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Exceptions to Corset Rules

There is a concept (that was popularized by Terry Pratchett in the Discworld books) called lies-to-children which says that we tend to oversimplify concepts and make “black and white” rules in order to familiarize beginners (or kids) with certain concepts before they can move on to understanding the more nuanced reality of these topics. Corsetry is no exception; there are so many “rules” that ring mostly true (like “good OTR corsets contain steel bones and not featherweight”, or “the waist tape’s purpose is to prevent stretching or ripping at the waistline”) but it’s high time we talk about the people who are successfully breaking corset rules – because not all corsets are made equal!

 

Corset Sizes

Rule:

Corset sizes are mostly 20”, 22”, 24” etc, and we should avoid any corsets sold in “street sizes” (e.g. US size 6 / UK size 10, or small / medium / large) because street sizes are arbitrary and not standardized.

Exceptions:

A few respected corset makers do prefer to sell their corsets by the S/M/L/XL system.
One of these brands is Ms Martha’s Corset Shoppe (I wear a size Medium in her shop which translates to waist size 22″).
Another maker is Ties That Bynde (I wear a size XS in her shop which translates to waist size 22″).

Jessica, the owner of Ties That Bynde, also wrote a testimony for my book Solaced last year. She’s an immensely skilled corsetiere who has made medical / therapeutic corsets for herself and others, and her corsets have been covered by medical insurance in some cases. Jessica suffered a debilitating car accident and she made several corsets for herself to helped her recover from her sustained injuries, and her corsets have also corrected her scoliosis. The reason that she prefers this sizing system over numbers, she says, is because she sells at conventions where the demographic can be a bit different, and many customers don’t like knowing what their waist size is in inches. They tend to be a bit more receptive to her current sizing system.

Number of layers

Contour Corsets blue summer mesh underbust
Contour Corsets blue summer mesh single layer underbust (with front zip and no waist tape!)

Rule:

Many OTR corsets will boast that their corset has three, four, or even more layers of fabric in their waist training corsets, because in the idea that “many hands make light work”, we also think it’s logical to believe that more layers equals more strength.

Exceptions:

I have worn some amazingly strong and comfortable single layer corsets, probably the most well known being my mesh corset from Contour Corsets, but also my spot broche piece from Bizarre Design. Both of these corsets started with premium quality fabrics that were painstakingly cut on grain, and constructed with external boning channels which straddle and reinforce the seams, and each seam is stitched multiple times (zig-zagged in my Contour Corset, and with a twin-needle machine in my Bizarre Design corset) so there is little to no risk of a seam ripping even under high reductions.

If I were perusing Ebay and looking at “corsets” shipped from China for $15, I would be a little hesitant to spend that much if they said it were a single layer corset, because I’ve tried one before and it didn’t do much for me. But a single layer corset made from a specialty coutil or broche, made by a reputable independent corsetiere? I wouldn’t bat an eye at that.

While on the topic of Contour Corsets and Bizarre Design, and how they have engineering backgrounds and like to bend the rules – neither of my corsets from them contain any waist tape.

 

Waist tapes

Rule: 

Gorgeous high-contrast shot of the gold bird’s wing sample. Photo by Sparklewren.

The waist tape’s purpose is to prevent stretching and ripping of the corset at its point of highest tension (the waistline) and corsets that don’t have a waist tape are unsuitable for waist training.

Exceptions:

My Contour corset was my primary training piece through 2012-2013, and it was still barely stretched or eased a fraction of an inch at the waist despite note having a waist tape. (The only reason I stopped training in that corset was because I found it a very dramatic silhouette, and once I achieved a waist of 20″ I decided I preferred to stay at 22″ instead.)

For cheaper quality corsets, having a waist tape is a sign of insurance: if one of the seams fail and the stitching pops at the waistline, at least the waist tape should hold fast because it doesn’t have any seams. But some corsetieres have appeared to construct their corsets in such a way that renders the waist tape superfluous because the corsets are strong enough on their own.

Some corsetieres, like Sparklewren and her Bird’s Wing corsets, would deliberately make her corsets a touch smaller in the waist than the customer wanted (0.5 – 1 inch smaller) – because she anticipated there would be a little bit of ease at the waistline without having a waist tape – however, once that fabric settled, it would more or less be around the size originally requested – so this is how some corsetieres are able to circumvent any complications around not installing waist tapes. The Bird’s Wing corsets are constructed with lapped seams (which are also extremely strong and secure – and because they can be made with a single layer of strong coutil or broche, adding a waist tape in these corsets would be tricky but also ruin the line of the delicate looking antique-inspired couture corset.

Also, consider that ribbon corsets typically never contain waist tapes. One exception to that is Pop Antique’s ribbon cincher.

 

A happy client snaps a selfie of her custom mesh underbust from Mitchell Dane (MDC Designs) with a front zip closure.
A happy client snaps a selfie of her custom mesh underbust from Mitchell Dane with a front zip closure.

