Is Making Corsets an Art or a Science?

The craft of making corsets is a rich niche in the world of fashion: hand-craftsmanship and attention to detail allow for both a uniquely personalized and exquisitely made result. Is making corsets an aesthetic art, a feat of engineering, both, or even something more?

Dark Garden Underbust Victorian corset | Model: Autumn Adamme | Photo © Chris Gaede

Dark Garden Underbust Victorian corset | Model: Autumn Adamme | Photo © Chris Gaede

The Case for Science
Fitting and assembling corsets is a unique skill set. The underlying anatomy of the wearer must be carefully considered, fabric grainlines and seam techniques exact, and the angle and shape of seams is critical to fit and comfort. This is especially apparent when fitting tightlacing and asymmetric corsets. Each small adjustment can create an unexpected result — for example, a displacement of flesh, or a flaring away, instead of snug support. It’s for this reason that I describe my corsets as having an “Engineered Fit.” You also have to factor in the specialty hardware and how it is supported by the overall construction. It’s virtually impossible to be a good corsetmaker without a great deal of both care and interest in how these components work, and how they work together.



Sparklewren embellished "Jesus" corset with pearls for OCOC 2014 | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

Sparklewren embellished “Jesus” corset with pearls for OCOC 2014 | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

The Case for Art
Then again, when people think of corsets, many conjure up visions of couture, bridal, and boudoir. A good corsetmaker uses the lines of each piece, from seamlines to edge shaping, to support a particular sense of proportion and silhouette. I consider this something of a fine-art approach. You can use line and “cheat” fit to a certain degree, just as a painter will choose focal points and refine pose and proportion to create a result that is somehow both more and less real than a photograph. This is the foundation that can make even a simple black underbust into a refined statement. Corsets also make a wonderful base for all kinds of hand embellishment, or even simple, yet powerful, techniques like color-blocking. My favorite corset designers are those who have a design sense that is not only refined, but unique, inimitable, and immediately recognizable, such as Sparklewren and Neon Duchess.

Pop Antique "Sherbert Doll" bespoke underbust corset, styled with pink sheer blouse and Made By Niki string skirt | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Joel Aron

Pop Antique “Sherbert Doll” bespoke underbust corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Joel Aron

The Case for Philosophy
Corsetmaking, as well as corset wearing, is also something of a way of life. One of the reasons I think the corset’s bad reputation is so unfair is because corsets actually sustain a passionate, supportive, and thoughtful community. Making and wearing corsets creates a series of rituals; few corsetmakers sew on “autopilot” no matter how practiced they are. Instead, they thrive on perfecting their techniques, not resting on their laurels. Wearing corsets also improves body awareness and mindfulness. My advice to those who consider a degree or career in fashion is to be sure of their passion. In corsetmaking, those without passion are quickly weeded out — this field is too exacting for lukewarm interest.

Karolina Laskowska vintage kimono silk overbust corset | Model: Vampira Passista | Photo © Tigz Rice Studios

Karolina Laskowska vintage kimono silk overbust corset | Model: Vampira Passista | Photo © Tigz Rice Studios

Part of my personal fascination and joy with corsets is the fact that making them does marry these aesthetic and analytical sides, as well as creating a strong sense of community with which I feel a deep kinship. Each corsetmaker will identify to a varying degree along the spectrum of corset engineer and corset designer, which is part of what makes each brand unique. In turn, that enables us to better service a wide range of clientele with varied goals and needs — and that is the beauty of hand-craftsmanship.

Mad Mimi Form

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.

Comment on this post

  1. I always dispute the fine art description, if it’s to be worn that is. Rather a corset is a grand example of design as opposed to fine art. A corset is to a sculpture as graphic design is to a painting. It is art with function, and has to operate accordingly. It has to do it’s job fit-wise, answer the needs of the client, embellishments need to be beautiful but not cause injury to the wearer or those close by (unless that is what the client wants!) Of course, that is if it’s to be wearable. If it’s to sit on a mannequin then it could be made as pure art as the functional considerations cease to be important.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *