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Corsets 101: Corset Shapes, Silhouettes, and Fabrics

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.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

2 Comments on this post

  1. Sophia says:

    I have had back problems since I was a teenager and as a result, my hip & back muscles tired & get sore very easily. I was just wondering what the general opinion was on corset wearing in relation to back support? Ive heard good things but was hoping for those with personal experience to chime in!

  2. Panty Buns says:

    I'm so grateful for your informative posts about corsetry. The more I read of what you wrote, the more I'm aware of how little I know about corsets and how hard it is for me to decide exactly what I want (other than being infatuated with the looks of all of them and wishing I had someone to help me try on every kind of corset there is). I really like the looks of some of the over-bust corsets but I think an under-bust corset would probably be easier for me? I'm in the middle of reading your post titled: "Welcome to Corset Week 2011". :-)

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