Zippers

Rule:

Any “corset” on Ebay that shows a hook-and-eye closure, or a zipper on the side or back of the body (especially colored zips with nylon coils instead of metal teeth), are not genuine heavy duty corsets designed for waist training or tight lacing.

Exceptions:

Some corsetieres use zippers successfully in their corsets, even their tightlacing and waist training corsets! The strongest zippers have metal teeth – not plastic – and the zip is well-supported with flat steels on either side. The zip will also typically be placed on a seam that doesn’t have much curve (like the center front) and not on a side seam, so that there is no unequal strain on the zip that might cause it to fail.

I believe Amy Crowder of Wasp Creations had once written about how a good quality and well-installed zipper can possibly even be stronger than a conventional busk.

Some makers who utilize zippers in their work include Puimond, KMK designs, Mitchell Dane, Sin and Satin, and of course Contour Corsets. See my gallery of genuine corsets with zippers here!

 

Number of panels

Rule:

Karolina Laskowska shows the pattern and final result of her single panel corset experiment. Click through to see her Facebook post with more info.

A proper corset must have 4-6 panels per side (8-12 panels total).

I’m sure most of you have done this thing in geometry class where you make a square, and then a hexagon, and then a heptagon, and an octagon, and on and on until you have a polygon that has so many sides that it nearly makes a circle. And theoretically, this is what we aim to do with corsets – to take flat 2 dimensional panels, albeit made from malleable fabric, and wrap it around a multitude of curves. This is where we’ve arrived at the idea that “the fewer panels there are in a corset pattern, the less curvy / the more wrinkly / the more uncomfortable it is.” It would be bonkers to make every corset have an infinite number of panels, so we strive for a happy medium of 4-6 panels per side in most cases, and we can further tweak the fit with gores and fluted panels, like What Katie Did does.

Exceptions:

I have seen corsets with two panels per side, like Damsel in this Dress, and I’ve seen corsets with like 20 panels per side, like Sparklewren’s bird’s wing corsets. 99% of the time, OTR corsets will have between 4-6 panels per side.

Each seam is an opportunity to adjust the fit to suit your body, and oftentimes clean seams are more comfortable than sewing darts and pleats, especially when it comes to something as close-fitting as a corset. But I have occasionally worn corsets with four panels that were more comfortable than other corsets with more panels. And more panels does not necessarily mean that the corset will be curvier – the curve depends on how each panel is shaped, not how many there are.

Karolina Laskowska took this idea to new levels by making a corset with only ONE panel! Instead of adding more fabric where she needed ease, she started with her largest circumferential measurements instead and added tucks where she needed to take it in at the waist or over the bustline. It was very clever.

Bones

Antique (with real whalebone) vs Laurie Tavan’s reproduction (with synthetic whalebone). Photos by Laurie Tavan

Rule:

Featherweight boning is awful, Rigilene is the devil, and generally just run away from plastic boning and always look for steel.

Exceptions:

There are some people doing amazing things with synthetic whalebone – which is a type of plastic, but it’s from Germany and it doesn’t behave the same way as featherweight or rigilene that you find here in North America. Luca Costigliolo and Laurie Tavan are two corset makers who do beautiful Victorian reproductions and have worked successfully with synthetic bone.

 

Grommets

Rule:

Grommets in a corset should be size #00 (5mm) or #0 (6mm) and have a medium-to-wide flange to prevent popping out over time.

Exceptions:

Some older corsets like those made by Créations L’Escarpolette contained grommets / eyelets in size #x00 (an internal diameter of 4 mm) or even smaller, and with a teeny tiny flange, yet they’ve held up to a lot of wear, as these corsets are over 10 years old now (if I recall correctly). Even though the grommets are quite oxidized, none of them are actually falling out because they’re set so tightly.

On the other end of the spectrum I’ve seen corsets with enormous grommets (size 1 or 2), which are almost comically large, but I can see it working with a certain aesthetic.

 

So you see, although there are standards for most corsets these days, there are always exceptions to the rules. We live in an amazing time where we have access to laser cutting and 3D printing and so many awesome materials, and people around the world can blend their knowledge from previous backgrounds and apply them to the art of corsetry, and that is exciting and amazing.

Standards are usually set for a reason, so it’s good to learn why things are constructed in a certain way and using certain materials – it often comes down to accessibility, cost, tradition, etc.

I’ve experimented a lot with corset making in the past, only to reinvent the wheel and learn for myself why “some things are the way they are”, but that’s all part of the process, and I would assume that almost any experienced corsetiere has done the same. But innovation is the spice of life, so learn the rules as a beginner, so you can learn to break them later. ;)

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Advanced Breaking in your Corset (Intuitive Seasoning)

This serves as a synopsis to my corset seasoning mini series from 2013, but also an addendum for experienced corset wearers and how they break in their corsets as well. Feel free to watch the video from 2014 above, or read the post (a transcript, revised in 2016) below.

