Part of evaluating the fit and quality of a new, or any, corset, concerns comfort. In a prior blog we have discussed the fit issue of adjusting the corset properly on your torso . In the future we will address other elements of fit in order to evaluate a new corset. These will include visual aesthetics, functionality, and durability of the over time with extended wear. Here I’ll discuss comfort not related to technical, construction, or measurement issues, and what can enhance comfort or detract from it to make corset wearing more demanding than it need be. In another blog I’ll address comfort as related to technical, construction, and measurement issues. As ever, we appreciate hearing from you readers on this or any other matter as it relates to fit and quality in corsetry.
HOW NEW IS THE CORSET?
Let’s take the corset that has just been delivered to you. No matter the corset style or silhouette the corset creates on your body when you wear it, no matter whether it is readymade (“off the rack” or OTR corsets) or custom, a new corset will likely feel stiff, even very stiff. Even if you are experienced in corset wearing, there may be some initially unexpected feelings if you are trying on a new corset style, or corset made by a new corset maker with whom you have not previously worked.
I am sorely disappointed whenever I get the chance to re-connect with a former client and learn that he put his corset on the shelf because it took too much time or effort to learn to lace up by himself, or he felt the corset was too stiff, or perhaps it caused a temporary bit of rib soreness the first few days he wore it (maybe he even wore it longer than the 2 to 3 hours we recommend for the first few wearings, building up in hours before lacing tighter by about a half inch), and he gave up. Bottom line is he didn’t give the corset a chance to work its magic, and more’s the pity.
HOW NEW ARE YOU TO CORSETING?
At least some discomfort will surely be experienced during the seasoning process, especially if you are unused to structured and boned garments. They feel quite different than do unstructured, flowing sports clothing made of t-shirt or stretch material.
When “corset newbies” don a corset for the first time during our in-person Corset Salon fitting, many look quite surprised at how they feel once laced down the initial 2 or 3 actual inches. (N.B. that most corsets add about one inch or more to your waistline measurement, so lacing down two inches measured over the corset means in fact that you are actually reduced 3″ under your corset, quite sufficient for moderately-sized individuals and perhaps a bit much for more slender corset newbie clients.) I use the initial lacing to test and evaluate a fit sample for possible shapes and measurements, and see how the person “takes” to corseting.
Sometimes clients exhibit the very same reaction to trying on their custom corset the first time. Almost to a person a newbie expects to feel in distress or even pain, and expects to be gasping for air. However, their initial reaction of amazing comfort, even of great back support and enhanced visual posture, is normally quite rewarding to behold. Usually by the time I’m finished lacing them down to the initially-desired level, clients are grinning from ear to ear!
A few others appear impatient while I lace them down and adjust the fit sample, or when they adjust their own new corset. They expect not only comfort, but a perfect fit within minutes. However, adjusting the corset properly takes time. It takes more than just minutes no matter if you lace by yourself or if others are lacing you. The rule is: be patient. (Sometimes I think that should be the entire slogan of my business, and it surely should be the mantra of anyone who knows about corset wear and fit).
And no, if you are assisting someone lace down, do not put your foot into their backside!
The corset needs to opened up widely in back then after inserting any free-standing (as opposed to attached) back protector (a.k.a. “modesty panel”), be clipped in front (most likely starting with the second stud down from top or bottom). You should continue to clip each busk clip in a method that works your way from the top or the bottom, until all are clipped. Do not try to insert your fingers into the vertical busk and force things, just clip the top and try again at the waist or bottom, and “see saw” the clips until they are all closed. The typical spring steel busk (vs. the stainless steel wide busk) is designed to provide some flexibility and “spring” back into place, thus you can slightly bend forward the top of the top or bottom of the busk as you seek to close up the opposite half clips.
What if you have a front-lacing or side-lacing, closed back corset? Well then, the process might take longer to lace up as you have to open up the lacing really wide in order to step into the corset or put it on over your head. I always chuckle to see this picture, right, of our corsetiere Sue Nice attempting to lace up her front-laced corset!
For back-laced corsets, after it is clipped in front, then adjust the laces in back by pulling out about 3 or 4″ for each criss-cross “X”, starting from the bottom up to the waist-pulls, then pulling out about 3 or 4″ from the top down to waist-pulls, then repeat the process again and again and again – until you achieve the desired day’s lacing measurement. As a general rule try to keep the back gap more or less parallel (see prior blog for pictures and comments on this matter).
What if you get some rib or skin pinching at the top during the process? Well then, simply open up the laces a bit more than the waist and bottom. You don’t have to keep the gap absolutely parallel in back. You are in charge of your lacing technique and level, and the gap is there precisely for you to adjust the fit according to your needs and desires for the day.
