Thursday, October 10, 2013

7 Tips on How to Buy a Corset That Fits

I cannot tell you, Fashionable Reader, how sad it makes me to see anyone wearing an ill fitting corset. I fell pain for the poor wearer, and pain for the poor corset. So I put together a little list on the subject...

1. Choose the Right Size

Most (but not all) corsets are sized to the natural waist and then deducted. Run a measuring tape around your actual natural waist (below the ribs and above the hips at the squishiest part). Then deduct anything from 4 to 8 inches depending on the maker and style of corset and your "squish factor." This will depend on your body and how tight you can go and whole host of other traits.

Image courtesy of Dark Garden.
A corset that fits properly has from 1.5 ~ 3 inches "lacing space" at the back (see above image, with 2 inches as the ideal), so that you have room to tighten or to loosen. The two sides should never meet perfectly, unless it is being used as, for example, the bodice of a wedding gown (see below image). Nor should they stretch over too much space, this ugly and uncomfortable.

 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

2. Choose the Right Shape

Despite your supposed size, the corset style you want may still not fit right. This is also squish factor as it will have to do with your ribs and chest as well as stomach. For example, I have a 27 inch waist and wear an 22 waist cinch but a 26-28 overbust (off the rack). I am not very squishy. Squish factor is not dependent upon your size as a person, but is an indefinable judgement call made by the corset fitter. This is the number one reason I never recommend buying a corset online.

The extremes of corsetry: My tiny little Swiss waist comfortable at 22" called "The Circus," shown with a steampunk outfit. Versus Jessica in a lovely full body corset (hobble hobble) image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Corset  1890  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“This corset fully covers the bust. Because of this, it is most likely a design for a young woman, perhaps a teenager making her first steps into womanhood. The corset itself is minimally boned, allowing ease of movement, and the straps provide additional support.” via OMG That Dress

Corset  1890-1895  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Make sure, if you have an underbust, that you are putting it on the correct way up. Dark Garden puts a tag in the back next to the laces, the tag should be up. If there is no tag 99% of corsets have the pips (male) of the bust on the left side of the wearer's body and the loops (hooks, female) on the right.

3. Find the Right Shop

If you are hurting to find a place where you can go in and try a corset, there are corset makers at most SF/F conventions. Some dealer rooms are open to the public, so you may not even need buy a day pass. I am a little snobbish about their wears, off the rack for a corset is just like off the rack for a bathing suit (who fits that perfectly?) but they can work as a first corset. Don't allow the vendor to argue you into buying anything that doesn't fit right. Alternatively you can try a leather corset from a BDSM seller. Leather has a nice stretch and breath-ability to it that I love for a corset. Both of these venues should carry a wide range of sizes.

Corset  1890  The Philadelphia Museum of Art

4. Get Lace Education

Have the corset seller train whoever will be putting you into and out of your corset, or identify this person in your friendship group. Men are often terrible lacers! They think you should grab and simply pull as hard and fast as you can from the waist, as if lacing a shoe. Gone With The Wind got it WRONG, you work gently from the top down, then bottom up, and then pull through the middle. You tighten by pulling the laces out to either side, never straight back!

Many of my friends have "corset companions," fellow devotees who also wear corsets so they lace each other up at conventions or similar events.
Bad bad bad girls!

(It is possible to lace yourself in. I do it all the time. Contrary to popular belief, I do not travel to Steampunk conventions with a lady's maid. So every time you see me away from home and in a corset, I probubly laced it myself. You will never be able to get yourself as tight as someone else can and it takes practice and flexibility. You need to be able to tie a bow behind your own back.)

5. Lace Gently: Top Down First

Here's an excellent video on how to do it.

Don't pull tight right away, start slowly. I always start top down so that the corset rests down onto my hips and does not ride up over my kidneys. You may need to lean forward (not bend) from the hips to settle your rack into the top of the corset. 

6. Beware the Kidneys

If a corset is laced too high you will get the "kidney feeling" which manifests differently in different people. I feel it as a slight sick queasiness, others start to cold sweet, some get an ache on their side. You should unlace immediately. Wait for a bit, then re-lace looser, tugging the corset downwards to "settle" it.

 
My custom "Fancy" corset seated properly.

7. Treat the Corset Right

* Please never never never tie your laces around the waist of your corset! Unless you want to shorten the corset's life. The laces cut into the fabric at the boning and will cause it to fray.

* Don't bend from the waist in a corset. Get used to using your thighs to crouch down, it's good exercise anyway.

* It is very hard to find anyone who knows how to clean a corset properly. If you do need to get it cleaned, hunt down a bridal gown specialist and keep your fingers crossed.

* Always wear something under your corset, even if it is only a light slip (you can tuck the straps and such down so they don't show. This is to protect the corset from your sweat. 

Here are some things the ladies of old would wear under a corset . . .

Bust Improver 1900 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 Three versions of a long undergarment: Chemise 1876; Slip 1900-1908; & Petticoat 1909-1911 all via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Combination  1890s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
 In the old days, incidentally, one also wore something over the corset to protect it from rubbing and from any chance of being seen.

Corset Cover  1900-1905  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.

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