Corset Fit 101

A well-made corset has a very carefully balanced fit: to create a beautiful shape that is actually wearable by a human requires great attention to the distribution of ease and negative ease. The lacing and lacing gap allows for fine-tuning of the fit on an individual basis without requiring a fully bespoke corset. Much has been written about bra fit, but what defines fit for a corset?

Pop Antique Vixen ribbon corset | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Max Johnson

Pop Antique Vixen ribbon corset | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Max Johnson

As a corsetmaker, I firmly believe that one never stops learning about fit. There are always new ways to address the uniqueness of each body or to make a standard fit style with greater comfort. There’s also a relationship between fit and construction, and each wearer and maker will have their own opinions and preferences. With all that in mind, I’d like to start with some basics, focusing on what fit looks like in a corset. This is the method of fit analysis I use when working for my corsetry mentor, Dark Garden, who has the benefit of essentially a full run of basic corsets in every style and size combination for fitting, and when fitting models for my own line Pop Antique, where I use my smaller library of existing samples.



Placement of the corset
In my article on lacing mistakes, I discussed how important it is to make sure the corset is properly anchored on the skeletal waistline. You’ll want the corset to be settled just between the bottom of your rib cage and the top of your pelvis for maximum compression and comfort. It may migrate (usually up) as you lace in or throughout the course of the day, so you might give a little tug at the top or bottom of center front to adjust it back into position.

Pop Antique Bombshell corset | Model: Olivia Campbell | Photo © Marianne Faulkner

Pop Antique Bombshell corset | Model: Olivia Campbell | Photo © Marianne Faulkner

Top of corset: bust or underbust
The top of the corset should lay snugly against the body. It should be tightened such that it neither gaps (stands away from the body) nor cuts in (creating a muffin effect). Particularly at the side of the rib cage (or top of the bust) you want to make sure that it is laying smooth and flush. With a plus size figure, sometimes the underbust may look flush, but as there is more compressible flesh, the ribs can be tightened more. Even so, try to avoid over-tightening (at any size) as it will create a roll at the back of the corset. Tightening the underbust properly will further emphasize the waist and hipline, rather than eclipsing it. If a corset cuts in at the back but is gapping at the sides, it may have the right circumference but be the wrong shape for your body and posture. This can always be covered with a bolero if you’re not in a position to have the fit at least partially personalized for your body.

Dark Garden Valentine overbust corset | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Joel Aron

Dark Garden Valentine overbust corset | Model: Nicole Simone | Photo © Joel Aron

Waist
Corsets are cut with negative ease at the waist: they are smaller than the body they go onto. Thus, the lacing has to be adjusted each time the corset is put on or taken off. Stretch garments also have negative ease, but the stretch is what allows you to put them on without fiddling with a closure. The give in a corset comes from the lacing. If the lacing has stretch, it won’t work, and if the corset is loose enough to come off immediately, it is too big! Boning and waist reduction should be spaced as to avoid creating pressure points. Size-wize, everyone compresses differently and each brand allows for varying degrees of reduction. For a starting reduction, look for a shapely corset that is 4-6″ smaller than their natural waist, to be worn with roughly a 2″ lacing gap. If you’re looking for more dramatic shaping and compression, you can use the guideline of a 15% reduction, minus your lacing gap. Corset sizes from about 30″ can wear a lacing gap up to 4″ wide. Of course, you should always check in with your corsetiere of choice, but this gives you a starting point! (Note that these numbers won’t apply with budget corsetry, which often is cut with a tube-like shape… less shapely than your body might already be, uncorseted.) If you have the opportunity to try on a corset before buying, hang out in it for as long as is reasonable. Your body may settle within the first 15 minutes, but as a day wears on it could reverse course into discomfort.

Dollymop for Dark Garden Cavalry corset | Model: Autumn Adamme | Photo © Joel Aron

Dollymop for Dark Garden Cavalry corset | Model: Autumn Adamme | Photo © Joel Aron

Bottom of corset: hips
Another of the lacing mistakes I mentioned earlier is over-lacing the hips. I like to fit people with the corset once again visually flush against their body, but this time with enough room to get a couple fingers inside the bottom edge. This allows the hips to expand when you walk and sit down. Of course, some people prefer the feeling of additional compression around their hips, even if it results in a visually too-tight corset, and that’s perfectly acceptable, too. As a starting point, though, I like to start with a smooth line.

Pop Antique Demoiselle underbust corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Alyxander Ryan

Pop Antique Demoiselle underbust corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Alyxander Ryan

The lacing gap
The lacing gap is critical to the fit of a corset. Whether or not you prefer to lace your corsets fully closed or leave a gap is a personal choice. A small historic study did show that a lacing gap averaging 2″ was standard in the Victorian corset-wearing heyday. Some find the pressure of boning along the spine to be excessive while others find it supportive. Having a gap at the center back, in my experience, allows for the center back line of the corset to lay smoothly more easily, as well as allowing for greater variance in the degree of reduction and any size fluctuation. It’s a common fallacy that the shape of the gap must be absolutely parallel: a variance of up to 2″ total is perfectly fine if necessary to create a good fit. (For example, 1″ at the ribs, 2″ at the waist, 3″ at the hips.) It’s far more important for the hips and ribs to lay flush with comfortable pressure at the waist than to create a parallel gap. You may find that having the gap shape angled may actually improve the level of comfort and back support you get from your corsets.

Dark Garden bespoke Waspie being broken in. Via @popantique on Instagram.

Dark Garden bespoke Waspie being broken in. Via @popantique on Instagram.

