Corsetry 101: Off the Rack Vs. Custom Made
So you've thought about shape. You've thought about style. You've thought about fabric. Finally, you have to make a decision between purchasing "off-the-rack" or going custom. All the factors we've considered before now go into making this decision.
Can you find your ideal corset off the rack? Do you have a special fabric you want to use or perhaps a hard to fit body shape that makes buying off the rack difficult? Once armed with answers to questions we've covered in previous posts, you're in the best position to make your first purchase
Please, don't let anyone tell you that off the rack corsets are exactly the same as custom ones. While there are many reputable corsetieres who make beautiful off the rack corsets, there is nothing like having a corset cut specifically for your body.
So what usually factors into the decision to go off the rack or custom? Cost, primarily. A well made off the rack corset (usually measured according to your waist) can cost $200, $300, even $400 , especially if you're getting something with a lot of designing or decoration. Custom made corsets can start at twice that amount, and go up from there.
Another important piece of advice--don't be afraid to shop around. Look at previous work. Join a corset disucssion board and ask opinions about different designers. You also want to ask the corset maker about their turn around time. It would be unfortunate to order a corset for a special event (like an anniversary) only to receive it months after the date. It's your money; don't be afraid to be a little proactive about where you spend it. On the other hand, don't string a corsetiere along. They're very busy people, often with many orders to fill. If you know for a fact that you won't buy a corset from them, don't waste their time.
Finally we get to price. Do you remember when I said corsets are expensive? Well they are and for good reason. You're not only paying for the raw cost of materials (metal bones, metal busk, several layers of fabric, grommets, thread, lacing, etc.), you're also paying for the skilled labor of the corsetiere. In our Wal-Mart culture, there's an ever-present tempatation to bargain shop, but a corset isn't the place for that. While I'm not saying that you should buy an expensive corset just because it has the highest price tag, resist the urge to buy the cheapest corset you find in an effort to save a few a bucks.
In short, corsetieres are skilled craftspeople. Pay them what they're worth.
So where can you find a good off the rack corset? What Katie Did, Boobie Trap, Maya Hansen, Lulu and Lush, and Velda Lauder are all good starting places. These are all British brands so the exchange rate may be an issue. If you favor a particular brand, like What Katie Did, you can also buy directly from them. The UK boutiques La Magia [Editor's Note: As of February 2015, this site appears to be defunct], Fairy GothMother, and Mio Destino all carry the brands listed. In addition, the online boutique Adore Corsets has a 50% off clearance page that's always worth checking out.
I don't recommend purchasing from Vollers. While they bill themselves as one of London's oldest corset houses, you wouldn't know it from their work. The two corsets I ordered from them were, in my opinion, sloppy and subpar, especially since I paid premium prices for them. I've heard similar complaints about Vollers from other corset enthusiasts, many of whom are much more educated on the subject than I am. I also don't recommend buying corsets off e-bay unless you both know what you are doing and are purchasing from a reputable seller. There are lots of scams on e-bay where sellers will copy a picture from a reputable corsetiere and then ship a cheap knock off to you, if they ship you anything at all.
Some retailers, such as Morgana Femme Couture, construct both off the rack and custom corsets.
For custom corsets, Etsy is a surprisingly good resource. While I can't guarantee any of these women are taking orders, they are known for their exquisite work. SugarKitty Corsets, Jill's Corsets [Editor's Note: As of February 2015, this site appears to be defunct], CixD, Electra Designs, Scoundrelle's Keep, and Totally Waisted are all excellent corsetieres with unique perspectives.
Persons with higher budgets may want to try the specialty services of Lara Corsets [Editor's Note: As of February 2015, this site appears to be defunct, Wasp Creations [Editor's Note: As of February 2015, this site appears to be defunct], Dark Garden, Starkers, Corinthias Corsets [Editor's Note: As of February 2015, this site appears to be defunct], Puimond, or Lovesick Corrective Apparel.
While the prices may seem expensive, remember, you get what you pay for.
If you're on Livejournal, the group Corsetry is an amazing resource.
I hope this is enough information to get you started. :-)
*Images courtesy of Velda Lauder, Electra Designs, Totally Waisted, Puimond, and Scoundrelle's Keep.*