When done, tie a bow in the ribbons at your waistline, but never knot the laces as you may need to get out of your corset quickly to avoid distress. Tuck your ribbon laces under the bottom edge of the corset in order for them not to drop into the loo, or look unkempt and uneven when you wear the corset as a fashion accessory outside of your clothing.
You might experience initial discomfort if your back protector bunches up under the lacing cords, or you can’t get the waistline pulled tightly enough to force the bones at the waistline to lie flat against your torso, and they may be digging in as pictured right. Ouch! Been there done that. Barring sending the corset back to the maker to add more fabric at the back of your corset to extend the girth, or barring asking for another more heavily boned panel, you may just have to bear up during the seasoning process and go about it more gently and slowly until you can get the back gap of the corset more or less parallel than you can at first.
Wearing two back protectors at once might also work to stiffen and smooth out a lighter-weight one. I do recommend wearing a stiffened protector however, not avoiding it, and wearing your corset over a very tight (one size down from normal) microfiber (not 100% cotton) tube top or cami. The tight cami helps to minimize skin wrinkling under the corset and helps minimize moisture. Excess moisture under your corset can lead to uncomfortable skin itching, especially when you take the corset off (never scratch your skin, just gently massage or rub it with the palm of your hand or a child’s soft hairbrush). The protector tends to push outward the waistline boning to prevent bones from twisting in the bone casings, pads the back, and protects your skin, all of which enhance your comfort over wear time.
HOW NEW ARE YOU TO THIS PARTICULAR CORSET STYLE OR MAKER ?
Some readily find their preferred corset maker and stick to ordering his or her corsets; others like to experiment. I encourage experimentation, with a view toward finding the right style and maker for the right purpose. Trust me, corsets differ and corset makers differ in terms of what they deliver. How tightly you want to lace or what kind of a figure/silhouette you may want to cut, may differ from occasion to occasion.
A particular corset maker in a small solo workshop might not tell you that, and it might take many years for you to discover the variety of fits, silhouettes, and comfort levels in corsetry in the marketplace, if you stick to your first corset maker for a second or third corset, and don’t venture out to try another style, or another maker. The choice is really yours to make.
The above point signifies that it takes a bit of time, research, asking questions, and certain patience to set priorities for your corset before you place an initial, or another order, and for you to know what kind of corset will be delivered. One corset can never, ever meet all your needs or desires, nor will each one fit or feel the same, perhaps even the same style made by the same maker, even if each maker does tend over time to develop individual preferences as to patterning, fabrics, construction techniques, and ultimate looks and fits on the body. Plan on adding several more corsets to your wardrobe over the years if you develop into a full-fledged corset enthusiast.
WHAT IS YOUR BODY OR SPIRIT GOING THRU ON THE DAY OR AT THE TIME YOU CORSET?
Sometimes discomfort comes more on this or that day, as when you are experiencing lower back tweaking or strain, bloating, pre-menstrual tension, mild constipation, headaches, allergies, or a sinus drip and slight cough. However, don’t expect that pre-menstrual tension or mild back aches will prohibit you from corseting. That is a highly individual matter. I know several clients who find that corseting during their period actually relieves cramps! Please try it and you might be pleasantly surprised, although you might want to lace looser on those days.
Emotional stress can affect the comfort you feel in your corset. But again, don’t assume that a high stress level, or even if you live with continual low-level stress or anxiety, will mean that your corseting experience will be troubling. One of the early-on students in my waist training coaching program, was served with divorce papers yet she persisted to meet her original goals. She believed that the discipline of regular six-day-per-week corseting was helpful in relieving stress and giving her more of a feeling of stability and continuity after her hubby turned her world upside down. Another student lost his job during the coaching period, persisted and met his goals, and experienced the exact thing as did the first student I mentioned.
However, don’t put added pressure on yourself if you have a choice, such as if you have a cold or flu: take a few days off from corseting to recover and return your breathing to normal, or loosen up for that day of wear. Remember, you and not I, are in charge of how tightly you lace down, or even if you wear your corset on any given day.
DID YOU PLACE THE CORSET PROPERLY ON YOUR TORSO?
Please read our prior blog on this topic. The question involves not just a matter of artistic import, it also involves your comfort level. For example, if you put the corset on upside down, then you will or may surely experience unnecessary rib pressure, pressure on the anterior femoral nerve running over your pelvic bone or iliac crest, and other.
DID YOU USE VARIOUS TECHNIQUES TO INCREASE COMFORT DURING THE LACING DOWN PROCESS?
