So you’ve thought about shape. You’ve thought about style. You’ve thought about fabric. Finally, you have to make a decision between purchasing “off-the-rack” or going custom. All the factors we’ve considered before now go into making this decision.
Can you find your ideal corset off the rack? Do you have a special fabric you want to use or perhaps a hard to fit body shape that makes buying off the rack difficult? Once armed with answers to questions we’ve covered in previous posts, you’re in the best position to make your first purchase
Please, don’t let anyone tell you that off the rack corsets are exactly the same as custom ones. While there are many reputable corsetieres who make beautiful off the rack corsets, there is nothing like having a corset cut specifically for your body.
So what usually factors into the decision to go off the rack or custom? Cost, primarily. A well made off the rack corset (usually measured according to your waist) can cost $200, $300, even $400 , especially if you’re getting something with a lot of designing or decoration. Custom made corsets can start at twice that amount, and go up from there.
Another important piece of advice–don’t be afraid to shop around. Look at previous work. Join a corset disucssion board and ask opinions about different designers. You also want to ask the corset maker about their turn around time. It would be unfortunate to order a corset for a special event (like an anniversary) only to receive it months after the date. It’s your money; don’t be afraid to be a little proactive about where you spend it. On the other hand, don’t string a corsetiere along. They’re very busy people, often with many orders to fill. If you know for a fact that you won’t buy a corset from them, don’t waste their time.
Finally we get to price. Do you remember when I said corsets are expensive? Well they are and for good reason. You’re not only paying for the raw cost of materials (metal bones, metal busk, several layers of fabric, grommets, thread, lacing, etc.), you’re also paying for the skilled labor of the corsetiere. In our Wal-Mart culture, there’s an ever-present tempatation to bargain shop, but a corset isn’t the place for that. While I’m not saying that you should buy an expensive corset just because it has the highest price tag, resist the urge to buy the cheapest corset you find in an effort to save a few a bucks.
In short, corsetieres are skilled craftspeople. Pay them what they’re worth.
So where can you find a good off the rack corset? What Katie Did, Boobie Trap, Maya Hansen, Lulu and Lush, and Velda Lauder are all good starting places. These are all British brands so the exchange rate may be an issue. If you favor a particular brand, like What Katie Did, you can also buy directly from them. The UK boutiques La Magia, Fairy GothMother, and Mio Destino all carry the brands listed. In addition, the online boutique Adore Corsets has a 50% off clearance page that’s always worth checking out.
I don’t recommend purchasing from Vollers. While they bill themselves as one of London’s oldest corset houses, you wouldn’t know it from their work. The two corsets I ordered from them were, in my opinion, sloppy and subpar, especially since I paid premium prices for them. I’ve heard similar complaints about Vollers from other corset enthusiasts, many of whom are much more educated on the subject than I am. I also don’t recommend buying corsets off e-bay unless you both know what you are doing and are purchasing from a reputable seller. There are lots of scams on e-bay where sellers will copy a picture from a reputable corsetiere and then ship a cheap knock off to you, if they ship you anything at all.
I think the biggest distinction when it comes to corsets is underbust vs. overbust. They’re defined exactly as they sound: overbust corsets come to the nipple or higher while underbust corsets end just beneath the breasts or lower. The style that’s best for you really depends on your personal taste and what you plan to wear your corset for. While I’ve seen plenty of gorgeous underbust corsets, overbust corsets have always seemed more formal to me. However, underbust corsets allow for a range and versatility that overbust corsets simply can’t compete with.
With an overbust corset, you have one look and one look only (unless you pay extra for a reversible corset or one with interchangable busks). Underbust corsets give a variety of looks. You can wear one with a button up blouse and slacks if you want to be dressy, or with a tank top and jeans if you want to be casual. You can wear it with a bra and panties as boudoir wear and some women even use corsets as shapewear, wearing them beneath dresses the way many women wear girdles.
Unless you have a very clear idea of what you want, and a very good impression of the corsetiere, I would recommend going with an underbust corset for a first time corset purchase.