There are understandably some complaints from people about the 2-2-2 guidelines and how this doesn’t work for people who wear corsets at a 6, 7, or 8+ inch waist reduction. This is a valid point and I want to share with you the same thing that I told to these more extreme tightlacers back in 2014.

Romantasy’s 2-2-2 guideline (wearing the corset at a 2-inch reduction [measured over the corset, so it is actually a slightly more dramatic reduction under the corset], for a duration of 2 hours a day, each day for 2 weeks) is exactly that: a guideline for beginners. You can choose to follow it or not follow it.

Some 7 or 8 years ago, before I ever read about the Romantasy method, some other corset companies posted instructions online for beginners, telling customers to “lace the corset as tight as you possibly can, and keep it on for as long as you can stand it” on the first wear – and more alarmingly, to “expect that it will hurt” until you can force the corset to soften and mold to your body.

Holy crap, that is bad advice.

Luckily I had the sense to not tie my corsets as tightly as possible from the first wear, but I did observe that for the first couple of corsets I owned, when I had not broken them in gently, one of my corsets ripped at the seam when I sneezed, another corset had a busk break through the center front seam, and yet another had a grommet pull out within 2 wears – at this time I believed that I was lacing too tightly/ too fast, or treated my corsets too roughly.

I will add a note here though: if you read through my seasoning mini-series, you’ll see that even when you treat a professionally-made, custom-fit corset quite gently, sometimes SNAFUs can still occur. It was only after a different corsetiere came forward a year later and noted a ripped seam in a green corset her own company had made, that it was hypothesized that this particular batch and color of green Gütermann thread might have been defective and not as strong as their usual thread!

The 2-2-2 guideline was designed to combat the incorrect and potentially dangerous information that was previously distributed by other brands [to wear your corset as tight as possible on the first wear]. The Romantasy method helps the gently ease the beginner’s body into the process of wearing a corset (because most people are so accustomed to elastic, loose fabrics today that such a rigid garment such as a corset may take some getting used to). The process of “seasoning your body” is just as much (if not more) important than the softening process of the corset itself – making sure the fibers are aligning and settling properly (if the corset is on-grain), and observing the corset losing its ‘crispness’ so it may hug around your body better.

It’s already implied that a beginner would not be starting with an 8-10 inch reduction that would fit on them like a wobbly corset with only the waistline touching your body. Although a small amount of flaring at the top and bottom edges is normal if your corset is not closed in the back, to experience flaring so extreme that you can fit stuffed animals into your corset, I believe the corset is probably too curvy for you if you’re a beginner. Refer back to my article about corset fitting, and why having a gap too wide in the back of the corset is a bad thing.

 

At the time these guidelines were created, achieving more than 4-6 inches of reduction was extremely rare.

Back in the 1990s to early-2000s, when I was researching corsets as a teenager, many authorities and corset makers were only recommending that people start with a 3-4 inch reduction – maybe 6 inches if you were plus size or particularly compressible. Think of the OTR corset brands that existed 10-15 years ago: Axfords, Vollers, Corsets-UK, Timeless Trends – these corset vendors did not make extremely curvy corsets designed for dramatic reductions at the time, and the average person would be lucky to achieve more than a 3-4 inch waist reduction without their ribs and hips getting compressed too tightly anyway. Over the past 5 years, curvier corsets have become more accessible through OTR brands (as opposed to having to commission a custom piece at 3-5x the price of OTR). Today I’m hearing of people buying their first OTR corset at 8 or even 10 inches smaller than their natural waistline, which is not a practice I would condone for everyone.

I can wear a corset around a 7-inch reduction, but I’ve been wearing corsets occasionally for around 12 years, and waist training off and on in the past 6 years. My waist has become accustomed to the pressure such that my muscles readily stretch, my intestines readily flatten and give way, and my body can accommodate moderate-to-largish reductions relatively quickly. But this may not be the case for a beginner, and there is such a thing as going down too much, too quickly. My concern is that if a beginner is starting with a corset 8-10 inches smaller than their natural waist, their corset will not fit properly because they may not tolerate large reductions in the beginning, but they may be impatient and want to close the corset within a few weeks or months. I don’t want people to end up hurting themselves.

Regardless, nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to season your corset using the 2-2-2 method. I mentioned in one episode of my corset seasoning mini-series that different methods and durations of breaking in your corset exists, and there is no “One” perfect way, no one hard and fast set of rules to break in your corset.

Romantasy has one way of doing it, Orchard Corset has a different method, Contour Corsets has yet a different method, and I’m certain that there are other brands who have their own way. Some methods are faster, some are slower, some methods are more structured, some are very free. The common goal is to have a corset that wraps around your body like a glove, and feels comfortable enough to wear for long durations without injury to yourself. But it’s also imperative that you start with a corset with a reduction suited to your experience level and body type, and with dimensions predicted to fit you well.

