Real Corsets vs. Fake Corsets: How to Spot the Difference

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

36 Comments

  1. Miss Kitty Plum
    28/06/11 at 13:12

    Fantastic post! It can be hard to convince people the difference in a cheap rip off and the real thing without being able to compare them side by side.

    I will keep this post on permanent standby to help spread the word about the craftsmanship of real corsets!

  2. erasmus (aka jiva)
    28/06/11 at 14:01

    Love the post. I went down to London to try on their corsests when designing my wedding dress. Although I did not invest in one of their top corsets I would in future. Instead I went to http://www.rebeccaspragge.co.uk/
    she is amazing, hand made beautiful garments including corsets. She made my whole dress but has also studied the entire corsetry history. Well worth a look if you want bespoke.

  3. MissMidgard
    28/06/11 at 14:06

    "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?"

    Having seen the website that sells the "Princess Corset" (and it took quite a while to find), I would hope that the majority of people who happened to stumble across it would stop and think for longer than it takes to whip out a credit card!

    The biggest issue that Lulu and Lush ought to be concerned with here is the misuse of Morgana's work, rather than hordes of people across the world being fooled into thinking they are buying a genuine L&L product.

  4. Sundal
    28/06/11 at 14:19

    Very informative, it's good to have a breakdown of the marked differences between a cheap knock-off and a beautifully, artfully constructed garment.

    However, I myself am inclined to not really be a fan of either, I understand the corset was the forerunner of the bras we all wear today, but to me it still has the same associations of female oppression. Made by niki is as far as I would venture into the world of body-forming underwear.

  5. Amaryllis
    28/06/11 at 14:54

    I first got into making corsetry in historical costume rather than underwear – by the time I got onto the expensive lingerie I was well and truly converted to steel boning! It's interesting to see them compaired, and for all the ease that it takes to say 'stupid people who pay for fakes' – if you haven't experienced and seen the technical detail of a real corset, why would you know differently? Especially if you're the sort of person who blythly doesn't think about their £2 tee-shirt being made by 5 year olds.

    @Sundial – I can sort of see where you are coming from on your idea that corsetry is connected to female opression. I would just like to challenge your thoughts a little, and say, do you also consider the crafts that women used to be confined to, like knitting and sewing, to be demeaning? And the wearing of skirts that are too long as being designed to hide the female form, and those too short to display it for male appreciation only? There are a great many ways that we can find fault with apperances, as there is so much history to the reasons and ways that we clothe and display ourselves. However, without forcing everyone to be naked or to wear the same utility dungarees, there is no way to evade that history completely. The issue should be how empowered the woman in the corset is, not how unempowering the corset has been in the past.

  6. Suzanziballetheels
    28/06/11 at 20:08

    A very good post. Thank you. Seems there's a few of us miffed about the cheaper copies of otherwise "unique" garments. However even IF the designs are copyrighted there are "loopholes" all over that allow these cheaply made copies to flood the market.

    I've actually dissected a couple of the more "well known" brands (knowing full well they ALL come out of a factory in India) and it's quite surprising to find what they put inside. A lot of glue and double sided tape; cheap thin metal busks that twist under any pressure…you know?)

    So. To try to put a positive spin on it – perhaps the corsetiere could use this to her advantage?

    If you think about it, usually only the major designers work is copied. Take the wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton only recently. Copies of it were being made before they'd even said "I do".

    I think it indicates she's made the big time. Her work is being copied. There has to be a way to capitalise upon this I feel.

    I know I sound like I've just escaped from a lunatic asylum, however, there could be some legal avenues to "partner" with this horrid company and actually make a profit from her own designs, they are doing a terrible job of recreating.

    Just putting it out there.

    Regards

    Suzanne

  7. Anonymous
    29/06/11 at 5:15

    This article was a little disappointing. While I think it to be informative for someone who is a beginner and doesn't know the difference between nylon boning and spiral and steel boning, I have to say:

    I've never bought a corset that was more than $70AUD.

    They are ALL strong steel boning, they are VERY sturdy and I love them to bits. I have jaquard, velvet, satin, tafetta, etc- all nice heavy materials. For a while I wore one every day, and they're showing very little signs of wear (And I was doing 6"+ reductions). I own about eight or nine of them now, and I wouldn't trade the entire lot for a Fairy goth mother one.

    What ELSE I have to say is that I'm a big girl, I wear a 34" so when I say 'it's sturdy' I mean 'It's REALLY sturdy'.

    I'm glad I never wasted 300 pounds on a fairygothmother corset because for all this shameless advertising that was rampant throughout the entire post, I get the exact same quality for this 'fake corset' price.

    There was some decent advice in this post, but for the most part, it's a circlejerk of "exclusive label" advertising.

  8. Helen Highwater
    29/06/11 at 5:44

    Anonymous: have you seen a Fairy Gothmother corset up close? If you haven't then I suggest you do because then you'll see the difference between the $70 Aus ones and the FGM ones. Or the What Katie Did ones. Or the Miss Katie ones. I have seen a Facebook seller in Australia peddling rip offs of these designs for very little money and, as a clothing retailer myself, I don't think there'd be much change out of AUS$70 after materials!

