HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT CORSET
A true corset is quite different from a lingerie garment that has stretch; it is designed to fit snugly and should feel comfortable and supportive. People often think the corset will be uncomfortable and restrictive, and they are often surprised at how good a well-fitting corset feels. A corset is made with several layers of fabric, steel boning, a front steel closure (called a busk) and back lacing. All these features allow for proper fitting. When a customer asks for a corset, I start by determining why they want one and they usually fit into four distinct categories: • • • • • •
to go under a wedding or ball dress to help with back support to help with weight loss or to train the waist to wear as an outer garment on its own or over a dress to show the waist
There are two types of corset: the full corset which covers the bust and hips, and the underbust corset. It's important to consider your body shape. The full corset assumes your waist is significantly smaller than your bust and hips. The underbust corset works on every shape as it only deals with the waist.
Late-nineteenth century fashion placed the most emphasis on a small waist, but actual waist reduction was minimal. Studies of late-nineteenth century garments have demonstrated that the average corseted woman had a waist that was only 2” smaller, in comparison to her hips and bust, than the average modern woman. Corsets were commonly sold in waist measurements from 18” to 30”. Larger sizes were available by special order, but few makers offered smaller sizes. Even Scarlett O’Hara’s famous 17” waist is a myth. The waistline of the 1860s-inspired green dress worn in the picnic scene of Gone with the Wind measures 21 ½” inches – a fair bit more than the 17 inches claimed in the film, and not much of a reduction for petite Vivien Leigh. The twentieth century saw a flurry of new corset styles: first the ‘S’ bend, which thrust the bosom forward, and then the longline corset, which reduced the pressure on the waist, focusing instead on an overall slim line. The corset disappeared entirely in the 1920s. Control undergarments reappeared in the 1930s and ‘50s, but the day of the corset was over, probably for good, as corsets have been blamed for every manner of ill health from miscarriages and fainting to the less plausible “ugly children”. Still, there has never been a medically documented case of death by corset, and in New Zealand alone there were no less than two incidences of corsets saving women’s lives: once when a corset prevented a woman’s drunken partner from stabbing her to death, and another time when a bullet bounced off a fortunate woman’s busk.
The waist is really the most important measurement when selecting a corset, but the measurement people frequently overlook is their height. Often customers tell me they own corsets that do not allow them to sit down. While it is tempting to get a corset as long as possible to cover the hips, the boning will be a major issue on a shorter person. A well-fitting corset should create a flow down through the waist and over the hips without any bulges, and should allow the wearer to sit comfortably without leaning back or being poked by bones. As an undergarment, the corset presents a challenge for today's fashions. Although it will give you a nice line, one must consider that the corset has 'depth'. It has layers of fabric, boning, a closure and lacing, all of which will be visible under a thin dress. If the outer clothing is layered or the fabric is thick or ruched, there is usually no problem. But so often customers expect the corset to be invisible. For invisibility, the only real option is 'Spanx'-style underwear made of flesh-coloured elastic fabric, but that will never give the curves and is often less comfortable than a good corset. At the Corseterie we don't encourage extreme waist training, but for those customers wanting to trim their waist we have waist-training options. But please don't expect to buy one tiny corset and train your waist down in it! Each corset should always fit well, and waist training must be done incrementally. It will probably take two or three corsets to bring the waist down significantly. It's important to take on this project slowly and put the body through the least amount of stress. "No pain, no gain" should not be the rule off thumb. At any age, a well-fittingg corset will improve posture re and shape, and give the wearer er confidence without discomfort.
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