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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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Another Day, Another Dollar – is that corset worth it?

 

This is what my dollar looks like.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Another day, another dollar” which originally meant a humdrum work day (if I understand it correctly). However, as of late I’ve put another spin on this saying.

To me, it means that however many dollars I spend on an object, it had better last me at least that many days.

Take this in the context of corsets: If I buy a corset for $60, it had better last me two months’ worth of wear. I once had a corset that cost me close to $45, but it only lasted me perhaps 20 or 30 wears before falling apart. I consider this to be a bad investment, no matter how cheap it is. However, a $400 corset that lasts me 600 wears over a two year span is a much wiser investment, because if I follow through with my intention of wearing a corset on a nearly daily basis  and I’m on a budget, I don’t want to be continually buying a new corset every couple of months. Even if the price tag hurts now, you will find that it’s more economic in the long run.

It works for more than just corsets, too.

Electronics: My $1000 at-the-time laptop lasted me 5 years before crashing. I spent approximately 55 cents a day owning this computer.

Junk Food/restaurants: If you buy a chocolate bar for $2, break it in half and enjoy each half on a different day. This method has greatly helped me deal with my binge issues. I also rarely go to restaurants. If I dine out once a month, I have no problem spending $30 on a meal.

Other clothes: apart from corsets, I almost never buy “designer” clothing. If I buy a decently nice shirt for $40, I’ll likely wear that shirt once every two weeks, over two years (a total of 52 wears). In the past, I’ve purchased a cheap bra for only $15. I’m not sure if it even lasted me 15 wears, because it was so uncomfortable.

Other examples:

  • I purchased an elliptical machine off Craigslist for $50. Since gym membership is between $1-2 a day in my area, I told myself that if I could use the elliptical 5-6 times a week for a month, I would consider the machine “paid off”. I’ve had the machine for 2-3 years now and used it well over 50 times.
  • I purchased a CD for $20 and put the album into my playlist to listen to while I sew. I’ve listened to the playlist almost 80 times over the course of the last year, which means I paid about 25 cents for each playthrough of that album.
  • My parents purchased a $2000 piano when we moved into this house. I played it nearly every day between the age of 13 and 19, and I still play it occasionally today, so I would estimate that it cost about 75 cents per day that it’s used.

An example of something I don’t buy/ don’t consider “worth it”: I don’t go to the movies or buy DVDs unless they are in the bargain bin for $2. It’s unlikely that I’ll watch any movie more than a couple of times. I tend not to buy books (unless they’re classics/ collectors’ edition) when I can simply go to the library instead.

Examples where this sentiment doesn’t work:

  • Housing and transportation – an $18,000 car won’t last you 50 years being driven every day, even with the best upkeep. Likewise, you will probably not live 250 years in a $100,000

    Can luxury purchases be justified?
    Can luxury purchases be justified? Corset: Sparklewren, MUA: Stella Amore, Photo: Trillance

    house (or any house, really).

  • Good food/meals – at one point I was able to live on $5/ week for food. It was a lot of beans, carrots and apples. However it’s not the most nutritious, and it’s not long before insanity from meal boredom sets in.
  • Luxuries – I don’t know how else to put this: luxury means that you don’t worry about the cost. That’s why it’s a luxury. There is a certain threshold (with any item, not just corsets) where the hardiness and utility of an object sort of levels off compared with price. The corset that’s worth over $1000 sitting wrapped in acid-free tissue paper in an engraved box in my room isn’t going to be worn 1000 times. Probably not even 100 times. But just owning it and admiring it as a piece of art brings me joy, and I hope that it will stay in the family for 100 years or more.

Is that corset worth it?

I’ve mentioned before that an affordable “starter” corset off a place like Ebay may cost $50, but it may only last you 500 hours or even less, and come with no warranty. If you purchase a corset for $500 but it lasts you 10,000 hours of wear, that’s double the return on your investment, because you spent 10x more, but you gained 20x more use out of it.

I’m not saying to never buy cheaper corsets, because they have their place too – for instance, if you buy a $100 corset but only wear it for 3 months before losing interest, or only wearing it once in awhile, it’s a lot better to have only spent $100 instead of $500. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy more than one corset either. I’m certainly guilty of owning many corsets – I consider them luxuries. What I am saying is that when it comes to medium-to-large investments, consider the realistic long-term benefits and consequences of your purchase.

Above all else, never expect a $50 corset to perform like a $300 corset. Swindlers and crooks aside, you get what you pay for. After having wasted thousands of dollars on cheap corsets, I’ve never found a loophole in the quality/price relationship. I’ve created an enormous playlist of reviews, available for free, so that you can make an informed purchase and save your money. My loss is your gain. Please use it to your advantage.

If you liked this article, you may also like “The 5 Most Important Factors of an OTR corset“.

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Corsets I’ve tried – in order of price range

My corset reviews are organized in chronological order because that seems to make the most sense – my reviews aren’t all equal; they’ve evolved over time and they’re easier to understand if you watch the oldest ones first.

But when people are looking for a corset within their budget, I understand that my reviews can be difficult to sift through. So I’m saving you time by organizing all the corset brands I’ve tried in order of the average price range of their underbust corsets, and then alphabetical order within that range. (You should expect overbust corsets to cost more than underbusts.)

Please note that the order of these do not represent my preferences in any way – if you need help deciding, there is always my consultation service.

I’ve now turned this into a permanent page on my site, due to the requests of several people, so you can now find the page here (or click the page at the top). ^___^