Monday, October 31, 2011

Not for the Rack: High Waists

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow I pick the winner of the bra that didn't fit me. Hope you will enter if you think it might fit you, because it's a cute bra.

And now, today is another blog concerning . . .

Bad for Boobs: High Waist Bottoms

I know it seems odd to talk about the bottom half when concerned with the top, but unless you have a very long torso and your large rack is not really all that large, you probably should avoid this look. I know, I know, the runways have been all over with those gorgeous wide leg, high waist jeans that just walked off the set of Dased and Confused.

I want them, I really do. And then I go try them on . . .

Dazed & Confused

 And I have to bitch slap myself with the proverbial, no, bad Gail! Because what do they make me look like? I mean really? A sort of strange alien creature that's all legs with boobs sitting right on top of the waistband like some sort of freak of nature lacking all internal organs.

Be brutal with yourselves, my dear well endowed readers. Take a step back from the mirror and a long hard look for this is not the style for you. It may be French chic or sailor sexy or 70's cool but on a girl with curves? You enter Mom jean territory really darn quickly.

This applies not only to pants but to skirts and dresses cut in the baby-doll style. Unless you want the illusion of no waist (for example you have a tummy to hide) this cut will only make the well endowed up top look dumpy. On the other hand if you are smaller on top? Go for it!

Vionnet 1938 and Claire McCardell 1956

And skirts too, I'm afraid.

This is also one of the many reasons I so rarely tuck in a blouse or shirt, it just poofs out over the waistband of my skirt and looks like my rack has fallen down to rest in the region of my bellybutton. So not flattering.

Cachotier 1951

And now an bra hunt update for my Fashionable Readers.

A recent purchase of the Anita Maternity Women's Softcup Nursing Bra was a tentative success. It's a little small for me at 32H (eep!) but comfortable enough to keep. It doesn't give me as good a vintage look as I had hoped, but it'll do for now. Oh, and it's hideous, like the white granny panty of bra-dom. Coincidentally, The Lingerie Addict tackled bras for the busty recently. As ever, they are either padded, don't come in my size, have visible seams, or have underwire ~ often all three, but some might be helpful for those of you less picky than self. What I wouldn't give for a pretty, well-fitted, seamless, wire-free t-shirt bra. Actually, what I would give ~ upwards on $100 at this point.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not for the Rack: Architectural Draping

We continue with our occasional series on that which one should not don, if one is well endowed.

So far, Fashionable Reader, we have covered avoiding Boxy Tops, Bulky Tops (chunky knits & detail and fuss around the chest) and Backless Tops, none of which particularly distress me. But now we are on to a topic near and dear to my heart. For if I were not a retro girl by body-driven necessity and constant craving for unique outfits, I would be an ultra-modern, Nikita-style, architecturally draped amazon of athletic proportions, rocking chic minimalism. Yeah, yeah, if wishes were horses I'd own a hundred pairs of riding boots.

Bad for the Boobs ~ Architectural Draping

It pains me to report this, my dear ladies of means, but we must avoid with great care the stunning draping that turns women into mere scaffolding for origami structures of cloth fabulousness. I love this style. No, I really do. Sadly, I have to avoid most of it.

1920s dress via Timeless Vixen Vintage.

I had this black skirt in high school, with a kind of pull cord on one side, made out of parachute material. I called it my garbage-bag skirt, because it looked not-unlike I was wearing a black plastic garbage bag. I adored that skirt. This is a terrible confession to make, Fashionable Reader, but on occasion my taste veers in ugly-cool. These days I try to confine it to accessories, but it slips out into a mad passionate affair with architectural draping. Draping I could never wear.

Why no draping, Miss Gail?

Well, I may be a bit extreme here, in vetoing them all (and there are exceptions, see bellow) but, by-in-large, modern architectural style adds volume to a girl (and the girls). Inevitably, there is that little flap of artfully draped material that pokes out over the Rack, making the Rack even larger-looking not to mention longer and wider, right down to the stomach. Extra volume up top adds, well extra volume up top. Wide shoulders flow into big boobs, and huge neck collars draw atention to the face but they also often shift attention down to emphasize the chest area. Ample endowments push the folds and flaps of fabric outwards making me look, frankly, dumpy.