If you are being assisted with your corset, during the process raise your arms to make your midriff area more accessible to the narrowest part of the corset, as pictured right. One of my friends labelled this “the ROMANTASY salute.” Cute!
Even if you are lacing by yourself you can enhance comfort by taking time out twice or three times during the process to lean to each side and stretch your body, as pictured above left. Grasp the opposite bottom edge of the corset and lean to the other side gently re-positioning the corset waist at your waistline as pictured left. Think more about breathing into the exposed ribs rather than tugging downward on the bottom edge.
During lacing down you might take time out to wiggle a bit, bend forward and backward a bit, or jump lightly around in your corset. Once you are laced down, repeat these movements. Reading about Polaire, the famous tight-lacing young French actress in the early part of the 1900s, taught me this technique: Moving your body around periodically while being laced down will help seat the corset properly at your waistline and at the squishiest part of your midriff, minimizing pressure on the lower part of your tummy and lowest ribs.
Did you get in a rush to get dressed for a special event, and lace down precipitously to a maximum level, and not take the two or so hours to lace down gradually before you leave the house in a time-compressed process similar to seasoning your corset? Did you put your corset on over a full tummy rather than corset first, then eat moderately and slowly, chewing each bite thoroughly before swallowing, or did you gulp down your food? Did you lace tightly before clipping stockings to your garter belt or buckling on your new strap stilettos, and now you can’t lean over without hurtful pressure at your waistline? None of those experiences will lead to comfort but will likely lead to heartburn, a nauseated feeling, bloating, reflux, gas, and might even weaken your corset structure and shorten its life.
The point is, when you try on your new corset you might adopt minimal expectations about fit or comfort until you take time to adjust your corset properly. Even then the corset will not fit you well nor feel the best because it will be stiff and unyielding until you actually wear it a bit and “season” it, then make minor adjustments to your lifestyle and habits that work with, rather than against, a restricted tummy and less flexible torso.
That term “seasoning” is bandied about on the web. As a retired attorney I become rather frustrated when I don’t know what an ambiguous or vague term means, or what facts underlie the term. But in corseting as in other disciplines, there may not be a pat answer.
How much is a “bit” or how long does the “seasoning” process actually take in order to adequately and fairly judge fit or comfort? As a calligraphy teacher of mine used to say: “it takes as long as it takes.” I doubt anyone can answer that question for you since the answer depends on multiple factors including: how thick the corset is, how many bones it has, thickness or width of boning, boned or unboned underflap, or what silhouette the corset creates on your body, how sturdy is the bonding or lining, how tall is the corset on your body, how new you are to corseting, how much does your body take to restriction and pressure–and more!
I advise a rule of thumb of at least 20 to 30 separate wearings before a corset is properly “seasoned” and you are set to go out and carry out your activities of daily living in relative comfort. I also advise donning a corset at least two hours before an important event when you want to look your best and most tight-laced, yet remain in comfort.
DID YOU USE VARIOUS TECHNIQUES TO INCREASE COMFORT DURING THE DAY’S WEARING PERIOD?
The first piece of advice I give to corset newbies is to relax into their corsets, not hold their breath, and not try to suck their tummy to assist the lacing process. Just relax and let the corset hold you, not the reverse. It’s sort of like zen: just let go. I’m also certain to advise new clients when they retrieve their corset in person and in our written wearing instructions provided with the corset, that every two hours they stand up and walk around, especially if they lead a sedentary life or sit many hours at work.
In addition, a new, non-tightly-laced corset will tend to rise on the torso as it is worn, especially an underbust style corset. Thus, if you feel any lower rib pressure or incipient waistline or rib soreness during the day’s wear, simply employ the “lean-pull” process pictured and described above. This will re-seat the narrowest part of the corset at the narrowest, waistline part of your body and remove possible pressure under your bosom from underbust styles that have risen northward during the day.
It only took me about nine years of lacing down to learn another simple technique to enhance comfort. Once when I began complaining of waistline fatigue and impending discomfort, a good friend said: “Ann, why don’t you go loosen your corset a half inch for a half hour, then lace it down again?”
Well, duh! Why hadn’t I thought of that? Even if your corset is worn as foundation wear, go to the bathroom or place of privacy, reach up under your dress or shirt and loosen your corset, or employ the “lean-pull” process! You might be amazed at how quickly you return to comfort once you do that.
If you are in the middle of a serious waist training program, you can and most likely should, always extend your corset wear that day by a full hour to make up for the half hour you loosen up.
DID YOU TAKE YOUR CORSET OFF JUST SHY OF PAIN, OR PERHAPS WHEN YOU REACHED A 6 TO 7 ON A PAIN SCALE OF 1 TO 10?
