimes Suck at Business” section).
  • Many corset makers go the way of ready-to-wear corsets. After a few years, corsetieres will likely notice that there is a certain “average” of measurements or proportions from their clients, and they can make one or several standard corset pattern(s) that will maybe 60-75% of bodies. Then they can batch out their corsets in bulk, which is much more efficient on time compared to custom corsets – it means you can stack your fabric layers and cut out several corsets at once, you can stock up on the same length bones and busks all the time (instead of cutting them to length or special-ordering them for each corset), and you don’t have to waste as much time switching tasks. However, after awhile, standard sized / stock corsets can be depressing (see the section “Beggers Can’t Be Choosers“).
  • Some corset makers make enough to be able to hire a team to make corsets in a small assembly line – so even when paying their team an hourly rate, since they have specialized machinery and people with specific skills, everything goes much smoother and faster. But of course, that special machinery comes at a hefty price – and training those workers takes time and money too.

Oftentimes when a corset maker burns out and stops making corsets, it’s because they were working alone for so many years without any help whatsoever – they were doing all the labor and admin themselves.


Making Corsets is a Full-Body Workout.

Cutting fabric on the floor; cutting and grinding bones; hammering or pressing grommets; spending hours upon hours in front of the sewing machine – these can be very labor-intensive and can cause injuries if you’re not prioritizing the ergonomics of your work area.

After my car accident in 2014, I wasn’t able to sew beyond very short periods of a few minutes (essentially short mending jobs) because I couldn’t crane my neck down for extended durations. Some people with muscle weakness need help cutting bones or setting grommets. Some people have arthritis in their hands and don’t have great dexterity in their fingers. And if you are sewing 12+ hours a day, almost every day, it can start to create a lot of wear and tear on the body.

Some corset makers do become more skilled and faster at making corsets, and some get better equipment so the process is more ergonomic (but that costs money too).


There Are Unexpected Expenses When Running a Business

Many corset makers only charge for the cost of materials + their labor in making the corset (and corsetieres have a habit of underestimating the number of hours required to finish a project!). But there are so many more expenses involved in keeping your business alive. Here are just a few “hidden costs” in any creative business:

  • Registering your business.
  • Filing for a trademark / copyright.
  • Admin work – bookkeeping, answering emails, etc.
  • Doing footwork / research / testing for the suitability of materials in your projects, or upgrading your skills.
  • Liability insurance for yourself, any employees you might have, insurance on your studio or dwelling, and insurance on your equipment and inventory.
  • Repairs and servicing for your machines / equipment.
  • Electricity that runs the equipment everyday (overhead).
  • Seller fees for Etsy, Ebay, and whatever you’re using to process payments.
  • Web hosting and maintenance.
  • Some countries require that businesses of any size, even the “hobbyists”, file your taxes every quarter. That’s every 3 months! That eats away at your time you’d rather spend Making Things, and some businesses are required to pay taxes every quarter.
  • Hiring a bookkeeper or accountant that knows all the legal stuff around running a business, and what’s claimable and not claimable around tax time (but this is a very wise investment and highly recommended – what I pay my accountant is much less than the amount I save by doing my taxes properly).

A corset maker can raise their prices to cover these fees, but that is a double-edged sword because it means fewer people are willing to buy from a brand that charges more.


Beggers Can’t Be Choosers

When I started making corsets, I considered it an amazing creative outlet. I could make any design, any color, any silhouette I wanted, with any combination of embellishments. I could let my imagination go wild! But when I started taking commissions, it became a case of “10 plain black waist training corsets in a row”, and while I take pride and put care in all of the corsets I make, it quickly became boring, soul-draining work.

Many corset makers now turn away prospective customers who want a plain underbust corset, because these makers only want to focus on luxury or couture work (and that is their right and their prerogative! If they’re able to maintain a successful business while turning away commissions, more power to them!). Other corset makers will take any commission they can get because it pays the bills – and what was once a lovely creative outlet for them has become a sad, drudging job.


Artists Sometimes Suck at Business…
…. Also, Difficult Customers Exist

Another potential issue with bespoke corsetry is that it’s so very personal: it’s designed to fit just one person exactly (even down to their anatomical asymmetries and idiosyncrasies) and the colors, fabrics, and embellishments are to that client’s specific taste. And oftentimes, if that commission is not 110% to the client’s standard, that is the difference between the maker getting paid and not getting paid. Of course, the maker should know this coming into the business – and know what’s fair and unfair in business dealings.

This is where contracts would be useful when taking commissions: be absolutely clear as to what’s included in the outfit / costume / corset commission, what communication and tasks are required of both the maker and the client (yes, some tasks are required of the client, like taking body measurements, being clear about what types of embellishments and how much, giving feedback during mockup fittings, etc), when payment(s) are due, etc. so there is less miscommunication and confusion.

Depending on a corsetiere’s PR skills, one really bad review can potentially ruin a maker’s reputation and put them out of business. (Some corset makers are really really good at making corsets, but their customer service leaves something to be desired.)

Several makers who have owned corset companies for 20+ years have all told me something similar (and somewhat controversial): for better or for worse, when it comes to the corset industry, it’s seldom that a laid back client comes along. While many don’t quite hit “bridezilla” status, occasionally a customer comes close, and the corsetiere has to learn how to be a good businessperson (not just a good artist) and know where to draw the line with “pickiness”: when to either put their foot down and when to cut their losses.

More unfortunately, there are many corset makers who hear nothing but crickets when their clients are happy with their commissions, and they only ever hear from their unhappy customers. This seems to be more universal: no matter what the industry or what the product / service is, unhappy customers are always louder than the happy ones. And this hurts businesses in real ways:

Let’s say a hypothetical corsetiere sells 50 corsets on Etsy. 48 of those customers are happy, and 2 of them are unhappy.

