Tag Archive: posture

Corset Back TOO Straight? Curving Steel Bones for a Healthy, Neutral Posture

Last week I wrote about what to do when your steels are too bendy or difficult to keep straight – so this week, we’ll discuss whether there’s anything you can do for steels that are too stiff (and of course you can! Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it). This will help you change the curvature of the back steels by the grommets

Since we’re talking about both human bones and corset bones in this post, I’m going to distinguish between them by saying “bones” for the human skeleton and “steels” for the corset bones.

Human vertebral column from the National Cancer Institute SEER training modules. This work is in the public domain.

Human vertebral column from the National Cancer Institute SEER training modules. This work is in the public domain.

Looking at the profile of the OTR corset in the video above, it’s pretty straight in the back which is potentially good for supporting the spine and promoting better posture than someone may have naturally. However, if you look at a vertebral column in the sagittal plane (from the side), you’ll notice that upright humans are designed to have some curve to the spine. There’s a small amount of lordosis of the neck, a mild natural kyphosis of the thoracic region, lordosis again in the lumbar area, and then (fused) kyphosis in the tailbone. While any exaggeration of these curves is not ideal, neither is having a spine that is perfectly straight.

Esther Gokhale did a fantastic TED talk on this concept of the “J shaped spine” and primal posture, which you can watch here.

If you have exaggerated lumbar lordosis (more swayback than the average person) you may find that when wearing a corset with a very stiff, straight back may feel like they’re encouraged to hunch forward at the waistline – and people who have a high “apple bottom” may find that the steels tend to dig into the top of the bum as opposed to curving around it. What can be done about this?

When your new corset comes in the mail, the steels are straight – they are typically not pre-bent in any manner.

Interestingly, corsets in the late Victorian era used to be pre-seasoned by steaming the starched corsets, whalebone included, on formed mannequins as the last step in manufacturing! So these corsets did have pre-curved whalebone. Today, pre-bending steels is something reserved for custom corsets by some corsetieres – and some other custom brands prefer to use flexible steels in the back which easily bends to accommodate the lumbar curve. To prevent twisting or bowing of these flexible bones, see the post I wrote last week.

If you have pronounced swayback and you can afford to go custom, I would recommend Electra Designs, and also Lovely Rats Corsetry – both of these corsetieres have a case of lumbar lordosis themselves and have learned how to draft to accommodate this curve (and adjust the pattern for the severity of the curve of each individual client) so the curve is built into the shape of the panels in the fabric itself, in addition to the curve of the steels.

But if you can’t afford to go custom, or if you already have an OTR corset where the steels in the back are too stiff for you, here’s an extremely detailed, step-by-step tutorial on how to curve the steels yourself.

How to curve the back steels to fit your neutral posture:

  1. Firstly, be sure that you are committed to keeping the corset. Curving the steels is manipulating the structure of the corset and this may void any returns or warranties.
  2. Try on the corset as is, look in the mirror, and figure out where you’re experiencing the most stress in your back and the most unnatural curve to your spine. In my corset, I noticed the most stress was below my natural waistline – which on me, is below the pull-loops of the corset and around the “inflection point” of my spine, where the kyphosis of my thorax turns into the lordosis of my lumbar region. Mark this line with fabric chalk (make sure your chalk doesn’t have any oil in it and can brush off easily). I know that I will have to curve everything below this point.
  3. Take off the corset and take the back panel of the corset in your hands, flanking the area where you need the most curve, and bend it gently to create a smooth rounded curve. Start with a small amount, of only a few degrees (enough that when you put the corset flat on a table, you can just barely see that the top and bottom edges of last panel doesn’t touch the table anymore).
  4. Try the corset on – see if it’s more comfortable or if you need a little more curve. If you think you could use more curve, remove the corset and gently coax the steels with your hands, only adding a couple more degrees at a time.
    DO start with less and add more curve until you’re happy.
    It’s less ideal to start with a huge amount of curve and then try to straighten it back. If you do end up being a little overzealous, you can use your hands to coax the steels straighter again, but be careful to curve them in the same area as before so your steel bone doesn’t become “ziggly”. Also try not to bend the steel back and forth too much as this weakens the steel.
    DO go by comfort and listen to your body.
    DO NOT go by what simply looks cute – remember, S-curve corsets were considered alluring because they accentuated the curve of the bum, but they ended up creating more back pain and strain because of the exaggerated curve.
  5. If you have weak hands and you do need more leverage:
    DO use a tailor’s ham like this one, or curve the steels over your knee.
    DO NOT fold the steels over completely backwards and create a kink in them. This is not origami.
    DO NOT brace the corset against the corner of a table to create more leverage to bend the steels.
    We are not geometrically shaped, and a jagged bend in the steel bone can create uncomfortable pressure points – not only this, but a sharp bend can also weaken the steel even if you try to bend it back the other way! You don’t want to increase the risk of the steel snapping over time –  so be gentle and only create a smooth rounded curve.
  6. If your problem area is only your tailbone, then only curve the very bottom of the steels upward like a ski jump. This will prevent the bones from digging into your bum.
    If your problem is more your upper lumbar area, then only curve this area instead. Again, try it on to test the comfort before making any other changes.

