The Ins and Outs of Corsets: Lacing, Tightening, Wear and Care
Will need a LOT of pictures, esp if we can get any like step by step image sequences of lacing up a corset
We admit it: corsets are pretty intense-looking garments. At first glance, it can be difficult to tell what is up, down, wrong, right, backwards or forwards. To those just entering the exciting world of corsets, simply putting one on can seem like a daunting, near-impossible task. After all, there’s probably a good reason why the women of long ago often employed servants whose primary task it was to help them in and out of their corsets, right?
Never fear! Putting on and taking off a corset by yourself is totally doable, and is in fact a lot easier than all those period movies and dramas make it look. This guide thoroughly explains the different parts of a corset and provides a simple, step-by-step guide to the processes of lacing, tightening and loosening one. Read through this article, and in no time at all you’ll be lacing and unlacing your corset like a pro!
Now I Know My A-B-Corset: The Vocabulary of Corsetry
At first, it might seem overwhelming that practically each individual part of a corset has its own specialized name. However, this quick and easy “corset cheat sheet” of important vocabulary words will help familiarize you with your brand new garment:
BONES – The “bones” of a corset are the vertical strips of metal, typically steel, which help give a corset its shape and stiffness. Most bones are evenly spaced, although many corsets feature one bone on each side of the lacing in order to provide more rigidity to the back of the garment.
BUSK – The busk refers to the part at the front where the corset can be fastened and unfastened. Historically, busks were solid and highly decorated; the fastener-types were popularized in the 19th and 20th century so that people could don and remove corsets without assistance. A typical busk utilizes simple metal hook-and-eye fastenings to allow for quick removal of the garment if necessary.
GROMMETS or EYELETS – The grommets, sometimes referred to as eyelets, are the metal-rimmed holes at the back of the corset through which the lacing is threaded. Today, most corsets feature grommets which are evenly spaced, although irregular or offset grommets do exist. Standard grommets are spaced about 1” apart; the two sets of grommets at the waist are frequently closer together to provide additional support to the waistline.
LACING – The single length of ribbon or cord which is threaded through the grommets at the back of the corset in an “X” pattern and can be tightened or loosened. The two most common types of lacing are sturdy cotton cord, such as parachute cord, and silk or polyester ribbon; however, any type of non-stretch material can be used. Depending on its size, a corset can require between 5 and 10 yards (4 ½ and 9 meters) of lacing.
MODESTY PANEL – A modesty panel is a small panel, typically made from the same material as the corset itself, which can be inserted behind the lacing so that no skin is shown. Modesty panels can be worn for personal or aesthetic reasons or to prevent the lacing from rubbing against the skin of the back. It is possible to purchase either a corset with a permanent, sewn in modesty panel or one with a removable panel that can be worn or not as needed. Corsets intended to be worn over clothing rather than against the skin typically do not come with any modesty panel.
OVERBUST vs UNDERBUST CORSET – An overbust corset covers at least the bottom of the breast area, while an underbust corset stops just below the chest and only covers the abdomen/waist. Some overbust corsets feature shoulder straps. Typically, an overbust corset will require a longer lace than its underbust counterpart.
WAIST LOOPS or PULL LOOPS – Two loops of lacing located at the waist which can be pulled on to either tighten or loosen the corset. Typically, once the proper fit has been achieved, the waist loops are tied into a bow for greatest aesthetic appeal.
The First Steps: Before Putting On Your Corset
When your corset arrives, the temptation to put it on immediately, fill up your phone or camera with pictures and show all your friends and family can be great. However, before you start the fashion show, there are a few recommended steps which should be taken before putting on your brand new corset. The tips listed below will help keep your corset – and you! – in the best shape possible so that you can enjoy a long, successful relationship with your fashionable new garment.
- If your corset arrives already fully laced, it will likely be extremely tight if you try to put it on without adjustment. The lacing should be loosened immediately and kept loose until you put it on, to prevent warping and deforming. Pull each “X” of the lacing outwards and make sure there is plenty of slack in the waist loops. It is recommended that you begin loosening your corset from the bottom and work upwards, as excess tightness is less desirable in the hip area than around the ribcage.
- It is often recommended that a corset liner, slip or thin tank top be worn under a corset, especially for first-time users or those who intend to wear one for long periods of time such as an entire day. This protects the fabric of the corset from sweat, dead skin cells and the oils naturally present on the skin or released throughout the day. As many corsets are made of delicate, high-quality fabric, using a liner can significantly extend the lifespan of the garment. For best performance, corset liners should be made from natural fabrics such as silk, cotton or wool. It is possible to purchase skin-toned “invisible” corset liners so that the wearing of the liner is less obvious to outside observers.
