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How to measure your corsets with precision

For a detailed look at how I measure various corsets, see my in-depth tutorial below:

This is the third and final part to my OTR fitting mini series. In part 1 I taught you the various ways that an OTR corset company may share their fitting information (if at all), and the takeaway message from part 1 was to urge more OTR companies to display more than just the waist size – proportions are important too! Measurements of the ribcage, hips, and torso length all play a factor in proper fit, as well as the bust circumference if it’s an overbust corset.

While we’re at it, do compare your tape measure against a yardstick or carpenter’s tape, to ensure that it hasn’t stretched and has standard units of distance. (Photo from Pixabay)

In part 2 I showed you some case studies in determining if an OTR corset would at least approximately fit you. The point of this video is to show how to take your own body measurements and compare it with a sizing chart provided by your OTR company of interest – and really explain in detail why this exercise is so important. If you know for a fact that a corset is not going to fit your ribcage or hips properly for a given waist size, don’t waste your time and money! Move on and find a different brand that will fit you better. You will be more comfortable and your training will be better for it.

Here, in part 3, I will show you how exactly I measure my corsets. When I first receive a corset in the mail, I will take 5-8 measurements:

  • Circumference measurements: bust (if overbust), underbust, closed waist, high hip (iliac), and low hip (if longline).
  • Vertical measurements: center front, princess seam from underbust to lap, and sometimes side seam and/or center back.

I now log these measurements in the Corset Dimensions Directory, for everyone’s use. (NOTE: As of 2017, the dimensions directory has been replaced with the even more in-depth Corset Database!) You can compare these measurements with your own measurements and see which corsets may fit best on you!

If the corset gets a lot of use, I may measure it again in a year’s time and see if it has stretched out at all.

Once you get the hang of measuring your corsets, it becomes intuitive: circumferential measurements should be perpendicular to the busk and back edge of the corset, or parallel to the waist-tape. Vertical measurements are always parallel with the busk or the back edge of the corset.  You may choose to measure your corsets several times and take an average, since the location of an iliac crest circumference or true underbust circumference may not be entirely obvious in some corsets.

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Setting waist training goals – focusing on proportion

Back in 2010, I made a two-part video mini-series on waist training 101 – the basics that you should know before you start any corset training regimen. The very first thing I mentioned in those videos were setting goals for yourself – what waist size would you like to have, and why? Sometimes a beginner will tell me, “I want to have a 24 inch waist.” Well, do you want that to be your corseted measurement, or your natural measurement? One takes much more work than the other. (I had mentioned in a previous video that if you want a natural 24″ waist, you may have to lace down to 20″ or even less in the corset to be able to maintain that natural waist measurement.)

I also know women who have started out close to a 34″ waist, and want to be able to close an 18″ corset. While that’s certainly aiming for the stars and I don’t want to shoot down your dreams, it will likely take you several years and several corsets to properly train down to that point. Also, have you considered what an 18″ waist would like like on your frame? An 18″ waist may look out of place if you are 5’10” and 180 lbs. But for a petite woman who is 4’11” tall and weighs perhaps 100 lbs, an 18″ waist may not look out of place at all on this  woman. Instead of focusing on arbitrary numbers for your waist training goals, perhaps you should consider proportion instead as a way to determine your ultimate corseted goal. Below you’ll see a few examples (or you can just watch the video above to learn the same ratios):

Method A: The waist circumference = 0.7 x (hip circumference)

Where to measure your waist and full hip to determine your ratio.

This equation has been touted by doctors and athletes for years as being the modern accepted “healthy” and “attractive” waist-to-hip proportion. Women with a natural waist below 0.7x(hip circumference) often have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as it’s often a marker of carrying less visceral fat (the fat that physically chokes the organs in the peritoneal cavity, and is also metabolically more active than subcutaneous fat, releasing hormones that can lead to metabolic abnormalities). If a woman with a 40″ hip circumference were to calculate her goal waist based on this equation, then her goal waist circumference would be 0.7 *(40 inches) = 28 inches.