 

Different people have different bodies, and can cinch to varying reductions.

Someone who is larger, more squishy or more experienced might be able to cinch down more than 2 inches on the first wear (indeed, one of my clients whose natural waistline approaches 50 inches is able to close a corset 12 inches smaller within a few wears! Same with someone who has had surgeries to remove their colon earlier in life, but this is an extreme situation obviously not applicable to 99% of the population).

However, some other people are very lean, or they are body builders and have a lot of muscle tone, or they may simply have inflexible obliques or inflexible ribs, or they have a low tolerance to compression, and they may not be able to reduce their waist by even 2 inches – and those who are naturally able to lace to dramatic reductions should not shame those that can’t. Also by having a general guideline for beginners, and a modest one at that, it can help eliminate a false sense of competition between inexperienced lacers who have not yet learned to listen to their bodies.

 

Viewer question:

“I’m wearing the corset as tight as I possibly can, and it measures the same on the outside of the corset as my natural waist? What am I doing wrong?” The answer: nothing is wrong. Firstly, your corset has some bulk, so even though your external corseted measurement is the same as your natural waist, most likely your internal waist measures 1.5 – 2 inches smaller. And if that’s as small as you can comfortably go at this time, and if your corset is fitting you properly (it’s not a case of the ribs/hips of the corset being too small for your body and blocking your waist from reducing more), that reduction is perfectly fine! Wearing a corset should be enjoyable, not a cause of stress. With patience, most people find they can comfortably reduce more in several weeks or months.

Another question I regularly receive:

“How long does it take to season a corset?” Different corset makers will state that it takes different amounts of time for their corset to be fully broken in, just like I mentioned in a previous episode of the mini-series. Orchard Corset once said that it takes around 10 hours to season, while Contour Corsets says to take closer to 100+ hours to season one of her hardcore summer mesh tightlacing corsets – so there is a spectrum, and it depends on the brand, materials and construction methods.

 

Some people like rules, others don’t.

The whole point of Romantasy’s 2-2-2 guidelines is to encourage beginners to ease into the process of wearing the corset and to be gentle with themselves from the start. What I’ve found over the years is that some people are more intuitive and like to learn from experience – they prefer to navigate their own way through a new skill/ process through trial and error, while some others are more analytical and prefer to have a more rigid system that they can follow. This is true for more than just corsetry – it’s true for learning to play a new instrument (classical vs contemporary lessons, or even having a teacher at all vs being self-taught) or losing weight (some prefer to just eat well and walk more often, while others take on a strict workout regime with a certain number of reps with certain weights, and they count calories and macromolecules, etc.). Most people are somewhere in between. Most importantly, both methods have their perks and drawbacks, and one method is not inherently better than the other.

Perhaps it’s a certain type of person who is drawn to corsets in the first place, but I notice a larger proportion of my viewers and readers prefer to have some rules or guidelines to start out with. It’s okay to follow a system until you become familiar with your body and you can come to trust your own experience. It’s okay to “learn rules” and then choose to accept or reject them later on.

And of course, some people naturally possess more common sense than others (I cringe when someone tells me that their ill-fitting, poor quality corset bruised them and yet they refuse to stop wearing it!).

 

Let guidelines guide you, not control you.

There are some beginners who are very pedantic and they begin to worry that they seasoned their corset at 2.5 inches instead of only 2 inches – of course, there is a limit to everything and it’s not that big a deal if you don’t follow the guideline to the letter. However, if you wore your corset for 12 hours on the first day and ended up bruising yourself, this is a greater concern (and you should always place more importance on your body than on your corset – a corset may cost $50 – $300 on average, but your body is priceless and irreplaceable). A 2(ish)-hour guideline should be long enough for you to tell whether your corset is causing any fitting issues (or is contraindicated with any pre-existing condition, like if a corset tends to bring on a headache or blood pressure spikes to those already prone), while usually being short enough in duration that it shouldn’t cause bruising or pinched nerves or any other troubles that could arise.

Obviously, corsets should never ever hurt, pinch, or bruise you, nor should it cause muscle tension, or headaches, or exacerbate your health problems – if it does, that type of corset is not right for you, or you may not be healthy enough to wear a corset.

These days, I have a very intuitive way of wearing my corsets after they’re broken in – I don’t necessarily count the hours I wear them, or the reduction. If the corset feels too loose, I might lace it a bit more snug. If the corset feels too tight, I will loosen it. If I’m sick of it, I take it off! (By the way, you can learn more about different waist training methods in this article.)

When you’re more experienced with corsets, you can trust yourself to be more intuitive regarding how long to wear the corset and how tightly.