  9. Kite
    29/06/11 at 5:57

    Anonymous, do please share your anonymous sources. Are these made with "developing world" labour, but good quality materials? In which case that would explain the lower price. Although I haven't seen an example of that yet.

    If someone's making those as well as you say, with expensive materials, in the "developed world", then they are ripping themselves off. (Some amateurs on Etsy?) Seriously, it's a serious amount of work to make a sturdy lined corset, no matter how experienced you are at it, and not a conspiracy to keep prices artificially inflated (unlike a lot of, say, pvc/leather goth/kink/sex shop clothing).

  10. Anonymous
    29/06/11 at 5:57

    Hi, Helen Highwater.

    I have indeed seen many Fairygothmother corsets up close. I am not really all that impressed with them, and I do not believe they are worth the cost that they are charging- hence why I have posted about how I am more than happy with a lower price corset of equal quality.

    Of course, you are welcome to your opinion, however you've made great leaping conclusions on where and how I buy my corsets. I should point out that I own no fairy goth mother rip offs, and also that you're very incorrect about me purchasing them through facebook. The corsets I have are very strong, very sturdy and made out of beautiful materials- equal to the quality of FGM minus the hefty brand label price tag.

    You seem to think that by saying 'I have never paid more than $70 for a corset' that I am indicating that the quality of my corset is the inferior one shown in this article. This is not the case, as I clearly outlined in my origial post. My corsets are fully lined, taped and have strong back grommet supports and even stronger busks.

    You're allowed to make what you will of my comment, but you've made jumped to some rather embarrassing conclusions where you ought not to have.

  11. Helen Highwater
    29/06/11 at 6:03

    I'm not embarrassed in the least. I'm so unembarrassed that I'm posting under my internet name. I didn't say you'd bought them off Facebook, just that I'd seen an Australian "company" selling them on there, using stolen photos. As mentioned, I'm a clothing retailer, so I find the price of $70 rather surprising, and therefore, I refer you to Kite's comment, which sums up pretty much what I was thinking.

  12. Anonymous
    29/06/11 at 6:08

    Wow, that stab at being anonymous on the internet was rather amusing. I do not actually have a google account or whatever fangdangled system it is these days- and a pseudonym would be absolutely useless to you.

    I shall point out that my corsets are not made by 'developing world' countries and rather by a very skilled individual who has access to lower priced fabrics and materials bought in bulk.

  13. Helen Highwater
    29/06/11 at 6:22

    Wow, BUTTHURT.

    A very skilled individual who's clearly selling themselves short, by the sounds of it. If they're doing all this by hand, the hours it must take… they must pay themselves about 50p an hour or something!

  14. Catherine
    29/06/11 at 6:39

    It's true that I wrote an article with promotion in mind. It took a day in the shop on a bank holiday to get the content and I'm not sure how many hours to write it all up, though I must admit I had some fun with it and at least Treacle does the boring editing part (which is a chore, cos my typing is rubbish).
    Sam, myself and Katie all have overheads, tax, people, tax, suppliers, and tax to pay, (vat, corporation, NI, and business rates do add up, welcome to the UK), plus families to support. So whilst I don't charge for writing, I generally do it to sell, yes. If I was independently wealthy I would have the luxury of doing things for free. I've done work for free in the past, often, so kharmically I reckon I'm doing ok, but thank you for your concern :)
    Oddly enough the person I know in the UK who charges the least for her work is the one who doesn't need to make a profit from it. Interesting how that works.
    Anyway, in the spirit of corset week, which I understand will involve showcasing many talented designers, and also in the spirit of helping me replace all the corsets I grew out of recently, do please post your corset supplier – I think it would be super helpful for everyone.

  15. Troll
    29/06/11 at 8:07

    I also once believed cheap corsets to be good enough, but that was just until I bought my first expensive one… I have never regret spending that money, as they can't be compared – no matter if I thought so when only having money for the cheap ones. So to those who defend cheap corsets, stick with them, as the moment you invest in a really good one, there is no going back to cheap ones ever again ;)

  16. Anonymous
    29/06/11 at 8:38

    It is a bit ironic that you have an advert for corsets-uk.com beside this article :)

  17. Treacle
    29/06/11 at 9:00

    @Anonymous–Oh believe me, I know! It's a Google AdSense space, so the ad is automatically uploaded based on the page's content…which just so happens to be corsets. :) ~Treacle

  18. Amaryllis
    29/06/11 at 12:48

    I have to agree, as someone who got into corsetry via making historical costumes – the work that goes into making one, start to finish, means that to sell it for $70 there can be absolutely no decent profit involved. The person making them must be doing so for less than the minimum wage – and it's not a job that you can work at for 8 hours a day either, it's very hard and detailed work to turn out a properly formed corset.

    There is no way that anyone could make a profit just by bulk purchases, unless they are making a corset start to finish in less than 5 hours, which is frankly not going to be a corset worth wearing.

