This is Kitty’s “Guide to Finding Your Perfect Corset” – being an excruciatingly detailed treatise on fit and construction.
First and foremost, a good corset is perfectly, utterly comfortable.
So why do so many people think corsets hurt? And why do so many corsets just look wrong? You’ve seen it: breasts spilling sideways and over the neckline, the tummy pushed down and bulging out the bottom, strange rolling bumps where there should only be smooth lines.
And the complaints. “My corset pinches under the arms.” “I can’t sit down.” “The bottom of my corset is rolling up in front.” “My chin is resting on my chest!” “The boning bent and poked into my ribs and now I have bruises.”
You’re about to find out why these things happen — and how you can keep them from happening to you.
Flimsy Boning is Evil!
“Boning” is that rigid stuff inside your corsets. Without it, a corset might as well be a tube top.
Boning is what does all the heavy lifting in a corset. In simple terms, the sturdier and higher-quality the boning, the better the corset. And though it might seem counter-intuitive at first, heavier boning almost always makes a more comfortable corset (provided that it’s the right shape for you, of course – more on that in a minute).
If the boning is too weak, it will gradually bend and start forming kinks that begin jabbing into your body. It will hurt! It can leave bruises or even cuts, and can do permanent damage to your body if you let it go far enough.
Always test the boning in a corset before you let anyone put it on your body. If you can grab a 4- to 6-inch length of it between your hands and bend it in half, run for your life! Really good boning should be as wide as your finger, and you should not be able to fold it.
“Steel boning” doesn’t necessarily mean good boning – not if it fails the bend test. Some steel bones are as bad as cheap plastic featherboning, and some high-tech plastic is much stronger than steel. Learn what the good stuff feels like and trust your common sense. If it bends in your hands, it can bend on your body.
Good corset makers will offer a warranty for their boning; that means if your boning kinks or gives way in the course of normal wear within the reasonable lifetime of the corset, they’ll fix or replace it.
One more thing: cheaply made corsets, and even some expensive ones, often have decent stiffening at the front but flimsier boning at the sides and other panels. Check ALL the bones. If the centre front boning feels much stiffer than the other bones, someone may be skimping.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with inexpensive plastic-boned corsets if all you’re looking to do is prance around your bedroom for 10 minutes before throwing them off. Just don’t wear them for an all-night party or to work, or you may be in for a world of pain.
The “One Size Fits None” Phenomenon
Have you ever noticed that the fashion industry thinks that everyone is the same shape, no matter what the size?
That’s annoying enough when you’re shopping for a shirt, but when you’re shopping for a corset, it can actually really hurt you.
Remember this critical lesson: shape is more important than size!
Let’s say we go forth into the street and grab ten people who wear the same “size” (to most corset makers, this means the waist and/or chest circumference). You could have people who are 4’8″ or 6’2″’. You could have B cups or J cups, or no ups at all. You could have long-waisted and short-waisted people, with narrow hips or bountiful hips, swaybacks or ramrod-straight spines, wide rib cages or narrow.
Now imagine all these people being put into the same “size” corset.
This is why ordering a corset online is a bit like playing darts blindfolded.
This Could be You….
Let’s take an example. Today’s sample client is a woman of “average” height, maybe 5’5’’, and an “average” bra size (let’s say 40C), so she order an average corset.
But she a super-short waist for her height, so her rib cage ends a lot higher than the numbers would indicate. An “average” corset would be too long in the torso and dig horribly into the hip bones.
Though she wears a 40C bra, that’s really misleading, because she happens to have to have a very broad back, which means she need a larger band size, which brings down your cup size on paper — when you go up a band size, you go down a cup size for the same size breast. Adjusted for that, she probably has something more like a DD cup. So an “average” corset would mean she would spill up, over, and sideways. But wait, she can’t get a “Tall” corset to compensate, because then it would just stab straight up into her armpits!
She might notice that after half an hour or so into wearing her new corset, her lower back aches. That’s because she has a spine that curves out into a swayback, and the corset doesn’t. She has to take it off now, or she could throw out her back.