When I did this to my corsets, I noticed a few different benefits:

  • I no longer felt a strain in my lower back
  • Because my lumbar region felt more neutral, I stopped hunching forward with my shoulders and found that my chest opened up and I reduced tension in my upper back and neck
  • I could wear my corset for longer durations without feeling tired from my back trying to “fight” the corset to maintain proper posture
  • The upward flip of the bottom of the steels took pressure off of the top of my bum and personally helped improve my sciatica (a complication from my twisted pelvis from a childhood injury)

Remember that this is not a perfect science, so only go a tiny bit at a time, try it on for fit, see how it feels, then rinse and repeat until you hit a point where the corset feels most comfortable for you and your posture feels the most neutral. Most people have a natural lumbar lordotic curve between 40-60° (whereas a totally straight spine would be 0°), and some people will have a higher or lower bum, a more prominent or flatter bum, so not everyone will require the same amount of curve.

Other modifications you can make to a corset may include removing the back steels and replacing them with more flexible flat steel bones, or even spirals (however, this can be quite annoying and difficult to keep the back gap parallel), or you can add hip gores in the last or second-last panel to give the corset a bit more kick in the back and curve over your bum more comfortably.

How do you modify your corset for greater comfort? Leave a comment below!

Please note that this post is to modify the corset to help maintain your personal, natural posture for comfort purposes, and is not intended to be used to correct or modify any spinal deformities, whether congenital or acquired, for therapeutic purposes. If you feel that a corset can help improve your skeletal structure and/or health, please consult your trusted healthcare practitioner.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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!

Where to buy Corsets that correct posture/ corsets with shoulder straps

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.

Your typical run-of-the-mill underbust corset does a good job of correcting lumbar posture (making you stand tall from your lower back), but some individuals still find that they slouch from the shoulders, which regular underbusts don’t directly fix. So, which corsets are best to correct your whole posture and help you sit tall?

Some overbust corsets extend high enough on the body that they can help correct posture in the thoracic vertebrae, but what if you don’t like conventional overbusts, or you just want some variety in your corset collection? The answer possibly lies in a high-backed corset with shoulder straps. There are many corsets that come with straps, but the type of straps matter greatly if you’re looking to correct hunched shoulders.

Avoid halter straps if you have a slouching problem.

If you have a habit of slouching, avoid halter straps on your corsets because if the straps are too short or tied too tightly, the material pulling on the back of your neck will exacerbate a forward-head position and possibly encourage your shoulders to follow, making your posture worse. What would work better is a waistcoat-style corset which has a high supportive back extending up between the shoulder blades, and individual shoulder straps that help pull the shoulders back and open up the chest.

Underbust Waistcoat Corsets

Miss Katie waistcoat corset, £325

Miss Katie waistcoat corset, £325 on FairyGothMother

Miss Katie, a UK designer, has created this waistcoat underbust corset for £325 (or about $530). This standard-sized taffeta corset is laced nearly up to the neck, and the shoulder straps look to be made of ribbon and can be tied looser or tighter based on your preference.