The next thing to think about is the shape or design of the corset. You really want to consider body shape before settling on one particular silhouette. For example, I have an athletic build and a small bust, therefore corsets with stiff, molded cups don’t flatter my shape because I don’t have enough bosom to fill the cups out. You also want to consider what you’re buying this corset for as you’re thinking over the shape. Is it for a costume? Formalwear? Bedroom only? Tightlacing? Different uses elicit different corset designs. With that said, what are the most popular shapes?
For overbust corsets, a Victorian, or sweetheart, design seems to be the overwhelming favorite. It usually comes about midbust (just above the nipples on most women), has a heart-shaped neckline, and ends just above the hips. For underbust corsets, many people seem to favor pointed cinchers; that is an underbust corset which ends a point just beneath and between the breasts and another point just beneath the waist and between the hips.
After deciding upon a silhouette, the next thing to consider is the type of fabric. Once again, this depends on where (and when) you plan to wear the corset. Choices range from silks to satins to cottons to heavy brocades and leather and vinyl. Some corsetieres prefer to work in certain fabrics. I think the most important thing is to make sure you purchase a corset in a fabric you won’t get tired of. I tend to skew towards simplicity; if there’s any doubt in your mind you won’t like the fabric after awhile, then don’t order a corset in it.
As usual, this is running a bit long, so I’m going to put the rest in another post. Stay tuned. Photos courtesy of Trashy Diva.
A corset’s prime feature is its waist cinching capability. Unlike girdles or waist cinchers or corselettes, a real corset will take your waist in by at least 2-4 inches. Curvy women may find that a corset can take their waist in six inches or more. In other words, a woman with a 34″ waist could go down to a 28″ waist with good corsetiere and proper waist training.
But before you start dreaming of itty bitty wasp waists, I have to stress the importance of breaking in your corset. I can’t tell you how much it distresses me to see someone abuse a corset. I just don’t understand why you spend a couple hundred dollars, if not more, on a garment and then not take care of it. So, before one of you makes me cry with a tale of a broken busk, let me share with you the best way to break in a corset.
Actually, before I start that, I should say that you want to have a empty stomach and an empty bladder before you put on a corset. Eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom are very…adventurous enterprises when you’re all cinched up.
So…the first thing you want to do when you get your corset is loosen it all the way. If you’ve ordered a corset that’s 4″ smaller than your waist, you will not be able to get it on if it’s laced up tightly. If your corset has a front closure, like a busk, you also want to undo that. Make sure your corset is right side up (sometimes indicated by the presence of garter loops; if uncertain, e-mail the manufacturer), then bring it around your body, making sure the modesty panel is flat if you have one.
Hooking the eyes is where I have the most trouble, and I find that starting from the middle works best. If you start from the ends, the single hooked closure you manage to fasten acts like a hinge, keeping all the other closures well out reach. Exhale, sucking in your tummy, and fasten the rest.
At this point, it’s helpful if you have someone there with you, but if not, no worries. Reaching behind, grab the lacing loops (sometimes called rabbit ears), and pull them away from your body. Now, since you’re breaking the corset in, you don’t want to pull too tightly. Now is not the time to see how small you make your waist. Pull until you have a little bit of cinch and a little bit of tension, then stop, tie your laces and go do something else. I’ve embedded a video from What Katie Did if you’re a visual learner.
If you feel like it, you can tighten again later, but it’s very important not to rush things. Being overeager can result in broken busks, warped ribs, snapped laces, torn grommets, and any number of expensive, hard-to-repair nasties. Never tighten until it’s painful or you’re having a trouble breathing.
I didn’t mention this before, but you may want to have a undershirt or tube top on under the corset. That way, your body oils won’t stain the corset.
When taking the corset off, do not, I repeat–Do Not–unfasten the busk first. You have to loosen the laces and then, when your corset is loose enough to wiggle around a bit, then unhook the busk. Unhooking the busk first could break your corset, and we don’t want that happening.
After you’re done wearing your corset, hang it up to air out (with the laces over the hanger). You can leave it there until your next wear or fold it up for later. Never wash a corset (other than perhaps a damp cloth on the outside). For more cleaning instructions, you want to contact the manufacturer.