Let’s say only 3 of the happy customers leave 4 or 5 star reviews, but both of the unhappy customers leave 1-star reviews. That makes her Etsy rating look really spotty, close to a 60% satisfaction rate, even though in reality they have a 96% satisfaction rate.

I would not be willing to purchase from a corsetiere with a 60% satisfaction rate, would you? I might even think that they’re stealing photos from other makers and distributing knock-off designs, and the “three positive reviews” might be fabricated / shill reviews, or from customers uneducated about genuine corsets.

If many other prospective customers look at their poor ratings and think along the same lines, that corsetiere’s business suffers – she could be one of the most talented artists of our generation, but some people might never even give her a chance.

So if you purchased something off Etsy or even off a maker’s website and you were happy with your purchase, please consider leaving that corsetiere (or costumier, or artist) a positive review, or a testimonial that they’re able to share on their site – it only takes a minute, and it can really help with their reputation. If you have a bad experience with a corset maker then by all means speak your truth – but when you are happy with your product, also take the time to promote what you love, because some corsetieres’ livelihood depends on your feedback.

 

These are just a few reasons why so many makers decide to shut down their businesses. There are obviously many more reasons than these, some much more personal to the individual – this is why there is an entire industry (books, courses, mentorships, summits, etc) on how to properly run a business as a creative – no one is born knowing this, and most of us are flying by the seat of our pants, learning as we go. But if we’re to stay in business, we must be aware of these things and learn how to avoid them as best we can.

If there are any big reasons that I missed regarding why corsetieres or costumiers choose to leave their businesses, feel free to leave a comment down below and let me know. As always, be respectful in the comments.

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How Vollers Makes Their Corsets: A Factory Tour!

Welcome to the detailed tour of the corset factory in Portsmouth England from back in 2015, where we’ll see how Vollers Corsets makes their corsets.

A surprising number of tools and attachments used in this video were the same ones used 50 or even nearly 100 years ago, and it’s a bit like walking back in time, seeing how their workroom is optimized to make a simple underbust in as little as a couple of hours.

Don’t let that fool you though – each machine (and the machine’s operator) is specialized for a specific task, and many of their employees and members have been working with Vollers for decades. This means that they are highly skilled at what they do, and it also means they’ve seen how the family-owned brand has grown and changed – and how some parts have stayed the same!

While the various parts of this video were filmed out of order (and several different corsets were being assembled at once, so you may see the corset style change), I’ve tried to organize it here chronologically in order of how a corset would normally be assembled.

If you’d like to skip ahead to any specific part of the assembly process, use the time points below. Enjoy!

  • 0:25 Antique corset patterns
  • 1:25 Cutting the corset patterns
  • 1:40 Corset busks of various lengths
  • 1:45 Cording panels (sent to a processing house)
  • 2:30 Organizing WIP (work in progress) corsets for different orders
  • 3:30 Cutting spiral steel bones to length and adding on U-tips
  • 4:50 Sewing on the boning channels (twin-needle machine)
  • 5:45 Inserting the steel bones
  • 6:00 Installing the busk (both sides)
  • 7:30 Sewing on the binding (single pass using a binding attachment)
  • 8:20 Securing the binding with a bar-tack
  • 8:45 Modesty placket & modesty panel (back flap)
  • 9:50 Inserting eyelets
  • 11:00 Lacing up the finished corset

What parts did you like about the corset assembly process? What parts would you do differently? Leave a comment below!

And click here if you’d like to see the Vollers Corsets Interview, or click here to go to the Vollers website.

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Buying Used / Second Hand Corsets – FAQ

Over the years I’ve gotten an influx of questions about second hand corsets. Like other used clothing, they tend to be much less expensive and you can occasionally find “unicorns” (rare finds from corset makers who have retired or passed away). But can you trust a used corset to fit well or be as strong as a new corset? Are there any health concerns? Is it gross or shameful to buy second hand? I answer your questions here!

 

 

Isn’t it “gross” or unhygienic to buy a used corset?

I personally don’t see a problem with going gently used, as long as you know that it’s gently used and the previous owner is trying to convince you that it’s brand new – and as long as the corset is relatively clean or not used during unhygienic activities. Many people only wear their corset with a shirt or liner underneath, so technically the corset has never touched the skin on their torso, and the corset may not be any more “dirty” than a blazer.

I buy second-hand corsets where I can (I like discounted clothing as much as the next person), especially if I know the previous owner through the corset community and we’ve already developed good rapport. 90% of my closet is probably from thrift shops like Goodwill or Value Village. There are certain items that I don’t buy used (socks, stockings, underwear or bathing suits), and I will only buy shoes used if they look and feel almost brand new (look at the scuff marks on the soles) and don’t have signs that someone bled in them, for instance.

 

How can I tell if my corset is used or new?

There are differences between gently used and new corsets, the way that there are differences between used and new shoes. Look for the following in a NEW corset:

  • Crispier feel to the fabric, due to the sizing and starch used in the fabric (factories almost never pre-wash their fabric)
  • Stitches are all even
  • Steel bones are all straight, not twisted or warped
  • No wrinkling around the fabric
  • No shifted grommets in the back
  • The laces may feel springy too (if they are nylon OTR shoelace), and they might need to be “worked” a bit before they start gliding through the grommets like it’s second nature.

Used corsets might still show some traits of the above, depending on the construction and quality, and exactly how much it was worn by the previous owner.

 

This antique corset has teeny tiny stitches – about 25 per inch – and would show less shifting of stitches compared to the OTR corsets of today which have around 6-8 stitches per inch.
Corset courtesy of the Symington Museum Collections in Leicester, UK.