Ties That Bynde custom daily wear corset with shoulder trainers

Ties that Bynde is a Michigan-based corsetiere who just recently debuted this training corset. Custom-fit and made from spot broche coutil, this corset is strong enough to be worn daily. The shoulders straps attach to the corset using ribbon and grommets, which are slightly adjustable.

Scoundrelle’s Keep Sabine underbust, starts at $340

Scoundrelle’s Keep of St. Paul, Minnesota specializes in Steampunk style corsets, and their Sabine underbust corset features neat a multi-adjustable shoulder harness. The entire harness attaches to the underbust corset using adjustable belt/buckles, and can be entirely detached from the corset if desired (so you can wear the corset as a simple underbust at times). The four belts in back adjust to the height of your shoulders, while the two straps in front can be tightened to coax the shoulders back, or loosened for your comfort. The laces in back can also be adjusted depending on the breadth of your shoulders. They also make an overbust version called Aubrey and both of these corsets come in your choice of colours.

Totally Waisted! Corsets waistcoat corset, $650

Totally Waisted! Corsets is a Toronto-based business that creates a variety of couture corsets from traditional Victorian styles to modern corseted wedding gowns. Kate has experience in drafting posture-corrective garments and her corsets are capable of giving impressive waist reductions while looking relatively natural. This gorgeous made-to-measure corset features straps adjustable using ribbon laces, and it includes lace accents, painstakingly tidy contrast stitching and beautiful flossing.

High-backed underbust corset by Daze of Laur

Let’s take a moment to admire the colourful work of Daze of Laur. Laurie’s high-backed underbust corsets feature shoulder straps adjustable with ribbons and can be made with a neutral posture or can be incorporated into a more S-bend style corset. Although she is not currently accepting commissions, do check back periodically as her creations are not to be missed.

Overbust Waistcoat Corsets

The Bad Button overbust waistcoat corset with integrated straps and collar

The Bad Button Bespoke Corsets has designed a beautiful overbust waistcoat corset that doesn’t have lacing right up to the neck as in the previous mentioned designs, but this corset works by adding structure and support over the upper chest, back, and over the shoulders. The shoulder straps are not really adjustable (and so must be carefully fitted), but for women with heavy busts, the extra support in front can remove strain the shoulders by lifting and supporting the bust from below.

House of Canney Duelist's Steampunk Corset vest, starts at $265

House of Canney Duelist’s Steampunk Corset vest, starts at $265

The House of Canney has an awesome selection of waistcoat and vest-like corsets for both men and women. This Duelist’s Corset is made-to-measure and features a unique offset busk, collar that can be worn up or down, and Anthony’s trademark “keyhole” lacing design (which would be amazing for those who like a little ventilation in back!).

Dark Garden Beau Brummel Waistcoat Corset, $1195

Dark Garden Corsetry offers some incredibly beautiful custom designs, whether it’s a modified simple underbust to integrate shoulder straps, or whether it’s a waistcoat corset (seen above) for full coverage. They have styles for both men and women, to suit every taste, and can be made to be more posture-corrective or more lenient with posture.

Corsets with Criss-Cross Straps

Contour Corsets Redresseur style corset with locking shoulder straps

It’s no secret that Contour Corsets is one of my favourite designers; Fran’s engineering is incredible. In this unique piece, you’re looking at the back of the corset (the laces are underneath the flap, so the back is smooth under clothing) and the wide shoulder straps criss-cross in the back to help pull the shoulders back and correct posture. The straps here are adjustable using grommets and little locks, although other Contour styles utilize simple buckles without locks. Even without shoulder straps, Fran can make a simple underbust corset more or less posture-corrective (using patterning and rigidity of bones/fabric) depending on the client’s preferences.

Electra Designs custom high-back underbust shoulder straps

Electra Designs is another favourite corsetiere who displays considerable ingenuity. Alexis explained that the custom-fit corset seen above was for a client with notable physical asymmetry. Masterful positioning of the piping masks scoliosis very well in a piece like this. She uses special flexible lacing bones that maintains a neutral posture and hugs the curve of the lower spine, while the criss-cross shoulder straps help to correct upper-spinal posture and is adjusted using buckles in the front. The same way that “reverse bunny ear” lacing can give more leverage while lacing down, so corsets with criss-cross straps have the leverage to gently squeeze the scapula together more easily, and straighten thoracic spine posture and open the chest. 

