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Waist Training 101

Waist training, sometimes known as corset training, is increasing in popularity seemingly by the day. I’ve written about it a lot, but what is waist training, anyway? Today, I’ll cut through to the basics: what is waist training, why do people do it, and how do they do it.

Dark Garden bespoke waspie corset | Styled with Karolina Laskowska lingerie | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Alyxander Ryan

Dark Garden bespoke waspie corset | Styled with Karolina Laskowska lingerie | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Alyxander Ryan

Waist Training & Tightlacing
The words waist training and tightlacing are often used interchangeably, and each person will have their own definitions and distinctions. There is a certain amount of overlap between the two. In general, waist training is a lifestyle choice, whereas tightlacing can be either taken as a lifestyle or only done occasionally. Waist training is the process of habitually wearing a corset to reduce your natural waist size, corseted and/or uncorseted. Yes, that does mean it will eventually shrink your natural waist size, but this is a very slow process and isn’t entirely permanent. The desired reduction and shape can be mild or dramatic. I tend to think of tightlacing as the process of wearing corsets with a sizeable waist reduction; often, the feeling of all-over compression is more desirable. Full-time tightlacing (up to and including 23/7 wear) is generally more the realm of the fetish community. A waist trainer may also tightlace daily or occasionally. As for what a “sizeable” waist reduction is, it will vary from person to person based on their natural compressibility.

Custom 17" Underbust Victorian corset for a Dark Garden waist training client.  via @MissDarkGarden on Instagram.

Custom 17″ Underbust Victorian corset for a Dark Garden waist training client. via @MissDarkGarden on Instagram.

Why Waist Train?
People wear corsets for a lot of reasons, and the same goes for the waist trainers.
Some don’t even waist train intentionally, but subconsciously adopt corset wearing into their daily routine simply because they like the look and feeling, and then find they naturally need to size down or begin to feel odd without it.
Many new mothers are interested in waist training to help remold their post-pregnancy body, knitting stretched muscles back together and compressing the expanded rib cage. Pregnancy increases the amount of relaxin in the body, which relaxes muscles, joints, and ligaments, so new mothers may also find waist training comes more easily at this time.
Those who don’t have a natural hourglass shape may take to waist training in hopes of sculpting one with a corset; those who are already prone to curvaceousness might want to exaggerate it further.

Chrysalis Rose trying on Victoria Dagger's custom Pop Antique trainer.  Photo via @chrysarose on Instagram.

Chrysalis Rose trying on Victoria Dagger’s custom Pop Antique trainer. Photo via @chrysarose on Instagram.

Waist Training Goals
A goal is not necessary for waist training. Trainers of the inadvertent type may not consider themselves as such specifically because they don’t have a goal (a couple of my friends fall into this category), but they are still intrigued by the prospect of tighter and curvier corsets. For those who do have a goal, they may have a specific target waist size (corseted or uncorseted), hip to waist ratio, or inch reduction in mind. The goal may change over time; having met the first goal, a new one can be set, or training may happily plateau and switch primarily to maintenance.

Nicole Simone in a Dark Garden Valentine corset.  Photo © Joel Aron

Nicole Simone in a Dark Garden Valentine corset. Photo © Joel Aron

Beginning to Waist Train
I’ve written a separate piece specifically on beginning a waist training journey. In general, you will want to start with the best corset you can afford and wear it as long, tight, and often as is comfortable. Get a corset that is shapely and has steel bones — not a faja or a girdle. A garment that is shaped like a tube cannot create an hourglass shape, and elastic shapers might actually feel more uncomfortable (as well as less effective) because the fit isn’t balanced. I’ve also written about identifying quality corsetry. Unless you have unusual proportions, I would not recommend jumping straight to a custom corset, but rather get a high-quality ready-to-wear piece from an experienced and trusted corsetiere — you may find you don’t like waist training, or you may quickly size out of your first corset, and custom corsets are sizeable investments.

Victoria Dagger in custom waist training corset by Pop Antique.  Photo © John Carey

Victoria Dagger in custom waist training corset by Pop Antique. Photo © John Carey

Sizing Down
Generally, it is time to size down when you are consistently closing your corset(s) at the waist. Most corsets are intended to be worn with a 2″ gap. You may find that you need to size down completely because your rib and high hip measurements have shrunk as well as your waist, or you may find that your measurements are otherwise the same but you need additional reduction at the waist only. Your options for the latter are to a) switch to a curvier style or maker, b) see if your corsetiere can use the same pattern but modify the waist measurement only, or c) upgrade to a fully-custom corset. If they still fit reasonably well, keep those older corsets for maintenance, lazy days, or sleeping.

Victoria Dagger in a Dollymop for Dark Garden corset.  Photo © Joel Aron

Victoria Dagger in a Dollymop for Dark Garden corset. Photo © Joel Aron

How Long Does It Take?
Everyone will tell you this, because it’s true: how long it takes to see a difference/size down will vary from person to person. It varies based on your body’s natural compression, it varies based on the quality of corsets you wear, it varies based on your personal commitment. There is no formula. Personally, I found myself seeing subtle changes in the first few months. I missed wearing my corset on days I went without it. My blocky ribs had taken on a slight taper. My stomach was flatter. My posture was definitely better. My natural waist measurement has yet to change, but I’ve also been a bit lax for the past few months. But that was just my experience — the only way to find out for yourself is to dive in!

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. Rose says:

    I just got my waist trainer and it is really cool.

  2. Adeline says:

    I’m a plus size.. Is there amount a time you wear it as in hours per days… I’m diving in this I just need a bit of insight

  3. WG says:

    Really helpful article — well written! I do have a quick question, though.

    You mention that, when starting out, we should pick a corset that’s comfortable and wear it as long, tight, and often as possible. I’ve actually heard that it’s better to start much slower than that, to train for 30 minutes a day to start, even if you feel like you can go for longer. The reason for this being that you don’t want to ramp up too quickly and cause pain that will inhibit you from wearing your cincher or corset every day consistently. Do you think it’s more important to train hard, even if it prevents you from wearing your corset AS often?

    Keep up the great work! Love your site.

  4. Dee says:

    So I have a few questions. Primarily, I heard about waist training as a way to lose inches and you’re supposed to wear the “waist trainer” during your workouts. Are there any health risks? I’ve read that back in the day a lot of women fainted so often because of trying to achieve an unnatural shape in a corset. Is it possible to do damage to your internal organs by continuously going down size after size in a corset?

    • Gwenevere says:

      You can hurt yourself if you pull your corset too tight or if you keep it on while uncomfortable. What you need to do is start with 1 hour per day for a week to get your body used to the feeling. Start with extra space around the top and bottom during the beginning. Make sure your corset has a modesty panel, and that the ribbon/strings go above the panel when you do put your corset on. Do not tighten it too much. Just enough to feel a bit of pressure, but not enough to make you uncomfortable. If you feel any pain or numbness, immediately remove your corset and take a break for at least 30 minutes. Don’t lace too tight, and don’t rush into your training. You have to take your time and be aware of your body’s limits.

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