One shoulder styles do not allow a girl to wear a bra, and more often than not my smallest body parts (ribs, waist, hips) get lost in swathes fabric. That said, if you have great legs and a tummy to hide, this may be the style for you.

Filmy material or stiff, jersey or plaid, it's pretty much hopeless. This is one of the many reasons the 1920s are out for me. I just don't look good as a flapper.

Oh but I love this style so much. Every time I am at Max Studio or BCBG (at the outlet mall, mind you) one or two jersey draped dresses get carried hopefully into the changing room with me and then . . . I put them on. And they just look so awful, it's quite upsetting (and I buy a cute knit sweater or pencil skirt to console myself.)

That said, I have had some luck with a few exceptions to this rule. I own one dress from Max Studio in a dark grey jersey that has a kind of drape cut to it (see bellow). It's very body conscious and sexy but it works because the fabric is mainly tight to the torso and the draping is off over one shoulder, rather than on the boob, as if it were a scarf. I haven't yet had a chance to wear it, but I do adore it and I think it looks great. It reamains to be seen how others take it.

And here are a few others that might work with a rack.

And lastly, of course, some lovely fitted draping did come in the early 1950s. That always look stunning, if you ask me!

1950s Jean Dessès dress via Antique Dress

Draping like this can hide a multitude of cellulite sins, so give it a try, but otherwise tread into architectural styling with the greatest of care.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask)

So my dears it is time for us to discuss one of my all time favorite items . . .


Please allow me, Fashionable Reader, to do a quick proof of credentials. I've been wearing confining structured apparel since I was 14. I started out with a Ren Faire peasant bodice (which is NOT technically a corset) and moved on to work events as a professional corset fitter and sometime model for a well known bridal boutique and high-end custom corset maker for 10 years. I'm probably one of the fastest lacers (and tightest, if you want it) that you will ever meet. I've worked quick change runway situations ~ with corsets. I've had jobs were I spent over 18 hours a day (or night) in a corset, all of them on my feet, running around, bending down (not at the waist) and lacing others up, probubly nigh on 100 a day. So there you have it, there are others out there more qualified than me, but I do have some experience in this matter.

Before I start... 

The Question?

scullerym8d0182 asked Lord Akeldama . . .

Lord Akeldama, I am a girl of considerable girth and would like to find a corset to affect the illusion of a waist, but alas sizing seems horribly confusing. Any tips?

To which the vampire replied,

My dear sudsy muffin, what would I know of ladies foundation garments? I pass you along to my creator . . .

Gail says in answer to this particular question . . .

Truthfully, my dear, you must get thyself to a professional corset maker. And not a "friend of a friend" please. Someone who has made over a 100 corsets at least.

A good corset is even harder to fit than a bra, especially if you are uncomfortable with finding the right size. Dark Garden in San Francisco is my preferred vendor. They make corsets up to a 38" (and even larger custom). I can often fit up to a 48" measured waist into a 38" corset waist (explanation of sizing to come).

What to look for?

If not local to the Bay Area, you must seek out a maker who specializes in fully-lined spring-steel multi-boned corsets
  • no plastic boning (not strong enough)
  • no satin (not for your first)
  • no lace (too delicate)

Here are some other things to look for:

A steel busk up the front, preferably made in Germany.

Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Corset  1883  The Victoria & Albert Museum, note the thickness of the busk near the bottom?

Ribbon laces up the back. 

NOT SHOE LACES or anything tubular, flat and not stretchy is important it will effect how tight you can lace and how much the corset shifts around.

Corset  1880  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, note front lacing over tummy to assist with pulling that area in.
This post, I should say, is not about tight lacing or waist training. Not my thing.

Cross lacing. 

This means the laces should loop at the center, and thus the center of back at waist is where you pull to tighten completely. The act of pulling the top part of the loop tightens the bottom part of the corset, and visa versa.

 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Correct lacing gap.

A corset that fits properly has from 1.5 ~ 3 inches "lacing space" at the back (see above image), 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, a too small corset is ugly and uncomfortable because it puts the side boning (the curviest) too far forward (over your floating ribs).

 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Look for lining.

Check the inside of any corset: it should be lined completely with strong durable poplin (cotton) and have the internal waist tape present.

 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.
On this special corset you can see through to the waist tapes.

Price point.
Anything under $300 and you should be wary, not excited, about a bargain. 


scullerym8d0182's sizing confusion is due to the measurement system for corsets.  

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). 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. 

For example, I have a 29 inch waist and wear an (off the rack) 22 waist cinch but a 26 overbust (and a 23 custom). 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. 
My small waist cinch corset.
Another kind of waist cinch, sometimes called the ribbon corset. 1900s  Redfern,  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The extremes of corsetry: My tiny little Swiss waist under-bust comfortable at 22" called "The Circus," shown with a steampunk outfit and tight laced for modeling. 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

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'm 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

Or 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 larger sizes.

Corset  1890  The Philadelphia Museum of Art

More advice?

Have the corset seller train whoever will be putting you into and out of your corset, or identify this person in your friendship group. Most 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! Here's an excellent video on how to do it.

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 did 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 back. Many of my friends have "corset companions," fellow devotees who also wear corsets so they lace each other up at conventions or other events.

Why lace from the top down first?

So that the corset rests down onto your hips and does not ride up. You may need to lean forward (not bend) from the hips to settle your rack into the top of the corset. If a corset is laced too high you will get the "kidney feeling" which manifests differently in different people (and may not have anything to do with the kidneys, but that's what we've always called it). I feel it as a slight sick queesyness, others start to cold sweet, some just get an ache on their side. You should stop and unlace immediately. Wait for a bit, then re-lace, tugging the corset downwards to "settle" it.
My custom "Fancy" corset.

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 in a corset. Get used to using your thighs to crouch down, it's good exercise anyway.

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  The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Slip  1900-1908  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

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. 

Corset  1890-1895  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Make sure, if you have an underbust, that you are putting it on the right 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 and the loops (hooks, female) on the right.

Choosing a Style?

 The waistcoat style under-bust I need to wear a bra with it, and Autumn in the original, Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

An underbust corset is not recommended if you have a massive rack. But the full back support is lovely.

Corset  Royal Worcester Corset Company, 1876  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are all sorts of other things to consider, not just the style of corset, but where the boning lies and how it is angled, like the balcony bra versus the full coverage versus the push-up versus the demi they all do different things to your rack and your choice should reflect how you want the girls to look.

Here is a small idea of the difference with my Rack as the model . . .

Sweetheart Overbust Victorian

My spoon corset is an off-the-rack 26 Victorian overbust. The boobs are not fully seated into the cups which are too small for me. (This was the fist corset I ever owned, made-over.) Next to it is the same corset in white made as a custom to my shape so it has about a 23 waist and much more room in the cups. This is a full coverage corset, which means breasts are meant to sit down inside the cups and be fully supported, not necessarily lifted up to the "butt cleavage" arena.

Historically most like?

Corset  Dr. Warner’s, 1889-1891  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Scoop Neck Overbust Victorian

A modern cut scoop neck corset. This one is more like a demi-bra, my boobs sit down and inside the cup but are also pressed in and up with angled stays from the side, to give me a slight butt look.

Historically most like:

1891 Corset Gold Leaf

Straight Across Classic Victorian

Like the balcony bra, this Classic (straight across) corset has straight stays up-and-down all the way around, which provides mostly uplift. It's also laced very tight in this image giving me the uber butt look. Only in a corset or costume situation do I feel this look is appropriate. 

Historically most like:

1879-1881  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sport Corset  1885  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Summer Corset  1871  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nursing Corset  1890  Augusta Auctions

I hope that is enough on corsets for now. However, you don't have to take my word for it. And here's a blog post from Before the Automobile on her 1880s corset and chemise.

 Photo by J. Daniel Sawyer.