I’m often asked “How long will a corset last?” and “What kind of fabric is stronger for good corsets?” As with any question I receive, my answer is always: “That depends.”
Frustrating answer, isn’t it? I know. But corset questions deserve thoughtful, fact-based discussions that recognize nuances, sometimes not the case in these days of growing numbers of “corset conversation groups” and other rapid-fire online discussions, often among the IT-oriented younger generation of corset enthusiasts. To those of us in the aging-gracefully older corset generation, it often seems that peer opinion that can’t be based on literally decades of experience making and wearing custom corsets, becomes more important than historical fact, to our younger colleagues.
Today I had a detailed conversation with a long-time, dear friend, supporter, and client from Oregon, Leeann. Leeann is 6 feet tall, typically weighs about 200 lbs., and has corseted regularly and seriously for over 15 years. She is a transgendered MTF. By now she owns eight or more corsets by various makers on our ROMANTASY team, including the two-layer, Chinese polysilk red-and-black corset by the former indominable and respected Elder Queen of Corsets, Ruth Johnson, pictured here.
In late 2012 I received back into my historical corset collection, Leeann’s well-used underbust “Bella” 8-panel Victorian in geometric-patterned gold Chinese polysilk, pictured below. The silk is from the higher quality Chinese silk line, from two lines on the market today. It was made custom for Leeann in the fall of 2006, by our ROMANTASY team member, Sharon McCoy Morgan. See: http://romantasyweb.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=R&Category_Code=Sharon+McCoy+Morgan
The corset is bonded and lined in heavy twill with a standard spring steel busk and no underflap or “fly”. The last bone on the very inside gap along the grommets, is 1/2″ wide while all other boning is the normal 3/8″ wide, double, spring steel inner boning. This is a ‘standard’ production Bella Victorian corset in 8-panels that Sharon produces for clients desiring to waist train. (Her 12-panel Vic has four more steel bones and is therefore, a bit tougher and more figure-constricting over time, plus has a slightly better overall fit).
The silhouette created on Leeann’s body is more akin to the ice-cream cone than to the hourglass or wasp: http://romantasyweb.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=R&Product_Code=Basic+Figure+Silhouettes&Category_Code=cgi
According to Leeann, this is her favorite corseted-body silhouette and ‘feel’ when she wears a corset. Not once in six steady years of wear did she ever feel a pinch or a need to loosen this particular corset up, even after indulging occasionally in a 6 – oz. steak-and-potato dinner while remaining laced down 5″ from her snug natural waist of 37-38″.
We delivered this corset to Leeann in the fall of 2006. I interviewed Leeann to learn the details of wear, in order to prepare me with facts that might be more helpful than I have been able to be, in answering the questions, “How long will a good, waist-training quality custom corset last?” and, “Is coutil fabric really necessary for durability and quality in a waist-training corset?”
From September of 2006 til September of 2012 Leeann wore this corset at a 4.5 to 5″ reduction for 46 hour-weekends (taking only one hour off per day for a shower). She wore it 2.5 times more frequently during this period than only one other “workhorse” corset she was field testing by another maker on our team at the same time. In total she estimates she put in about 8,700 hours of wear of this single corset, in six years. She wore it as a foundation corset underneath her clothing (allowing clothing to rub on and possibly damage the outer corset fabric. Note that she also wears the waist pulls around her waist, contributing to rubbing on the surface of the fabric. We advise lacing from the back and tying the bow in the back to protect your fabric.) She paid $ 395 for the corset in 2006.
Realize that with a waist reduction of 4″, from 60 to 90 pounds of pressure is exerted by any client on the midriff of a corset, per research I have uncovered. Consider the strength of the genetic male musculature and possible additional stress on thread, fabric, lining, bonding, and seam lines that Leeann exerted on this corset over its lifetime.
In six years we made two repairs to the corset. In June of 2009 Leeann sneezed while tightly laced. Remember that she is 6′ tall and 200 lbs. A side seam split, which Sharon promptly repaired for $35, and Leeann continued her wearing practice. In September of 2010 she popped a stud off the front busk and we replaced the entire busk for which repair she paid $100.
In sum, for six years of wear, Leeann paid $530 for about 8700 hours of tight-laced wear in this single corset. Thus, Leeann paid 6.1 cents -per-hour of wear, or $1.40 per 23-hour day of wear, for this corset.
You may decide for yourself if she got good value for her investment or not. She believes she did.
You may view the condition of the corset Leeann returned to our collection in two closeup images. Note that in front, two studs have popped off the top two clips (Leeann installed the industrial hook and eye at the top), one bone has broken on the side front (her right side, left side in the image), the fabric has rubbed raw in several spots, the binding fabric has rubbed off in the back at the top, and there is other evidence of hard wear and fabric soiling. (Note that broken bones can be easily replaced, as can the busk, and seams less easily repaired but they can be, at much less than the cost of a brand new corset. At ROMANTASY we are happy to entertain these kinds of refurbishment requests to help each of our clients get the maximum use and thus, value, out of their investment).
Based on my long experience purveying corsets over 24-years on January 14 this month, corsets made in various heavier fabrics including these Chinese polysilks and our favored heavier cotton-backed satin, my ultimate conclusion about the necessity of coutil to line a corset or for outer fabric, is that it might be nice and “au courrant” among some, and it might on the fabric’s surface wear a bit better than satin or silk does, but coutil definitely is not necessary for waist training quality corsetry.
For a detailed discussion and images about various fabrics on the market for corsetry, and how to shop for your own fabric if you choose to do so, with some very wise words from Sharon and Mr. Garrod, our esteemed former corsetier from England, please see: