What Makes a Corset Comfortable?
Corsets have an unfortunate reputation as arcane torture devices. Modern stretch shapewear is widely assumed to be both more comfortable and “safer.” But my experience has shown that a well-fit corset is not only supportive, but actually comfortable, rather than constricting. What makes a corset comfortable, or not? Can anybody be comfortable in a corset?
The first key is fit. A corset must actually be suited to your body’s underlying structure as well as your measurements. Corsets have a leg up on “cinchers”/shapers/girdles because they only compress the soft tissues at the waist, leaving the ribs and hips relatively free. (For this reason, it’s very important to make sure you’ve actually settled the corset in the right place, in case you accidentally compress your lower ribs into the waist area.) Lacing adds an important adjustable element to fit, much more finessed than rows of hook and eye closure. Each individual will have their own preference for the level of compression that is comfortable at their ribs, waist, and hips. Variance in the lacing gap allows for this preference to some extent. Cheap corsets, unfortunately, are often relatively tube-shaped and don’t allow for any waist compression without putting excess pressure on the skeleton beneath.
Part of a good fit is the angle, placement, and shape of the seams. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get too technical. Basically, you want the seams to follow the natural lines of your body and posture. When a seam is the wrong shape, it can make the bones twist in their channels, which creates pressure points. The seams should also be placed such that they don’t put excess pressure on any of your body’s “bony landmarks,” such as front-protruding ribs, or the top of your hip bone. Once again, these needs will vary for each person, but a well-developed standard-fit line should take into account the most common needs.
Fit alone is only half the story; corset construction is also critical to making a comfortable piece. The way a corset is made should also support your personal ideals of fit. Some people not only like, but need, a high level of compression through their entire corset, not just at the waist. For them, heavier fabrications and more (and stiffer) boning is the way to go. Personally, my approach to corsetry is fairly supple. I love moldable fabrics, spiral bones, and single layer construction. If you live in a place that is particularly hot, a mesh summer corset might be a must, to improve the corset’s breathability.
Lastly, a corset should make you feel good and confident, and choosing the right style is essential to this aim. If you are constantly thinking about how you can’t bend your torso, or how your waspie makes a little roll below your bra band, or how exposed your cleavage is, it’s natural that you might feel less comfortable. A basic underbust is the most versatile option, but waspies allow for greater mobility, an overbust supports a large bust, and a strapped style can support good posture. Consider what you need your corset to do for you, and how you’re going to wear it.
All of these factors are why I strongly advocate for handmade corsets, and why many insist on custom fit corsets. With so many individual preferences to take into account, a mass-manufactured, off-the-rack option is unlikely to meet your needs. While made-to-order corsets are often ordered long-distance without having been tried on, they are developed with those fit concerns in mind. Made-to-order corsets can usually be personalized by their maker to accommodate where your measurements differ from their standard size. If you explain your needs, a maker can guide you to the appropriate style and construction options. Custom-fit corsets are even better, of course. Their mock-up fittings are an invaluable experience that shows where each aspect of the fit can be improved to reflect your body’s quirks, such as asymmetries or particularly sensitive nerves. Don’t forget to communicate with your corsetmaker about what you are feeling during these fittings! Remember, we only know what we see, not what you are thinking and feeling.
At the end of the day, though, there are some bodies that just don’t take well to being corseted. If you have anxiety that is worsened, rather than helped, by compression, then corsets probably aren’t for you. This can be addressed to some extent by the above factors, and corsets can even become an acquired taste, but for some people it just isn’t doable. Other bodies don’t take well to corsets because their core muscles are so well-developed that they fight the compression, even when they are lightly laced. Again, personalizations can help, as well as practice, and even the timing of when you put your corset on. For me, I am much more compressible at the beginning of the day. If you think corsets are uncomfortable, but really want to make them work, take a moment to expand your awareness of your body. What specifically is causing the discomfort? Is it localized to a particular spot? It might be possible to fix the problem with a different corset, rather than ruling corsets out completely.
If you’re not already a corset fan, you may be left with a lingering thought. Do all of the above things merely make corsets less uncomfortable? Can a corset truly be equated with comfort? As to the latter: absolutely. Corsets improve posture and can reduce anxiety through deep pressure therapy. Many full-busted women find them more comfortable than a bra. Furthermore, there are a slew of medical reasons to wear a corset that can help with pain-management and quality of life. Even if you are an able-bodied individual who just wants to wear corsets for aesthetic purposes, it’s often a simple matter of getting used to the corset. Wearing corsets is a new sensation, and your brain might initially categorize it as “uncomfortable” when all it really is, is “different.” Adjust yourself slowly to wearing your corset — never push through if your body is telling you to take it off. The absolute maxim of corset wearing is to listen to your body. If you follow that rule, generally speaking, all will be well!
Corset-wearing readers, what do you find makes your corsets comfortable, or not? Has your idea of comfort changed as you’ve improved the quality of corset you wear?