What is a Corset?
A corset is a structured, boned garment which is designed to temporarily alter the shape of your body.
A well-made corset can be worn comfotably for an extended period (a whole day, if need be) without any discomfort or damage.
What makes a corset different from a regular garment is essentially the boning, or the stiff stuff that gives the corset its structure. Without the boning, all the fabric would scrunch up into the smallest part of your torso instead of remaining upright and shaping your body. More than anything else, the quality of boning determines the quality of your corset, but a good one will also have a sturdy full lining and solid grommets that can take the constant tension.
Glossary of Terms
You’ll keep hearing these words when you’re looking at corsets. You will need to know them to understand everything you’ll learn from here on in.
BINDING: The strip of fabric that covers the cut, or “raw,” edges of the fabric. It can go on the upper and/or bottom edge of the corset. In Felix & Kitty corsets, the binding is almost always at the bottom.
BONING: The stiff stuff that goes inside your corset and gives it structure. It’s the boning that lets a corset shape your body, and keeps all the fabric from collapsing into a scrunched-up mess mess. Boning can be made from different materials (steel, plastic, even broom straws), but you must look for the sturdiest and strongest possible. Cheap boning is the main reason bad corsets hurt to wear.
BUSK: A way of opening and closing the front of the corset, consisting of what looks like a row of little metal pegs that fit into a matching row of loop[s. We don’t use busks except by special request, mostly because it’s very hard to put on or take off a busked corset by yourself. Also, many people find they’re a pain to use even with a helper. Still, if you need a period-accurate Victorian look, you may need a busk.
GROMMETS: The round metal doughnuts that reinforce the holes you use to lace up your corset. They strengthen the hole so you don’t rip through the fabric when you pull the corset tight. The best grommets are double-faced (have a metal ring on the inside as well as the outside) and hand-set for extra security. Felix and Kitty spend many hours inserting each grommet by hand, and have never had one pull out!
LACING: This can mean the act of doing up your corset with a long string or lace that passes through two rows of grommets. Or it can mean the cord (or ribbon, or other material) which you use to do up the corset. You can have front and/or back lacing, and sometimes even side or asymmetrical lacing.
LINER or CORSET LINER: Even if you’re mainly wearing your corset under other clothes, it’s a good idea to wear some kind of liner garment under it to keep it clean and protect it from perspiration, body oils, and skin acids. It’s much easier to launder a liner than a corset! Any tube top or undershirt that’s thin, soft, and breathable can work, or you can order a custom-made corset liner from us.
MODESTY PANEL: This is a panel of fabric, usually matching the body of your corset, that goes under the back lacings. You might opt for a modesty panel if you find that the lacings dig in or makes your skin look bumpy, or just because you prefer not to show skin under them. Modesty panels generally lend a more dressed-up or formal look to a corset.
OVERBUST: A style of corset that comes up high enough in front to cover at least part of your chest. You can have full coverage or just up to your nipples, or somewhere in between.
SEAMS: These are the points at which the panels of a corset are sewn to each other. Where the seams are on a corset can be important, because you can build curves into the shape of a corset only where the seams go. So the curvier you are, the more seams you’ll need in the area where you curve most sharply.
UNDERBUST: A style of corset which comes to a stop right under your chest area. If you wear a bra, it’s around where your bra band sits. Sometimes also called a “waist cincher.”
WAIST CINCHER: See UNDERBUST.
WAIST TRAINING: Semi-permanently reducing the waist by increasingly tighter lacing of a specially made corset. This is a serous business that should only be undertaken after much research and with a custom-made corset built from specialty materials. Not for the idly curious or standard corsets.
Anatomy of a Corset
Not all corsets look the same, but most of them are made up of the same basic parts.
The main body of a corset is almost always made from some kind of fabric, though other materials (leather, PVC, etc.) can sometimes be used. The body consists of panels of fashion fabric cut and sewn together to accommodate your particular three-dimensional shape. It should be lined with a very sturdy fabric to bear the strain when a corset is pulled tight. Thin or flimsy fabrics mean that seams can rip out after only a little wear, or the boning may poke through. Most corsets come in two halves, a left and a right, with the back laces providing size adjustment.
The back usually has a row of grommets on each side, laced together with some kind of cord or ribbon. You can adjust the size of the corset by bringing the back edges closer or farther together. Tightening or loosening the back opening is a lot like adjusting the fit of skates or sneakers, and you can do it much the same way.
The front closure of a corset can vary quite a bit. You can have a busk (see the glossary if you don’t know what it is), which we generally avoid because it 1) means you need help to get dressed unless you’re unusually flexible, 2) is hard for beginners to use, and 3) can sometimes pop open without warning on certain figures. Or you can have grommets for front lacing, our preferred method. We like this one because lacing up the front is the only way for most people to do up the corset by themselves without help. You can even have no front opening at all if you like that look, provided that you have someone who will always help you put on the corset. Real corsets do not have those hooks and eyes like the ones on a bra closure. They’re nowhere near strong enough to take the pull of a real corset, and will just rip out.
This is the single most important part of the corset, even though you never see it. You want the sturdiest, most supportive possible boning. You might think that the thin, flexible kind is more comfortable, but in reality, it’s exactly the opposite! Bendy boning forms kinks and starts jabbing painfully into you if you wear the corset for any length of time. We’ve seen people with bruises from flimsy boning, and sometimes even bleeding! Also, lightweight boning tends to make you look very lumpy and bumpy once it starts to kink. So always look for boning that’s at least as wide as a finger. And make sure that you can’t take a 4-6 inch segment of it and just bend it in half (if you can, it will never hold up through real wear).
What you use to do up the front and back. It can be anything that fits through the grommet holes and is strong enough. We’ve seen ribbons, thin scarves, strips of chiffon, etc. We usually use shoelaces because they’re easy to use, and because they’re designed to stay tied. But ribbons that match your outfit are attractive and easy to find (try a fabric store or craft store), and if you wear your corset under clothing, they tend to stay flatter.
Felix & Kitty’s warranty
With Felix & Kitty corsets, each grommet is individually hand-set, so they never pull out under stress. Sturdy extra boning on the back edges make sure that they won’t “bow” or warp when you pull the corset tight. If the particulars of your body causes bones to bend under normal wear (we do very rarely get people with recessed or missing ribs, for instance, who need even more than our usual standard boning), we will fix the problem!
Felix & Kitty Creative offers a warranty on all our boning against kinking or poking out under reasonable daily use. In other words, if you tumble down a cliff wearing one or you’re using it for film stunts, that’s not reasonable daily use — unless you specified when you ordered it that this is what you planned for it.