Breaking in a corset
Sometimes when fitting a corset, I’ll see that there’s a bit of looseness through the ribs and hips, but the gap is correspondingly a bit wider. If I’m fitting a corset for a sale, then I’ll know that once the corset is properly broken in (much the way a pair of shoes breaks in), it will lay well against the body with an appropriate gap size. Diagonal dimpling in the fabric also relaxes as the fabric molds around the body.

If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, next week I will go into greater depth in discussing corset fit, specifically regarding the bust and vertical measurements. Do you have any corset fit questions you’d like to see addressed?


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.

10 Comments on this post

  1. I like wearing corsets under my clothes but my blouses won’t lay right. Is there a fix for this? I have scoliosis and corsets are great for back support. Less pain at the end of the day.

  2. Amy says:

    I have enjoyed the article above. I hope to start waist training and the info you’ve provided has answered a few questions I had.
    In the first pic (Nicole Simone) the model seems to be wearing stocking material shorts under her dress. What do you call them and where can I get a pair?

  3. Marissa says:

    Oh. My goodness. Where can I get the dress in that sixth picture. I would LOVE to wear something like that under my corsets!!

  4. Nikki says:

    Can you elaborate on

    >It’s a common fallacy that the shape of the gap must be absolutely parallel: a variance of up to 2″ total is perfectly fine if necessary to create a good fit. (For example, 1″ at the ribs, 2″ at the waist, 3″ at the hips.) It’s far more important for the hips and ribs to lay flush with comfortable pressure at the waist than to create a parallel gap. You may find that having the gap shape angled may actually improve the level of comfort and back support you get from your corsets.

    I was under the impression that this is a sign that the corset isn’t quite right for your body. Wouldn’t needing a wider gap at the hips than at the ribs simply mean that you need a slightly larger hip spring for your body shape (or a slightly smaller rib spring, factors depending)?

    While I understand that this advice is for OTR corsets (which won’t fit any one person perfectly), this doesn’t seem to be standard practice when buying made to measure or fully custom corsets (instead the preferance is for the gap to be parallel). Why the disparity?

    Also, is this only when the gap is not parallel, but the bones are straight (like in your 1″-2″-3″ example), rather than a bowed gap (1″-2″-1″) or the opposite (2″-1″-2″)? I’ve heard many people agree that a non-parallel gap damages your corset – is this true? How much damage would you expect to see, versus how much wear and tear is considered “normal”?

    • Marianne Marianne says:

      Hi Nikki,
      That line was directed primarily at OTR corsets. If one finds the pressure created by a 1″-2″-3″ gap as or more comfortable compared to an even 2″ then upgrading to a personalized or custom fit isn’t necessary (although a well made custom corset is so much more than just the “right” circumference measurements). You’re correct in that a custom corset the gap should ideally be an even two inches (or whatever size the wearer prefers), but I find that as I adjust my lacing throughout the day or depending on my mood it tends to vary. At the beginning of the day, I might wear the ribs tighter, after lunch, I loosen them up, at the end of the day when I’m kind of done with everything I loosen the hips substantially… Bodies fluctuate a lot (some more than others).
      A small variance in gap width does not damage the corset at all. The problem is when part or all of the gap gets too wide, the placement of the bones is distorted and it causes them to twist in their channels. In my experience, a bowed gap of 1″-2″-1″ causes the bones to flip on edge at the waist, which is both painful for the wearer and damaging for the corset. The opposite (2″-1″-2″) follows the natural curvature of the spine better and doesn’t seem to cause the same issue.

      • Irene says:

        Thank you for this explanation! I have an OTK Morticia corset from WKD and a 2″-1″-2″ gap feels more comfortable for my body shape. I had read that a non-parallel gap could damage the corset, so I was trying to wear it with an even 2″ gap which didn’t compress my waist as much as I’d like, and I could not compress my ribcage and hips enough for an even 1″ gap (it gave me claustrophobia). It’s so good to know that a small variance in gap width won’t be damaging for the corset.

  5. Tara says:

    Is there a way to avoid producing a roll of fat over the top of the underbust corset in the back? I’m not currently a plus size, but do carry weight on my upper body and am frequently combating “back fat” rolls with bras. I seem to have similar issues with my admittedly limited experiences in corsetry. I end up wearing a stretch type undergarment over the corset to produce a smooth effect for under clothers.
    Question 2: how to conceal the copious amount of lacing ties that bunch up under clothing?

    • Marianne Marianne says:

      Hi Tara,
      There are a few things you can do about the back muffin. Between my posture (my rib cage is fairly tilted) and the fact that I used to be a bit bigger, I definitely have this issue *a lot* even though I am considered a petite girl, so I know how frustrating it is and how it messes with the line of your clothes. Of course, the best thing you can do is get a custom-fit corset, which should be engineered to lay smoothly regardless of the exact style line. Corsets that are cut a little higher in the back so that they overlap the bra band also lay much more smoothly than short corsets like waspies and cinchers – you could perhaps have a made to order done with a slight alteration to be taller in the back. Lastly, as a quick fix, pay attention to both your bra selection and where you wear it. A longline bra makes for a smoother line, but any bra will lay better if you run your fingers inside the back of the band and pull it firmly down. This way, you don’t have the top of the corset pushing *up* with the snugness of the band pushing *down* on the same bit of skin. Instead, the bra band is holding the flesh in place.
      As for question 2, that’s an easy one. I think I covered this in one of the lacing articles. Basically, after you tie off your lacing in a bow at the waist, split the bow in half and tuck each half in at the back hip. There are several clear shots of it here: http://www.thelingerieaddict.com/2014/08/common-corset-lacing-mistakes.html Ribbon lacing also tends to lay more smooth and flat than cotton lacing, which is bulkier and sometimes round.

  6. Sarah torres says:

    Thanks for including the names of the models; I remember your post about that and now I see how helpful it really is. And of course, thank you for your invaluable information on corsetry.

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