Corset Styling Basics: How to Incorporate Corsets into Your Wardrobe

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Photo © Joel Aron for Dark Garden
Model: Victoria Dagger

While there is something to be said for the mystique of corsetry, it has a side effect of creating a bit of a barrier, seeming distant, untouchable… and therefore daunting, and avoided. “What do I wear it with?” women ask me, somewhat bewildered, when I’m fitting for Dark Garden. “Where do your clients wear them?” people ask me when I talk about my line, Pop Antique. As soon as you learn a few tricks, though, corsets can integrate seamlessly into your wardrobe. Here are some guidelines to help you work corsets into your style.

Photo © Samantha Guss Pop Antique corset worn under a fitted dress Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Samantha Guss
Pop Antique corset worn under a fitted dress
Model: Victoria Dagger

Foundation or Outerwear?



Modern corsets are worn both as underwear, their original purpose, or as a visible garment, like a very structured shirt or belt. Whether you wear your corset as one or the other or both is entirely your decision, though overbusts tend to be a bit conspicuous as underwear since they create such a different bust silhouette. A corset worn visibly will always attract more attention, but a dramatic waist reduction will be visible even under clothing. Some clothes don’t fit well over a corset; in some cases this can be resolved with a belt (such as on dresses).

Photo © Douglas De Rossi Corset by Electra Designs Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Douglas De Rossi
Corset by Electra Designs
Model: Victoria Dagger

The Rule: Boots, Then Corset

Actually, ANYTHING that doesn’t actually go on over your corset should be put on before you lace up. Trust me, it’s just easier this way. But boots are notoriously challenging.

Photo © Antonio Abadia Corset: Electra Designs Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Antonio Abadia
Corset: Electra Designs
Model: Victoria Dagger

The Exit Strategy

Using the bathroom in a corset, of course, can be tricky. It’s generally inadvisable to wear high waisted tights underneath your corset unless you intend to relace every time you go to the bathroom. However, panties that are too low waisted, particularly when paired with a short-hip corset (such as a waspie style), can create what I call the “corset muffin” on your hip line. I generally recommend about an inch of overlap between the top of your panties and the bottom of your corset.  This creates a nice, smooth line — no muffin top or VPL.

Photo © IGP Photo Corset: Blooddrop Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © IGP Photo
Corset: Blooddrop
Model: Victoria Dagger

Waistbands

Speaking of waistbands, make sure your jeans’ waistband isn’t too tight (with or without a belt). It’ll cut into your hip, making the corset’s hips too loose compared to how they would fit on an unencumbered hipline. You definitely also don’t want a snug waistband on your natural waist under your corset, or anything else that creates bulk. It’ll dig into your stomach and can make you feel sick, especially if you actually try to eat a normal size meal. (I have actually thrown up from this on two occasions — learn from my mistakes.)

Photo © Mariah Carle for Pop Antique Model: Tressa FM

Photo © Mariah Carle for Pop Antique
Model: Tressa FM

Corsets under Skirts

Skirts seem to cause more waistline conflicts than pants. Corset wearers obviously like drawing attention to their waist, which is often effective in a high-waisted skirt. However, your standard wool pinstripe high-waist is not going to fit well over your corset: the waist will gap. A low-rise skirt may create conflicting horizontal lines if too low on the hips (leaving a gap of skin or shirt between the corset bottom and skirt waist). A stretchy tube skirt works great, though, worn anywhere on the waistline.

Photo © Joel Aron for Dark Garden Model: Autumn Adamme

Photo © Joel Aron for Dark Garden
Model: Autumn Adamme

Corsets over Shirts and Dresses

When wearing a corset over a dress or shirt, particularly one that is loose fitted and has sleeves, there’s a careful balance to be struck. You want to make sure the fabric doesn’t billow out too much above the corset, but also that your shoulders aren’t overly constricted. If you pull your shirt down too far, your corset is more prone to riding up and sitting on the wrong part of your waist. I’ve noticed all of this particularly when pairing a corset with a standard button-down style shirt, which is otherwise a really great look.

Photo © Douglas De Rossi Corset: Pop Antique Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Douglas De Rossi
Corset: Pop Antique
Model: Victoria Dagger

Jackets

What does a jacket have to do with a corset?  Not a whole lot, but it does look pretty awkward when your corset or its laces are hanging out from the bottom.  Make sure your jacket/cardigan/whatever is slightly longer than the corset over which you are wearing it.

Photo © Mask Photo for Pop Antique Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Mask Photo for Pop Antique
Model: Victoria Dagger

What are your favorite tips for styling corsets? Any favorite corset outfits?

Photo © Danielle Blanchet Corset: Sparklewren Model: Victoria Dagger

Photo © Danielle Blanchet
Corset: Sparklewren
Model: Victoria Dagger


Marianne
Marianne Faulkner

Marianne Faulkner is the designer of Pop Antique, a clothing and corsetry line specializing in sustainable materials and comfortable curves. She is based in San Francisco where she earned her MFA in fashion design at the Academy of Art University, and has been a columnist at The Lingerie Addict since 2011.

6 Comments on this post

  1. Grace Sutcliffe says:

    Although I’m an older woman I still have decent legs and “clean up” very well. However, my mid section is not what it should be. I’ve always loved corsets but have never really known how to wear them and now I could use some help with my belly and back. I’m not working at the moment so I wear a lot of casual clothes. I still feel a corset would help me in various ways and could use some advise. Please help. Thank you. Regards

  2. Allie says:

    What about bras with corsets? I am rather large-busted and am finding that I need the support of a bra but when I sit down, the full coverage bra I use to keep these babies in line rides up something fierce. Thus the girls move up with it and I have a shelf to put my drink closer to my face. What sort of bras can I look at to help with the shelf?

  3. Samantha says:

    I am considering buying a well-made corset for the express purpose of wearing it under vintage (primarily 50s era) dresses and pencil skirts. The problem I have with a lot of vintage clothes is that when I find things that fit in the bust (I’m 34-28-38 without shapewear), they are inevitably also small in the waist. A corset would be my workaround. It’s a bit disheartening to read that pencil skirts are best avoided due to waist gap. Perhaps modern skirts tend to have a smaller waist-to-hip variation, but I would think a vintage pencil skirt would work fine with a corset, because a lot of them seem to be built for those with an hourglass shape– whether that shape is natural or corset-made.

  4. sol says:

    Great post!

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