How To Buy A Corset {part 2}

by Ashley on March 30, 2009

Now that I’ve debunked some myths about corsetry there’s something very, monumentally important for me to talk about, for both your sake & the sake of the men & women making your corsets.  Don’t forget to check out part III, tips, tricks and tools for the corsetry trade!

corsets
Image by Sharon K. Cooper

Why do corsets COST so much?!?
Cost is, without a doubt, probably one of the scariest components of buying a corset. If you’ve done any peeking around, you may have seen corsets ranging from $50 on eBay (I promise you, these are rarely, truly ever corsets & are a bonafide waste of your money) to $1000, easily. With corsets, you will get what you pay for– and trust me when I say, for your body’s comfort & your physical comfort, save up for a better corset.

Corsetmaking is an art, and one that requires years of dedication, research, knowledge, experience, and skill to perform. Ask any first time corset maker about their experience and they will undoubtedly have tales of terror to share.  If you ask any experienced corsetiere what their biggest pet peeve is, it is undoubtedly going to be the customers expectations that it is a cheap endeavor.

A corset, on average, can take a skilled craftsman from 20-40 hours of construction to make.  A simple underbust or overbust can cost upwards of $50 in supplies alone, and when you add a sustainable hourly wage, you should expect your corset to cost you a shiny penny.  When you add in extra boning, modesty panels, lace & ribbon trims, zippers or buckles, these will increase the overall cost of your corset.

Also consider this: many corsetmakers, whether individuals or companies, ARE licensed businesses.  This requires that they pay taxes on all products they sell.  This means as business owners that they are required to purchase health insurance, dental insurance, vision plans, pay rent (whether on a store front, studio, or home).  These are all sunk costs that make their way in to ANY handmade item.

Now you’ve scared me a bit, how do I shop for a corset?
Corset shopping can be made easier, though it can be very daunting at first! My number 1 tip for corset shopping is to find a shop– having a place to try on different styles is invaluable!

We’re going to break buying a corset in to pairs, the first being:

“Off-the-Rack” vs. Custom

(note: some corset makers offer in-between selections, but for ease, we’re focusing on these two options.)

“Off-the-Rack” is exactly as it sounds. You are buying a pre-made corset. There is nothing wrong with that, despite people’s attitudes! Off-the-rack corsets tend to be built around a company defined set of measurements, very similar to buying clothes from any chain store. Typically off-the-rack corsets are less expensive than their custom counterparts. I personally find that some off-the-rack corset companies fit women with a “standard” body shape much better than those who may be more “shaped.”

Custom corsets are built and shaped around your OWN body measurements, and to get a custom corset you often have to go through an independent corset maker (though some companies offer this service). A custom corset is always the ideal one– it is based not only on your bust/rib/waist/hip measurements, but typically includes additional measurements on the length of your torso from bust to waist and waist to hip. Many custom corset makers include additional measurements to ensure it will fit you perfectly!

The Underbust vs. The Overbust

The Underbust: An underbust corset is exactly as it sounds– it is a corset that begins at your rib cage and ends in the hip region.  Many end at the top of the hips, but you can get them to extend to your lower hips as well.  Within this category, I’m also going to throw in the waist cincher.  The waist cincher does simply that– it begins below the ribcage & stops above the hips and cinches in your waist.

I find the underbust corset to be an excellent choice for Apple shaped girls (where we want to decrease our tummies & increase the illusion of our hip/bust size). It’d also be an excellent choice for girls with a boyish shape, as it can help create the illusion of more curves.

The Overbust: The over bust goes, in vary degrees, above the breast. Like the underbust, it hits in varying spots between the high and low hip.  The bustline for an overbust corset can vary, each creating different looks.  A demi bust will stop around the nipple; it is excellent for providing support underneath clothes, especially strapless shirts or dresses.  Corsets that cut straight across the top often create “the shelf effect” with your breasts.  It squishes them down and the puff over the top.  A Sweetheart Cup has proven to be both beneficial for women with small breasts and with larger breasts; for smaller breasts, it is easier to add padding and define the bust line, while larger breasted women find that the sweetheart cup helps give them much needed support.

At this point, I hope you have some kind of ideas as to what you’d like your corset to do & how you’d like it to look, and styles you may want to buy.

The Next Step:  Determining Your Size

On average, you will want a 2-4″ reduction with your corset, on your bust/waist/hip measurements.  Unless specified otherwise, most corsets are sized to have a 2″ gap in the back of them.  This gives you a bit of “wiggle room” in regards to cinching yourself down further.  I tend to think of it as 2″ gap means you’ve cinched yourself down 2″; if it touches, you’ve cinched yourself down 4″ (or could go for a smaller size).