Method B: The waist circumference = your thigh circumference

Whether this goal is reasonable/ attainable often depends on your body shape. I have seen many pear-shaped women with shapely thighs (likely between 25-30 inches in circumference) because they gain their weight in their hips, thighs and bottom, often leaving the waist naturally small. In this situation, this method may be quite attainable. However if you are naturally an apple shape and you have a tendency to gain around your middle, while having thin legs and thighs (close to 16-20″ in circumference), this may not be the best goal for you.

Method C: The width of your hips = 1.618 x (your waist width)

This is likely the oldest equation. It’s based on phi, (aka the Golden Mean, formed from the Fibonacci sequence) and it is the ratio/ proportion that animals and humans alike are able to innately detect. This proportion is seen everywhere from the crest of waves and the form of a spiral galaxy, to the seeds in a sunflower and the honeycombs of bees. The closer that a person’s proportions adhere to the Golden Mean, the more attractive they appear and the healthier they seem to be overall. When it comes to setting your goals in this manner, you will need a stiff measuring tape, ruler or pair of calipers, and a mirror or someone to take your picture because this proportion is based on the planar measurement (the width of your hips while facing head-on) rather than the circumference. A woman whose hips are 14 inches wide will calculate their waist width as such:

Waist width = (14 inches)/ 1.618 = 8.7 inches.

With corsets, many of them pull the sides of the waist in primarily, bringing the waist in from an “oblong” shape more towards a proper circle. If you imagine that the waist is a perfect circle, then the width of the waist is also the diameter. From this, you can calculate your goal waist circumference if you wish = (8.7 inches)x 3.14 = 27 inches.

 In this situation, the waist measurement for methods A and C are actually pretty similar, but on you it may not be – method C would depend on how much of your hip circumference is distributed from side-to-side (i.e. hips or “saddlebags”), vs distributed front to back (in a full low-hanging tummy or a protruding bottom).

If you don’t like to crunch numbers, then you can simply invest in a “Fibonacci Gauge” or Golden Mean calipers, which are made with 3 “prongs” – no matter how wide or narrow you hold the calipers, the width of the larger gap in the prongs will always = (width of the smaller gap in the prongs x 1.618) so you will always be able to measure and mark out the Golden Mean. On any given day, no matter what your weight, you can use these calipers to mark out the width of your hips, and then compare that to the width of your waist using strictly proportion, but without having to focus on numbers. I personally love numbers, which is why I find the study of phi so fascinating, but I understand it’s not everyone’s thing. This Ebay store has the least expensive calipers I have found – I’ve already purchased 3 and given two to my friends. Do support a phi carpenter if you can.

So you can see, there are many ways that you can set waist training goals for yourself, using your own body’s shape and frame as a reference rather than using arbitrary numbers (which may or may not be realistic for you). It’s using what you already have to an advantage so you can know on a mathematical (and also a natural, almost subconscious) level, whether your waist is truly in proper balance and proportion with the rest of your body. You can also watch my video on waist-hip proportions and using the calipers in the video below.

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Measuring your Internal (true) Corseted Waist

This article is a transcript of the video “How to Determine Your Internal Waist Measurement” on Youtube. You are free to watch that video (which shows a demonstration of the process):

Have you ever had a situation where you purchased an OTR corset of a specific size, say 24″ waist – but when you closed the corset completely in the back, you realized that your waist measures more like 25-26″ on the outside? Why do you suppose this is? Shouldn’t a size 24″ corset give you a final external circumference of 24 inches around the waist?

There are several reasons why the corset may be larger than its stated size: the corset materials may have stretched slightly over time (all fibers have a certain amount of stretch), the corset may have been mislabeled, but more than likely the corset itself is true to size on the inside, and it’s the bulk of the bones and fabric itself which is causing the larger external measurement.

How are Corset Sizes Determined?

