Help me get into my corset!
June 9, 2006 5:55 PM   Subscribe

help lace me up...into a corset!

I'd like to get a corset, but don't know where to start. The cheap ones available at places like victoria's secret or frederick's of hollywood obviously don't seem like the real deal... but the real ones I've seen can run pretty expensive ($200+), which is intimidating for a first-time purchase. And there are a million styles - I have no idea which would be best to start with, which would work best with my figure (tallish, slender), etc.

I don't envision getting anything really fancy or restrictive straight out of the gate - maybe something in basic black (fabric, not leather) to cinch things up a few inches. Recommendations for types/stores, anyone? Thanks.
posted by fizzyliftingdrink to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I really like the charlotte russe corsets i've gotten off of ebay. they have hook n eye closures in the front and tie backs, or vise versa but it allows you to fit it once, then put it on and take it off yourself. it has plastic boning though so it still fits like a traditional corset but not so stiff that I can't dance in mine. all in all, i'd say they are great starter corsets.
posted by lannanh at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2006

According to the dear wife, Vollers is a good brand that will be a real corset but not really over priced. Ebay has a selection of them usually. Also check RenFests and ask the costumed women. They probably know someone that makes them. They can at least help you determine sizes for an ebay or mail order search.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 6:12 PM on June 9, 2006

Are you looking to wear this as an undergarment or an outergarment? (Because I don't know commerical sources for the former, but do for the latter.)
posted by desuetude at 6:19 PM on June 9, 2006

Assuming you want this as outerwear:
Heavy Red has a selection of corsets that are [in my opinion] much better-looking than most of the corsets you'll find online. Elegant rather than slutty, steel-boned, generally made of satin and brocade, and [like the corsets lannanh mentions], they have hook-and-eye closures up front so that you don't need to worry about retying it every time. They look good on tall, slender people, and they're mostly less than $100. Of course, it is a goth store, so the color selection is somewhat limited [which is to say that they're more or less red, white, and black.]
posted by ubersturm at 6:28 PM on June 9, 2006

Response by poster: thanks for the answers so far. desuetude, I guess I expect to wear it more as an undergarment rather than outerwear, but please don't let that stop anyone from making recommendations (like ubersturm's suggestion). in other words, the main person (well, people) I'd like to wear it for are myself and my partner, but I wouldn't sneeze at having something I could wear out to concerts or clubs, etc.
posted by fizzyliftingdrink at 6:51 PM on June 9, 2006

I second the Voller's suggestion. Very well made, elegant and comfortable as far as corsets go.
posted by echolalia67 at 7:05 PM on June 9, 2006

Best answer: This is from someone with a drawer full of corsets, most custom, and laces down 5" or more just to go clubbing. So, take it with a grain of salt, as I'm obviously a bit more hardcore than most.

A real corset will have a busk, which is sort of a peg and loop closure made of steel, and steel bones. Anything with hook and eye (like a bra), is designed for a corset "look" but won't actually bring your waist in a bit. Which is cool if you're just looking for something fun to wear. But, if you try to actually cinch the fabric and plastic bones will just bulge and warp unattractively the second or third time you wear it. I've seen models look bad in them (well, goth scene models, but even so).

Personally, I think the most beautiful and well made corset I own (the one I've had for about five years, looks good-as-new, and is sitting two feet away right now since I'm wearing it tonight, was made by Yosa.
A little pricy compared to off the rack, but one look at the measurements she asks for and you'll understand.

You need to keep length in mind as well, which is why custom is a good idea if you're either short (like me) or tall. Too long and you can end up brused under the arms, at best. Too short and it'll look odd, and you can get the ever-sexy back bulge. Also the waist-hip-bust (or underbust) measurements can be critical. I have an unusually small waist given my hip/bust size as it is (not unusually small, mind you, I just can't find clothes to fit the hips that don't bag at the waist.). Because of that a lot of corsets will lace tight at the waist, and then gap 5" or more at the top and bottom.

Ideally you should have a straigt, even gap of about 2" between the laces.

The style depends on the shape you're going for. I tend to go for Victorian underbusts, since I'm on the busty side and overbusts make me look a bit too over-the-top for me. I think that's the style that works best on people who aren't quite so busty, too, since it will cinch down everything else, and make you look bigger in comparison (if that's what you're going for).

The styles can be pretty varied. Look at period films for the basic idea. Elizabethian, which you'll see marketed to ren faire types, is a more conical shape, nipping the waist, leaving the hips alone, and pushing your chest up. Edwardin is also called an S-Curve. They tended to wear bustles. Personally, I don't care for them.
Odds are you're thinking of a victorian (also called hourglass) shape. That's what most people think of when they think corsets. Imagine Gone With The Wind for the basic look.

Odds are the vast, vast majority of sites will cater towards the goth crowd. We're really, outside the historical reinactment group (who are very DIY), the bulk of the consumers for them. But, if you go custom, you can get whatever fabric you want. A lot of makers will even let you send in your own woven fabrics. I don't tend to favor one over the other... I have leather, PVC, cotton, and silk, so I can't recommend one over the other.

You can lace it yourself (leave the laces in all the time, there'll be too "loops" at the waist, you tighten up from the top and down from the bottom, and tie at the waist), but it takes some practice. I still can't get my own as tight as if I have a strong friend do it, and this is with almost a decade of corseting. It's better to loosen the laces before taking it off since you can damage the busk otherwise. Take good care of it, store it flat, never toss in the machine, and it'll last you years. A good corset really is an investment, and with proper care it will last years and years.

Good luck!
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:08 PM on June 9, 2006 [7 favorites]

My first corset was a custom one by Meschantes, who often lists them on eBay for significantly less than the website price (you send them about twenty different measurements and they make it to size). I was quite happy with the balance of custom fit and price from them, especially for a first corset. has had zillions of discussions on first-time corsetry over the years, and although the FAQ is sometimes out of date, it's a great resource for off-the-shelf, made-to-order, and do-it-yourself corsetry.
posted by nonane at 6:58 AM on June 10, 2006

Being a RenFair vet, I most love my (steel-boned) costume corsets from Moresca. The name of the style I prefer is Max, which laces on the sides and in back, making them more adjustable and very cinchable. You'll need someone to lace you into it, though.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 PM on June 10, 2006

Best answer: Excellent post by Kellydamnit. I second Moresca, and I can actually get myself into and out of my Max without trouble (via one of the side-lacings.) I wear it out a lot (on its own or under a shrug or jacket) and would highly recommend it as a comfortable style that would suit someone tall and slender.

That's a more-or-less Tudor-based style. If you're going for Victorian, yeah, expect a busk. Myself, I don't necessarily like the look of those fastenings in the center front, but they are easy to get into and out of once you've got the knack.

Now (as your partner may say) let's talk boning. Plastic boning is what you'll find in many corsets at Victoria's Secret, Hot Topic, etc. It can be comfortable, but as Kellydamnit said, it won't necessarily shape your body and the bones, if cheap, can warp. Plastic bones might not even give you enough bust support to be comfortable (you don't wear a bra with an overbust corset.)

That's not to say that plastic boning is a bad thing all the time: some people use it to mimic the reeds, feather shafts or whalebone used for boning in the 16th to 18th centuries. If you're buying a plastic boned corset, look at the inside. Since plastic boning is the weakest kind, you need lots of it. So look for lots of bones, ideally forming a "fan shape" in the front (like a handheld fan, narrow at the bottom and fanning out at the top.) That's the only shape I've ever seen succeed with plastic boning. Ideally you also want a lining so the plastic won't be next to your skin (some cheaper corsets omit this.)

Steel boning is authentic for a Victorian corset. It comes in two types, spiral and flat. A steel-boned corset will need fewer bones than a plastic-boned one, since steel is more supportive. Spiral steel is my personal favourite-- it's supportive, but flexible enough to move with the body. Flat steel will feel a little more restrictive. (Though, again, that Moresca corset is boned with flat steel and, because they don't use too many bones, it's still quite comfortable.) Many people use a combination of the two.

When wearing a corset, if you drop something, bend at the knees to pick it up. Also, remember to put on your shoes, stockings, etc before putting on the corset. Forgetting this can result in lots of swearing.

Not much else I can say that Kellydamnit hasn't covered. I can recommend the Victorian-style corsets boned with flat steel by Brute Force-- that's one of those choose-your-fabric, choose-your-style, send-in-your-measurements deals. The makers other people have linked to look great as well.

Happy lacing!
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:59 AM on June 11, 2006

Best answer: I have no direct experience with these corset makers, but both Black Rayne and Blooddrop make custom corsets for very reasonable prices. I'm on a couple of forums they frequent and they seem like responsible, communicative people. Their corsets have a good reputation as well. I've also heard good things about Brute Force. Ideally, the best course of action is to find a corsetier in your area to have a fitting in person- but the best online retialers should give you explicit directions for measuring yourself and will sometimes provide a mockup (a quickie one layer corset made to measure as a fitting aid) to insure a good fit. Off the rack corsets rarely fit anyone properly, so I strongly recommend custom if you want to actually have any waist reduction and be comfortable while doing it.

And I second what Pallas Athena said about putting on anything below the waist before putting on your corset. Since I put my corset on about an hour before going out in order to gradually tighten it as it 'warms up', it's easy to forget how much bending at the waist is actually required until I've nicely laced myself in and am trying to pull on my boots with the tips of my fingers. Good times.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:10 PM on June 11, 2006

Response by poster: thanks to everyone - it's been very helpful! appreciate it.
posted by fizzyliftingdrink at 12:18 AM on June 12, 2006

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