- Whether or not a liner is worn, it can be beneficial to powder your skin with a light layer of baby powder, talcum powder or cornstarch. This helps keep the corset in place during lacing and prevents it from slipping throughout the day. It can also prevent itching or skin irritation which may occur during the “breaking in” period of a new corset.
- When putting on a corset, especially for the first time, it can be beneficial to do so when both your stomach and bladder are empty. Eating large meals and storing urine in the body can cause bloating, which will give the corset an improper fit and cause it to slip and shift uncomfortably during the day.
You CAN Do It Alone: Lacing Up Your Corset
Once the necessary preparations have been made, it’s time to get into that corset! This is the part where many people get nervous, as movies and TV have conditioned us to believe that you need someone to help you with the process. Luckily, that’s not true! You can ask for help, and should never be ashamed of doing so, but, should you wish to try it, it’s totally possible to put on a corset all by yourself!
If you’re nervous, ask a professional corseter / corsetiere or an experienced friend or partner to help you put it on and take it off a few times before trying on your own. It may also help to look in a mirror, or even stand between two full-length mirrors to get the best view from all angles.
First, wrap the thoroughly loosened corset around yourself with the busk unhooked. To the best of your ability, ensure that the garment is properly lined up – the busk in the middle of your chest, the lacings in the middle of your back, and the pull loops lined up with your natural waist (the thinnest part of your waist). On most individuals, the natural waist is located between the bellybutton and the lower part of the ribcage and can be identified by wrapping a measuring tape around yourself to locate the thinnest area.
Once the corset is in place, close the busk using the hook-and-eye fasteners provided. It is sometimes recommended that you begin hooking in the middle first, as that will keep the upper and lower fasteners lined up properly and make the overall process easier. However, closing the busk from top to bottom or bottom to top are also acceptable methods.
Then, use the waist loops to tighten the corset until you have achieved the proper fit. The corset should be snug but not uncomfortable or painful. After tightening, take several deep breaths to ensure that the corset is neither too loose (indicated by moving up and down with the mere act of breathing) nor too tight (indicated by shortness of breath, dizziness or pain). Don’t despair if you don’t get it perfectly right away. The first several times you wear a new corset, you may have to adjust the lacing multiple times to achieve the ideal fit.
Once the corset has been tightened, give yourself one last check-over (ideally in a mirror) to make sure that it has not slipped out of place during the adjustment process. Most corsets have a tendency to ride/shift upwards on the body rather than downwards, as the ribcage area is typically narrower than the hips.
Finally, tie the waist loops in a bow to keep them from loosening or coming undone as you move around. Most of the slack should be located within the waist loops – there should not be any excess ribbon hanging down from the base of the corset.
When breaking in a new corset, it is recommended that you start by wearing it 1-2 hours per day and then gradually increasing the wear time over a period of several weeks. This allows the initially rigid corset to mold itself to the shape of the body slowly and naturally over time. Rushing this process can cause the corset to deform and greatly shorten its expected lifespan.
Safe, Sane and Sensible: Common Lacing Mistakes to Avoid
While there are some mistakes which novice lacers do tend to make, luckily they are all both easily avoidable and easily fixable. Below is a brief discussion of the top three most frequently made mistakes, how to notice them and the quickest, most efficient fixes.
- Without question, the most frequent mistake which plagues both new and experienced corset fans is lacing too tightly at the hips. In attempting to achieve a tight, consistent fit throughout, the laces are pulled just as tightly at the hips as they are at the top of the rib cage / over the chest. However, it is important to leave slightly more space and have a slightly looser fit in the hip area. The hips require space to move and shift and cannot be compressed too tightly or both walking and sitting (not to mention dancing!) will become incredibly difficult. In addition, too much compression at the hips cause actually cause the bones of the corset to deform over time as they are forced into a “bow” shape rather than being kept straight. The ideal lacing shape resembles a triangle, tightest at the top but slightly looser at the base.
- Another common mistake is attempting to lace the corset fully closed. This should be done only if you are tightlacing – lacing the garment as tightly as possible to achieve an extremely dramatic hourglass figure. In turn, a tightlaced corset should only be worn for short periods of time, such as to fit into a special outfit for an evening event. When not tightlacing, a back gap should be left between the two laced edges. A typical back gap ranges from one to three inches in width and serves a number of purposes. In addition to aesthetic appeal, it allows the corset to shift and remain in place and properly fitted as weight fluctuates throughout the day due to water retention, menstrual bloating, meals, exercise, and any number of other reasons. If you are not wearing anything under the corset and are uncomfortable with showing skin, a strip of fabric referred to as a modesty panel can be used.
