Friday, September 28, 2007

Guest Post: The Corset

A while back, I made a ... shall we say ... controversial post about corsets. It made for a good discussion, but I ultimately recognized that as a non-corset-wearer, I'm not the best source of corset information. However, Ashley of Dramatis Personae does, in fact, wear corsets. She agreed to do a guest post, because she is totally amazing and wants to educate everyone who is ooked out at the idea of corsets. Mallory of Miss Malaprop was also a contributing writer. Thanks so much, guys! Here's the post:

Originally I had intended to seek the advice of more experienced corset-makers and wearers when writing this post. But the more I thought about it, the sillier I realized that idea was. Why give experienced and expert opinions to a person who may be looking to buy their first corset ever, or just interested in learning more about this fashion device. So instead I thought that my own experiences would mean more to you, and be more relatable to you, and will hopefully demystify this garment. Many thanks, again, to Kori, for giving me this opportunity.

The first corset I ever wore was god-awful. It was for a production of Much Ado About Nothing, and it couldn't have been more problematic-- the costume designer had me wearing it upside down, so that these spiked pieces were cutting in to my legs as I had to run, jump, and move around with supposed ease. The experience turned me off of corsets quite a bit. Not too long after this, my best friend (the delightful Mallory of Miss Malaprop and Dismantled Designs) bought her first corset. I was intrigued-- it was a garment that accentuated her body beautifully (which I took advantage of many times during the height of my photography days) and she seemed comfortable in it. But I wasn't ready to return to the corset-- I didn't think my style was developed enough yet.

After Hurricane Katrina, I returned to visit New Orleans, where I felt I was ready to acquire my first corset. I went to Trashy Diva, where I tried on many, many styles. This experience was completely invaluable in so many ways, as it really gave me a great idea of what worked best and worst with my figure. At the time, I had a 32" waist, which meant that ideally a 28" corset would be perfect; however, I settled on a 26" blue and black brocade piece by Sue Nice-- the corset looked like it was built especially for my body.

I had the opportunity to really test out the corset on my following trip home, during Mardis Gras. Mind you, during one day, I wore the corset for approximately 12+ hours, sat, ate, ran, jumped, frolicked, walked, bent, danced, rode in the car, and much more in the corset (and heels!). And because the corset was well-built and designed, because it was the right size, it restricted me not much more than wearing a heavy winter coat would (around your middle).

A few months later, I invested in my second corset, a custom built corset by Chantal at House of Worship. This piece was built specifically to my measurements, but with spring steel instead of flat steel (which my Sue Nice corset had). What a difference the change in steel made! Now I felt I had even more flexibility to bed (at my sides) and dance in the piece. At this point, I was hooked. I find several opportunities throughout the year to wear my corsets-- they dress up beautifully, are great pieces for club-wear, and can easily be made business-friendly.

There are people who want to know, "but won't wearing a corset mess up your ribs/organs/body?" Generally, corset-wearing, especially on an irregular basis, will not cause permanent deformation to your body. Your body is very elastic, and in a good fitting corset, will suffer little damage to wear. There are debates as to the effects of tightlacing (restricting your waist very, very small on a 20-22/7 basis), but none of us are to that point yet, are we? As long as your body has finished growing, you'll find the effects of corset wear minimal at most. Most corsetmakers refuse to make corsets for those under 18 or 16, specifically to avoid any chance that there may be a change in the bone and organ development to a growing young adult's body.

Guidelines for Corset Buying and Wearing:

♥ Generally, it's ideal to buy a corset 2-4" smaller than your natural waist. If you have a 30" waist, then typically a 26-28" corset is best for starting out. However, your waist measurement is not the only one to consider-- bust, ribs, and hips, along with the length of belly to ribs and belly to hips all can factor in.

♥ Squish Matters! The above rule can be broken, based on how much "squish" your body has. Heavier set women (with more fat) often can naturally lace themselves beyond the 4" because fat is easily redistributed on your body. If you're more muscular, you'll find that your corset will not constrict you as much.

♥ Plastic is a No-No! Do not ever, ever buy a plastic boned corset. This is where you're asking for bruises and damage! Plastic bends naturally to the body in very unnatural ways. The heat of the corset will cause it to bend in jarring angles, that will most likely drive in to your skin. Steel, typically in spring, spiral, or flat forms, will bend naturally to the curves of your body, making the fit even more customized. Your first time wearing a corset with steel will result in it being "broken in," whereas plastic is mostly likely just going to be "broken."

♥ Typically corsets are made with 3 to 4 layers of fabric, although some fabrics (like leather) may require fewer.

♥ When putting on your corset, I always recommend lacing it halfway up, then stretching and reaching a bit. Then I lace the remainder of the way. This helps prevent "back cleavage" and ensures the corset is wear it is meant to go (that your waist ends at your waist, etc.).

♥ Don't try to cinch yourself down all four inches on your first go! Start out with what feels most comfortable, and gradually tighten it throughout the night. As the corset adapts to your body, and your body to the corset, you'll be able to tighten it up.

And a few resources:

Timeless Trends
Electra Designs: I recommend her economy cinchers, both sites for high quality, low cost corsets (great for first time buyers).
Corsetry and Corsetmakers on Livejournal are excellent resources for information, images, ideas, and more!


MissMalaprop said...

Squish definitely matters when it comes to corset sizing! Larger plus sizes can often go down as far as like 10 or 12" below their natural waist measurement with no problem. (I know this because we were dealing with a special order for someone the other day...I think the waist measurement was like 47" but we needed to order her a 36" corset?)

Also, the cut/maker of the corset matters too when it comes to sizing. I have about a 27" waist. I usually wear a Vollers/Scarlett's/Sue Nice in a 22". In some styles made by Isabella Costumiere I can go down to a 20" just because the cut of the garment has more curve in the waist already.

I usually work in our lingerie store and deal with selling corsets to both experienced wearers and novices. I deal with plenty of misinformation on a regular basis, and it's totally understandable. Corsets are definitely not for everyone. Some people come in and think they want a corset and they really want a bustier with plastic boning that isn't meant to shape your waist. Some people think they want the real deal until they get in one and then they get sort of claustrophobic. It's definitely not for everyone. But many people really love them, myself included.

Anonymous said...

thanks for all the info!

Meg said...

Great post! I adore corsets.

I was thrilled when I found this one and posted it on The Bargain Queen:

qwan said...

Hey does anyone know what I would wear? Like the size. I have a 22" waist, 31" bust, 30" hips, 27" just above bust. I doubt all of those measurements are needed but still. I mean if you can fit into a 20" when you have a 27" waist, it probably won't fit me. I don't have any fat, so I won't need to go down many inches I imagine, but am I a 18" or something?

And does that exsist?

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That black corset is very sexy and stylish...

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