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When to Consider an Overbust Corset – and When to Pass

In the past, I have quickly outlined why, if you would like to wear corset on a daily basis, you may want to start with an underbust corset instead of an overbust – however up until now I haven’t dedicated an entire video to this or had gone over this in detail. In this article I’ll outline the reasons why it’s generally better for a beginner to start with an underbust corset instead of the overbust – but if you’re interested in the possible benefits of overbust corsets, you can scroll down for the Overbust “Pros”. You can watch the video below, or you can read the article below the video which has the same information.

There are five main reasons that a beginner may want to start by wearing underbust corsets rather than ovebusts, especially if they plan to waist train:

Overbust Con #1: Reduced Mobility

Overbust corsets are obviously longer and come up higher on the torso – instead of just wrapping around the lower ribcage like an underbust or a cincher would, overbusts extend higher on the chest, and they often wrap around the back as high as the wingbones (or higher!). Because of this, overbust corsets allow a more narrow range of motion than shorter underbusts; they reduce your mobility. This means that you may not be able to reach or bend over as much as you normally would, and you have to make greater adjustments to move ‘naturally’ in an overbust. If mobility is required in your job or it’s something that’s important to you, then an underbust or cincher might suit you better. *However, do note that those who have hypermobility issues may actually desire this reduced mobility from an overbust, as it may decrease the prevalence of overextension/ flexibility-related injuries.

Overbust Con #2: Reduced Full Lung Capacity

A corset obviously differs in structure to that of a bra. Most bras out there have a certain amount of elasticity in their band, which expands and contracts each time you take a breath. With a corset, there is no elasticity (or there shouldn’t be), so the corset’s circumference around your ribcage is relatively fixed.

Take a hypothetical female whose chest measures 32 inches when she exhales completely, and 35 inches when she takes in a full breath. She might want to tie the corset to ~33-34 inches around the bust. This is enough to support the breasts while giving you enough space to take a normal, comfortable (tidal) breath. But each time she inhales deeply, and tries to use her absolute, full lung capacity, she might feel a bit of resistance from the corset. And every time she exhales completely, the ribcage may feel a bit loose and she might have the illusion that she’s not properly supported (even though she probably still is). So if you have breathing issues (or you work in an environment where you need your full lung capacity), you might feel more comfortable wearing an underbust corset that stops lower on the ribcage.

Overbust Con #3: More Conspicuous under Clothing

Cupped overbust made by Doris Müller (Corsets & More)
Cupped overbust made by Doris Müller (Corsets & More)

If you plan to “stealth” your corset underneath your shirts (wear your corsets underneath your clothing), then an underbust corset may look more natural. As mentioned before, the way that overbust corsets support the breasts is different from conventional bras today. Most overbust corsets don’t have individual cups the way that bras do, (although I do have a gallery for cupped overbusts here). But these are often expensive, and the vast majority of conventional (non-cupped) overbust corsets simply don’t give the same bust shape under clothing. An overbust corset may flatten the shape of the bust slightly more, and may not give the defined underwire area where you can see where the breast stops and the ribcage begins. It may also lift the breasts higher than bras, or otherwise make the top half of the breast look fuller – and because of this, overbusts can create more cleavage than bras in some individuals – so wearing an overbust corset under a tight or form-fitting shirt will sometimes make it seem obvious that something is different about you. If you are self-conscious about this kind of attention, you might want to simply pair an underbust corset with one of your regular bras, which will give you a slightly less conspicuous silhouette under your clothes.

Overbust Con #4: More Difficult to Fit Properly

Underbust corsets are much easier to fit a wide range of body shapes compared to overbust corsets. First think about how many bra brands and styles are out there, and how many people still need to go custom fit in their bras to get the right support, shape and comfort they desire. Now think about the number of standard size overbusts are out there – this number is much smaller, and they fit a much smaller range of bust sizes in wearers! If the circumference of your bust is more than 10 inches bigger than your corseted waist size (e.g. 34″ bust, and 24″ corseted waist), you can pretty much forget about finding a standard sized overbust that will accommodate your curves. In order to ensure the best possible fit in overbusts, you will have to go semi-custom or fully-custom, and preferably get professionally fitted with one or more mockups to make sure that the bust fits right. There is a lot to consider when fitting the bust! It must be properly sized – not too big, not too small – the fabric must come up high enough and cover as much of the chest as the wearer desires, the bust must be lifted high enough for the wearer’s preference but not too high, there shouldn’t be any spill over at the armpits/ out of the cup/ over the back, etc. etc. Fitting an overbust can be extremely challenging, and even I have quite expensive custom overbust corsets that didn’t even fit me properly in the end because I didn’t get a mockup.

 Overbust Con #5: More Expensive

If your budget dictates that your choices are limited to standard sized corsets, and you are not of “moderate” or “standard” bust size according to the fashion industry, (whatever “standard” is supposed to mean), then underbust corsets will be much more affordable for you. Even in standard sizes, overbust corsets simply cost more than underbust corsets because they require more fabric, they’re using a longer busk and longer bones, it takes more time to sew over the curve of the bust, etc. So, unless you are dedicated to saving up for a properly-fitted overbust corset, or unless you can somehow be compensated for an overbust by your insurance company, then perhaps an underbust corset would be better for your wallet.

 

At this point it probably sounds like I hate overbust corsets or that it’s difficult to find anything good about them, but this is not true! Well-fitting overbust corsets do have some very redeeming qualities, so now we will discuss the possible Pros about these corsets:

Overbust Pro #1: Better Posture Support

Overbust corsets can be ultimately better for your posture compared to underbust corsets. As mentioned above, overbusts come up higher on the ribcage, and often up to the shoulder blades in the back. This means that it’s nearly impossible to lean over and hunch your shoulders in an overbust corset. Short underbust corsets can help support your lumbar area, but I have seen corset wearers who still hunch or round their shoulders. If a corset comes up higher (halfway up the thoracic vertebrae or higher) then this can greatly reduce the risk of forward-rolled, rounded shoulders, and you might see less forward-head posture as well since your spine is “stacking up” properly.

Overbust Pro #2: Possible Upper Back Pain Management/ Curve Correction

Speaking of the spine, overbust corsets might be more supportive for people with upper back pain, or spine misalignment like scoliosis. Click here to read an article about a middle-age scoliosis patient who used a standard-sized overbust corset in conjunction with special exercises to actually decrease the curvature of his spine over time. Now, please be aware that this is a bit controversial, because this patient used himself as a “guinea pig” in this corrective process. Many corset makers will avoid making “corrective” corsets for those with scoliosis. Some of them can specially draft for an asymmetric corset that will fit a scoliosis patient comfortably, but most makers will not want to make corrective corsets unless they’ve trained with an orthopedic technician or have some experience in making medical prosthetics. But if you have a curvature in your upper or thoracic spine, then perhaps an overbust corset – whether corrective or simply supportive – will help support you better and make for a more comfortable experience as you go throughout your day.

Overbust Pro #3: Support for Large and/or Heavy Breasts

Cartoon by Kat Rosenfield

In some parts of the world, breast reductions are covered by insurance if the patient is able to prove that their breasts impede their lifestyle and cause them pain. Some people have breasts so large that they can cause or exacerbate spinal curvature, they can cause inflammation or even snapping of the scalene muscles and surrounding tendons, among other problems. Having very large or heavy breasts can sometimes lead to very serious medical issues, and one way to help prevent or help these issues is to wear an overbust corset. This is probably the most obvious positive application for overbust corsets, and it’s the one reason I hear most often from people wanting to purchase an overbust. The rigid bones and non-stretch fabric from the overbust corset helps to support the breasts 100% from below, with no pressure or tension coming from above the breast or over the shoulder. The weight from the bust is distributed throughout the rest of the corset, eliminating pressure points or strain in a well-fitting corset. 

Now, in a properly fitting bra, it’s said that at least 80% of the support should come from the band wrapping around the back, and very little support comes from the shoulder straps – but it’s a sad fact that strapless bras don’t work for many people; either the bra doesn’t come in their size, they don’t feel secure in one, or the bra doesn’t stay in place. Consider the damage that has already incurred in many women; think about the hunched shoulders and the permanent indentations in their shoulders and the pain that they’re already experiencing. This is where an overbust corset would be of huge benefit, because it is able to securely support the bust from below without the risk of falling down like many strapless bras do, and without the need for shoulder straps.

Overbust Pro #4: Prevention or Management of shoulder injuries or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Illustration of TOS. Source: Wikipedia.

Heavy breasts can cause muscle strain and tendon injuries, and they can even lead to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The Brachial Plexus is a group of nerves that runs from the neck and clavicle region into the shoulder, arm and hands. It’s part of the thoracic outlet, in the same region, which is a bundle of nerves and blood vessels together. This area can be compressed or stressed from heavy breasts, or a previous shoulder or neck injury, or even repetitive motions like playing an instrument (guitar, drums or violin). Basically, these factors can lead to nerve compression that can lead to a number of symptoms like tingling, numbness and pain in the hands; swelling and circulation isses; it can mimic the symptoms of carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel syndromes and can limit the use or strength of the hands. In extreme situations, other complications can arise as a result of TOS, such as blood clots.

Depending on the severity of thoracic outlet syndrome, it can be corrected with one or a combination of the following: physical therapy, injections (steroids or botox), surgery (often by removing the first rib next to the collarbone, and sometimes cutting the scalene muscles), and in some situations such as TOS caused by heavy breasts, wearing an overbust corset. Preventing and healing TOS may mean that there can be absolutely zero compression or tension around this delicate neck/ shoulder area, so conventional bras with shoulder straps are no longer an option for these patients.

If you’d like to learn more about TOS, here is an easy-to-understand publication by Dr. S. Mackinnon, M.D.

 

Need an Overbust Corset, but Don’t Want to Tightlace? No Problem.

For those that would like to wear an overbust corset to support their heavy bust, improve their upper back pain or help with TOS, but they don’t want to waist train or they’re nervous about the waist compression, the best part about this is that you don’t need to lace very tightly to reap the benefits of breast support or pain relief. So if you think that the use of an overbust corset can help you with any medical issues, I’d highly recommend you talk to your doctor before investing in one. And for those who are currently actively looking for a corset maker that is experienced in fitting heavy-busted clients, feel free to check out this Guided Gallery made just for you.

What are your reasons for wearing an overbust corset, or for avoiding them? Let me know in the comments below!