How does the construction play a role? A used corset that’s constructed with the sandwich method may show some slight shifting of the threads towards the waistline (where there is the highest tension), whereas with a corset with all external boning channels, this shifting in the stitching is harder to see. It’s also easier to see this shift if a corset has a longer stitch length, compared to if they used a shorter stitch length.

Other changes you can see in USED corsets (applies mostly to OTR corsets):

  • If a corset is very lightly boned with a several inches of unsupported fabric between each bone, you might see more wrinkling at the waistline compared to corsets with more bones (and more evenly distributed bones).
  • With the bones themselves, flat steels may have curved slightly to conform to the lumbar curve of the wearer over time, and because of this concave curve, the fabric along the grommet panel might have slightly wrinkled.
  • Grommets might have shifted slightly towards the center back seam if they’ve had tension placed on them. (A grommet should not be like falling out of its hole as this is damage, but in a used corset don’t be surprised if they are not perfectly lined up with laser precision.)
  • With a really well loved corset, you will likely notice that a corset doesn’t like to lie flat like it did when it was new. It may look slightly wonky and might also retain the roundness of its wearer when taken off.
  • The fabric will be softer than when it was new.

 

How much “stretching” should I expect in a used corset?

An OTR corset (depending on its quality and the style of construction, and depending on how often it was used) may commonly stretch 0.5 – 1 inch in the waistline. Some may stretch even more, and this should be stated by the previous owner if the corset has stretched to the point where it’s considered a completely different size.

Also, mesh corsets stretch more than non-mesh ones, and corsets with a partial waist tape tend to stretch more than corsets with a full waist tape. I was burned once where I bought a 2nd hand corset off ebay that was stated to be a size 22″, but in reality had a waist of 26″ because it had stretched out so much by the previous owner.

The most lucky buys are situations where the first owner tried on their new corset once or twice, and then decided it wasn’t for them – essentially selling an unseasoned, effectively new corset.

Sidenote: will the ribs and hips of a corset stretch out too?: The waist will almost certainly expand more than any other part of the corset, because it’s the place of highest tension. A well-fitting corset should ideally create a gradient where there’s compression at the waist, which dissipates up and down so that there’s essentially no pressure at the underbust and the hips. But some change to the fabric may still occur.
One really good quote from Laurie Tavan is that “we as corset makers of course never want our corsets to stretch out [such that the measurements change] but it is actually good to have some ease on the bias” as it helps the corset lie smoothly and it’s more comfortable as well. A couple of other corsetieres I know will deliberately cut specific panels on a slight bias (e.g. along the bustline, or around the front hip) to mold smoothly around curves and prevent wrinkles.

To some effect, all fabric, even the industry favorite herringbone coutil, are going to stretch on the bias a bit. The measurements of the underbust, waist, and hips will not change by too much in a good quality corset because the binding will hold horizontal measurements at the ribs and hips, and the waist tape will hold the waist measurement – but along the bias in other areas of the corset, yes there will be some ease, and this is actually a good thing for a comfortable corset that “molds” to the body.

 

I recently purchased this Restyle corset 2nd hand, and it still looked and felt new from the first wear because the previous owner listed it for sale after only trying it on briefly. It was essentially “new” but at a great price, with cheaper shipping than if I bought it new from Europe.

Do I have to “re-season” or “re-break-in” a used corset?

Let’s go back to the shoe analogy: when you break in new shoes, its purpose is to soften the shoe and get it to mold around your foot so it doesn’t give you blisters. In a pre-used corset, the threads have already shifted, the corset has already softened, and the fabric has already eased along the bias (helping an effectively “2D plane” of fabric to better wrap around the hills and valleys of a 3D body), so the corset will likely be more comfortable and you will probably be able to lace it tighter than if the corset were “factory fresh” new.

If you’ve had the pleasure of being fitted for a corset in a brick-and-mortar shop, they will probably lace their floor sample on you which has been worn by hundreds of other customers, and it will feel less crunchy and more comfy than the brand new corset you purchase and take home. But let’s say you exclusively wear that new corset for several weeks or months; if you were to go back to that shop and try on the floor sample again, I bet you would probably be able to say, “nope, this is not my corset. It is A seasoned corset, but it’s not MY seasoned corset.” Same way that a mom can tell her baby apart from another baby with very similar but non-identical features.

So you may not have to “re-break-in” a pre-loved corset. However, if this is your very first corset and you have no prior experience with waist training / tightlacing etc, you will probably still want to ease yourself into it slowly and NOT go as tight as possible on the first wear. Baby steps.

 

Any fitting issues I should worry about in used corsets (that I don’t have to worry about in new corsets)?

If you lace up your corset to find that the ribs or hips are bigger than your own, then no amount of wearing your corset is going to make it shrink to fit (but this is the same with new corsets!).

If the original owner had a noticeably asymmetric body, such that their body placed different amounts of pressure on different sides of the corset, there’s a chance that you won’t be able to make the corset perfectly symmetric again. Especially if that corset was laced on an angle or ended up twisting on their body over time, unfortunately I have never figured out how to get the corset to untwist.

 

If you have any other questions regarding gently used corsets, feel free to leave your questions below! If you have anything to add (or if you agree or disagree with anything here) also leave a respectful comment below and let’s continue the conversation.

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Corset SNAFU? Here’s how to Repair / Mend (Most Types of) Corset Damage.

 

Several of you liked the video/post I made on corset fitting issues and how to alter your corset to improve the fit, so I decided to make a “Part 2” where we talk about mending and repairing your damaged corset – and when the repair is manageable, or whether you should cut your losses and “sacrifice” the corset to reuse its hardware in a new corset.

