Are you wearing an authentic corset?

This is a blog post I recently wrote for the Corset Connection blog. All images used in the post and the chart are courtesy of Corset Connection and all items are available for purchase in their online store. They have a wonderful range of steel-boned Budget Beauties available to suit every pocket. Also be sure to check out their Facebook page with all their awesome prizes and giveaways. 

Black Underbust Corset

I bought my first corset for a high school dance and it was the most wonderful feeling to have all that rich velvet hug my body and cinch my waist into goddess-like proportions. Not only did I feel every inch a princess, I also felt empowered. I felt like I could take on the world and that nothing could stop me. I was ready to see every jaw at the dance drop as I walked by. I was ready to fight off the droves of admirers with a flick of my wrist. I was out to make small town history as their very own, real life Cinderella.

But, alas, the fairy tale didn’t last. Very soon the bones of my new corset began to buckle and bend out of shape. With every breath I could feel my waistline expand further and eventually the entire thing started unraveling at the seams. My corset had literally turned into a pumpkin.

I was angry and disappointed and my head filled with complaints. Are corsets really this flimsy? Am I really that fat? And it was then that the most important question occurred to me. The question that everyone should ask themselves if they are in the market for a corset: am I even wearing an authentic corset?

The answer for me was no. I wasn’t wearing a corset. The problem wasn’t with the top itself, but with what I had tried to do with it. Corsets have been developed over centuries of research, trial and error, and wardrobe malfunction to withstand the stresses of lacing tightly and altering or enhancing the figure. I had learned the hard way that if you try to lace any other garment like you would a corset, you may end up damaging it, or worse, hurting yourself! Likewise, if you try to wear a corset like it’s any other garment, the results will be the same.

Whenever you are looking at corsets to buy, ask yourself these questions:

Does it have laces?
Almost everything can have laces, but a corset simply cannot be a corset without it. Corsets are adjustable garments that can be laced looser or tighter as the occasion or your outfit demands. If you can’t adjust it via laces, it isn’t an authentic corset.

Can you see through it?
Lace and other sheer lingerie fabrics are not strong enough to be used in a real corset. Corsets have to operate under high stress and light, sheer fabrics simply won’t hold. Lace can be used as embellishment, but it can’t be the foundation fabric of the corset.

Can you stretch it?
If your hands can stretch it, think what your wobbly bits would be able to do to it! Coutil is a fabric that has been developed specially for corsets. It is strong, stable, doesn’t stretch and keeps the bones from breaking through. This helps a corset keep its shape, which in turn helps you to keep yours! If it can stretch it’s not an authentic corset.

Can you slouch while wearing the corset?
Most corselets and corset tops will help you with some streamlining and waist-reduction, but once you slouch they will not be able to support the weight like an authentic corset does. If it bends easily and allows you to push your tummy out a bit, it isn’t a real corset. One of the main goals of corsets throughout history has been to ensure good posture, so if it is worth its weight in steel it won’t allow slouching.

Is it cheap?
Authentic corsets are speciality garments that take a lot of skill, tools and different materials to make. Those things all cost money. If you can buy it for a few bucks out of a end-of-range bargain bin, it probably isn’t a corset. Miracles do happen, so keep your eyes peeled, but it’s always safer to pay for the quality you expect.

Of course there is nothing wrong with all the other cute tops that you tried on that aren’t steel-boned corsets! Sometimes you’ll want to wear an authentic corset and other times you just need something that looks the part but allows you some freedom of movement. So what else is there and how to tell what is what? Below are some of the options you have and also tips on how to tell them apart:

Brassiere

The Brassiere
Devices for supporting the breasts have been around since the time of ancient Greece, and the first modern bra was patented in 1889. The design closest to what we wear today was patented in 1914. Brassieres are usually made of soft, elastic materials that provide both support, comfort and embellishment. Usually underwires and two or more flexible plastic bones are included to help the bra keep its shape. If the strap and the body of the bra below the cups extend all the way down to the waist, it is called a bustier. This garment provides light to medium support for the bust and does not shape the torso in any way.

Black corselet

The Corselet
The corselet is an all in one garment that combines a light form of girdle with a brassiere. This style developed in the 1920′s when the desired figure was flat rather than curvy. The idea was to have a garment that could be anchored on the shoulders and to the garters, and so create a straight line. Today, however, they have evolved to include elastic panels and flexible plastic bones to create an understated yet feminine shape.

Black corset top or sleeping corset

The Corset Top
This modern day invention looks very much like a corset, but does in fact not offer the same amount of iron-clad support as an authentic corset does. Corset tops are usually made using lighter materials an include plastic bones. They cannot stand up to the stresses of lacing tightly and will provide only a limited amount of shaping to both the waist and the bust.

Authentic red steel-boned corset

The Authentic Corset
The modern authentic corset most likely evolved from the standardised everyday corsets that were first mass produced in the 1890’s. They consist of shaped panels that are supported by spring steel or spiral steel boning. It is a combination of these panels, boning and laces that gives a corset that very specific shape and the strength to support the entire torso. The top of the corset can stop below or above the breasts or anywhere in between. A general rule of thumb is that if it sits below the nipples it is an underbust corset and if sits on or above the nipples it is an overbust corset.

This Are you wearing a corset? chart allows you to look at some of the different options that are out there and you can decide what is best for you. Happy shopping!