All of these, and many other issues, could just as easily apply to you, whether you’re a man or woman or neither, whatever your size or shape.
So what are you supposed to do about it?
There’s only one way to avoid this sort of thing. First, get to know your corset makers, if you possibly can. Ask them how many SHAPES PER STYLE they make.
Careful – this is not the same thing as “How many sizes” or “how many styles.” You want to know that they have separate patterns to accommodate different heights, proportions, rib cage shapes, hip flares, spinal curves, bust height (important if you don’t want nipples making an unscheduled appearance), cup sizes, and any special issues or special features you might have.
Be suspicious of anyone who’s willing to sell you a corset in person without giving you a good grope (to get to know your bone structure, of course). Or in the event of an online fitting, any corset maker should require you to send 1) lots of measurements and 2) several photos from different angles, and depending on your particular needs of physical features, even more follow-up measurements.
Corsets are not created alike
Even today, many corsets are still made in the tradition of the bad old days, when corsets could be torture devices for ladies who didn’t need to move or breathe much.
Other corsets feel so ridiculously comfortable that they’re sort of dangerous – you have no idea how tightly you’re laced, and might go too far without knowing it.
Kitty regularly has to deal with novices who believe a corset isn’t tight unless it hurts and restricts breathing, and will keep begging to go tighter: “Oh, please go tighter, I can still breathe. Really, it doesn’t hurt yet. Go tighter, tighter, tighter, ti…” (falls down in dead faint).
A well-made corset should be utterly, uncompromisingly, perfectly comfortable. You feel supported and your posture is perfect. Your breasts, if you have any, are lifted, but never so high they hit your chin, unless you opted for a straightening corset, in which case they should be neatly tucked under and comfortably suppressed. If you suffer from back pain, you might feel immediate relief. Nothing digs in, standing or sitting. Ten minutes after you put it on, you should forget it’s there.
In a curve-enhancing style corset, you should be able to take off two to six inches off your waist to begin with. But you shouldn’t feel any discomfort or difficulty breathing. In a straightening or compression corset, your soft tissues should feel firmly contained, but never squished hard enough to compromise circulation. When you take it off, you should feel a bit regretful, and sincerely be able to say “I felt so much better with it on.”
The difference between a perfectly comfy corset and a painful one is often the cut or shape of the panels that make up the corset. You want to find someone who shapes the panels so they never compress your diaphragm, scoop inward into the side of your torso at the wrong height for you, or force your spine into an unnatural (if Victorian) S-curve.
If anyone ever tells you “It’s supposed to hurt! Beauty knows no pain!” or some such thing, you go ahead and kick them in the shins. Well, maybe not. But at least give them a reproachful look.
A Few Other Considerations
Do you have a maid or valet? Are your arms long and freakishly flexible?
If not, you will want a corset fastening style that doesn’t need someone else to tighten or loosen the back for you every time you put it on or take it off. Busks may be a problem, for example, unless you have a perpetually helpful and present housemate.
Are you going to be able to afford more than one good, proper corset? Real corsets aren’t cheap, folks (do that boning bend test, folks!). If you’ve decided to invest in one well-made corset, rather than three dodgy ones that will explode the second time you wear them (the cost would end up about the same), consider choosing a subtler and more neutral colour and texture. Yes, it can be hard to pass by all those glowing prints and shiny trims, but you’ll get a lot more use out of a corset you can pair with everything you own.
How are you going to clean the corset? Make sure you find out how to deal if you get something nasty on your corset (marinara sauce, cat pee, chocolate body paint….). You do not want your boning to rust in the wash. Or melt in dry-cleaning fluid.
What are you going to wear with it? While the bedroom the fetish club are fine and noble venues for your corset, you can try it with a plain dress shirt and dark slacks. Pretend it’s a vest and that you come by that figure naturally. Throw on a blazer and you could take it to the office. Try it with a tank top, leather pants, and cowboy boots. Or a T-shirt and jeans.
And that just about covers it. If you have burning questions that remain unaddressed, please feel free to contact Kitty and she will do her best to provide you with answers.