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My Custom Corset Commission Journey: Three “Phases” (Priorities) when Choosing a Corsetiere to Work With

This post was inspired by an email I received a few months ago from a client who was ready to graduate from OTR to custom, and asked me how I went about choosing which corsetiere to work with (amidst the hundreds of known options). Admittedly, I’ve commissioned a lot of custom corsets — and also admittedly, I’ve made a few mistakes along the way! I thought it would be great to share some of these experiences, what I learned, and what I’d do differently in the future.

Phase 1 (2010-2011): Price

I went with the cheapest corset maker possible; those that could make custom pieces under $200.
What I found with these makers is that they were not always incredibly experienced, and many were just trying to get their foot in the market — so there were often fitting issues, strength/ durability issues, communication issues, long wait times, etc.
My very first custom corset was a front-lacing piece and I discussed all my regrets around this cincher in a previous post.
My second custom piece was by Heavenly Corsets, which at first I defended (as you can see when I addressed some complaints from others about untidy seams, the bowing steels in the back, etc), but over time I had to make several alterations and corrections to this corset and ended up selling it off. Although there are some unicorns in the corset industry where you can indeed find a decent custom corset for under $200, more often than not, buying the cheapest custom corset available is a risky game.

Phase 2 (2012-2013): Proximity

By 2012, I had purchased three custom pieces (each under $200) and spent about $500. After continual disappointment in fit, comfort, or usability, I began to see the value in not flitting from one “cheapest” brand to the next, and instead investing in a local (but more expensive) experience corsetiere who can do it once and do it right.
So I started seeking out corset makers in the Toronto area, like Totally Waisted (now Bone & Busk Couture), Starkers Corsetry, and L’Atelier de LaFleur. With each of these corsetieres, I had a different experience.

In the case of Bone & Busk Couture, I visited Kate twice — first to have a bonafide mockup fitting where Kate was able to tuck loose areas and slash tight areas, and the second time to pick up my completed corset.

With Starkers Corsetry, I actually didn’t order a custom piece, but rather I took advantage of a sample sale and went to try on the sample before I purchased (so this wasn’t exactly a commission, but more on-par with trying on a ready-to-wear corset in-store before purchasing – an experience I never had before because there were never brick-and-mortar corset shops near me).

When I visited L’Atelier de LaFleur, because Mina and I wore a similar corset size at the time, I had the unique opportunity of trying on some of her personal corset collection and design samples, and we also got to chat and sit down to an interview together. While trying in several samples isn’t exactly like a mockup fitting (in that Mina didn’t slash or tuck the corset samples, she was able to determine what to change anyway. I then came back a couple of months later after the piece was completed.

Having an in-person mockup fitting is one of THE most valuable parts of the custom process. Depending on the corsetiere, they may offer a mockup fitting, or they might have samples for you to try on (depending on the size you wear; samples tend to be on the smaller side), or possibly even both if you’re lucky – but most experienced corsetieres will offer fittings. If you have any OTR corsets, I would even recommend bringing along your best-fitting one so you can show them how your body responds to the compression of a corset and you can discuss what you’d like to change. Trying on something in the presence of the maker and letting them know that you could do an inch smaller in the waist or you’d like two inches more height in the back, while getting their expert input as well on fixing certain areas that you may not have even noticed, is all included in the extra fee — you’re not just paying for a product (the corset), you’re also paying for the fitting service and for their expert input. In my case, buying locally meant that I had to pay easily twice the price of my first few customs, but it was worth it to me (I’m lucky that the Torontonian makers here all have close to 20 years of experience, as well as they all have made therapeutic / medical corsets in the past), and I also feel good about supporting my local artists. (Incidentally, fi you’re looking for a corset maker near you, check out the free Corsetiere Map. If you live in the US or western Europe, there’s a good chance that one or several makers are within driving distance of you!)

At this point I was still looking for my “perfect” Little Black Corset, but I started experimenting with getting little embellishments here and there (because purchasing a plain black corset from 10 different makers is boring). I also realized that there are SO many different construction methods, so many patterns and silhouettes that can come from the same set of body measurements, etc. It was a very expensive period of trial and error.

Phase 3 (2013-current) Prestige/ Ingenuity:

When I was ready to buy my first custom overbust, I immediately knew I wanted to work with Sparklewren, who was one of the most esteemed corset makers at the time (and some people still believe that she may be one of the greatest corsetieres of our generation). I knew that she only took orders sporadically but I trusted her quality, I loved her shaping and embellishment, and I knew that her prices would only go up over time, so once I had saved up enough, I jumped at the opportunity to own one of her luxury pieces.
I also jumped at the opportunity to own a summer mesh training piece from Contour Corsets once I saw that her prices were going to increase significantly soon. When independent artists announce that their prices are about to nearly double, they’re generally at a crossroads (they are overworked and underpaid and only have a finite amount of labor and time, so they are forced to either charge more or leave the industry).

