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How to Correct a “Bowing” Corset

In the past, I’ve discussed various reasons why your corset may be bowing (giving the “()” shape) in the back, including the popular “Shape of your Corset Gap” article –   however, the bowing is not only caused by a corset-body mismatch, but also by the types of bones and grommets in the back of the corset. In this article, I’m going to try and consolidate the information you need to identify why your corset is bowing in the back, and how you may be able to fix it if you think the pattern/ cut of the corset is not the problem.

Firstly, if you don’t know why bowing is an issue, refer back to my Addendum to Corset Gaps article, and how the steels can become permanently distorted with this gap shape.

Why is my Corset Bowing in the Back?

When the bones in the back of your corset are like “()”, there are a couple of issues going on.

As mentioned in my article about different corset gaps, one reason that the steels are bowing is that the corset is too curvy than your body is ready for. Typically, a corset is created to be smaller than your natural size at the waist, but the ribs and hips will match your natural measurements. It does NOT feel like a rubber cincher or faja, which tend to place pressure on the ribs, waist and hips equally. When you put on a corset, it reduces your waist (no kidding!). With every action, there’s an equal an opposite reaction – so your waist pushes back on the corset and provides resistance, while the ribs and hips of the corset have little to no tension, until you’re able to close the corset enough that the top and bottom edges pull in to hug the body.

Now, if you receive a corset and the first time you put it on you get the () gap, don’t panic. It doesn’t automatically mean that your corset wasn’t theoretically made to your measurements, but your waist is not compressing down or the corset is not reinforced in the best way to prevent the bowing. If you have a corset that flares a bit at the top and bottom edges, resist the urge to pull the ribs and hips of the corset in to meet the body right away – because if the waist doesn’t follow and refuses to reduce, then you will get the () gap.

Another reason that you’re seeing the () gap may be due to the grommets being set too far apart. Grommets are like multiple “anchor” points. Each one of them is responsible for holding a certain fraction of the total tension on the corset. The more grommets there are, the better this is distributed. If grommets are set more than about an inch apart (especially at or near the waistline), there won’t be enough grommets to provide the right distribution of tension through the back of the corset and the more likely you are to experience bowing. Later in the article I’ll discuss how to using lacing techniques and addition of more grommets to achieve more regular distribution of the tension, reducing the likelihood of those back steels bowing.

Other reasons may include the quality or the type of bones used in the back – the steels might be too malleable or too loose in their channels (the channels may be wide enough to allow the bones to twist and twirl) – or a combination of all of the above.

The more extreme the waist reduction, the more likely this kind of bowing can occur, and the bones could even potentially permanently kink and dig into your back – yikes!

Why would a corsetiere even consider putting flexible bones in the back of their corsets? Well, it often comes down to comfort and posture – in a previous video I demonstrated how some corsets (especially OTR corsets) tend to have very stiff and rigid steels in the back; so much that they refused to hug the lumbar spine and promote a healthy neutral posture. With some coaxing, you can gently curve these steels so they align better with you lumbar spine – but using flexible bones in a corset in the first place can eliminate this problem from the start, helping you maintain proper neutral posture, and making the corset much more comfortable (especially if you’re wearing it for longer durations or more frequently).

It’s important to note that bendy back bones are not necessarily a sign of inadequate experience on the maker’s part. There are some corsets that I’ve extensively altered to minimize the bowing, but other very experienced makers like Electra Designs and Dark Garden deliberately use more flexible steels for a variety of reasons, and in the case of their corsets I simply modified the lacing (a very simple and non-invasive solution) to reduce the bowing.

bowed-corset-back-steel-bones
Four different corsets, four different reasons that bowing can occur. From left to right: Heavenly corset being too small for me, Xandriana with very flexible steels despite having closer grommets, AZAC Curvy Girl with far set grommets, and Tighter Corsets with slippery laces. Corsets may have a combination or all of these problems, depending on the brand and the wearer’s body.

How to eliminate or reduce the bowing in your corset

There are four techniques I know of – here they are from least invasive to most invasive:

Chevron Lacing

I’ve also heard it called “tennis shoe lacing”. I have a video tutorial for the chevron lacing technique here. Like I mentioned, it creates a kind of an anchor point at each set of grommets – with this particular lacing style, there’s greater friction to hold the laces in place and prevent them from sliding open at the waist. Pair this with inverted bunny ears at the waistline and it will give even more control. I’ve seen this lacing used in my Electra Designs and Dark Garden corsets.

What I have also done in the past is use a set of two shorter laces in my corsets (or if you don’t have more laces and you’re not afraid of committing, you can simply cutting the bunny ears at the waistline to create two separate laces) – one lace is used for the top of the corset ending at the waistline, and one for the bottom of the corset up to the waistline, so I can pull and tighten each one individually. This also works best when the pulls are inverted, although it can be a bit confusing and take some time to get the hang of lacing it up. To lace up using two laces, I tighten the top a bit, and then tie off that ribbon.

Then I tighten the bottom and then tie that off.

Then I untie the top again and pull it tighter, then tie it off again.

Then I untie the bottom one and pull that one tighter, then tie it off, etc. so they work together and the waistline never has an opportunity to slide open. My corsets from The Bad Button laced with two ribbons, and also I tried this with my Tighter Corset and it worked well. However, I’ll admit that this can get annoying after awhile and I would eventually end up altering the corset, which brings us to…

Add More Grommets

Another suggestion is to add more grommets. Sometimes the grommets are spaced too far apart – if there were more grommets closer together at the waistline, they can distribute the tension more evenly and give you more leverage. In my Curvy Girl corset, my Gallery Serpentine corset, and my Heavenly Corset, I added more grommets in between the pre-existing ones (matching the grommets as best as I can).

See all the alterations I did in my Gallery Serpentine corset

See the alterations I did in my Curvy Girl corset

NOTE: if your corset has lacing bones (like Electra Designs corsets), adding more grommets is not possible without drilling through the bone. I don’t recommend doing this as it exposes the uncoated metal and may encourage rusting later, and it weakens the bone which increases the risk of snapping.

Tighten the Boning Channels

If the steels are twirling in their channels and you know how to sew, you can make the boning channel smaller or tighter which can help prevent twisting. As to which side of the channel to manipulate, I prefer to push the bone towards the grommets. Doing it by machine might be faster, but be careful not to hit the bone with your needle! For best results use a narrow zipper or cording foot if you can find one for your machine. The standard zipper foot that comes with domestic machines tend to not give quite as tight a result compared to a narrow foot. (Also, wear your safety goggles because if the needle hits the bone, it might break and fly at your face).

If sewing around your steel bone makes you nervous, you can undo the binding and slip out the bone completely, then tighten the channel with a smaller risk of breaking your needle – then just slide the bone back in and sew up the binding again. But if you’re going to this level of effort, then you can use this opportunity to…

Change out the Bones Completely

If you find that the original steels are paper thin and easily mangled, or if you’ve ended up permanently kinking them because of prolonged bowing in the back, you can simply replace them with new steels. You can purchase steels at pre-cut lengths online at sites like Vena Cava, Sew Curvy, Farthingales, or Corset Making. (Do NOT purchase the carbon-fiber bones for the back of the corset. They’re fantastic for the front of a corset if you like an extremely rigid, straight front – but they will not curve to the lumbar spine).

And if you put all of these techniques together, it makes for a corset with a very small chance of bowing outward at the waist.

The ONE Corset that has NEVER Bowed:

What’s an example of a corset that absolutely never bows in the back? My Contour Corset (actually, I now have two Contour Corsets. They’re that good.) The bones themselves are not remarkably stiff, the width of the boning channel looks average, and the grommets are not crazy close together. So how did she achieve this? The boning channels themselves are spaced very close together – the space where the grommets are inserted are only wide enough for the shank – and the wide flange of the grommets literally overlap with the bones themselves. This ensures two things: the washer of the grommet should never rip through because it’s anchored by the bones, and the bones should never twist because they’re anchored by the grommets! The grommets are also a little closer together at the waistline, but that’s not the most crucial detail. What also may contribute to the stability of the back panel is the very stiff mesh – it resists collapsing, stretching, warping or wrinkling so perhaps the fabric itself helps prevent bowing. Fran once demonstrated that her lacing panels are so strong, she can hang one from a door frame and sit on it like a swing!

Go forth and bow no more!

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Corsets and Skeletal Deformities: Anthropological Study

Venus de Milo vs Victorian corseted woman. *sigh* Not this again.
Comparison of the Venus de Milo vs Victorian corseted woman. How accurate is this illustrator’s representation?

In September 2015, The Canadian Student Journal of Anthropology (Nexus) included an anthropological study of women’s skeletons from England and France in the 1800s, when corsets were at their height in fashion. In this research study, PhD candidate Rebecca Gibson aimed to find any correlation between skeletal morphology (shape and relative position of the bones) and lifespan.

She documented how the ribcages and spines of corset wearers were modified from a lifetime of corset wear, and she gives us a window into how these women may have lived in order for their bones to have been shaped to the extent that they were. Gibson states that despite the fact that nearly all women in England and France wore stays between 1700 – 1900, this was a fashion perpetuated by women, for women.

Women themselves used, championed, and criticized corseting, and men often interpreted and disseminated the literature regarding the practice. What this view lacked, and this study seeks to rectify, is two-fold. Firstly, impoverished women’s voices are missing, both from the modern studies and from the written accounts. Secondly, the extant evidence that corseting was inherently harmful comes completely from hyperbolic and unreliable doctors’ accounts and as such it cannot be verified using the literature alone. ~ Gibson, pg 48

What Gibson explains (in addition to Norah Waugh, Valerie Steele and several other authorities on historical corsetry) is that men wrote publicly and extensively about their distaste for the corset; often comparing the (then modern) small-waisted woman to the statue of Venus de Milo. Dr. O’Followell himself (if you remember my previous discussion of his 1908 X-rays of corseted women) made the argument that the Venus is universally and objectively considered beautiful, and through a game of logical hopscotch he concluded that anything not-Venusian (i.e. a nude small-waisted Victorian woman), therefore cannot be beautiful.

Gibson found however that 50 years prior to O’Followell’s study, in his 1868 book Freaks of Fashion: The Corset and the Crinoline, William Berry Lord wrote that “No fallacy can be greater than to apply the rules of ancient art to modern costume.”

Lucy’s note: The apparent volleying of subtle sass between writers during this era pleases me.

If you wish to skip over Gibson’s anthropological study itself, the conclusion is that she showed plastic deformation of the ribcage into a more circular shape as compared to the broad, ovoid flaring of a “control” modern ribcage, and also noted some downward bending and overlapping of the spinous processes in the thoracic spine. However, these deformations were not seen to correlate with a shorter lifespan of the subjects, and on the contrary the subjects reached or exceeded their life expectancy at birth.

Layperson’s explanation: The skeletons of 19th century corseted women were studied to see how their ribcages were flexibly bent into a more tapered shape from the corset. From the photos, you can see literal ‘bends’ in the ribs where the pressure from the corset formed the ribs into the shape of a circle. Also, the spinous processes seemed to be affected too: spinous processes are the small “spikes” humans have on their vertebrae; they look like spikes down a lizard’s back, but in humans these are small and one can occasionally see or feel them as the ‘bumps’ along one’s back. In the skeletons that showed rib shaping from a corset, these same skeletons also had “spikes” in the upper back that bent downward and overlapped like snaggleteeth. Despite this finding, the age at death for these subjects were average or older than the national life expectancy at the time, even correcting for infant/childhood mortality. Therefore, even though corsets have been shown to deform the skeletons of these subjects (and the reasons why will be discussed later), it didn’t affect how long they lived.

Below you’ll find my summary of the study, Rebecca Gibson’s answers to my questions concerning the study, and my thoughts on how this affects what we know about modern body modification through corsetry.

Continue reading Corsets and Skeletal Deformities: Anthropological Study

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WAIST TRAINING RESULTS: How long should it take?

 

Here’s a question I receive nearly every day:

“My natural waist is 30 inches, and I just started waist training. How long will it take to see real results, and obtain a natural 24 inch waist?”

 Of course, the exact wording, the numbers, and the goals all vary slightly from person to person. But I will tell you what I tell all of them – and you will not be happy:

I DON’T KNOW. And unfortunately, neither can anyone else. If someone claims that they CAN give you a specific duration of time that you will achieve your waist training goal, they are flat out lying.

If you look at these Before / After Waist Training examples, you will see that people have achieved all kinds of results, in all different durations. Some saw a marked difference in three months, while others achieved less dramatic results over two years. It’s different for everyone.

WHY is this?

The (semi)permanent results of waist training is dependent on a number of factors, including your body’s current state and your genetic pre-disposition, the quality of your corset and its compatibility with your body, and the way you train in your corset. Let’s break those down in further detail:

 

Factor #1: Your body type and current body stats

Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral - and they affect your corset training differently.
Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral – and they affect your corset training differently.

Your Body Fat

  • Adipose tissue can immediately compress down a lot more than muscle in a corset, but it also bounces back when you remove the corset. Some with a high body fat % are able to cinch down 10 inches in the waist, while someone with very low body fat may only be able to cinch down 2-3 inches.
  • Weight distribution also plays a role. Do you tend to carry more weight in your belly, or do you carry more weight on your hips and thighs? If you do carry weight in your belly, do you have a lot of visceral fat or subcutaneous fat? Subcutaneous fat sits under the skin but above the muscle, and makes your skin soft and malleable. Visceral fat is the more ‘dangerous’ fat that sits under your abdominal muscle, between your organs. Someone with more subcutaneous fat (even over their tummy) will probably have an easier time lacing down than someone with visceral body fat.

Your Muscle Tone

  • Very toned, dense muscles may be more difficult to cinch down compared to less toned muscles, BUT if you time your workouts well, you can actually use your resistance exercise regimen to your advantage in waist training to change the morphology of your oblique muscles and have them almost “grow” into the hourglass shape encouraged by the corset. Also, once you get to higher reductions, you have to “stretch” those side muscles, and also the tendons and ligaments. Some people’s bodies seem to more readily accommodate to this than other people’s bodies.

 Your Skeletal Frame

  • Do you have wider ribcage or smaller ribcage? Are your ribs flexible and are you able to accommodate corsets with a conical ribcage easily, or is your ribcage very inflexible and difficult to move? Those who are easily able to train their ribs are likely to see faster waist training results than those whose ribs are very rigid. My article on the corset’s effect on the skeleton goes into more detail about this.

Your Age

  • More mature waist trainers have bones that are not only less dense, but less malleable compared to younger trainers. For more information on how age can affect your corseting, see my article on waist training and age restrictions.

 Your Organs

  • When you look at human anatomy in a textbook, you’re seeing a general “average” of the size and orientation of organs. But not everyone’s organs look like that! Some people have larger organs, some have smaller organs. Even the position and orientation of organs can very slightly differ between individuals, and that small variation might make a huge difference in how well your body can accommodate the restriction of a corset. For further information, see my article on corsets and organs.

Your Water Retention

  • What’s your water content like? If you are often bloated or have water retention, either due to your lifestyle or because of a medical condition, you not only won’t be able to lace down as much or as readily, but you have more of that “temporary squish” to you as opposed to contributing to that “long term training”.

Whether You’ve Been Pregnant Before

  • Have you had a baby before or not? While this point is a bit more anecdotal, it seems that mothers are (on average) able to lace down more readily/ more comfortably/ to higher reductions compared to nulliparous women. Maybe this has to do with the fact that the baby had moved around a woman’s organs (especially in the final trimester), or the relaxin in your system during pregnancy had stretched out some tendons and ligaments already, or the woman was already accustomed to the feeling of restriction or breathing higher up in the chest, so she may be psychologically more comfortable with the feeling of being corseted. Read more about corsets after childbirth.

 

Factor #2: Your Corset

This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage.
This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage compared to a rounded ribcage.

Proper Fit

  • Is your corset comfortable? Does your corset fit you properly: when you lace down, does it reduce only the waist, and is it lying flat and gently supporting your upper ribcage and your hip area? Is your corset gap straight or uneven? Or is the corset overall not curvy enough: and is it giving you muffin top, pinching your hips or causing any lower tummy pooch to spill out underneath? A well-fitting corset is not only more effective at shaping, but it’s also much more comfortable, so you’ll be encouraged to wear it longer and more often.

 Strength

  • Is the corset strong? Does it hold up to the tension without buckling? Are the seams securely stitched? Are the bones creating a proper scaffold and not digging into your body? Are the grommets holding in? Having to put your training on hold – not because you want to, but because your corset breaks every 2 months and you have to replace it – is not cost effective and it’s not time-effective. If you’re in this for the long haul, invest in something strong and custom. See my article on Waist Training vs Tight Lacing, which also covers different requirements of a suitable corset for each.

Silhouette

  • Is the corset the right silhouette to do the right job? If you want to train your ribcage, you might need a conical ribcage corset, which gradually tapers down and increases the pressure on the lower ribcage. A corset with a mild silhouette or with a corset with a rounded ribcage will give you a different effect. Be sure that the corset you are using is designed to do for you what you want. You can’t force a round peg through a square hole and expect a triangle to come out.

 

Factor #3: Your Lifestyle Habits and Training Methods

I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

 Supplementary Exercise

  • Are you exercising alongside your waist training? Adding or increasing core resistance training can help you see results faster by encouraging your muscles to “heal” in a certain way. Even if you have no intention of losing weight (you only use a corset to see a change in your silhouette), exercise is still important! If you don’t add some core resistance training, your torso may see some shaping from the corset, but it may be squishy and complacent, and not hold that hourglass shape as well as if you were combining it with resistance training.

 Eating

  • Are you eating clean? Are you getting enough fiber so that you stay regular when corseting? Are you avoiding foods that you know can cause bloating or discomfort in your corset? Are you having regular small balanced meals, or are you the type to fast and then feast? Corseting over a large meal can be uncomfortable and difficult, and the quality of that meal also counts. You don’t necessarily need a specific diet for waist training, but eating sensibly goes a long way.

Drinking

  • Are you staying hydrated? Are you getting a lot of clean water or tea? Are you keeping your electrolytes balanced (this ties in with water retention). Are you watching your blood pressure (which relates to your blood volume)? Do you take in a lot of caffeine or other diuretics, and are you making sure that your water intake balances that out?

Duration of your corset wear (and reduction)

  • To get the best results in a corset, you have to use it. What method of waist training are you using? There is Romantasy’s “Roller Coaster” method, and there is the Contour Corsets “Cycle” Method (see the differences between the two waist training methods). Some people use a combination of both, or they may try a different method altogether. Some people consider waist training as wearing their corset only 8 hours a day while they’re out working. Others waist train by only wearing a corset to bed at night. Some people wear their corsets 12 or 16 hours a day, and a few very dedicated ones wear their corset 23 hours a day.
  • The body responds best to consistency – for reasons I’ll explain in an upcoming article, you’ll probably see more results (and more comfortably!) if you wear a corset at a light or moderate reduction for long hours, as opposed to tightlacing or overlacing your corset for an hour and then not wearing it again for a few days.

Let’s use an infomercial exercise program as a metaphor for waist training expectations. Many exercise programs say that you CAN lose UP TO 20 lbs per month (as an example), but read the small print and you find that these results are not typical. Many of these programs are also backed up with a guarantee that with proper compliance to the program, you will see some kind of result (often within 60 or 90 days) or your money back.

But you will notice that they do not guarantee a certain number of inches lost, because people have different bodies, different fitness levels, different levels of compliance. It’s the same with a waist training program.

Ann Grogan (of Romantasy) offers the only corset training program I currently know of – in her some 25 years of working with waist trainers and 14 years officially coaching, she is able to confidently say that with her 3-month waist training program, you’re likely to see some noticable results in your natural waist with proper compliance to the program (the program covers a lot of factors: the type of corset you’re using, the reduction, the hours, the foods you eat, the exercises you do, etc). But since each program is personalized based on goals, each person’s compliance is different and each person’s body accommodates their corset differently, it’s still very difficult to precisely predict how many inches you’ll lose, or how fast.

What I have found is the highest indicator of success is whether you actually enjoy wearing your corset and find it completely comfortable. If you practice patience, and wear your corset consistently (and ironically, not be overly attached to your end goal), you are likely to see more results over time than someone who is less patient and is only corseting for the end result. But I will cover that in another article soon.

Do you currently waist train, or did you train in the past? How long did it take you to see results? Let me know in a comment below!