Analogy: Hard Contact Lenses

I started wearing hard contact lenses at 14 years old. They correct my astigmatism by literally acting like a brace for my eyeball and changing the shape of my cornea. While soft contacts mold to the natural shape of the eye, hard contacts will encourage the eye to take the shape of the contact lens (similar to how a corset molds your waist). But this can cause eye irritation especially in the beginning – my corneas were not adapted to the shape of the contact lens, so I couldn’t wear my contacts 14-16 hours a day. The optometrist gave me a strict schedule to follow, starting with wearing the contacts for 2-3 hours a day, one or two times each day, and slowly building up from there. The schedule lasted about 3 weeks until I was able to wear my contacts all day without eye strain, nausea, headaches, eye dryness, or irritation. Of course, when I get a new pair of contact lenses (with a stronger prescription, booo but such is life), I don’t have to go through the exact same schedule because my eyeballs are already accustomed to wearing contacts – I only have to get used to the strength of the prescription. When receiving a new corset (with a silhouette you’re already accustomed to), you don’t have to “re-season” your body the same way you did as a beginner, but you may need to train your body if your new corset is a few inches smaller than you’re used to.

Analogy: Weight Lifting

Some people will go to a personal trainer for a few weeks or months to learn good form and to get help with finding the weight, number of reps in a set and number of sets in a workout – and then once they know what they’re doing, they can stop going to the trainer and adapt their own workouts the way they like. Over time, you can expect to improve your strength and you may be able to lift more weight or go for more reps – but the program you make for yourself over time may not be suitable for a different person, especially not a beginner. On another note: other experienced athletes prefer to keep going to a personal trainer for years, long after they already know how to perform certain exercises properly and know intuitively what works for their own body, because these folks find value in having someone else create a system for them and continue to hold them accountable (which is also likely why Romantasy’s 3-month waist training coaching service has been successful over the years).

What is Lucy’s excuse for still seasoning all her corsets the same way?

I’ve been wearing corsets for over a decade and have seasoned well over 100 corsets in that time. Why do I still follow a structured seasoning schedule, especially as an intuitive corseter after the seasoning process?

The reason for this is mainly because I prefer to season all of my corsets in the same method. I do regular reviews with different corset brands. By controlling the reduction and the duration I wear every corset and giving them all the same treatment prior to review, I can see how well some corsets stand up to tension over time. In truth, I can tell within 10 minutes of putting a new corset on whether that corset is going to work with my body or not. Quite honestly, there have been certain corsets where (had I not received a request to review the corset) I would have tried on that corset once and immediately gotten rid of it. But if I’m going to give a fair review, I have to give a corset fair treatment.

In science, you have to control as many variables as possible in order to perform a fair, objective experiment. So I’ve incorporated a quality control system where I control as many variables as best as possible by seasoning every corset the same way. This ensures that I’m not putting more stress on some corsets than others (the exception to this being a ‘rental’ or ‘loaned’ corset that I need to send back after filming, in which case I won’t season it at all). The 2-2-2 guidelines are, as mentioned before, a very mild amount of stress to put on a corset – and if that corset does not even survive a trial period of 30-50 hours without seams stretching or a grommet pulling out, then I definitely know that the construction is compromised and the quality isn’t close to what I’d consider industry standard.

Bottom line, if you are an experienced corset wearer, or if you are particularly compressible, or if you hate following a rigid schedule, then the 2-2-2 guidelines (or indeed, any other corset seasoning guidelines) may very well not work for you, and that’s alright. But other people find it more comfortable follow a more rigid seasoning schedule. It’s really no skin off your back to let someone break in their corsets in a different way, as long as the other person is not hurting themselves and not destroying property. Live and let live.

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Corset seasoning sessions 11, 12 and 13 – final observations

Over the weekend, I finished up seasoning this corset with seasoning sessions 11, 12 and 13, totaling 30 hours of wearing this corset at a 2-inch reduction for about 2-3 hours at a time. The entire seasoning period was about 2 weeks. This article aims to recap the changes that I feel while wearing the corset, and changes to the corset itself as time has passed.

How the corset feels on me after two weeks of seasoning:

  • I’m able to lace the corset about 0.5 – 1 inch smaller than I had on the first day, while still keeping within the 2″ guidelines (from 26″ corseted from a 27.5″ natural waist on the first day, to 25″ corseted with a 27″ natural waist on the last day of seasoning)
  • The ribs don’t feel as restrictive; they cup smoothly around my ribcage
  • The waist hooks under my ribcage and doesn’t ride up on me, and the corset no longer feels “wobbly”
  • Some wrinkles around the hips have smoothed over
  • There are no hot spots or area of uncomfortable pressure. There is no irritation or poking from any corners or bone tips. The corset has conformed to the curve of my spine.
  • I’m relaxed and have a comfortable posture in the corset; my muscles aren’t fighting the corset and I feel that I would be able to accommodate a larger reduction.

At this point, now that the corset is properly seasoned, I will begin to gradually increase the hours each day as comfortable, and then start to close the corset more in the back, until I’m able to wear it closed for the official corset review.

I’m going to go over what is normal and what is not normal in a hypothetical corset after a proper 2-week seasoning period. The points in bold are what I experienced during this seasoning session:

  What’s normal What’s not normal
Bones by the grommets A bit of distortion of the fabric due to tension

Bones may become slightly more flexible along its proper axis, to hug the lumbar area more, and not dig into the tailbone

Back bones permanently bent, kinked, warped or twisted in their boning channels.

Bones popping out or wearing away the fabric of the channels.

Fabric around the grommets Some wrinkling of the fabric around the grommet panel may be normal Grommets pulling away, or the fabric around the grommets are starting to fray, or grommets feel wiggly or loose
Fabric around the waistline of the corset Tension in the thread around the waistline

Some fabric pulling or distorting around the waistline, and seams looking a bit wobbly when off the body

A bit of horizontal wrinkling, especially in the side-back, or over the front hip, particularly in an OTR/ standard-sized corset
*Note that a well-made corset may actually have some wrinkles smooth out over time

Broken threads or gaps where there are no stitching

Ripped stitches or fabric, no matter how small

Lining layer Some usual wrinkling of the lining and minor tension on the threads of the lining (although the lining shouldn’t take any tension if it is not the strength fabric) Broken stitching or gaps in the lining

 

If you have any other points to add regarding what is normal or not normal when you season your corsets, I would love to know! Leave me a comment either under this post, or on Youtube.

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10th Corset Seasoning session – possible causes of headache/tension while corseted

I’ve been wearing the corset a total of 24 hours (of a minimum seasoning time of about 30 hours). I’m now quite comfortable in this corset, and the corset is wrapping around my body very nicely – I’m noticing negligible change from today’s seasoning session compared to the previous couple of sessions. Another person had written me about their corset giving them a migraine, which I’d like to address:

Why might one get a headache, neck ache or tense back while wearing a corset?

While I’d like to remind everyone that I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet, there are several possible reasons I can personally think of that might cause tension, soreness or headaches while corseted.

  • it may be due to holding a posture that you’re not accustomed to, and subsequently getting sore/tense and knotted back muscles. It’s also important not to tie your corset too tight or too long such that you experience pain or discomfort, as people in discomfort have a tendency to round their shoulders and tense their muscles – you want to be comfortable, relaxed, and sitting with your shoulders down and your chest open. (If it’s too late and you do have some muscle tension, I offer some stretching ideas in the video, like lying with a pile of pillows or a squishy large ball between your wingbones to open up the chest –  and I also suggest bumming a massage off one of your good friends to loosen the knots)
  • it may be caused by dehydration (drink more water while you’re corseted, even if you feel you don’t need it – I personally notice that symptoms of dehydration come on much quicker while I’m corseted).
  • it could be caused by hypertension – although not all headaches are caused by high blood pressure, and not everyone with high bp may experience headaches, there is a positive correlation between headaches and elevated bp, so do make sure your blood pressure is in a healthy range and talk to your doctor about any health concerns you may have before starting to wear corsets. I talk more about this in my article about Corsets and Blood Pressure here.
I should also add (AGAIN) that pain while corseted IS NOT NORMAL. Whether it’s in your abdomen, in your hip, in your neck, head or big toe, you should NOT feel pain in a well-fitted, properly worn corset. Please practice some common sense when you’re corseted and don’t force yourself down more than you’re ready for any reason. Got it? Good.

Changes in the visible wear to the corset after the 10th seasoning session is negligible, although I was able to get in touch with the maker about getting some matching silk to cut down and change the binding, to fix the fraying area. Some of the crystals have started to become slightly loose (my fault) which I show in the video.

 

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9th Corset Seasoning session – the difference between normal corset ‘tenderness’ and inappropriate pain

After this corseting session, I estimate that I’ve worn the corset a total of 22 hours (for a minimum of 30 hours of seasoning). In reality, I squeezed in two break-in sessions on the same day (the  8th session in the morning and the 9th session at night). Because I wore this corset a total of about 5 hours that one particular day (two 2.5-hour sessions), I do feel a few differences in how my body is responding to the corset:

  • This corset is curvier than the corset I was wearing in the mid-afternoon so there’s more of a “stretching feeling” in my obliques compared how I felt in my less curvy corset. I compare the stretch in my obliques to that stretching feeling that one would experience after working out and stretching their hamstrings. It may feel warm, not quite stinging but perhaps tingling on the sides of your torso, but you don’t want it to feel like it’s “burning” or “ripping”.
  • I also feel some pressure and tenderness in the back and wrapping around the sides of my ribcage, which feels as if the corset is gently guiding my 12th rib forward. I compare the feeling of my ribs shifting to wearing a mouth retainer – it’s a little sore or achy if pressure is put on it directly, but I know that this tenderness will subside after a few hours or a day. When I take off my corset, I gently stretch my torso by bending it from side to side to alleviate this feeling of pressure.