The waist of a corset starts with the pattern drafted. A pattern is a 2 dimensional representation of the corset panels on paper, which you cut out and use to trace the fabric. If you were to measure the width of each pattern piece at the waistline of the corset pattern of this Morgana Femme Couture corset, you’ll see it has a total circumference of 22″ (11 inches on each side).
This means that the corset when laid out flat (and not taut around the body) determines the size at the waist.

If you purchase a new corset, lay it out flat and measure it at the level of the waist tape – it should reflect the size of the corset. If you have a well-used corset that measures larger than the tag size even when laid flat; this means the corset has stretched over time.

So why would a corset on the body be bigger than 22 inches on the outside?

The corset itself takes up bulk and volume. All matter will take up space. Even in a corset with both the fashion side and the lining side being 22 inches, the outside of the corset will have to stretch a little to account for the bulk on the inside. Some corsetieres will roll-pin, use turn-of-cloth, to make the outside of the corset a little larger so that it doesn’t stretch or cause wrinkles. I have a separate video explaining the science behind that.

How to find your internal waist measurement while corseted

Side note: doing this often can stretch out your tape measure over time. Do occasionally compare your tape measure units against a yardstick or carpenter’s tape, to ensure that it hasn’t stretched. (Photo from Pixabay)

To determine how to find the internal waist measurement or the true restriction on your waist, first wrap a flexible tape measure around your waist at the smallest point. (It helps to wear a slippery shirt for this as you will be adjusting it as we go along.) Hold the tape in place as you wrap the corset around your body and slip the measuring tape through the slit between the busk, then start tying up your corset.

*Please note that this method only works if you have a busk or front lacing in the front of your corset. If your corset has a closed front, a zipper, a stiffened modesty placket under the busk etc, then you will have to position the ends of the tape toward the back and have a friend read it for you (or take a picture).

As you’re tightening your corset, stop periodically to make sure that the tape measure is still positioned in the proper place at the smallest part of your waist, and that it’s not twisting or bunching up under the corset. Keep tightening little by little and pull the tape measure so it remains smooth. (This is where the slippery shirt or liner comes in handy.)

Once you have your corset closed  (or tightened to comfort), adjust the measuring tape so you can read it – don’t pull too hard otherwise you may change the reading, but move the tape to the side so the difference can be taken. You’ll see in the video that my 22″ corset has an internal reading of 22.25 inches, with a tiny gap at the back. When I measure the outside of my corset, it reads 23.5 inches which means the bulk of the corset itself adds about 1.25 inches to the circumference of my waist.

A way to calculate the bulk of a corset

There is a way to estimate the external vs internal circumferences of one’s waist  (thanks to Lexa, to Albert of Staylace, and to 1sdburns for pointing this out) – if you imagine that a corset is 5mm thick on average, this means that when the corset is wrapped around you, it adds about 5mm to the radius of your waist (from the center out to the edge), or 10mm to the diameter (from the outside of the corset on one side of your waist, to the outside of the corset on the other side). If you use the equation for relating radius to circumference:

5mm* 2(pi) = 31.4mm (which converts to about 1.24 inches)!

This method of calculating the thickness of a corset will be more accurate if you have a corset with sandwiched boning channels and a very regular thickness all around – if you have a corset with lots of external boning channels with areas of “thinner” corset in other places, this method may not be perfect.

What if you need a specific external waist measurement?

Experienced corsetieres will have an idea of how thick their corsets typically are, and so if you have a situation where you need a specific external corseted measurement (say you need to fit into a vintage dress that is no larger than 24″ in the waist) then the corsetiere may be able to create a corset that gives you that external measurement, drafting the internal measurement slightly smaller.

If you plan on buying an OTR corset to fit into that dress, then I would advise buying one size smaller than you think you need – so purchase a corset with a 22″ waist to go under that 24″ dress – but be sure that the ribcage and hips of the corset will be large enough to accommodate your natural measurements in those areas so you don’t experience pinching or discomfort.