Corsets – Glossary & Anatomy

What is a Corset?

A corset is a structured, boned garment which is designed to temporarily alter the shape of your body – usually to reduce your waist, lift your bosom, flatten your stomach, and smooth out your silhouette.

A real corset is meant to be worn 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.

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 holes.  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, or the cord (or ribbon, or other material) you use to do up the corset.  You can have front and/or back lacing.

OVERBUST:  A style of corset that comes up high enough in front to cover at least part of your breasts.  You can have full coverage (as much as a full-cup bra covers) 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.

UNDERBUST:  A style of corset which comes to a stop right under your bust, 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.  Not for the idly curious.

Anatomy of a Corset

Not all corsets look the same, but most of them are made up of the same basic parts.

Body

Almost always made from some kind of cloth, though other materials (leather, PVC, etc.) can sometimes be used.  The body consists of panels of fashion fabric cut to incorporate curves for your waist, bust, and hips, sewn together to create 3D shapes from flat panels.It should be lined with a very sturdy fabric to bear the strain when a corset is pulled tight.   Avoid thin or flimsy fabrics; otherwise, your seams will rip out during wearing, or the boning will poke through.Most corsets come in two halves, a left and a right, with the back laced together.

Back Opening

Usually has a row of grommets on each side, laced together with some kind of cord or ribbon.  You adjust the size of the corset by bringing the back edges closer of farther together.   Tightening or loosening the back opening is a lot like adjusting the fit of skates or sneakers.

Front Opening

It can vary quite a bit.  You can have a busk (see the vocabulary section if you don’t know what it is), which we don’t much like because it usually means you need help to get dressed and is hard for beginners to use.  Or you can have grommets for front lacing, which is our favourite because it’s very durable and is the easiest way to put on a corset on your own.  You can even have no front opening at all if you like that look, and have someone who will always help you put it on.Real corsets do not have those hooks and eyes like the ones on your bra closure.  They’re nowhere near strong enough to take the pull of a real corset.

Boning

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.  In half an hour you could have bruised ribs.Also, flimsy boning tends to make you look lumpy once it starts to kink.  Look for boning that’s at least as wide as a finger, and which you can’t bend with one hand.

Lacing

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 pretty and easy to find (try a fabric store or craft store).

Felix & Kitty Corsets

Felix & Kitty corsets are made for different body shapes, not just sizes, so if you have a hard-to-fit feature (extra-long torso, G-cup bust, huge hips, etc.), it’s never a problem.

With Felix & Kitty corsets, each grommet is individually hand-inserted and hammered in, 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.

Felix & Kitty Creative warrantees their corsets’ boning against kinking or poking out under reasonable use.