Of course every person is different in how they feel in a corset, because every body is a different shape and size, each person’s nervous system is wired slightly differently, etc. But hopefully by my sharing these experiences, it will better help you to understand where your ‘limit’ is – the difference between a sensation and real discomfort or pain, and use this knowledge to loosen or take off your corset when you feel that’s no longer benefiting you.

This is also why I get irritated when people say “no pain, no gain” or that “corseting must always hurt the wearer” because it tells me that this person has corseted down tighter than their body was ready for, or worn the corset longer than was proper for their experience level, or had been wearing a corset that was simply the wrong shape or poor quality. Corseting doesn’t have to be a painful experience, and for many people it’s just the opposite; it can alleviate chronic pain whether physical or emotional.

Like I mentioned in my “Corsets, Nerves and Pain” video, if you are the type of person who is extremely sensitive to pressure, there is nobody forcing you to lace down further than what feels comfortable for you. Anyone who chastises you for not being able to lace down as much or as quickly as they can, they’re a fool who simply does not understand how each human body is built differently and has different limits. If you really want to try corseting but even 1 inch waist reduction feels unbearably tight for you, then you can wear your corset with zero reduction, until you just get used to maintaining an erect posture in the corset – after this point, you might want to lace down just 1/4″ (about 5-6mm) until you get used to that. There is nothing wrong with slow and steady.

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8th seasoning session – commonalities between breaking in corsets and shoes

Today I’m up to around 19 hours of wear, and the mend is still holding up well. Although I’m a bit more delicate today than I have been in the past (before the tear happened), I’m reasonably more comfortable than I was yesterday. As I begin to trust this corset more again as time goes on, I will probably learn to totally relax in this corset again.

Recently someone asked whether it’s okay to start wearing your corset all day immediately after the seasoning process (i.e. immediately after the 30 hours of seasoning are done, can I shut the corset immediately and wear it all day)?

Even though I can wear a well-seasoned corset up to about 16 hours a day, I try not to do that with freshly seasoned corsets. After seasoning, I’ll gradually increase the hours of the corset so that I’m wearing it at least 10-12 hours, and then I will start to lace it down tighter from there. There are a couple reasons that I do this:

  • So I don’t put too much pressure on the corset all at once and give it undue strain.
  • So I can test how my body reacts to the corset – I want to make sure that I won’t develop sores on my body, and don’t put more pressure on my body than it is ready for.

It’s a similar situation to breaking in a new pair of nice high heels. How my feet react to these heels when I’m just wearing it around the house on carpet and sitting down most of the time, isn’t necessarily reflective of how my feet will feel if I’m dancing on a hardwood floor for six hours. In that same vein, seasoning your corset at a light reduction, and wearing your corset completely closed during an all-day event may feel very different.

For the same reason that I bring a pair of comfy flats in my purse (if I need to change out of my heels), I will often bring a change of clothing or a spare corset to a special event. It’s always good to be prepared and have alternative fashion options when you need to listen to your body and either loosen your corset or take it off completely.

In the video, I also discuss what’s normal wear and tear when you choose a fashion fabric that is relatively delicate like dupioni silk. Although silk is supposed to be one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, it can still show wear! Especially in an iridescent silk like this one, which is violet-shot-green (when it becomes damaged, it loses its iridescence). If you’d like to see the wear to the corset, it’s available for viewing here:

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7th Corset Seasoning session – mend is holding up

I’ve been breaking the corset in for about 17 hours (of a minimum of 30 hours). Over the weekend I took a break from the corset and came back with a refreshed point of view so I could repair it when I wasn’t so frustrated.

Today I’m resuming the seasoning process (after a 3 day hiatus). During today’s break-in session, I felt that I was acting a lot more dainty compared to previous days, and just sat still as opposed to being active in my corset (which, ironically, I had mentioned isn’t the best thing to do during the seasoning process just a few days ago). I also feel that because I’m so anxious about the mend holding up and I’m acting so stiff and careful in this corset, my body is not properly relaxing in the corset and I can feel that my muscles are ‘fighting’ the corset, which is not good. This contributes to some discomfort in the corset.

If you take a break from seasoning, do you have to start again from the beginning?

 Someone asked if I would have to start the seasoning process all over again – not necessarily! Once you break in a pair of shoes, you typically don’t have to break them in again – if you have a comfy pair of running shoes that you don’t wear for a few months in the winter, it will still pretty much fit your foot in the springtime. It’s more or less the same for corsets as well (they don’t shrink, although you may expand while not wearing the corset, if you’re anything like me).