Well, this post went a bit longer than I planned. For the next post, I’m going to talk about choices in picking (or designing!) a corset: underbust vs. overbust, satin vs. brocade, custom vs. off-the rack, etc.
*Images courtesy of Wasp Creations and Boobie Trap Corsets. Video courtesy of What Katie Did.*
A: Corset Week is basically a week for me to rave and gush and babble about one of my most favorite garments in the world–corsets. I don’t have the same level of knowledge about corsets, as I do about, say, stockings, but what little I’ve acquired I’m eager to share.
In addition to covering a few basics about corsets, I also want to post reviews of a few corsets I’ve tried out, and offer recommendations for people looking for truly unique corsets. In short, it’s a week long celebration of the hourglass figure.
Q: All right then. What should I look for in a corset?
A: Oh boy, where to start? The most important thing I can say right away is that corsets are expensive. I’ll say it again…corsets are expensive. All together now…corsets are expensive. You cannot get a real corset for anything less than $99 unless you have a friend who’s hard up for cash and is practically giving them away.
What you see labeled as “corsets” in Frederick’s of Hollywood or Victoria’s Secret or even high end stores like Agent Provocateur are not corsets. Those are bustiers. A bustier is a bit like a girdle for your bust and waist. It’ll tighten up what’s there, but it won’t cinch you in and it won’t give you the kind of curves a corset will. Quite frankly, most bustiers made today don’t even function that well as undergarments; they’re primarily costume pieces. Made with plastic boning and cheap fabric, they usually tear up after a few wearings.
Speaking of boning, that’s probably the next most important thing to talk about. You want the boning in your corset to be steel, either spring steel or flat steel. You also want the busk of your corset (that is, the front hook and eye closure) to be constructed of steel as well. Finally, you want the grommets (the holes in the back that your laces go through) to be made of steel. Plastic should not be option unless you’re really in a rush to waste money (in which case, contact me, and I’ll help! ;-) ).
Q: All this talk about how expensive corsets are and how bustiers aren’t worth the trouble…how long can I expect a real corset to last?
A: Here’s the best part: a well-made, well-constructed, well-taken care of corset will last for decades. Literally. There are still functioning corsets in existence dating back from the Victorian Era, and a few that go even further back Regency and Romantic Era. Think of a corset like an investment; provided your measurements don’t change too much, it’s something you can wear for years and possibly even pass onto your children. What other kind of lingerie can you say that about?
Q: Okay. Enough talking (for now anyway), where can I buy a corset?
A: Now comes the fun part–shopping for what you like. First time corset buyers may want to try Scarlett’s Corsets or Timeless Trends. They both have underbust corsets available in a variety of fabrics for the bargain basement price of $99. One word of caution, though, if you have a “vintage” figure, that is, if your hips are 10″ or more larger than your waist, you may find their cut a bit confining. Voluptuous women can still wear their corsets but may find them less comfortable than women with more petite figures. Later on this week, I’ll post about some of my favorite custom corsetieres as well more resources for people who just can’t get enough corsets.
*Images courtesy of Frederick’s of Hollywood, SugarKitty Corsets, and Lara Corsets*
I’m in the process of moving out of my apartment, so I’m a bit behind with results for the garterbelt giveaway as well as my first post for corset week, but I hope to catch up within in the next day or two. In the meantime, why don’t you check out these auctions over on e-bay?
Looking for a pair of stockings with skulls on them? What about stripes, cherries, or puppies? You’ll find all that and more at Celeste Stein Designs.
Celeste Stein was a bit of an accidental find. Their work appears on both sides of the Atlantic at almost any hosiery store worth its salt, but what the retailers don’t tell you is that you can buy the exact same patterns for much less money directly from the manufacturer.
Celeste Stein sells their 250 or so patterns as socks, thigh highs, opaque tights, sheer tights, leggings, or fishnets. Prices range from $8.50 for socks to $19.00 for opaque tights.
Particularly with Halloween just around the corner, I’d highly recommend giving them a once over before buying your costume hosiery from elsewhere. Here’s a link to their 100 most popular prints. My favorites are # 245, 761, 1132,1108, and 1228.