How to Buy Corsets for Gifts & Special Occasions

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means people all over are thinking about what to wear, what to gift, or just how they want to treat themselves this year. No matter which direction you need to go, corsets definitely make a statement, but they’re definitely not the most straightforward thing to buy. You’ll need to carefully consider a corset’s unique sizing (unrelated to dress or bra size) and the style, in addition to the high ticket price and long turnaround for a good corset – which, in my opinion, is the only kind of corset worth having! I’ve written a lot more on that but suffice to say, a cheap corset rarely fits, looks good, or lasts long… but it rates really high on the discomfort charts.

Pop Antique "Prima Donna" corset, styled with vintage fur and vintage tulle skirt. | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Pop Antique “Prima Donna” corset, styled with vintage fur and vintage tulle skirt. | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Budget
Corsets come in many grades of quality, but everyone seems to agree that even cheap corsets are expensive. (If you’re wondering why, you’ll find the answer here.) So what grade of corset is right for you/your loved one? Take a look at the various price tiers and carefully consider whether you would rather go for a low-budget corset to plumb the waters or maybe save up/buy yourself gift certificates and let them stack up over time. You’ve got a window of about $30-$3000 and everything in between, but I generally recommend $200-$300 as a minimum starting budget for a good corset.



Dark Garden "Corselette" | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Edward Saenz

Dark Garden “Corselette” | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Edward Saenz

Size
As I said before, corset size has nothing to do with dress size, pant size, bra size, hat size, or shoe size. Corsets are measured by the garment’s waist measurement. Generally, you’ll want a corset 2-6″ smaller than the wearer’s natural waist (not where pants are worn), but the best way to guarantee a fit is to actually try the thing on. A lot of budget brands make big claims about waist reductions, but their rib shaping and hip spring just don’t allow for human anatomy! Is there a corsetmaker whose work you like around your area? Maybe you can visit their studio/showroom/boutique and make the shopping experience part of the gift. Of course, you’ll get the best fit with a fully custom corset. Gift-wise, a custom corset is the lingerie equivalent of keys to a brand-new convertible. If you are dead-set on an instant gratification surprise gift and you don’t already know the giftee’s corset size (which, like any other clothing, can vary widely from brand to brand!), maybe you should just stick with a super stylish luxe robe.

Pop Antique "Flirt" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Razo Photo

Pop Antique “Flirt” corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Razo Photo

Style & Practical Concerns
If you don’t want to go the classic red/pink route but do want something that feels flirty and festive, consider: lace overlay, ruffle trim, lacing detail, or mesh. I’ve already written a full piece on How to Choose the Right Corset for Any Occasion, so the question here is, do you want a special occasion corset, or an excuse for a more basic corset that you will be able to wear more often? Especially if you’re shopping for someone else, a simple well-fitted underbust that matches their wardrobe might be better received than a naughty-nurse inspired polyester tube with bra-hooks in the front and plastic boning. Kiss Me Deadly wrote a great blog post on lingerie gift shopping, which I highly recommend checking out. If you’re shopping for yourself, consider the practicality. Are you wearing your corset for a sexy nightcap or will you also have to fit a dinner in there? How long can you comfortably wear your corset for – does the fit suit your natural posture, chafe under your arms, or poke your lap? Is there a scratchy trim? You want to feel comfortably supported, not restrained and cranky. Also bear in mind that your body may respond differently to alcohol while corseted, so be sure to give that a test before a big date, lest you end up suddenly wasted, or worse, instantly hungover.

Dark Garden bespoke "Aziza" corset | Model: Vienna La Rouge | Photo © Joel Aron

Dark Garden bespoke “Aziza” corset | Model: Vienna La Rouge | Photo © Joel Aron

Turnaround Time
There are a few boutiques where you can walk in and purchase a corset to take home immediately. For example, Dark Garden in San Francisco, What Katie Did in London and in Los Angeles, and Orchard Corset in New York. Some designers have show rooms where they may have a few samples for sale, such as Sparklewren in Birmingham or Morúa in Chicago. In many cases, though, your corset is being made to order just for you. This is a process that can take weeks or even months. Make sure to account for that in your planning, and don’t get mad at the designer because they won’t shove aside all their other orders so you can get yours in a week. (Or at least, not without a hefty rush fee.)

Dark Garden "Cincher" corset | Model: Anuka Mendbayar | Photo © Joel Aron

Dark Garden “Cincher” corset | Model: Anuka Mendbayar | Photo © Joel Aron

Returns
A handmade corset is usually made-to-order, and is rarely returnable. An exchange may be possible if the corset is unworn, with a standard fit, and the fabric choice a popular one. If you purchased a factory-made corset from a boutique or online retailer, you may be able to return it. Always check the return policy – since sizing/fit is so particular for corsets (and they are technically intimate apparel), you really need to be certain of the purchase. Again, a gift certificate is probably a smarter choice if you have any hesitancy about size or style. A latex designer I know recently had a client change their mind about the design they’d signed off on… but only after the ensemble was made. Even if the corset isn’t a gift and you’re buying for yourself, it isn’t the designer’s fault when you change your mind about what you want, and they can’t be responsible for that. You’re responsible for paying for what you ordered.

Pop Antique embellished "Valentine" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Pop Antique embellished “Valentine” corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

A corset isn’t the easiest gift or holiday outfit, but it can certainly be a very memorable one. There’s a special excitement that goes along with being gifted a corset, or taken on a special corset shopping trip. A bit of forethought and planning is required to ensure the correct size and timeliness, but the result is very worth it.

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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.

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