Let’s explore the various types of corset damage, one by one:

 

A seam rips in your corset

I’m starting with this one because it’s one of the most extensive types of damage, and it’s the one that corseters tend to panic the most over.

If it’s only the threads that have snapped, and not the fabric itself that has torn or disintegrated, it’s mendable. The “quick and dirty” mending job is to whipstitch that seam very tightly back together by hand. Although this mend is visible, it will be quite strong, and if you wish you can cover it in lace appliqué (and put lace on the other side of the corset to make the embellishment symmetric, so it looks deliberate).

Time needed to whipstitch a seam closed: 20 minutes, depending on the size of the rip. If you’ll be embellishing your corset afterwards to cover the mending job, give yourself extra time.

If, however, you want to repair the seam in a way that no one will know that the damage had ever occurred in the first place, the complexity of this depends on the number of layers and the construction of the corset. It can be a straightforward job in a multi-layer corset with laid down boning channels. But in a multiple-layer corset, you’ll have to remove the binding on top and botom, remove the bones in the area, essentially take apart that corset down to its tension-bearing seams and then put it back together. There are risks associated with this method – if the seam allowances were trimmed small and the fabric has a tendency to fray, the corset may not be able to go back together exactly the same way it did before due to extensive damage to the fabric.

Time needed to take apart the corset and put it back together again: Up to 10+ hours, depending on how quickly you work and how complicated the construction is. Some might prefer to just make a new corset half from scratch.


Broken steel bones

This repair is (relatively speaking) easy peasy. Remove the binding on one end of the corset, just up to the affected boning channel. Remove the broken bone, and measure the full length of the bone. Order a new steel bone online, and the most difficult part is waiting for that bone to arrive in the mail. Once it comes in, simply slide the new bone into the boning channel, then sew the binding back on.

Time needed to replace a broken steel bone: 1 hour (plus a few days / weeks of waiting for the mail).


Bones that are too bendy in the back

Left to right: Heavenly Corsets (Elle Corsets), Xandriana, Azrael’s Accomplice, and Tighter Corsets, all corsets with different types and levels of bowing, for different reasons.

While this isn’t “damage” per se, it can absolutely cause one grief when trying to lace up and remain laced. The bones might kink and poke into your back, or the lacing gap may bow or warp. In this scenario, you can absolutely replace the bones with stiffer ones if you like (see above for the process). If you don’t want to mess with the boning, try adding more grommets in between between the pre-existing grommets (especially at the waistline), as well as tightening the boning channels if they’re too loose and allow twisting or twirling of the bones within the channels. I have a whole video / article on how to do these modifications here.

Time needed to replace bendy steel bones: 1 hour (see above)
Time needed to add extra grommets: Perhaps 20 minutes if you know what you’re doing.
Time needed to tighten the boning channels: 10 minutes, plus a good quality zipper foot.


Broken busk

Busks come in a multitude of colors, like these by Narrowed Visions. If you’re going to be replacing the busk, why not spruce up your corset at the same time with a colored busk? (Click through to Etsy).

The knob / pin / peg of the busk is basically a rivet that was hammered into a tiny hole within a steel bone. Therefore, it’s theoretically possible to get a rivet setter and hammer it back in (or find another rivet of the same size and use that instead). If you lost the knob, if the knob isn’t staying put, and you can’t find a rivet, you can try to get a little screw that somewhat matches the size, and screw it into the busk (use a flat nut or bolt in the back, and obviously get the type with a flat tip and not pointy).

Time needed to install a rivet or screw to replace the busk pin: >1 hour.

If you wanted to completely replace the busk, this is possible with corsets that have a reasonably “self-healing” fabric (i.e. not materials that show perforations, like leather or vinyl). To replace the busk, first order your busk and ensure that your new busk is the same length as your old one, with the same number of loops & pins, and they align in the same spots. If the knob side of your new busk can fit into the loop side of your old busk, this cuts your work in half because you only have to replace the damaged side.

Remove the binding and the anchoring seam (do not touch the center front seam), take out the broken busk, and replace it with a new busk. Sew your new anchoring seam, then put the binding back on.

Time needed to replace the busk with a new, identical one: 30 minutes per side.

Another thing you can do is get rid of the busk altogether.

Time needed to make a closed-front corset: ~ 1-2 hours.
Time needed to replace the busk with front lacing instead. ~ 2-3 hours.

Bonus: What if the loop side of the busk isn’t broken, just bent?

This type of damage on the busk is most often due to not fully loosening the laces in the back before attempting to undo the busk, so that one has to twist and struggle to unclasp the loops and knobs. As long as the corset is sufficiently loosened in the back, the busk should easily undo.

For the bent loops, these can be gently hammered or bent straight again, taking care not to make the loop “ziggly” or bending it too far in either direction. For the knobs/ pins, I would not ever recommend hammering them as they may lose their anchor and fall out.


Bones that have worn through their boning channels

Lovely Rats Corset featuring external boning channels and also flossing on each channel – both great ways to protect and prevent bones from wearing through the fabric.

If you’re just starting to notice a bit of wear or thinning along the fabric, you can floss the ends of the bones to prevent them from sliding around and preventing further damage.

Time needed to floss a boning channel: Give yourself like 10-15 minutes per motif, depending on your experience level.

If the bone has already worn a hole through the fabric, depending on how much it’s damaged you might need to patch over it or add external boning channels to cover it up. With external boning channels, this is your opportunity to get creative – use matching channels for a subtle effect, or decorative / contrast channels to spruce up your corset. To make the repair look deliberate, whatever you do to one side of the corset, also do to the other side.