Are you wearing an authentic corset chart

This is a blog post I recently wrote for the Corset Connection blog. All images used in the post and the chart are courtesy of Corset Connection and all items are available for purchase in their online store. They have a wonderful range of steel-boned Budget Beauties available to suit every pocket. Also be sure to check out their Facebook page with all their awesome prizes and giveaways. 

Corset of the Month: Ribbon Corset

Corset of the month
So…I haven’t done this is in a while. Maybe a more accurate description would be “Corset of the every once-in-a-while”, but be that as it may, here is a corset of the month. It is a corset that I have been obsessing over for quite some time, and is quite possibly the reason why there hasn’t been a corset of the month for several months. So without further ado let me introduce the Ribbon Corset!

Silk Ribbon Corset circa 1900 - 1905 from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen

This corset appears in Jill Salen’s Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques and is constructed entirely from lengths of pink floral silk ribbon. The ribbon is approximately 5,7 cm (2,25 in) wide 5,5 to 6,5 m (6-7 yards) were used. The side panel houses whale boning and the corset features a metal split busk opening at the front. 

There is some debate as to the accuracy of its representation here: it seems like it has been designed to contort the body extremely, or alternatively, has been pinned back around the unlikely shape of this manikin. I am leaning towards the latter, as the reproductions based on the pattern of this corset doesn’t seem to resemble this picture in any way.

Diagram of Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

Diagram of Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

The drawing accompanying the corset in Jill Salen’s book. Here it can already be seen that the actual shape of the corset may have been a bit over stylised in the main picture as here the waist is not nearly as small, nor are the sides as high ad smooth. This line drawing seems like a much more accurate representation of a corset that would have fitted a normal human being.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset fron Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

From the pattern drawings in Salen’s book it is easy to see how the corset is constructed from ribbon. Regular corsets often have a waist stay (a ribbon running along the waistline across all the panels) for support, so it makes sense to create a corset that takes all it’s strength from the waist stay concept. The ribbons of the ribbon corset run horizontally as opposed  to the panels of a corset that would normally run vertically. Ribbons are at their strongest and most stable if a power is exerted on them in this way, and this ensures that the ribbon corset is in fact quite strong and not susceptible to warping.

Corsets made from this pattern:

Jill Salen's 1900 ribbon corset by Leimomi Oakes aka The Dreamstress

Jill Salen's 1900 ribbon corset by Leimomi Oakes aka The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes who, as The Dreamstress, fascinates and educates with her wonderful and well-researched historical recreations has created this ribbon corset using the pattern depicted in Salen’s book. You can see her post on the ribbon corset here. There are some very nice pictures of her work, as well as some tips on making a faux-ribbon corset. Be sure to look at everything on this site, as the historical research and workmanship is superb!

Other ribbon corsets:

Black satin tight-lacing ribbon corset by Sidney Eileen

Black satin tight-lacing ribbon corset by Sidney Eileen

This is a tight-lacing variety of the ribbon corset created by Sidney Eileen. As can be seen on the photograph, this corset has a much more pronounced cinch in the waist area, created specifically for tight-lacing. This kind of corset can usually only be worn by tight-lacers who have trained their waists for this severe form of reduction. Many beautiful pictures of Eileen’s corset can  be seen here. She also shares a wonderfully detailed tutorial on how to make this particular corset. Well worth checking out as it covers every single thing that will have to be sewn on this corset. She also shares various other tutorials that cover both very simple techniques as well as much more advanced skills.

Now off to attempt some ribbon corsets of my own…

Corset of the Month: Black & Yellow

Corset of the month

Welcome to Corset of the Month! From now on I will do a monthly post sharing a corset that caught my eye / inspired me / that I covet.

First up in what I hope will be a long line of wonderful garments, is the Black and Yellow Corset. This is in no small part to honour my current obsession with black and yellow…

Back corset with yellow flossing and yellow lace. Yellow stitching between the cording over the bust. Straight busk.
This particular corset comes from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen and dates from 1890-1900. The corset is made from black sateen with yellow flossing (the embroidery that stops the bones from tearing through the fabric). There is more yellow embroidery under the horizontal cording over the the bust and the garment is rounded off with a black and yellow lace trim on the the top edge. The bones are encased in surface bone casing (the casing is sewn onto the surface of the corset, as opposed to sitting between the layers or in the seams) and it has a straight split-busk fastening. The corset has extra bones with the busk to strengthen it and prevent the busk from breaking under the strain of bending over during chores. This may mean that corset was constructed for a working woman rather than a lady of leisure.

A very similar corset appears in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh and it is said to date from the late 1880’s.

Black corset with yellow flossing. Cording over bust and yellow and black lace trim. Spoon busk fastening.
This corset is made out of black coutil and also features yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and bottom to keep the bones in place. There is also horizontal cording over the bust (with yellow stitching in between) and a black lace with yellow ribbon trim along the top edge of the garment. The most pronounced difference between this corset and the one from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen is that it has a curved spoon busk fastening instead of a straight busk. The other marked difference is in the pattern: this corset’s pattern has only ten panels while the previous one has twelve.

Other sightings:

Lacing Yourself Into a Corset video by Lace Embrace.


This video features another version of the black and yellow corset. The video is somewhat blurry, but from what I can tell this corset is also black with the same yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and the bottom to hold the bones in place. There is no yellow trimming along the top edge, but the top of the busk is adorned with a yellow bow. Make sure you watch to the very end: this is a VERY good and informative video on how to lace a corset yourself. It seems obvious, but if you don’t follow these simple steps you might get yourself tied in a knot that you can’t get out of. And I’m speaking from experience here…