How Much Should You Spend on a Corset?
As covered last week, corsets are (justifiably) expensive. A friend of mine joked that I could've summed that whole article up as "corsets are hard" -- touché, James. Still, corsets come in a huge range of price points.
What's "reasonable"? What should you expect when spending that much money on a garment? How much should you even think about spending in the first place? Well, the answer depends entirely on the corset's intended purpose, and your priorities as a consumer. Below I have broken down basic price tiers for corsets.
Please note that these prices and categories are loosely defined, and guidelines only, and may have a natural variance based on the cost of living in the country where each designer is based. As I write this, it is early fall, 2014. If you are reading this from the future, things may have changed! Additionally, these are the prices for new corsets. You can often get better deals by buying pre-owned or sample corsets.
$30-$100: Costume Corsets
This is the amount of money you should spend if you are looking for a fashion corset for a costume piece or bedroom garment with no longevity or actual waist reduction. At this price point, you will be purchasing a garment likely mass-manufactured with low-quality components without regard to ethical labor or sourcing, and may be a knock-off of another corsetiere's design. It may be sized by bust, band size, or even small/medium large. Even if sized by waist, it's unlikely you will get even a 2" waist reduction and the gap may have to be laced very unevenly to accommodate bust and hips even without waist compression. It may or may not have plastic or very cheap steel in it, and some of the panels may be stretch fabric.
Depending on your purposes, of course (especially with Halloween around the corner), all of that may be just fine for you. These are the sorts of corsets you often see on Ebay or websites with generic-sounding names. Frederick's of Hollywood's corset selection falls into this category, as would other corsets you might find in the mall (such as Lip Service via Hot Topic).
$70-$200: Starter Corsets
By doubling the above budget, you can get a corset that has at least a 2" reduction and higher quality components. In particular, Orchard Corset (which sells a couple styles for as little as $69) is a popular "starter corset" for those who aren't sure if they really like corsets (or just think they do), or are just beginning to waist train. Mystic City Corsets is similarly priced and also popular for starter corsets. Both of these brands are more what I would consider factory-made than handmade, but with higher attention to quality and better reputations overall. Isabella Corsetry is another popular "starter" corset brand, which states on their website that they are handmade in the USA, with headquarters in Sacramento.
At this price range, you might also purchase an individually handmade corset from a newer corsetiere (perhaps on Etsy) who is still refining their production processes, costing, and fit. I wouldn't recommend trying to tightlace on this budget. Though Vollers and Timeless Trends are both close to Orchard and Mystic City in price (or even higher) their shaping is very minimal and/or inconsistent by comparison. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend them as anything more than a fashion corset. But then, I always recommend going handmade if possible. Incidentally, Corset Story/Corsets UK/Punk 69 hovers in this price range, but are notorious for their terrible quality, from lack of shaping to poor quality bones. Do avoid.
$200-$500: Handmade/Designer Corsets
This would be my recommended starting budget for someone who wants a real, shapely corset, especially if they are planning to waist train. This can get you a high-quality ready-to-wear corset from an independent designer who creates a handmade product. Yes, it is possible to waist train and/or tightlace in a ready-to-wear corset...if the construction quality is good and the fit appropriate for your body.
The quality of materials in this price point will be higher, the attention to detail more finessed, the labor conditions ethical, and so on. I find the overall look of corsets at this price point to be much more refined and polished, with greater attention to finishing details such as grainline, neatness of topstitching, and treatment of fabric.
RetroFolie is a brand that has recently launched in this price range with a unique product and high quality. Other examples of brands with starting prices in this category include Pop Antique, Dark Garden, Puimond, Morúa, Lovely Rat, etc. What Katie Did is also at this price tier. Though their corsets are produced off-site in India, they maintain a close relationship with the factory to assure ethical production and high quality standards. Angela Friedman likewise features off-site production, though her manufacturing is in New York.
$500-$1000: Custom Corsets and Fancy Handmade Ready-to-Wear
If you're looking to get a fancy ready-to-wear or a custom corset, budget on a minimum of $500. Gone are the days when $300 was the average price for a handmade custom corset. As we learned last week, that really doesn't cover the cost of materials, labor, and experience that go into making such a thing.
Depending on the type of detailing, fabric, and embellishment, it's easy to hit $700 or $800 even in a ready-to-wear fit; Dark Garden's Dollymop line and my own Pop Antique Knit Corsets are excellent illustrations of this. Serious waist training and tightlacing corsets can also be found at this price, with custom or personalized fit and the appropriate structure and reinforcements. Some designers who don't have or don't often sell ready-to-wear corsets sell custom corsetry in this range, such as Royal Black and Crikey Aphrodite.
$1000+: Custom Couture Corsetry by the Experts
If you are looking for a custom-fit corset made by an industry leader with extensive experience in fit and a strong design aesthetic, this is it. At this price point you can have couture-level embellishment, unique style, and quality construction, from an independent designer that is respected and loved by both their clients and their peers.
Depending on the degree of complication, the price could easily run to $2,000 or even $4,000 or more, as with Dark Garden's Catherine D'Lish "Peacock Corset" collaboration or Sparklewren's fine art corsetry. Corsets like this are art/display pieces as much as garments and will likely only see occasional wear for the rare special event. Their structure may be sturdy but the detailing is less hardy. Since you probably can't commission Mr. Pearl, a corset by a maker in this category is the next best thing.
What are your favorite corsetry brands? Any names you want to share in the comments?