It was already by this time that I realized that there is no “perfect” way to make a corset, just different ways that are more or less suited to your tastes. If you get an absolutely “perfect” corset for your very first piece, consider yourself a lucky part of the 0.001%

How to obtain The One (perfect corset) for yourself:

If I wanted one perfect corset for myself, I wouldn’t have flitted around from one corsetiere to the next for the past nearly 10 years. That’s on me because there is a veritable buffet of wonderful artists that I’d love to discover, befriend, support, and showcase their work. But for those who need an absolutely perfect corset (for lifestyle, medical, or training purposes), these clients tend to have some things in common:

  • They are willing to travel (even sometimes crossing country borders) to seek out a well-reputed corsetiere whose construction methods, artistic style, communication and philosophy suit the client’s needs, aesthetic, and communication style. They often prefer to be fitted in person.
  • They are excessively open and clear (but polite) with their communication, expressing their likes and dislikes during mockup/sample fittings, not being vague about potential fit or comfort issues (because lack of communication means this discomfort can be overlooked and perpetuated into the final corset).
  • They tend to be “loyal” and build a rapport with one or two corset makers, and as their body might change with age, weight fluctuations, training, recovery of any past injuries, stabilizations of any weakness (in the case of therapeutic corsets), they express these changes and continue to buy corsets every year or few years from the same corsetiere, making small tweaks with each one.
  • They are patient and understand that this can still be a pricey journey. (Medical corsets can be subsidized or covered by insurance depending on the maker and the country, but it’s still an investment nonetheless.) Perfection takes time and funds.

Did you have any distinct phases, major priorities, or criteria when you were choosing a corsetiere to work with for your custom corset? What mistakes would you be willing to commit to as you grew in your corset journey? Leave a comment below!

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Ready-to-wear corsets made in the US and UK

Note that this post is a copy of the same one under the “Research Corset Brands –> Guided Galleries” menu. It is part of a collection of articles to help corset enthusiasts shop more wisely.

Many of my readers wish to start with an affordable OTR corset, but they may feel moral or economical obligations to purchase from the US or UK, as working conditions are generally better regulated here than in developing countries. For conscientious corset shoppers, the following list features some well-known corset manufacturers or businesses that have at one point or another stated that their corsets are produced locally and are highly likely to employ corsetieres under fair working conditions.

UK Corset Businesses:

Axfords C210 ribbon underbust corset, £95

Axfords Corsets is one of the UK’s oldest corset companies, having been in business since 1880. Their standard-sized corsets are made by a team of corsetieres in their facility in Brighton England, but they still have a competitive edge on the industry due to their reasonable prices. Axfords also sells some men’s corsets that still maintain a masculine physique.

Vollers Paradise overbust (1808) in white satin and lace, £295

Vollers: The Corset Company has been around since 1899 and also employs corsetieres in Portsmouth, England. Their corsets are usually standard-sized but they do offer a made-to-measure service for a markup. As of July 2013, they have also established a lifetime guarantee on all of their corsets.

Morgana Femme Couture MF1323, starts at £310

Morgana Femme Couture is a relatively recent corset manufacturer, but they have made a huge impact on the corset industry with their affordable prices for custom couture pieces. All of their corsets are made in their UK atelier, including their ready-to-wear, standard-sized pieces available from their Etsy shop.

US Corset Businesses:

Romantasy Custom Fundamentals line: Victorian underbust by Jill Hoverman, $285

Romantasy Exquisite Corsetry has been in business since 1990, and the president, Ann Grogan, is one of the world’s most respected modern corset mentors and educators. Romantasy offers both in-stock corsets and custom corsets, standard-sized or made to measure, and every corset is quality-checked and wrapped by Ann herself. The Romantasy corsetiere team proudly featured notables such as Michael Garrod (True Grace Corsets) and Ruth Johnson (BR Creations), and Romantasy continues to employ talented corsetieres in the US today.

Versatile Corsets Valerian overbust, $438

Versatile Corsets had its beginnings in “Versatile Fashions by Ms Antoinette” in the 1990’s. After the company had switched hands to Cameo Designs some years ago, their quality has only improved and have dressed performers like Mosh, Ru Paul and Dita Von Teese. Versatile’s corsetieres have always been based in California, USA, and have over 20 years corset-making experience. They offer both standard-sized and made-to-measure corsets, and carry a small stock of ready-to-wear pieces.

Meschantes Thunder overbust, starts at $255

Meschantes Corsetry was established in 2000, and makes their corsets in their North Carolina studio in the USA. The business offers custom-fit corsets in 21 different styles and literally hundreds of fabrics, and they also offer deals on their RTW corsets in their Etsy shop.

Period Corsets Victorian reenactment corset, $725

Period Corsets employs a team of corset makers based in Seattle to make some of the most gorgeous historically-accurate corsets I’ve ever seen, basing their pieces off genuine vintage patterns. They have made some modern/contemporary corsets for the likes of Madonna, Fergie and the base corsets in Victoria’s Secret fashion show, and they are also regularly employed by opera houses – but they also offer standard-sized and custom-fit corsets from 16th to 20th centuries on their regular site and their Etsy shop.

Isabella Corsetry Edwardian overbust (immediate line), $199

As of the last several years, Isabella Corsetry‘s pieces have been hand made in California. Isabella is ‘home’ to the famous Josephine underbust, which is said to be the curviest of OTR corsets (having the largest hip spring I know of) and is also strong enough to stand up to daily wear. The business offers ready-to-wear corsets in a variety of colors and styles, and also accommodates custom/ made-to-measure orders.

Dark Garden Risqué Sweetheart overbust with lace, $505

Dark Garden Corsetry & Couture was created in 1989 by Autumn Adamme, and like Ms Grogan she also employs a team of talented corsetieres in California, having included respected designers like Anachronism in Action and Pop Antique. Dark Garden offers corsets for men and women alike and accommodate both ready-to-wear and custom-fit pieces, promoted by celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Kelly Osbourne.

*Please note that I have not personally tried every corset brand in this list, nor do I necessarily endorse every company on this list. This is for informational purposes only.