Say your natural measurements are 36″ Bust, 26″ Waist, 38″ Hips, you would consider a corset with measurements similar to 32-34″ Bust, 22″ Waist, and 34-36″ Hips.  Most corsets are “Sized” by their waist measurement; if you go in to a shop, with a waist of 30″, you would likely try on 26″ corsets.

This means of measurement, though, is only a rule of thumb.  Many women have more “squish” than others do, regardless of how slim or curvy you may be.  Squish is hard to describe, except to me it seems to be a combination of the ratio of fat & muscle you have in the corseted region.  Some women can cinch their waists 6″ or more very easily, because they have a squishier body.

As a result of squish, there are corsetmakers who make tightlacing corsets– ones that have a greater reduction at the waist.  You can wear a tightlacing corset, even if you do not practice it.  Tightlacing is something I will talk about in the next installment, but in short, it is a process by which you wear a corset with a greater than 4″ reduction for more than just casual wear.

Things to Look For/Consider:

Waist Tape. Waist tape is going to be on the inside of your corset, running horizontally around the corset. This helps prevent the natural fibers from stretching out and helps maintain the designed shape of the corset.

A busk. For a first time corset wearer, I can’t recommend getting a corset with a busk enough.  It significantly increases the ease in getting your corset on & off.  A busk should be made of strong & sturdy steel, and should run the entire length of the corset front.  There should be not gaping at the top or bottom of the corset.
Coutil. Coutil is a fabric that has long been used in making corsets–in fact, I believe that was why it was invented! Coutil has a very dense weave, is all natural, and has no stretch. This helps ensure that shape will not be lost and that the boning will not penetrate the corset.
Longlines and Highbacks. A longline corset extends further down the hips than a typical overbust or underbust corset does. This can help prevent the “buldge” (the redistribution of chub to other areas due to the compression).  Highback refers to how high up your back a corset goes.  Typically there is not much difference in rise between the front & back of a corset.  Occasionally, this can lead to a bit of bulge over the top of your corset.  One option is to stretch when you put on a corset.  Another option is to purchase a highback on your corset.  This means it will extend several inches above the front of your corset, and usually rest higher on your shoulder blades, preventing bulge.
Spiral vs. Flat Steel Most corsets are made with a combination of 2 of the above three corsets. Flat steel typically creates a much stricter, more confined corset; it limits movement far more than the other two, and is often found near any busks or lacing on a corset. Flat steel allows movement in one direction only. Spiral boning is actually flatter, but allows movement in 2 directions. Because of this, it allows for more movement, and I would recommend it for any first time corset wearer.  The rigidity of flat steel is also better for bustier or plus-sized women, as it provides more strength and support than a spiral steel will.

If you have the opportunity to handle the corset in person, make sure that the boning doesn’t have the ease to move along the boning channel. I felt a corset once where there was a good thumb length for movement, and that is not good, folks.
Modesty Panels A modesty panel is typically an extension of fabric that goes underneath lacing to prevent the flesh from being seen underneath. While it is typically in the back of the corset, modesty panels can also be created in the front of the corset, to go under front lacing or busks. Many times modesty panels are not included with the cost of a corset, so be sure to check with your maker if one interests you. Many people like the appearance of the skin or fabric under the lacing, so as for preferences they tend not to be standard.
Grommets You should, when examining a corset or images of a corsetmakers work, look at how the grommets are set. They should be two piece, and the closer they get to the center of the corset, the closer together they should be. If the grommets are evenly spaced the length of the corset, this will not help in cinching the waist in securely.

Always tie your corsets in the center of the garment. These grommets are spaced evenly apart, which is less than ideal. If she had a modesty panel, you wouldn’t be able to see the flesh beneath her lacing.  You also want to avoid corsets that make the “V” shape when laced tight… it means it is not an ideal fit.

Mock Up Corsets If you are ordering a custom made corset, most corsetieres will offer you a mock-up option. It is a rough draft of a corset, typically made out of muslin, lightly boned. When you get a mock-up, it allows you & the corsetmaker to see how the final product will fit you & make adjustments in the event it doesn’t fit you as you’d like.

Next up in our series… places & people to buy corsets from, protecting yourself as a buyer, tricks & tips for wearing corsets, and more!  If there are any questions you’d like answered or information you’d like to see, please let me know!

ashesignature

{ 19 comments }

Frankie - Swell Vintage March 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Such a great series of posts! I am learning x

Natanya March 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

OMG Ashe, you are the corset expert! I think I learned more about corsets now than ever before even in fashion school and I actually was an intimates designer once upon a time. Well done, it’s time for you to write a book with all your knowledge.

Gem March 31, 2009 at 1:08 am

these tips are great, really helpful! i’ve been looking for a good corset for AGES now, but you’re right – the good ones are pricey!