I hesitate to advise anyone to push their limits when corseting, but I’m one who really enjoys periodically doing just that! Others of my clients agree, and men in particular seem to love the physical challenge of maximum effort and endurance experienced when wearing their corsets very tightly laced for long hours.
If you are new to corseting, how far should you go in terms of tolerating “discomfort” versus experiencing actual “pain”? Again, that’s an individual matter. We all know different folks have different levels of tolerance and different definitions of what they experience as “pain.”
Personally, I pretty much dislike continuing pressure on my rib cage, so I generally prefer the hourglass or wasp silhouette for my corsets. I know another corset enthusiast who adores not only the look or silhouette, but the feel, of ice-cream cone corsets (a.k.a. “straight-ribbed” corsets).
But what if I am someone who also visually prefers the ice-cream cone silhouette in a corset, then the question becomes: how much discomfort am I willing to tolerate in service to my ego and aesthetic preference?
You can see pictured left above, the U shape vs. hourglass, and pictured right, the hourglass vs. the ice-cream cone shape. I am always amazed by this below picture of my torso when wearing four corsets making exceedingly different torso silhouettes:
You may read more about the variety of silhouettes on our Basic Silhouette webpage: http://romantasyweb.com/Merchant2/merchant.mv?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=R&Product_Code=Basic+Figure+Silhouettes&Category_Code=cgi
For certain occasions or for a certain physical challenge, I may choose the ice-cream cone-silhouetted corset that I personally experience as more demanding. However, with this corset I will adjust my wearing time downward, or lace looser rather than to my normal level.
For waist-training students in my coaching program, I ask them to remain each day at a level of 6 or 7 on the pain scale of 1 (“piece of cake”) to 10 (excruciating pain). I think they should be challenged and the day should not be easy for them. However, for a social occasion or if not into waist training for permanent figure shaping and weight loss, then you might want to go easier on yourself and lace on most occasions to a level of 3, 4, or 5. Yes, I’m asking them and you to employ a totally subjective scale, but I want you to be in charge of your own comfort first and foremost since you know most about your body, not me, and not one other person in the world.
Note that in Victorian times we know during the day that ladies changed into several corsets. During the day they wore a lighter weight or more-loosely laced corset. For evening affairs and to show off, they donned a more demanding style or size and laced much tighter, of course most likely, for shorter periods of time.
Just changing corsets during an extended time of corset wear, can give relief to the body. In addition, carrying a small fan in your purse or pocket can allow you to cool off if you experience any discomfort from an uncomfortable elevated body temperature caused by the corset, the climate, or smoky or close quarters . You can do the same to enhance your comfort.
TO GET THE BEST FIT AND COMFORT, DO I HAVE TO ORDER SEVERAL CORSETS?
Do you have to order more corset than one, especially if you have a limited budget ? That depends. We’ll address that particular matter of quality in a future blog. Please remember this fact: corset makers in small and/or home businesses, don’t make a rich living, although they certainly can have a rewarding career. Corsets, especially custom corsets, are truly moderately priced, even “cheap” for the value delivered–if you wear it! If you don’t wear your corset, even one corset can be considered “expensive”. But if you wear it, then it can be an excellent investment over time, considering the detailed patterning, fabrication, construction time and attention, and artistic skill level for the price required to deliver quality and comfort.
In summary, I learned early on in my corset business and wear that how the corset is felt and experienced can differ from subtle to dramatic ways based on many factors, some not involving factors under my personal control such as who makes the corset and their individual predilections for construction techniques, patterning, and other. When I want and need comfort, I have a preferred maker, when I want a physical challenge, I have another maker in mind, when I want to create a not-in-your-face figure silhouette, I’ll go to another, and if I want artistic perfection in construction details or want to contribute detailed input into a more nuanced corset style or fit, I’ll seek out yet another.
I’ll approach the corset with a “zen” mind and positive anticipation, letting it do all the work in shaping my figure. On any given day I’ll lace tighter or looser, or adjust the fit by opening up the top or bottom in back wider than the opposite edge of my corset. I’ll wiggle around when lacing down and often during the day employ the “lean-pull” process. I’ll adjust my lacing level according to messages my body sends me.
For most new corsets, there will not be many curves visible at your waistline when you place the corset on the table in order to open up the back laces and get ready to put it on, and it will feel stiff on the body once you put it on. If you give up, it will never become more comfortable. The corset boning will never mold to your body’s own curves as it will over time with wear. The fabric will never “ease” up a bit, although it should never truly stretch. And you will surely, and sadly, miss learning more about “corset magic!”