If you’re going to add external channels, you’ll have to remove all the bones from that channel (or the whole corset, if you plan a major overhaul). This is a good opportunity to a look at the bones and be sure that they’re properly tipped and not sharp. If the bones were incorrectly prepared, you might have to take all the bones out and tip them properly and put them back in, which might extend your project by an hour or two.

Time needed to add one external boning channel: ~ 1 to 1.5 hours.
Time needed to add external boning channels to the whole corset: ~ 3-4 hours, depending on number of channels, and removing and putting on the binding again.


Grommets that have fallen out

Once the fabric around a corset has become so frayed and damaged that the grommets are falling out, you have no choice but to reinforce that fabric and / or use different grommets that are larger and have a wider flange.

The hardest part is sourcing your grommets and a matching setter that will set the grommets properly and not smush or crush them. If you already have these on hand and you don’t care about the grommets being all the same size or style (say you just want to replace the one grommet in the back), then it will be a super easy job.

However if you want all your grommets to match, you’ll need to take pliers and remove all the grommets one by one, and (preferably) add a reinforcing interlining in the back panel which will help the grommets stay in more securely

Time to change 1 grommet: 10 minutes
Time to remove all grommets and put in new ones so they all match: at least 2 hours (1 hour to remove the grommets, another hour to put new ones in). For a longer corset with more grommets, give yourself even more time.

 

I think I’ve covered most or all of the possible SNAFUs that can happen regarding corset fitting or damage that can be altered, modified or repaired.

If there were any I missed, let me know in the comments below! Also, if there were any (practical) modification or repair videos you would like me to make in the future, feel free to comment and ask.

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England Adventures: Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC), Interviews, Factory Tour & More!


At last, after 2 years I’m sharing with you some highlights of my trip to England, and what you can expect at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry if you choose to attend in the future.

There were unfortunately some restrictions placed on what could be photographed or filmed and what couldn’t, and so I filmed very little in 2014 (the first year I attended). In 2015 I filmed a little more, after seeing what other attendees freely filmed / photographed without getting a slap on the wrist – but here’s a nonexhaustive list of limitations (just so you won’t be underwhelmed by the lack of footage in the video above).

  • At Jesus College, where conference was held, you’re not allowed to portray it in any way that could be considered an advertisement.
  • You’re not allowed to show certain signs or crests or logos in video or photography.
  • Regarding the conference itself, I was respectful of attendees who didn’t want to be shown on camera (but when you’re at a conference you’re constantly surrounded by people).
  • I would have loved to do a dozen corset reviews or interviews at the conference as well, but I was not allowed to favour the work of any one maker over the others (if I interviewed one, I would have to interview all of them, and there wasn’t enough time to do so).
  • You’re was also not allowed to film the models or photographers when they were at work.
  • Obviously you’re not allowed to film the workshops in their entirety, as that could be giving away the presenters’ trade secrets.

So what was left that I could film included old architecture and gardens, the backs of people’s heads, tiny snippets of talks, and piles and piles of corsets (of course, the corsets were the whole reason I was there!). I’ve pulled together what I could here, and in this video I’ll also be talking about what I got up to before and after the conference (in both 2014 and 2015).

 

Corset Pilgrimage, 2014: Oxford, London, Leicestershire, Birmingham, Bath

Lowana of Vanyanis (right) and myself in the car (also with Jenni of Sparklewren in the front seat), all of us excited to head to OCOC 2014!

The location itself felt like I was staying at Hogwarts. I’m not certain if there are any buildings in Canada that are quite as old as those in Oxford, and I felt a combination of reverence and the heebie-jeebies. You could choose whether you wanted to share rooms with a friend or whether you wanted your own place (I recommend bunking with a friend – it’s less expensive as well). When you check in at the college, they assign you your room. Attendees are all scattered around the college, you’re not all in one giant rez.

At the conference there’s always a room with a corset pile on a giant table. Corset makers can bring their corsets and label them and leave them here for the weekend for all other attendees to study and try on (if you allow trying on of your corsets). This room is locked after hours so your belongings are protected. Again, I was not allowed to conduct any interviews or corset reviews at the conference, but I did do a couple of interviews (Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London) after the conference in 2014.

Autograph for Christine Wickham from Mr Pearl. It reads, “To Dear Christine / Love is the Messge / Love has no time or space. / Mr Pearl”

There was also a table set up for Christine Wickham, of Ariadne’s Thread, as it was her crowdfunding that helped me afford to travel to England to the OCOC in the first place. Christine passed away unexpectedly in July 2014, just a few months after the campaign ended, and a month before the Conference of Corsetry. I commissioned Sarah Chrisman to hand-bind a book with blank pages, and anyone could come and write a note to Christine or to her family.
I ended up bringing the book 2 years in a row, and at the conference in 2015, the one and only Mr Pearl signed her book.

On the Saturday night, there is a dinner gala where you can dress up in formal or semiformal wear, and many of the corsetieres wore their own creations.
In 2014, the special guest and keynote speaker was Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, and how her business had evolved over 25 years.

Some of the classes and workshops in 2014 included:

  • Drawing inspiration from architecture and nature, guided by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite
  • Couture hand finishing techniques by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse
  • Studying antique corsets including the bird’s wing corset, with Jenni of Sparklewren
  • Grading different sizes for standard sized collections by Marianne of Pop Antique
  • Working with Worbla and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black

Let’s rewind a bit and talk about going to the Symington corset collection in Leicestershire before the 2014 conference. I made plans to meet Lowana of Vanyanis at the airport, and we made an appointment to study some of the antique corsets in their collections. It was simply amazing; we were allowed to touch the corsets with clean bare hands. See the video for many examples of the corsets we studied there.

This antique corset has teeny tiny stitches – about 25 per inch – and it was considered impressive if the corset lasted 12 months before needing replacement!
Corset courtesy of the Symington Museum Collections in Leicester, UK.

After the museum, Lowana and I went to Birmingham to the Jewellery quarter and spent a day at Sparklewren’s studio. Marianne of Pop Antique was there too, and Lowana hired Inaglo Photography for a day there. I also had a small turn in front of the camera.

After the 2014 conference, I toured different parts of London and Bath – parts with Lowana and Beata, and parts solo. I was particularly excited to visit the roman baths, because my grandmother visited them in the 70s and loved them so much. I’m named after my grandmother but never met her, and it was of an odd importance to me that I walked the same areas she did when she visited England over 40 years ago.

Again, if you’d like to see the interviews I did in Engand in 2014, click here for Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London.

That was the summary of my whirlwind 2014 England trip! Continue reading to learn what I got up to in 2015.


Corset Pilgrimage, 2015: Oxford, London, Portsmouth

Joni (Rainbow Curve Corsetry) and myself (Lucy Corsetry) hugging a really, really old tree somewhere near the fields where Harry Potter’s Quidditch games were filmed.

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015 was structured similarly to the year before. That year I was only in England for about 5 days, so there were fewer opportunities for tourism, and the itinerary was a lot more jam-packed. I arrived just hours before conference festivities began on the Friday, so I went walking in downtown Oxford with some other corsetieres like Sara of Exquisitely Waisted Designs, Karolina Zarzycka with the label of her own name, Dee from Luscious Pearl Designs, and Joni from Rainbow Curve Corsetry, and we checked out some different sites where Harry Potter was filmed. Later that evening all the attendees went to Bill’s for a casual meetup and grub before lectures and workshops started the next day.

This year, I decided to share a dorm with Laurie Tavan, and as we’re both quiet people who completely nerd out on the minutia of corsetry and aren’t afraid to help each other out, she was the perfect roommate for that weekend.

Again on Saturday night, there’s a semiformal dinner, and the keynote speaker for 2015 was Immodesty Blaize, who gave an amazing performance and then gave a beautiful speech afterward.

Workshops and classes in 2015 included:

  • 3D printing and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black.
  • Pattern matching workshop conducted by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden.
  • Question and answer period with Mr Pearl.
  • Building your own website and SEO with Fionna Pullen.
  • There was also a class on integrating corsetry into other clothing (led by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse) – arguably the class I was most excited about on the itinerary that year – but that particular year, attendees were divided based on skill & experience level, so not all makers were allowed to attend all workshops. This is the one detail that I would change in the future with OCOC; if all attendees pay the same amount to attend the conference, they should all be able to sit the workshops they’re most interested in. Attendees only learned that we were segregated into different classes after we had already paid for our tickets.

Katie Thomas (right) and myself in the WKD London boutique.

After the conclusion of OCOC 2015, I spent two days with Katie Thomas of What Katie Did. She showed me the headquarters in London, where all the amazing lingerie and corsets are stocked for online orders, and showed how their business operates on the back end – from testing samples, to online customer service, to working with celebrity stylists, to order fulfillment. I also learned about the “What Katy Did” books and the history behind the name, and also we took a trip to their boutique on Portobello Green and saw how they ran their shop. I also got to try on a few corsets, and of course Katie and I sat down for an interview! If you’d like to see the whole interview, click the link in the cards, or in the description below.

Katie’s family also took me to Basildon park, a gorgeous estate where they filmed parts of Downton Abbey. I’m so grateful to Katie and her family for housing me for a few days and showing me such hospitality.

After two days with Katie’s family, I took the train south to Portsmouth where the Vollers family kindly put me up for two nights, and allowed me to tour their factory and see how one of the oldest corset companies in the world runs their business and makes their corsets. They have lots of nifty tools machines, which you can see in this detailed video. Naturally, what would a visit be if I didn’t also interview Corina and Ian, the owners of Vollers corsets?

I wore Vollers Veco corset dress to the formal dinner at OCOC 2015, and then visited the Vollers factory after the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving the Voller family, I went straight to the airport and flew home.

Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the 2017 conference of corsetry, but from the sound of it and all the pictures, it seems like it was their best year yet.

Many thanks to the coordinators and presenters at OCOC, Christine Wickham, Lowana, Jenni, Glo, Beata, Katie, Laurie, the Voller family, and everyone who made my two trips to England as wonderful as they were. The next OCOC meetup is in 2019 and I’m determined to attend again – and hopefully spend a little bit longer time there to take in more of what England has to offer.

 

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California Corset Adventures – NALACE, Puimond, Interviews & More

As you know, throughout 2015 I spent about 2 months traveling for business. You might recall my Thailand adventures video and my Texas adventures video, so here is a brief continuation of what happened in California in July of 2015. (Unfortunately I broke my phone and I had also misplaced some memory cards for my travel camcorder for two years so I lost a lot of my footage – but by some stroke of luck I found one of my SD cards which had a few tidbits of footage).

The clip with myself, Sarah, and Jim Cox (the owner of Timeless Trends) at the beginning of the video above is of one of the first prototypes of the Gemini back in June of 2015 in Bangkok. I had included a very short clip of this in my Thailand video two years ago, but I didn’t want to give away too much about the two different silhouettes and the cut, but now that the Gemini corset is for sale, I’m comfortable extended version now!

After staying in Texas for about 3 weeks, Amber (Lovely Rats Corsetry) and I flew to Los Angeles together to attend the first ever North American Lingerie and Corsetry Symposium, coordinated by Jasmine Starfire. Some of the teachers included Jasmine of Sin & Satin, Amara from Vintage View Atelier, Jessica from Ties That Bynde, Sidney Eileen, and also in attendance was Heidi from Strait-Laced Dame, Alisha from The Bad Button, Lori of Bound Angel Designs (who also helped me on the Corset Database), and Lori’s mom Celia, who was everyone’s mom for that weekend. Celia unfortunately passed away from cancer in early 2017. If you would like to support her family during this difficult time, please consider donating to their GoFundMe here.

Two examples of Sin & Satin ribbon cinchers without a side seam.

There were some great workshops during this weekend, including:

  • Jasmine (Sind & Satin): how to create her signature ribbon cinchers without a side seam.
  • Jessica (Ties That Bynde): how to drape and modify patterns from start to finish, and how to grade sizes of a standard size collection.
  • Sidney Eileen: flossing and other couture hand-finishing techniques.
  • Jasmine Starfire (the coordinator): millinery techniques that can cross over to corsetry, including using bronze molds on silk petals to make custom flower embellishments.
  • Amber (Lovely Rats): how to pattern-match / motif-match.

And there were also opportunities to stay longer and visit the amazing fabric market in the LA area.

I also got to catch up with Sidney Eileen, and interviewed Sidney on how her health has improved since the 2013 fundraiser to help treat her lyme and anaplasma infections.

After the Symposium I decided to stay for an extra two days in California and take in what the LA area had to offer (what I could afford at the time). Unfortunately I did not make it to Disneyland, but Laysa and I went shopping in Burbank, visiting stores like Pinup Girl Clothing, What Katie Did, and Unique Vintage. Laysa also took me to Venice Beach where I touched the Pacific ocean for the first time, and the two of us also spent a day with Puimond and his two adorable and well-behaved dogs, Dobby and Handsome (RIP to them both, they passed away I believe in 2017). If you want to see the full interview with Puimond, click here.

I wish I had more footage to show but it really was a whirlwind trip of about 4.5 days! I definitely would love to visit California again in the future. Californians, if you can think of anything that is an absolute “not to be missed” attraction that you think I should see next time I’m there, leave a comment below and let me know!

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Exceptions to Corset Rules

There is a concept (that was popularized by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld books) called lies-to-children which says that we tend to oversimplify concepts and make “black and white” rules in order to familiarize beginners (or kids) with certain concepts before they can move on to understanding the more nuanced reality of these topics. Corsetry is no exception; there are so many “rules” that ring mostly true (like “good OTR corsets contain steel bones and not featherweight”, or “the waist tape’s purpose is to prevent stretching or ripping at the waistline”) but it’s high time we talk about the people who are successfully breaking corset rules – because not all corsets are made equal!

 

Corset Sizes

Rule:

Corset sizes are mostly 20”, 22”, 24” etc, and we should avoid any corsets sold in “street sizes” (e.g. US size 6 / UK size 10, or small / medium / large) because street sizes are arbitrary and not standardized.

Exceptions:

A few respected corset makers do prefer to sell their corsets by the S/M/L/XL system.
One of these brands is Ms Martha’s Corset Shoppe (I wear a size Medium in her shop which translates to waist size 22″).
Another maker is Ties That Bynde (I wear a size XS in her shop which translates to waist size 22″).

Jessica, the owner of Ties That Bynde, also wrote a testimony for my book Solaced last year. She’s an immensely skilled corsetiere who has made medical / therapeutic corsets for herself and others, and her corsets have been covered by medical insurance in some cases. Jessica suffered a debilitating car accident and she made several corsets for herself to helped her recover from her sustained injuries, and her corsets have also corrected her scoliosis. The reason that she prefers this sizing system over numbers, she says, is because she sells at conventions where the demographic can be a bit different, and many customers don’t like knowing what their waist size is in inches. They tend to be a bit more receptive to her current sizing system.

Number of layers

Contour Corsets blue summer mesh underbust
Contour Corsets blue summer mesh single layer underbust (with front zip and no waist tape!)

Rule:

Many OTR corsets will boast that their corset has three, four, or even more layers of fabric in their waist training corsets, because in the idea that “many hands make light work”, we also think it’s logical to believe that more layers equals more strength.

Exceptions:

I have worn some amazingly strong and comfortable single layer corsets, probably the most well known being my mesh corset from Contour Corsets, but also my spot broche piece from Bizarre Design. Both of these corsets started with premium quality fabrics that were painstakingly cut on grain, and constructed with external boning channels which straddle and reinforce the seams, and each seam is stitched multiple times (zig-zagged in my Contour Corset, and with a twin-needle machine in my Bizarre Design corset) so there is little to no risk of a seam ripping even under high reductions.

If I were perusing Ebay and looking at “corsets” shipped from China for $15, I would be a little hesitant to spend that much if they said it were a single layer corset, because I’ve tried one before and it didn’t do much for me. But a single layer corset made from a specialty coutil or broche, made by a reputable independent corsetiere? I wouldn’t bat an eye at that.

While on the topic of Contour Corsets and Bizarre Design, and how they have engineering backgrounds and like to bend the rules – neither of my corsets from them contain any waist tape.

 

Waist tapes

Rule: 

Gorgeous high-contrast shot of the gold bird’s wing sample. Photo by Sparklewren.

The waist tape’s purpose is to prevent stretching and ripping of the corset at its point of highest tension (the waistline) and corsets that don’t have a waist tape are unsuitable for waist training.

Exceptions:

My Contour corset was my primary training piece through 2012-2013, and it was still barely stretched or eased a fraction of an inch at the waist despite note having a waist tape. (The only reason I stopped training in that corset was because I found it a very dramatic silhouette, and once I achieved a waist of 20″ I decided I preferred to stay at 22″ instead.)

For cheaper quality corsets, having a waist tape is a sign of insurance: if one of the seams fail and the stitching pops at the waistline, at least the waist tape should hold fast because it doesn’t have any seams. But some corsetieres have appeared to construct their corsets in such a way that renders the waist tape superfluous because the corsets are strong enough on their own.

