Corset Week 2011 kicks off with this wonderfully informative guest post from Catherine of Kiss Me Deadly and Sam of Lulu & Lush. In this article, Catherine dissects the differences between authentic corsets and their cheap imitators.
Lulu and Lush (a.k.a Fairygothmother) has been a corset shop for over 12 years now, selling its own designs and other brands exclusive to them. The shop has the largest supply of corsets in London, and possibly in the whole of the UK. As it happens, they are also the shop that sells the most Kiss Me Deadly, so we have a deal…Sam (who owns Lulu and Lush/FairyGothMother) provides the knowledge, photography and a steady video hand. I provide the sarcasm and a willingness to make silly faces on film. So that’s why I am writing this and not her–she is both too sensible and too nice.
Lulu and Lush is a high end label. Their corsets might involve some saving up if you’re not in a well paid job, though there are some other, more economical shaping garments. So if you see a Lulu and Lush product at another retailer (and sometimes they do sell them to other people) at £20 rather than at £200 . . . well, you’d jump at it, wouldn’t you?
And Sam sympathizes. If what you want is something that looks vaguely similar to a corset, then that’s ok…go ahead and buy that £20 piece of tatt. If you want a corset though, if you want a beautiful piece of art that will completely change the shape of your body and the way you feel about it, and if you want to wear it lovingly to death on every important occasion . . . well then here’s why you will come back to Lulu and Lush.
Here are two of pictures that you’ll see all over the net – often entitled “Princess Corset”.
On the left is a Lulu and Lush overbust corset in black satin – very classic, very chic, and generally people get between 2-4 inches of waist reduction wearing it…often more. It’s also doing a great job cleavage wise. This shape is used for some of limited editions, too. It’s available in patterned silks and brocades, or Lulu and Lush staff can create elaborately Swarovskied and beribboned versions on an individual basis.
On the right you can see the Lulu and Lush image of a corset by Miss Katie, an individual corsetiere who works from her studio in London. It’s made using two tone taffeta in a burgundy red (which shines very dark, almost black) and is trimmed in cream and burgundy. Miss Katie’s workshop isn’t always open (its just her and she’s a mum. there are limits, people!) so people usually come to the shop to try her styles and put in orders if their size isn’t in stock.
Both of them are shot by and on Morgana, and clearly this is a problem! She seems to be the premier corset model/photographer and that means people just cannot resist the temptation to steal her exquisite pictures of immensely detailed corsets and use them to sell any old rubbish.
If you see a picture of Morgana and the corset only costs £20 (~ $30) or so . . . . what you will get sent is almost certainly not what is shown in the picture. In fact, because of the way this sort of retailer operates, they may not even have it in stock and probably won’t have the option to have it made for you the way we do. When we tried to order these in the UK, everyone said they had to go and get them from overseas! Therefore these knockoffs were bought in the USA instead and had customs paid on them when they were shipped by courier. Obviously, the retailer who sold them must forever remain nameless!!!
So, what do you get for your money?
It’s hard to show you some of the differences in a photograph so I’ll do my best to describe. For my ease, I’m going to call the original “Real Corsets” and the ones sold using stolen Lulu and Lush photographs “Fake Corsets”.
The 1st obvious difference, picking them up, is weight. Real corsets are fairly solid, and they have a heft to them! That’s because they are made with steel boning – flat steels for shape and stability on the busk and round the grommet, and spiral steel to give you that curvy yet flexible waist nipping in effect and so on. The fabric on a Real Corset also feels good – especially if you’re a fabric snob which many of us independent brands are, and proud of it!
Fake Corsets have approximately the same shape in terms of the pieces of fabric, but they feel completely different. The closest thing I can think of is those modern tents you get now. You know, the ones with the plastic hoops and the shiny plastic fabric? Sadly though, when you start moving these corsets, they don’t suddenly turn into a surprisingly large tent. Instead, you just realise that you could easily break them. That’s because the steel they’ve used for the front and back is so thin, even I can twist it up. And have you seen the lack of muscle on my arms? I nearly broke these corsets getting them onto Annette.
And as you all know, cheap plastic bones will not do the same job that spiral steel does. They will bend out of shape easily and then stay that way. That’s why Fake Corsets get those dints in at the bottom of your rib cage after one wear…when you bent over or sat down, the bones bent out of shape, and won’t go back ever again. If you buy a Real Corset, over time it moulds to your shape instead, so you get ever more waist reduction off them. The Lulu and Lush overbust is particularly sturdily boned, with an unusually wide busk that really helps with shape.
All that said, the good news is that the Fake Corset should keep you waterproof, which might be handy if you do events that involves quaffing (editor’s note: I think this is British for drinking). I’m not sure this material would pass any fire safety tests, though. It would definitely melt and stick to your skin (synthetic fabrics melt, natural fabrics burn). I would like to try the burgundy shiny plastic fabric in a serious light, because I think it might be the same stuff they use for high visibility safety clothing!
Let’s take a quick look at what we call the styling on the more elaborate corset. Miss Katie contrast stitches her corsets for aesthetic reasons, but it’s handy for showing how flat the fabric is and how straight the stitching is, both of which are great indicators of a high quality corset. That’s absent on the Fake Corset. Miss Katie also uses a lovely quality ribbon done in pleats, whereas on the Fake Corset the ribbon quality and width is downgraded to meet the target price. It’s simply slightly ruffled…this uses far less ribbon overall and is easier to do, both of which again are about making it cheaper to produce.
Words really cannot express how much I loathe those fabrics by the way. They are worse on the inside. Real Corsets usually come with a lining, often cotton coutil, which performs a variety of functions. It stops you from sweating through onto your beautiful outer fabric (they hire me to handle all the super glamorous writing, by the way) making it more comfortable to wear, increasing its durability, and supporting the shaping properties.
Fake Corsets don’t bother with a lining. If you wear them to a hot, humid event, you will sweat like a great big drippy thing. It will be grim and because of the plastic fabric, it will stick to you like a fake leather sofa. And nobody wants to be a fake leather sofa. It’s just not sexy.
So here you can see the inside–lined corset at the top, unlined Fake Corset at the bottom. You can also see that the shape, laid flat, is very similar, but I’m guessing you are clever enough to also spot that line of tape around where your waist is. This stops your seams from straining when you put pressure on them by squishing yourself several inches smaller in the waist, and that means your corset will last for years and years and years.
You’ll also have noticed that they are laced differently. Real Corsets are laced with good quality wide ribbon or strong cord for more serious cinching. The corset is laced so that you can pull on the loops that are at your natural waist to tighten the corset, especially round the waist. The Fake Corsets have a narrow bit of low quality ribbon, which will not stand up to strain, and is laced up to the top. Good luck with getting that on yourself, if you didn’t already twist the busk up.
Here is a close up of that backlacing. On your left, the Fake Corset has a plastic bone followed by some standard quality eyelets. On your right, the Real Corset has steel bones on either side of the eyelets, which are reinforced to allow for the pressure you’ll be putting on them when you wear it.
Now seems like a good time to look at how they look when worn. We had a bit of a brainfreeze on the holiday Monday we planned this, and forgot to do some shots, so here are stills from the video. On the left is a Real Corset. This is the first time it was ever worn by Annette, and it wasn’t tight-laced. Even so, you can see that it’s got a much better curve to it than the Fake Corset on the right. You’ll notice that the Fake Corset also doesn’t do a lot, bosom wise.
You can see the same issues with shape and cleavage with the Miss Katie corset. On top of that, the burgundy fabric shows what a difference good quality fabrics, boning, lining and stitching make. The Fake Corset has almost got a scrunched effect when its on. Annette looks positively pained by this stage!
Let’s taker a closer look at the issues with the bust line, because otherwise all my friends will be insufficiently jealous of my job and might start believing me when I say it’s mostly admin and sums rather than looking at pretty things on beautiful women. Plus, you can see even more clearly that Annette is supported and shaped in the Real Corset, whereas the Fake Corset is more of a wrinkly covering.
Now, we don’t have a picture of the absolute best bit of the Fake Corsets, which is the quite astonishingly hideous alleged thongs (g-strings, dear Australians) that came with them. You’ll have to watch the video for that. But I think we can summarise this without them.
You can see that despite superficial similarities in the pattern and styling, the fact is that Fake Corsets are constructed entirely differently to Real Corsets. Fundamentally, they DO NOT SHAPE. You can see that they basically flatten things out rather than making you extra curvy. They also do not last!
So, if you want something that looks vaguely like the ghost of a tormented corset, for an event where you are likely to encounter liquids but no fire, and you don’t mind only getting to wear it once, the Fake Corset is a highly cost effective option.
If you actually want a hope in hell of changing your shape, and a garment you can love and wear repeatedly, and still be getting complimented on in several decades time…well, hello. Welcome to corset snobbery; it’s an addiction, but we love it!
Photo Credits: All images by FairyGothMother