Hello my lovelies! This week's topic is one that I've heard addressed over and over in the online corset forums, such as the Livejournal corset groups, and in long discussion threads on Fetlife, and in conversations at the goth club. There is endless debate over how expensive corsets are, are the really expensive ones worth it, and whether there's a way to spend less.
So let's get this out of the way first of all: you CAN find a decent, solid, fairly well-made steel-boned corset for a hundred dollars. But you need to know a fair bit about corset fitting and your own body type to get the right one.
We're not going to talk here about custom corsets. The plain truth is, you get what you pay for, and a corset custom made by hand for your own body is going to do miraculous things for your shape that no off-the-rack corset ever can. Plus, a custom corset is infinitely more comfortable. And having an intimate garment like a corset superbly made, most often by a single seamstress, is a priceless experience. We'll talk about sources for custom corsets in a later column, and I have plenty to say—I own 8 custom corsets, and they are my most cherished possessions. I also own a dozen off-the-rack corsets, and I believe they have their place.
We are going to look here at underbust corsets with steel bones—fitting an overbust off the rack is even harder, and we'll talk about that down the line. The first thing you need to know, before you buy any kind of corset, is your measurements. "Hipspring" is what corsetmakers call the difference between your hip measurements and your waist measurement, and it makes all the difference in how a corset fits. The site of the corset company What Katie Did, an excellent resource for ready-made steel-boned corsets in the under $200 range, describes two kinds of figures: "Modern" and "Vintage." A "Modern" figure has less than 10" difference between hip and waist; a "Vintage" figure has 10" or more. This is an extremely useful way to differentiate between the types of corset that will fit you and the kind that will make you horribly uncomfortable. My own hipspring is 13," so I need a fairly extreme style of corset, which has led me to search the market extensively. Well, actually, issues with compulsive shopping and a demented obsession with corsets is what led me to spend thousands of hours on corset websites, but never mind.
Here are two styles of corsets from What Katie Did for very different bodies:
The "Morticia" is a very curvy corset with a curved line over the hips—great for those of us who are pear-shaped, with big solid hipbones (I'd say childbearing hips, except I hate kids) and naturally slim waists. It's a modified Edwardian style, with a recurving bottom line that drops low over the tummy, comes up above the leg and then drops back down on the sides of the hips.
The "Gina" is a modified Victorian silhouette, shorter and much less curvy. This is a great shape for folks with a waist about 8" smaller than their hips, and a small rib cage. Or for "Squishy" people—the technical corsetmakers' term for people who have flesh at their waists that can "squish" upwards and downwards when pressure is applied, and relatively light bone structure so that their ribcages are compressible.
If you look at both photos you will see another very important distinction. The metal closure in the front of a corset is called a busk. It's made of two metal strips sewn into the corset, one with studs and one with eyes. You must have a busk on your corset. It's a nightmare to get in and out of a corset that doesn't have a front opening, and only a steel busk is a sturdy enough form of closure to withstand the stress that a steel-boned corset is exposed to. Also, corset snobs, even me, will ridicule you if you call something that doesn't have a steel busk and steel bones a "corset."
This is not a corset:
The busks on the "Morticia" and "Gina" corsets are different lengths: the "Morticia" has six studs, and the "Gina" has four. The length of the busk is also very important in fitting a corset. I don't own a "Morticia," even though an off-the-rack one would fit me well at the waist and hips, because I know an underbust with six studs is too long for my short ribcage. At five-four and high-waisted, many standard corset lengths will come up too high under my bust. If you are under five-four you will definitely want to avoid six-stud busks on an underbust.