Ms Constantine March 31, 2009 at 3:44 am

That is an amazing amount of information! I totally get why corsets cost so much now, I had no idea they took so long to make.
If I ever decide to buy one I hope I remember to take this post shopping with me.

nora gonzalez March 31, 2009 at 9:51 am

What a vey iformative article and the pictures are fabulous..now you make me want one,like right now! awesome!

dapper kid March 31, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Oh wow what a wonderfully informative post! My friend’s mother makes corsets, and I remember watching her work once, the attention to detail and sheer perfection of the finish always astounds me.

SOS! March 31, 2009 at 1:22 pm

lovely guide! I’d kill to have a corset especially made for me by mr pearl. Dita Von Teese’s corsets always look amazing.
xx-LJ from SOS!

admin March 31, 2009 at 1:54 pm

@SOS! – Hopefully this week I’ll have some wonderful alternatives to Mr. Pearl to share with you!

@dapper kid – I’m so envious that you had the opportunity to watch your mother’s friend in action! I bet there’s something hypnotizing about watching it being made…

@Ms Constantine – I think the cost can be really surprising, but it’s amazing the amount of time & quality of materials that go in to them– and for something like tightlacing, you DON’T want to skimp on quality!

@Gem – Check back hopefully later this week– I’ll be trying to include some corset makers who create for a variety of prices and styles!

@Natanya – You are too sweet! I’m hardly an expert… I’m sure a corsetmaker would die at some of the things I’m telling you all! But it’s a fun topic to learn about, to say the least ;)

Couture Carrie March 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm

This post is incredible! Should be required reading for all fashionistas! I am particualrly fascinated by corsetry so this one was right up my alley! Thanks.

xoxox,
CC

Retro Chick March 31, 2009 at 6:39 pm

These are great posts, I’d like to invest in another “proper” corset. I have an off the peg red and black Vollers corset that I wore for my wedding and I just loved the shape it gave me so much.

This is all great advice to store up for when I finally have money to spend one day!

Amelia Arsenic April 1, 2009 at 9:34 am

MMMMmmmm… corsetry, one of my greatest obsessions. Of all of the things in my wardrobe, it’s one of those things that I never ever sell… I think I have close to 40 steel boned beauties now. Eeep! That’s enough for a car… sheesh. I gotta stop buying them!

Great article miss!

gilda April 2, 2009 at 1:15 am

omg i just adore corsets but never really wore one. one of my goals this summer is definitely to make one of my own!

Eyeliah April 2, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Goodness that was a good post! You sure know your stuff. I will make sure to invest in a quality piece when I am ready, thanks for the ‘don’t cheap out’ tip! :-)

Fabulously Broke April 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Corsets are one of the things I think looks incredible on women. It just doesn’t work on me and my body shape, unfortunately…

But a wonderful post! :) It was really detailed.

Fabulously Broke in the City
Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver.

Megami April 8, 2009 at 11:33 am

Thanks for this series of posts. As someone who has both an off the rack and a custom made corset (with matching custom mad skirt – bliss!) I think it is important to educate people about the difference.

Ashe Mischief April 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

@Couture Carrie – Thank you for the comment, dear! I’m glad to see that fellow fashionistas found it useful & of interest. Anytime you want to chat corsets, just hit me up!

@Retro Chick – The shape corsets give me make me so swoony– so I understand your desire for another!

@Amelia Arsenic – You know that I’m 100 times envious of your beautiful collection, right? Who needs a car, if corsets are more practical? ;)

@gilda – I can only imagine how amazing your corsets would be! It makes my heart swoon!

@Eyeliah – Thank you so much, dear! I’m glad that the quality tip made an impression… it’s one thing I hear over & over, from makers & buyers alike!

@Fabulously Broke – For a long time, I didn’t think I could wear one either with my body shape. Luckily I was able to try them on at Trashy Diva, and it made all the difference in the world!

@Megami – I’m so glad to have someone else who can reiterate the importance on education and loving them both!

MizTeri September 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Love the advice. Do you have any places you like to go?
I never got a corset before and I want to get one, but I don’t know where a good place to get one would be.
Who is your favorite corset maker?
Can you give me a lift site link?

Heidi January 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Im 14 and I fell like somtimes I live in another time period. I love the idea of a corset and have wanted one but dont know how/where I could find one. also as I read this I was wondering if as a teen if it would be difficult for me to find an off the rack on that fits me properly. could you give me your favorite custom maker and a lift site link?
thanks

Ashe January 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

Hi Heidi!
I love that you’re so interested in them at such a young age. They’re definitely beautiful pieces that bring you back to another type of life.

Most corsetmakers that I know actually won’t make corsets for people under 18– your body is developing so much, finding its own natural shape, and regular corset wear can impact that development. In the meantime, what about playing with a corset-styled bustier? You can find some pretty, inexpensive ones that have light boning (nothing that will impact your body though!) at most lingerie shops or on eBay. It’ll satiate that desire while your body goes through all its fun growth spurts, and then maybe treat yourself to the real deal at 18?

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