*Please note that I have not personally tried every corset brand in this list, nor do I necessarily endorse every company in these guided galleries. This is for informational purposes only, and not meant to replace the advice of a medical physician. If you have posture issues or have any health concerns, please talk to your doctor, orthopedic technician or chiropractor before using a corset to correct your posture (or for any other reason).

Corsets and their Effect on Muscle Tone, Sculpting & Flexibility

Corseting obviously affects many parts of the body, some systems more obviously than others. One of the more obvious parts that corsetry affects are the underlying core muscles – almost every week, someone asks me if corsets have caused any muscle weakness or atrophy in my core. I would argue that my core has only improved its strength since beginning tightlacing, because it’s made me more conscientious about my posture and muscle tone.

Can Corsets Cause Muscle Atrophy? Can Corsets Worsen your Posture?

If you wear your corset 23 hours a day, 7 days a week (taking it off only to shower and change), it is true that you may experience muscle atrophy, especially in your oblique muscles. Those who do experience atrophy may notice that they get fatigued easily when standing unsupported by their corset for long periods of time. However, nobody has ever flopped over at the waist or snapped their spine in half, from my research. This scenario is simply not realistic.

The risk and amount of atrophy depends on how long and how tight you wear your corset. If you’re wearing your corset with more than a 4-6″ reduction, it’s more likely that the corset will encourage muscle stretching, and by extension relaxation – this is great for people who have overtense muscles who experience back cramping or spasms, but relaxation over too long a time is what can cause atrophy.

It is of my opinion that wearing your corset to the point of atrophy is not beneficial. I try to maintain moderation in my tightlacing, where I enjoy wearing corsets but I also enjoy my uncorseted time. I don’t want to feel dependent (physically or psychologically) on the corset.

Not everyone experiences atrophy, however. Some corseters have even experienced that wearing their corset at a slightly lighter reduction has helped them improve their posture at all times (even when uncorseted) through muscle memory. Further, being lightly corseted has encouraged them to keep their abdominals engaged at all times. There are small things you can do to engage your muscles while wearing your corset. While I don’t necessarily condone trying to force your muscles to flex in a corset (typically you should not have to “fight” nor “help” a well-constructed corset), I occasionally push my abdominal muscles against the front wall of the corset as an isotonic exercise, and then I try to pull my abdominals inward, away from the front wall of the corset as much as possible, with a focus on the latter exercise. Even when you’re wearing your corset, it’s still possible to engage some of those muscles, at least up to a certain reduction – so atrophy of your core muscles while wearing a corset is not absolutely true.

1870 posture corset, to keep the shoulders back and spine erect. Click through for a lovely case study by Creative Couture

1870 posture corset, to keep the shoulders back and spine erect. Click through for a lovely case study by Creative Couture

Corsets, through encouraging a consistently proper posture, may help the vertebral ligaments to adapt and support the spine to maintain erect posture at all times

In a recent SciShow talk show, Michael Aranda and Hank Green discussed spinal posture and how slouching is encouraged by the ligaments between the vertebrae stretching over time. It was also proposed that this process is eventually reversible, and by maintaining a consistently erect posture, then the ligaments may shorten again (and the muscles of the back may become accustomed to holding this position) so that one’s “neutral” posture is naturally erect and can be enjoyed effortlessly.

 However, until the day arrives that your ligaments do shorten, many people find it exhausting to hold an erect posture, or they may often forget and begin to slouch again. Wearing a corset can serve as a reminder to maintain proper posture at all times that its worn. While overbust corsets or corsets with shoulder straps help to also keep your shoulders back, even wearing a normal underbust can help correct posture in the lumbar and low-thoracic area, and may help to set up the proper “stacking” of the rest of your vertebrae. By keeping your spine in this position, the ligaments may eventually shorten, whether or not your core muscles are engaged. Of course, if you do want to consistently use more of your own core muscles, you can simply wear your corset at a relatively light reduction, using it just as a rigid reminder to maintain proper posture but you’re depend more on yourself.

