…being an excruciatingly detailed treatise on fit and construction
A properly made corset is a thing of beauty – your breasts lovingly upped and cupped, your waist looking tiny next to deliciously flaring hips, your spine held in perfect posture, your proportions magically transformed into the perfect hourglass.
And yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s supposed to be perfectly, utterly comfortable.
So why do so many people think corsets hurt? And why do so many people look frankly unfortunate in their corsets? You’ve seen it: bustlines spilling sideways over the neckline, the tummy pushed down to bulge under the bottom instead of neatly tucked inside, strange rolling bumps where there should only be smooth curves.
And the complaints. “My corset digs in under the arms.” “I can’t sit down.” “I think my breasts are making a break for freedom.” “The boning broke through and poked me in the chin.” “My corset bent and pushed 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. Learn the following lessons well, and you’ll be spectacularly sexy and comfy in your corset.
Flimsy Cheap Boning is the Evil Work of Satan
“Boning” is that rigid stuff inside your corsets, without which a corset is no different from any old top. Boning is what does all the heavy lifting in a corset. To keep it simple, the sturdier and higher-quality the boning, the better the corset. Though it might seem counter-intuitive at first, heavier boning = 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 to support your soft bits, it will gradually bend and start forming kinks that are like hard fingers jabbing into your body. It will hurt. It can leave bruises. It 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 four-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 in half.
“Steel boning” doesn’t necessarily mean good boning – not if it fails the bend test. Learn what the good stuff feels like and trust your common sense. If it bends in your hands it can bend on your body.
One more thing: inexpensively made corsets often have decent stiffening at the front but flimsier boning at the sides and other panels. Check ALL the bones.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with inexpensive plastic-boned corsets, if all you’re looking to do is prance around in the bedroom for 10 minutes before throwing them off. Just don’t wear them out to the three-hour concert (ow ow ow!).
The “One Size Fits None” Phenomenon
Have you ever noticed that the fashion industry thinks that all women are 5’7’’ and a B cup, 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 women who wear the same “size” (to most corset makers, this means the waist size). You could have women of every height from 4’9’’ to 6’2’’. You could have B cups or HHH cups. You could have long-waisted and short-waisted women, women with narrow hips or bountiful hips, swaybacks or ramrod-straight backs, wide rib cages or narrow.
Now imagine all these women 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. You’re a woman of “average” height, maybe 5’5’’, and an “average” bra size (let’s say 40C), so you order an average corset.
But say you have a super-short waist for your height, so your 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 your hip bones.
You wear a 40C bra, but that’s really misleading, because you happen to have a very broad back, which means you need a larger band size, which brings down your cup size on paper (adjusted for your band size, your actual cup size is probably DD). So an “average” corset would mean you would spill up, over, and sideways. But wait, you can’t get a “Tall” corset, because then it would just stick into your armpits!
You notice that after half an hour or so into wearing your new corset, your lower back aches. That’s because you have a spine that curves out into a swayback, and your corset doesn’t. Take it off now, or you could throw out your back.
Now your corset is chafing you under the arms. Blisters are becoming an option. Why? You happen to have a very narrow upper rib cage, so the corset’s too wide for you there.
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 without giving you a good grope (to get to know your bone structure, of course!). True, a long-distance consultation is sometimes unavoidable. But if that’s the only option, your corset maker should be asking you a gazillion questions and demanding photos of you from several angles, at the very least.
Corsets are not created alike
(or, if anyone tries to sell you an uncomfortable corset, smack ‘em one)
Some corsets are 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. 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 bustline is lifted, but never so it hits your chin. 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.
You should lose about three to six inches off your waist to begin, but you shouldn’t feel any discomfort or difficulty breathing. When you take it off, you should feel sad, 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 too deeply into the side of your torso, 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!”, you go ahead and kick them in the shins.
A Few Other Considerations
Do you have a maid? Are your arms long and freakishly flexible? If not, you might want to look into getting a style where you don’t need someone else to tighten or loosen the back for you every time you put on or take off the corset. Busks may be a problem, for example, unless you have a perpetually helpful and present roommate or boyfriend.
Are you going to be able to afford more than one good, proper corset? Real corsets aren’t cheap, folks (sorry to break it to you, but that $79.99 special really isn’t one). 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 (about the same price), 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 beastie? 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 boning that will rust if you wash it…or melt in the dry-cleaning fluid.
What are you going to wear with it? While the bedroom and the fetish club are fine and noble venues for your corset, you should try it with a plain dress shirt and dark slacks. Pretend it’s a vest and that you naturally have that perfect figure and pert bustline – who’s going to know it you don’t tell (this is easier to do with a lace-front corset, as the traditional busk does rather scream “I’m a corset!”). 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 low-necked 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.