Some corsetieres, like Sparklewren and her Bird’s Wing corsets, would deliberately make her corsets a touch smaller in the waist than the customer wanted (0.5 – 1 inch smaller) – because she anticipated there would be a little bit of ease at the waistline without having a waist tape – however, once that fabric settled, it would more or less be around the size originally requested – so this is how some corsetieres are able to circumvent any complications around not installing waist tapes. The Bird’s Wing corsets are constructed with lapped seams (which are also extremely strong and secure – and because they can be made with a single layer of strong coutil or broche, adding a waist tape in these corsets would be tricky but also ruin the line of the delicate looking antique-inspired couture corset.

Also, consider that ribbon corsets typically never contain waist tapes. One exception to that is Pop Antique’s ribbon cincher.

 

A happy client snaps a selfie of her custom mesh underbust from Mitchell Dane (MDC Designs) with a front zip closure.
A happy client snaps a selfie of her custom mesh underbust from Mitchell Dane with a front zip closure.

Zippers

Rule:

Any “corset” on Ebay that shows a hook-and-eye closure, or a zipper on the side or back of the body (especially colored zips with nylon coils instead of metal teeth), are not genuine heavy duty corsets designed for waist training or tight lacing.

Exceptions:

Some corsetieres use zippers successfully in their corsets, even their tightlacing and waist training corsets! The strongest zippers have metal teeth – not plastic – and the zip is well-supported with flat steels on either side. The zip will also typically be placed on a seam that doesn’t have much curve (like the center front) and not on a side seam, so that there is no unequal strain on the zip that might cause it to fail.

I believe Amy Crowder of Wasp Creations had once written about how a good quality and well-installed zipper can possibly even be stronger than a conventional busk.

Some makers who utilize zippers in their work include Puimond, KMK designs, Mitchell Dane, Sin and Satin, and of course Contour Corsets. See my gallery of genuine corsets with zippers here!

 

Number of panels

Rule:

Karolina Laskowska shows the pattern and final result of her single panel corset experiment. Click through to see her Facebook post with more info.

A proper corset must have 4-6 panels per side (8-12 panels total).

I’m sure most of you have done this thing in geometry class where you make a square, and then a hexagon, and then a heptagon, and an octagon, and on and on until you have a polygon that has so many sides that it nearly makes a circle. And theoretically, this is what we aim to do with corsets – to take flat 2 dimensional panels, albeit made from malleable fabric, and wrap it around a multitude of curves. This is where we’ve arrived at the idea that “the fewer panels there are in a corset pattern, the less curvy / the more wrinkly / the more uncomfortable it is.” It would be bonkers to make every corset have an infinite number of panels, so we strive for a happy medium of 4-6 panels per side in most cases, and we can further tweak the fit with gores and fluted panels, like What Katie Did does.

Exceptions:

I have seen corsets with two panels per side, like Damsel in this Dress, and I’ve seen corsets with like 20 panels per side, like Sparklewren’s bird’s wing corsets. 99% of the time, OTR corsets will have between 4-6 panels per side.

Each seam is an opportunity to adjust the fit to suit your body, and oftentimes clean seams are more comfortable than sewing darts and pleats, especially when it comes to something as close-fitting as a corset. But I have occasionally worn corsets with four panels that were more comfortable than other corsets with more panels. And more panels does not necessarily mean that the corset will be curvier – the curve depends on how each panel is shaped, not how many there are.

Karolina Laskowska took this idea to new levels by making a corset with only ONE panel! Instead of adding more fabric where she needed ease, she started with her largest circumferential measurements instead and added tucks where she needed to take it in at the waist or over the bustline. It was very clever.

Bones

Antique (with real whalebone) vs Laurie Tavan’s reproduction (with synthetic whalebone). Photos by Laurie Tavan

Rule:

Featherweight boning is awful, Rigilene is the devil, and generally just run away from plastic boning and always look for steel.

Exceptions:

There are some people doing amazing things with synthetic whalebone – which is a type of plastic, but it’s from Germany and it doesn’t behave the same way as featherweight or rigilene that you find here in North America. Luca Costigliolo and Laurie Tavan are two corset makers who do beautiful Victorian reproductions and have worked successfully with synthetic bone.

 

Grommets

Rule:

Grommets in a corset should be size #00 (5mm) or #0 (6mm) and have a medium-to-wide flange to prevent popping out over time.

Exceptions:

Some older corsets like those made by Créations L’Escarpolette contained grommets / eyelets in size #x00 (an internal diameter of 4 mm) or even smaller, and with a teeny tiny flange, yet they’ve held up to a lot of wear, as these corsets are over 10 years old now (if I recall correctly). Even though the grommets are quite oxidized, none of them are actually falling out because they’re set so tightly.

On the other end of the spectrum I’ve seen corsets with enormous grommets (size 1 or 2), which are almost comically large, but I can see it working with a certain aesthetic.

 

So you see, although there are standards for most corsets these days, there are always exceptions to the rules. We live in an amazing time where we have access to laser cutting and 3D printing and so many awesome materials, and people around the world can blend their knowledge from previous backgrounds and apply them to the art of corsetry, and that is exciting and amazing.

Standards are usually set for a reason, so it’s good to learn why things are constructed in a certain way and using certain materials – it often comes down to accessibility, cost, tradition, etc.

I’ve experimented a lot with corset making in the past, only to reinvent the wheel and learn for myself why “some things are the way they are”, but that’s all part of the process, and I would assume that almost any experienced corsetiere has done the same. But innovation is the spice of life, so learn the rules as a beginner, so you can learn to break them later. ;)