 

Does muscle tone impede your waist training progress?

Many people avoid exercising their core muscles because they believe that muscle is less compressible than fat (technically true), that well-toned muscles become larger over time (not necessarily), and therefore it will be more difficult to achieve their corseting goals (not necessarily). But in my opinion, this idea is not so simple.

The functional part of your muscles are called sarcomeres, which are contained inside the myofibrils, inside the muscle cells (myocytes). These are the fibers which are responsible for contraction. Surrounding your sarcomeres is the sarcoplasm, which is rich with glycogen, nutrients, and proteins like myoglobin that brings oxygen to the muscle cells.

There are two elements to muscle growth (hypertrophy): sarcomere hypertrophy, which increases muscle density, tone and strength but not so much size. This is why some people are little but mighty. Then there’s sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which makes the muscle bigger and puffier by increasing glycogen stores around the fibers, but this doesn’t directly affect the strength of the muscle.

Exercising your core can increase the size of the muscles, but most women don’t have to worry about this (there’s a genetic predisposition). But if you’re concerned about this, it’s worth researching ways to increase muscle tone without changing their size too much. I didn’t study exercise science in-depth but there are hundreds of forums that go into more detail about this – I personally just stick with the exercises I mention in the next section. (Click through the “read more” tab if you’re on the main site page)

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Using Corsets as part of Scoliosis Correction

I happily stumbled across this fantastic publication today. Published quite recently (early 2012), it is a study on the use of corsets (in conjunction with wearing weighted backpacks and regular physiotherapy/ exercise) to considerably improve the scoliosis in this adult patient.

NB: these results may not be typical (especially since there’s a variation in the severity of scoliosis from the start) and the use of corsets (either standard sized or custom) may not work miracles. But as the author mentioned, corsets or “textile braces” may provide a method of reshaping the ribs (and through this offer some secondary effects such as improved breathing) to a point, which is not normally possible through surgery.

Lumbostat back brace, image from ortotika.cz

Depending on one’s personal situation, a scoliosis patient may find wearing a corset more discreet, more comfortable and more affordable than wearing a rigid brace of hard plastic or steel plates. However, effectiveness in treatment may vary. A skilled corset maker should be able to take measurements of each side of the body and create a special asymmetric corset made to stabilize (and in some cases, as you can read in the article, even possibly correct) the curvature of the spine.

You can view a gallery dedicated to asymmetric corsets here!

Edit: a number of scoliosis patients have confirmed that some medical braces are very similar in shape and form to a corset (medical corset or otherwise). Do click the picture on the right to see more examples of back braces, some of which give up to 5″ reduction in the waist in order to keep the spine immobile.

*Please note that this article is strictly for information purposes and not intended to replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*

How Corsets Heal: 20 Benefits

Thank you for your interest in learning about the benefits a corset can bring to your life. My previous article, “How Corsets Heal” has gained so much popularity that it has earned a place as a permanent page on my site! You can see the tab above at the top of the page, or you can click below:

Click here to see the new and freshly updated “How Corsets Heal”

The original article was so long that it was getting quite difficult to read, so the new page breaks down the benefits of corset-wearing into three different components – how corsets help you physically, how they can help with mental or emotional issues, and how they can help you in social situations/ how the corset community has a larger societal impact than you think. You can jump to any of those articles below. Altogether, we have now counted over 30 benefits and counting!

Physical Benefits of Corseting

Mental/ Emotional Benefits of Corseting

Social/ Societal Benefits of Corseting

Corsets and Sleep

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets and Sleep”. If you would like more information and demonstrations of the sleeping positions, please watch the video on YouTube here:

Whether you wear a corset to bed is a personal decision. I personally don’t think you have to wear a corset while you sleep in order to effectively waist train, but for those of you who would like to try it, here are some tips and tricks to help you get a comfortable night’s sleep.

WHY WEAR A CORSET TO BED?

