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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?

Pop Antique "Vamp" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Pop Antique "Vamp" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

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.

Pop Antique "Demoiselle" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Joey Mena

Pop Antique "Demoiselle" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Joey Mena

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.

Dark Garden "Risqué Sweetheart" in ivory | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Chris Gaede

Dark Garden "Risqué Sweetheart" in ivory | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Chris Gaede

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.

Laurie Tavan red and black lace overbust corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Martin Ave

Laurie Tavan red and black lace overbust corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Martin Ave

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.

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

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

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.

Dark Garden "Arch Rival" corset | Model: Anastasia Bachykala | Photo © Joel Aron

Dark Garden "Arch Rival" corset | Model: Anastasia Bachykala | Photo © Joel Aron

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.

Pop Antique "Gibson Girl" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Pop Antique "Gibson Girl" corset | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

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?

Last Updated on

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.

5 Comments on this post

  1. elizabeth says:

    i really really hate bras. they are like torture devices for me. underwire ones hurt like hell, and no wire ones put tons of pressure in other places and also cause misery. i always want something to cover more of me so that there will be less distinct pressure points. like a one piece bathing suit is always comfortable…it seems to spread the pressure out. evenly over a wider span of body. i have worn a corset before but not on a daily basis. do some people use a corset instead of a bra?? i used to. go braless quite a bit. now i’m in menopause and i just cannot get away with it…need to lift these babies up, but bras are just not happening. so. is there something that is not costume or fetish focused, and very practical and everyday and just supportive and comfortable? i am happy with my waistline. not really interested in cinching in tightly…just want to comfortably support and hold and lift breasts. thank you!

  2. Aarin says:

    I originally got into corsets because I love costuming and having a historically accurate silhouette makes me happy. For my first corset I got a over the bust “valentine” style from Dark Garden in San Francisco. Mostly I went for this style because it accented my curves really well, and it supported my chest. The one thing I did not take into account was how the corset would affect the look of modern clothes. After wearing the corset and designing costuming specifically for corset wear, I realized that while I love my over bust, I didn’t want to wear it for things aside from victorian and edwardian costuming because it pushed my boobs up way to high for modern clothing. while standing it still looked great, but if I wanted to sit down at work or while hanging out with friends, it created a boob shelf, where my boobs were pushed up so high that it felt like they were trying to smother me.
    enter corset number two: a Corselette also from Dark Garden. Admittedly I only got this corset last weekend so I have not had a chance to wear it out much, but I have been Irish dancing while wearing it. While it does not give me the support that the over bust does, it does allow for my boobs to rest a lower place on my body. I can still wear a bra with it so I am not worried about support. In many ways I wish I had gotten the Corselette first because it would have let me ease into corset culture and get used to the look of a nipped in waist with out the rest of my torso changing as well.

    My main take away from this was to think about how you want to use your corset before you buy. Especially if you are more well endowed up top, because your silhouette will absolutely change, in more ways than just your waist getting smaller

  3. Haris says:

    Okay, so this brings me to a very important question of mine: whenever I lace down, I can compress my midsection to about a four to five inch reduction, but I feel horribly nauseous immediately afterward. However, it depends on the corset; my CS-201 mesh can give me the same reduction as any of my other corsets, if I lace them all the same and take into account stretch and stuff, however, only in my CS-201 do I feel fine. I was wondering if it might be psychological, since my first corset, though made to my measurements, was more conical than expected and compressed my stomach way more than any of my other pieces, leading me to feeling sick within minutes after my first lacing, as well as every other lacing afterwards. Like, I almost feel sick just putting it on – closing the busk. Do you think this is all in my head, or do you think I’m going to fast, or what? If any of this makes sense, it’s all ramblings at this point. I have two made-to-measure (one really custom one), one high-end OTR and two Orchards. Even in my OTR I can get a great reduction, but it seems my customs still give me that nauseous feeling.

    • Marianne Marianne says:

      Hi Haris,
      It could be any number of things. First of all, have you talked to a doctor to see if you have any underlying health issues that may make your midsection more sensitive to pressure? Personally I haven’t really handled any Orchard Corsets so I can’t speak to the weight of their materials, but mesh corsets in general are lighter and more moldable. Custom corsets are often more solid because the heavier construction makes them much hardier and more long-lasting. I’ve also found that having a stiff underbusk from mid-rib level down over my stomach can be quite comfortable for reducing pressure on that area – I know, it’s counterintuitive, but it basically holds the pressure away from a sensitive stomach. If the underbusk goes too high, though, or the whole busk is stiff, it can put pressure on the solar plexus.
      You might also be helped by lacing down more slowly – lace down only a couple inches at first, let it settle for 10-30 minutes, then lace down the rest of the way to your desired reduction. Maybe even take it in three stages.
      I hope that helps!

      • Haris says:

        Thank you very much for your advice, I appreciate it! I’ll see what I can do. I love my corsets, I just wish I could wear them for more than a few hours at a time.

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