General Corseting FAQ

General Corseting FAQ, by Sidney Eileen

This corset FAQ is intended to give a broad overview of answers to common questions about corsets and corseting, particularly questions asked by newcomers to corseting.  If you would like more information on a particular question, or do not see your question here, please comment below or contact me directly.


Are corsets comfortable to wear?

Many people find corsets to be extremely comfortable, but as a matter of personal taste not everyone is going to find a restrictive garment comfortable, no matter how well-made or well-fitting.

Relative to personal preference, the comfort of any particular corset is dependent upon how well it fits.  Some people can find very well-fitting corsets ready-to-wear.  A custom corset from any reputable maker should be comfortable for the person it was made to fit.


Do corsets hurt?

A corset should never, never cause pain.  If a corset causes pain, take it off immediately.  I cannot stress this enough.  Whether the pain is a result of a poor fit, or other concerns, it is never advisable to just bear with it.  If you feel pain, something is wrong, and you can cause yourself injury by attempting to wear the corset.  I once dislocated a rib forcing myself to wear a boned bodice that was too small, causing myself weeks of pain, and it could have been much worse.  Even when tightlacing and waist training there should never be pain.


I’m in the process of losing weight.  How long can I expect a corset to fit?

It depends upon the corset and the individual.  The lacing gap in the back of a Victorian or modern corset allows for adjustment to fit as tight as laced edge-to-edge, and as open as is comfortable.  Most can be open as large as 4″-6″ at the waist (larger at the top and bottom) without detriment to the fit of the corset, but it depends upon the size and shape of the corset.  As the gap is widened, the curves of the corset move toward the front of the torso, and if they sit too far forward they will not be shaped properly to fit onto a human body.

If a corset has front lacing in addition to back lacing, the same sort of gap can be used to allow more adjustment in measurement, without moving the locations of the curves relative to the body.  In other words, the side curves stay at the side of the body because the lacing at front and back can be adjusted to match.  When using a front lacing gap, a boned lacing panel is essential.  This method can give as much as 10″ of adjustment in waist measurement.

Other adjustment design elements (like lacing over the hip) can be included into corsets to help accommodate a changing figure, but they are difficult to find ready-to-wear, tricky to include custom, and will only help to a limited degree.

Basically, if you are losing a significant amount of weight, expect that the corset will not fit any longer than any other clothing in your wardrobe.  If you want to purchase one before reaching goal, I recommend ready-to-wear, or simpler custom designs so the turnaround is as fast as possible.  Warn the corset maker so measurements will be taken as close to the garment creation as possible, and so a fast turnaround will allow you the greatest possible amount of time to enjoy the corset before it’s no longer wearable.


I am naturally asymmetrical.  Is it possible to make a corset that fits?

Yes.  Most corsets are drafted to be identical on both sides, so for the best possible fit you will need a uniquely drafted corset from detailed measurements of each half of your body.  Not all corset makers are up to this task, but in skilled hands not only can you have a perfectly fitted corset, but it can be shaped in such a way as to either minimize the appearance of asymmetry, or create a dramatically asymmetrical design that enhances your best features and natural shape.


How effective are corsets for helping create a trans-gender figure?

A well made corset, custom shaped to the wearer, can be extremely effective at helping to present a convincing trans-gender appearance.  For a feminine look, a corset can create curves through the waist, and even pad out the hips, buttox, and bosom in one continuous garment.  For a masculine look, the bust and hips can be trimmed, and the waist de-emphasized or even padded out to a straighter silhouette.


Can I really get an amazing hourglass figure with a corset?

That depends upon your natural shape and willingness to tightlace.  The most dramatically curved corsets in my portfolio were made for people who both have a naturally curvy shape and are tightlacing.  Some individuals with naturally curvy shapes achieve dramatic curves even without tightlacing.  For individuals with straighter figures, the curves are less dramatic even when tightlacing.  It’s all relative.


What is waist training?

Waist training is wearing a corset consistently enough that the wearer is able to comfortably reduce the waist measurement more than could be achieved when the corset was purchased.  It happens as the rib cage becomes more “squishy” and accustomed to moving into a corseted shape.  How long it takes for this to happen depends upon the individual.  For some people, just a handful of casual wearings is enough for a small added reduction.  For other people, deliberate waist training over the course of years will produce limited results.

Even if you never deliberately waist train, if you find that your corsets seem “loose” and shift or chafe when worn, you probably need a corset with slightly greater waist reduction in order for it to stay put.


Will waist training reduce my waist measurement even when not wearing a corset?

When waist training is done deliberately through consistent daily tightlacing, it usually affects your uncorseted waist measurement, but not always.  Each individual is different.  Some people will retain a bit of the corseted shape, while others will naturally spring back no matter how much they wear a corset.  Even when a difference is seen, it will never be as dramatic as when wearing a corset.


Is tightlacing safe?

Every person is different, so you should talk to your health-care provider about your personal situation before tightlacing.  If you have any health issues (even ones you may not be aware of), these can sometimes be exacerbated by tightlacing (and even light-lacing).

Some discomfort is to be expected when tight-lacing, but even a tightlacing corset should never, never cause pain.  If a corset causes pain, take it off immediately. I cannot stress this enough.  Whether the pain is a result of a poor fit, too much rib compression, or other concerns, it is never advisable to just bear with it.  If you feel pain, something is wrong, and you can cause yourself injury by attempting to wear the corset.  I once dislocated a rib forcing myself to wear a boned bodice that was too small, causing myself weeks of pain, and it could have been much worse.  Even when tightlacing and waist training there should never be pain.

Aside from individuals with health and medical issues (which should be determined by speaking to a health-care provider), if the corset fits properly and the wearer does not lace to the point of pain or injury, tightlacing is not inherently dangerous.  The human rib cage is naturally flexible to accommodate breathing, and a woman’s internal organs survive squishing every time she experiences pregnancy.


I have health issues.  Can I wear a corset anyway?

If you have any questions you have about your health and wearing corsets, talk to your health-care provider about your personal situation before wearing a corset.  If you have any health issues (even ones you may not be aware of), these can sometimes be exacerbated by tightlacing (and even light-lacing).  In other cases, a corset can be beneficial, but whether or not that is the case can only be determined between yourself and your health-care provider.  I am not a medical professional, and cannot determine whether or not it is safe for any particular individual to wear a corset.


Are your corsets historically accurate?

Strictly speaking, no.  True historical accuracy involves using only period materials made by period means, assembled using period techniques and a reproduction period pattern.  For most eras, that means hand-made threads and fabrics, and hand stitching from start to finish in all layers of the garment.  The materials are very expensive, and such garments are very time-intensive to make, resulting in a product that is too expensive to be practical for the vast majority of people (but will result in an item worthy of museum display).

Once you introduce anachronisms for practical modern production, the definition of what is and is not acceptably accurate varies greatly among enthusiasts and makers.  It’s pretty much universally accepted to use modern thread and modern mill materials as long as the fiber content is comparable to historic.  Visible fabrics should match period colors and patterns, although sometimes you will find anachronisms that are accepted as historical through convention, and other times a very period color or pattern can be deemed unacceptable for various reasons (Usually this is related to the accepted conventions of the group judging the accuracy of a garment.  One example of this is the denial of any pastels among some Renaissance re-enactment groups for the sound reason that pastel colors are often very difficult to create without the use of modern dyes.  However, this does not take into account the fact that most historic dye techniques are not light-fast and will fade to pastel as they are washed and sunbleach.).

Our modern understanding of historic accuracy is constantly evolving as new items are discovered, old items are examined by new eyes, and modern individuals experiment with descriptions of historic techniques.  Local and personal perceptions of historic accuracy also have a huge impact on what modern enthusiasts want to wear.  Some enthusiasts will insist that anything called historically accurate should be created in reproduction of an extant piece or illustration.  Others will accept a garment that is created from multiple period inspirations, creating a unique fashion item that is coherently designed to match a period fashion silhouette.  Sometimes completely non-historic fashion is accepted as historic just because people are so used to seeing it worn as historic.

Unless specifically discussed otherwise, my corsets are all made using modern materials and techniques to provide the appearance of an historical garment.  If historical accuracy is desired, I am prepared to do research and use materials and techniques that are more historically accurate.  Exactly how much historic accuracy there will be in a final garment is determined during the design process, according to the standards and needs of the customer, availability of period materials, practicality of period techniques, and the customer’s budget.


What is the difference between a “corset”, “bodies”, and “stays”?

The terms “bodies” and “stays” are the proper historic terms for conical corsets.  They were often made in two halves laced at both the front and the back, and were sometimes called “a pair” of bodies or stays.  The word “corset” was not used until the 1800’s, after the transition to a curvy fashion silhouette.


I’ve seen corsets marketed under lots of different classifications, like “ready-to-wear”, “custom”, and even “bespoke”.  What are the differences between them?

Ready-to-wear are corsets that are pre-made from set patterns, like most modern clothing.  They are usually sized by closed waist measurement.  When buying ready-to-wear, it is very important that the corset match the wearer in torso length and curve.  The huge variety of shapes available is to accommodate the huge variety of customers’ body shapes.

Custom are corsets made to measure on commission.  Most of the time they are made from set designs, and the pattern is tailor-fit to the customer.  Depending upon the maker, the decorative elements may or may not be negotiable in the creation of the corset.  When ordering a custom corset, it is important to understand exactly how much of the final product is custom, and how much is preset.

Bespoke is a very rare and specific term, referring to corsets made completely unique from design to completion.  Technically, my work is bespoke.


What is the advantage of custom over ready-to-wear?

A custom-made corset will be specifically fit to you.  Once made it should be free of fit defects like muffin top, uneven lacing, pinching, or looseness.  Custom corsets are also usually of a higher quality construction, but not always.  If you can find a ready-to-wear corset that fits you beautifully, depending upon the maker you can still get a high quality garment for a much lower price.


What is the difference between different boning materials?

Plastic boning is very flexible and designed for use when light-weight structure is needed.  It does an excellent job of keeping fabric from wrinkling or scrunching when used for suitable applications.  It does not hold shape under pressure, instead buckling and bending.  When warmed to body temperature, it becomes softer, exacerbating the problem.  It does not provide enough support to prevent buckling and distortion in a corset with any waist reduction.  It is machine washable.

Spring steel flat boning bends in and out, but not side to side.  This flex allows it to follow the contours of a corset without warping side to side under pressure.  Very little boning is needed to hold the corset’s shape when there is very little body shaping, but if there is not enough the corset will buckle in places.  It is normally coated to prevent rust, but should never be washed in a machine because the agitation can cause the coating to chip and the boning will then rust.

Spiral steel boning bends in and out, side to side, and can twist.  This flexibility allows it to support the shape of a corset even when the boning channel is not directly vertical, but more of it is needed to prevent buckling even with minimal body shaping.  It will not hold a true vertical line when used to support lacing grommets.  It is made with stainless steel, and not normally prone to rusting.

Cable ties are an inexpensive option used by many people learning to make corsets on a limited budget.  I have heard it yields better results than plastic boning, but only when used in very large quantities.  I have no personal experience with this type of boning.

Reed and cane boning is typically high-quality natural material made for use in basket weaving.  It can be cut, shaped, and sanded smooth with minimal equipment, and is a historically used alternative to whale baleen.  The main disadvantage is mildew if the corset becomes saturated and not allowed to dry through.  It cannot be machine washed.

Cording is tightly stitched rows of sandwiched material, cord, and sometimes glue, creating a semi-stiff quilted section of corset.  On its own it cannot hold a highly modified shape without buckling, but when used in conjunction with steel or reed boning it is highly effective and provides a very distinct appearance.

Whalebone or baleen is considered to be the perfect boning material.  It provides strong support without creating pressure points, can be shaped and carved as needed, does not rust, and molds to the shape of the corset as it is worn.  This was the preferred boning material from the Renaissance to the Victorian, but due to overhunting is not an option for modern corsets.

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