  1. You may be a hardcore waist trainer, wanting to train up to 23 hours/day.
  2. You may not be able to waist train during the day for activity or work reasons, and you may want to take advantage of the 6-8 hours in which you’re unconscious, to train your waist.
  3.  You may have completed your waist training (have achieved a new, smaller natural waist without the corset) and you just want to do a bit of maintenance corseting in order to keep your smaller waist. When my aunt was a teenager, she cinched her waist only at night and she had a defined waist into her 60’s, years after she stopped training. I’m not saying this was a typical situation, but it’s a possible situation.

Now, everyone’s going to experience sleeping in a corset differently, because some people are light sleepers, some are heavy sleepers. Some are dead still, some tend to roll around a lot. Some have firm mattresses or soft mattresses, fluffy pillows, flat pillows or no pillows, and some are tummy-sleepers, side sleepers or back sleepers. Therefore, not all of these tips will work for everyone.

GENERAL NOTES ON SLEEPING IN A CORSET

Many corseters find it uncomfortable to sleep in a corset more than a few hours. I’ve heard descriptions along the line of “my abdomen feels bloated in the night” and this is partially true. When your body is at rest, the parasympathetic system is activated and this is responsible for the “Rest and Ruminate” reaction of the body. Much of the blood flow is directed away from the limbs and into the core and gut of the body to provide the necessary nutrients to allow for digestion of food and for maintenance of the organs in the body. This is why many people advise that if a person is wearing a corset to bed, they loosen the corset by a couple of inches, which will help the corseter comfortably “Ruminate” while they sleep.

It is under debate whether sleeping in a corset can actually ruin the corset or cause it to wear out faster. Some claim that the added friction and the oils of the body accumulated on the sheets can wear the fashion fabric, while others claim that the corset is designed to hold the body in a neutral standing position, and this position changes when reclining, causing the organs to shift, so causes uneven stress on different panels of the corset. If you are worried about ruining your good corset, you can have two corsets; a day one and a night one. Many people save their older, larger corsets for sleeping in.

Some people may find it more comfortable to have a lighter and shorter corset at night, such as a cincher or a ribbon corset. Some don’t even sleep in a corset but instead a wide leather belt – something with minimal boning to prevent skin abrasions.

BACK SLEEPERS

You may find that the corset causes your pelvis to tuck under, especially if you don’t have a supportive mattress and it tends to dip in the middle. To maintain the natural curve in your lumbar area,  slip a small pillow or rolled up towel under the small of your back, and another small pillow or towel under your knees. This will take considerable pressure off of your back.

ACID REFLUX – some people may find that they get acid reflux when reclined and wearing a corset, . If you find that this is the case for you during the night, use several pillows or a wedge to elevate your torso slightly, so gravity can help prevent acid from leaking into your esophagus.

SIDE SLEEPERS

I find that sleeping on your side can be very odd when wearing a corset
1) because in my case, sleeping on my side requires a bit of balance to keep myself from rolling over, and part of that balance requires keeping my core muscles engaged. Of course, when you’re flexing your core muscles inside a corset, you’re providing resistance to the restriction, which can get uncomfortable.

2) Most of my restriction comes at the sides of my torso as opposed to my front, so when I lay on my side I have a huge gap between my corset and the bed. If the corset isn’t heavily boned, then my hips can shift and this causes the upper hip to jut out, creating more tension on that side of the waist than I’m used to and thus creating discomfort. To prevent this, use a small pillow or rolled up towel to fill the hollow between your waist and the bed, which will keep your spine straight and your hips aligned. One trick I learned from a pregnant woman is to have an additional pillow behind your back to prevent you from rolling over during the night, so you have that support to lean against instead of balancing on your side. You may also find it more comfortable on your hips to put a small pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned.

TUMMY SLEEPERS

In this situation, a flat-fronted corset might be more comfortable than a Victorian corset. Many health professionals would not advise sleeping on your stomach at all (nevermind in a corset) but realistically speaking tummy sleepers exist. You may find there is more stress on your neck if you sleep on your tummy in a corset, because the corset somewhat prevents curvature of your spine. In this situation it may be more comfortable to sleep without a pillow, instead opting for a pillowtop over your mattress if you need the softness.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: When scheduling how much sleep to get in a night, try to sleep in increments of 90 minutes, so can complete a full REM cycle and wake up refreshed.

 

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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