    I also agree with the comments regarding not knowing the difference until you have worn a well made corset. The difference is huge, the comfort levels, the shape, lack of warping and twisting – it's just a whole different ball game. (And an expensive addiction).

    Certainly, if this mystery corset maker relies upon bulk in order to keep costs down, I am sure they would welcome the extra interest from this blog's readers if you posted a link to their work. Without that, I doubt you will convince anyone that the quality is anything to write home about.

  19. Marianne
    29/06/11 at 14:25

    "Wow, BUTTHURT.

    A very skilled individual who's clearly selling themselves short, by the sounds of it. If they're doing all this by hand, the hours it must take… they must pay themselves about 50p an hour or something!"

    This. I worked hard on my patterns and construction, I am less than six months from having a (supremely expensive) Master of Fine Arts in fashion design to go with my BFA in the same, and you know what, I think that entitles me to be well paid for the labor of love that corsetmaking is.

  20. Zoggi
    29/06/11 at 17:06

    As a former corsetiere and costume design graduate, I can assure you that there is no way to make a corset for 70AUD. That's £47. A typical commission used to take me 20 hours to complete. Even if I had zero material costs and overheads, I'd be working for less than half the UK minimum wage. That's if some kind soul decided to pay for the running of the business for me and give me all the materials for free, I'd *still* be living on less than half minimum wage. How anyone can claim that a corsetiere should not be charging any more, is beyond me. Are people really so self-centred to think that we don't deserve to earn a living wage? It makes me sick to think that cusomers somehow feel entitled to demand ever cheaper goods, without a second thought for the people who make them.

  21. Emily Ragaglia
    29/06/11 at 17:08

    Absolutely fantastic post!

    Honestly, I'm okay with the obvious self-advertising in this article. I don't look at it as shameless self-promotion. The issue here is that someones hard work and designs are being ripped off, remade poorly and marketed as the same product. I'm sure you can get a decent corset for less than the Lulu and Lush prices. Hell, I've never paid more than $150 for any of mine (all What Katie Did corsets I bought on sale). Lowest I found was the Sophia overbust for $80 and I boast about it all the time! But that isn't to say that the Lulu and Lush corsets are not worth buying because they are expensive. Just because you weren't impressed with them doesn't mean that other people won't appreciate the artistry put into it and be willing to pay it. I find this to be a problem with any fine goods (wine and designer purses are other great example of this). Some people will just never accept spending a lot for quality (or brand name..it's all up to debate I guess) when there are lower priced alternatives that they are happy with. And that is fine. But please don't hate on people that do.

    I think the important thing to realize is that this company deserves to defend itself. Cheap websites are stealing their images and selling crap corsets to unknowing customers. They deserve to point out the differences and explain why they are the better choice. Yes, they are pointing out the extremes. Not all cheap corsets are as horrible as the ones seen in this post. But they are out there and people need to be informed.

    So thanks Catherine for writing this!

  22. Plus Size Women Lingerie
    30/06/11 at 3:25

    Designs are so good and beautiful, it gives a special look to those who want to looks different from others.

    Thank you for this nice posting.

  23. Roxie Roulette
    30/06/11 at 6:43

    Brilliant post! I cannot stand fake corsets or synthetic fabric either! Real corsets cost a lot yes, but they are worth every penny and should be considered a luxury item that leaves the wearer feeling supported and sexy, not a sweaty mess.

  24. Cherrie Sweetbottom
    30/06/11 at 9:22

    I loved this post so much I decided to buy a corset–but when I tried to use the discount code at Kiss Me Deadly, it didn't work. Isn't it still within the 48 hour window? Thanks!

  25. Anonymous
    07/07/11 at 20:55

    I wear corsets for Dickens Faire in the US. We are on our feet about 8 hours straight. A good corset will support your back so you are not hurting and exhausted by the end of the day. A poorly made, cheap "fashion" corset won't. Spend the money for a good, well made corset. It's worth it.

  26. Anonymous
    03/09/11 at 6:19

    Great post… here is someone using Morgana's photo to sell cheap corsets in New Zealand on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.254673197892543.83687.254623484564181

    xXx
    Rachel

  27. Cavy.girl
    12/11/11 at 20:41

    When I started out modelling I bought the 'fake corsets' because I didn't know any better and because they were cheap! When I bought my first 'real corset' I knew that moment the difference between them and there really is no match. If you want shape and a flattering look – which is most likely why you're buying a corset – don't bother wasting your time and money going cheap.

    Really good advice :-)

  28. Jess
    26/12/11 at 22:40

    I wish I read this before I brought my “fake”. it was even worse than your fake Miss Katie as it did not even bother to use ribbon for the trims but strips of fraying plastic. I* thought it was cheap because it was second hand but now i understand why they were reselling without wearing once! I’m so disgusted with how it looks that Ive had it over a year and still haven’t touched it!!

  29. Katie
    11/09/12 at 16:40

    Would you recommend the corsets from Frederick’s, or are those also bad corsets?

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