If you’re interested in seeing the wear to the corset, you’re welcome to see the video (starts at around 3:55 mark):

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6th Corset Seasoning – a tear in the seam

After the 6th seasoning session, I estimate that I’ve been wearing this corset for approximately 14-15 hours, because I wear the corset 2-3 hours each seasoning session – the seasoning process is half over, and I’m feeling more comfortable in this corset. The waist of the corset is hooking underneath my ribs, and so I’m relaxed in the corset and feel as if my ribs are “resting on a shelf”.

I also notice that I’m not struggling with this corset as much to get it on and off. The busk clasps faster and easier, the laces glide through the grommets more smoothly, and lacing up the corset has become very fast and easy. Although this could be attributed to simply me getting used to lacing this particular corset, I think it’s more than that. Remember on the first day, I was laced in only about 1.5 inches and felt that the corset was deceptively tight because it wasn’t wrapping around my body – the corset was still feeling a bit crunchy. Today it feels smoother and hugs around my own curves so nicely that I’m really fighting the urge to lace it tighter, because a reduction of just 1.5 inches feels almost like nothing now. However, I’m still trying to just lace it with about a 2-inch reduction for the duration of this seasoning period.

“Priming” your waist for less resistance

If you’re seasoning a corset that is not your first corset, then one option is for you to “prime” your waist by wearing your previous corset for some time, and then switching over to your seasoned corset. By doing this, then your oblique muscles are already warmed and stretched, and (depending on how much you reduce) your intestines are already flattened and moved so you would be able to accommodate more restriction by your new corset. In this situation, you might even feel that 3-4 inches in your new corset feels quite easy, while if you were trying to break in your corset while your torso was ‘cold’ (say, if you didn’t wear corsets for a few days, or ever, and then put the corset on) then you may feel that just a couple of inches feels like a stretch for you. That said, even if you prime your waist before putting on your new corset to season, I wouldn’t personally cinch down more than about 2.5 inches at the absolute most for someone my size, as a general guideline.

Different people, different sizes, different waist reductions for seasoning.

A person with a bigger starting waist (say, 40″) may find they season their corsets with a reduction of 3-4 inches. A person with a smaller natural waist (say, 24″) may find that they barely get any reduction at all while they’re breaking in their corset. This is all perfectly fine. The 2″ guideline is just what has worked for me over the years while I’ve seasoned over 70 different corsets, but if you aren’t even up to that 2″ reduction yet, this doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. The whole idea of seasoning your corset is that you wear it with less tension that you normally would put on a fully-laced corset, so the fibers ‘stretch’ and align themselves evenly instead of having uneven tension, so the corset forms to your body, and so  you don’t get hot spots or pressure points that cause you discomfort or pain as you and your corset become acquainted.

I don’t say this to try and confuse any of you into thinking that the 2/2/2 rule (2″ reduction, for two hours a day, for two weeks) doesn’t work for everybody. It actually does work very well for a huge number of people, and it’s a really good starting point/ guideline for most people who are starting out, but I would rather you understand the objective behind this, as opposed to blindly following it as a rule. Some people think that rules are just red tape that is laid down to oppress them. Truly understanding the reasoning behind a certain practice is key to lacing responsibly.

Important changes to the corset:

A side seam popped at the waistline – one of the curviest seams, under the highest tension. There are a number of reasons that this could have happened:

  • I had coughed when the seam broke – it could have been my fault, for putting unfair, acute pressure on the waistline of the corset. Perhaps I have particularly strong oblique muscles, as I had ripped one other corset about 3 years ago from a sneeze. My coughs and sneezes tend to be violent. Granted, I’ve also sneezed in other corsets and those have survived…
  •  The stitch length might have been longer along that seam than usual, or perhaps there was a skipped stitch that I had overlooked. I generally don’t care much about skipped stitches from an aesthetic standpoint, as long as the corset itself is strong. If the stitch length was uneven, then that would have been a flaw in the sewing machine.
  • However, I also remember that when I tried on the mockup, it had also torn in a similar seam (just on the other side), no coughing involved but I had laced it up tight on the first go, without easing into the toile. I try not to believe in “foreshadowing” in real life, but maybe it has something to do with that particularly curvy seam.
  • The thread tension on the machine may not have been balanced, so even though the stitch length may have been okay, one of the threads may have been loose which may have allowed spreading and eventual breaking of that seam.
  • The quality of the thread may not have been strong – or if the thread was of highest quality then it’s possible that the thread had a flaw in that one spot: a case of the thread being the wrong flaw, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Whatever the reason, it happened. I moped about it for a weekend, and then I returned and quickly mended the corset by hand (not a pretty job, but it did the trick!). I decided to put that particular video in the “Corset Modifications and Repairs” playlist as it seemed more relevant in that category. If you like, you can watch seasoning video 6 and the quick n’ dirty repair videos below.