- Lastly, many new corset fans find that, after tying the waist loops in a bow, they still have a great deal of excess lacing left over and decide to solve this problem by wrapping and tying the leftover ribbon around their waist. However, this process is actually detrimental to the health of the corset, as the friction caused by the ribbon can damage the fabric of the garment. Patterns, textures and decorations will quickly fade or be rubbed away, resulting in a significantly less aesthetically pleasing corset. Instead of tying excess ribbon around your waist, make a larger or more elaborate bow, use additional knots, or tuck trailing ribbon ends beneath the corset or corset liner. If you desire a corset which draws focus to the waist, look for those which come with pre-sewn in ribbon or lace patterns at the waistline instead.
If you avoid these three common mistakes, your corset will experience a long, successful life and remain at peak appeal and function throughout. Follow these tips and keep both you and your corset healthy, happy and attractive!
At the End of the Day: Removing and Storing Your Corset
The day is done. You’ve knocked your friends’ and admirers’ socks off, and you and your brand new corset have danced the night away. It’s time to get a good night’s sleep to prepare for another exciting day in your fashionable, flattering garment. But wait – how do you take the corset off?
Don’t worry! Taking off a corset is extremely easy, possibly even more so than putting one on. There’s just one important point to always keep in mind when you are removing your corset:
Always loosen the laces BEFORE unfastening the clasps of the busk!
We get it. You’ve had a long day, you’re tired and eager for bed – it can be so tempting to just unclasp the busk, fling the corset into a corner of your closet and be done with it. However, removing the corset without loosening the laces all the time puts unnecessary tension on the lacing and the bones surrounding it. Over time, it can cause the fabric to fray and degrade or the bones and busk to deform.
So, when removing the corset, make loosening the laces the first thing you do. Untie the ribbon, then pull gently on each “X” of lacing, starting at either the top or the bottom and moving towards the middle. As it was before you put it on, all of the slack in the lacing should be held in the waist loops. This will make it significantly easier for you the next time that you wear your corset.
Once the corset is fully loosened, you can unfasten the busk and remove the garment entirely. However, make sure to re-tighten the laces, re-tie the bow at the waist loopsand re-fasten all of the busk’s clasps before storing the corset, as this will help it maintain its shape and rigid stiffness even when not in use. There are a number of ways to store a corset that will minimize the risk of damage or degradation between wearings. The most commonly utilized methods, favored by corset enthusiasts everywhere, are listed below:
- Lay the corset flat in a drawer, with the bow tucked inside. Make sure that no delicate garments (such as lace undergarments or loosely knitted sweaters) are stored in the same drawer, as they could potentially snag on the busk’s fasteners and damage the corset. If your drawers are small, it may be possible to fold the corset into thirds vertically. However, it should not be folded in any other way, as that may cause permanent damage.
- Place the corset upright in a laundry basket or other plastic storage bin. If you have a large corset collection, this may be an ideal way to keep them together and organize. Make sure to avoid storing the container anywhere where it may experience damage from mold, moisture or mildew.
- Hang the corset on a hanger by its laces. Yes, yes, we know – we just told you that you should keep the corset tight-laced and fastened during storage. However, this method is the one exception. If you lack drawer or storage bin space and are relying on a closet, you can hang up your corsets, one per hanger with the laces loose and the busk, usually unfastened, facing the floor. Make sure that longer parts of the laces, such as the ribbon, are not dragging against the ground or in a position to get caught on other hangers or garments. While you can also use clip hangers or “pants” hangers to clasp the top of the corset and hang it upright while still properly laced, in some cases this may cause undesirable imprints in the fabric of thinner corsets. To avoid this, place cotton balls, foam or excess ribbon between the hanger clasps and the fabric.
- If you own only one corset, splurge and give the special treatment – use a mannequin body to help it keep its shape and proudly display it for all to see! Mannequin bodies can be purchased online or occasionally from stores.
Out, Darned Spot! : Cleaning Your Corset
In a perfect world, your corset would never get dirty. You’d never spill food or drink on it, you’d never get caught in the rain, and you’d successfully stay far away from mud puddles, shedding pets and children with grubby hands. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world – and that means that you will, at some point, find yourself needing to clean your corset.
First and foremost, NEVER put your corset in the washing machine or dryer. A single wash can irrevocably bend the bones and leave your corset useless. If you feel that it has become so dirty that you cannot handle it yourself, take your corset to a trusted dry-cleaning service. (If you aren’t sure who the best dry cleaner in your area is, ask a professional or experienced friend or inquire with local bridal boutiques, theater companies or other groups who tend to utilize corsets.)
It is recommended that you use proactive techniques to prevent your corset from needing intense cleanings as much as possible. Once you have finished wearing a corset for the day, hang it over the back of a chair or the arm of a sofa to air out before storing it. If you own multiple corsets, rotate between them rather than wearing the same one for several days in a row. Giving each corset a break makes it far less likely that it will pick up persistent nasty odors which may be difficult to shake.
Many corset enthusiasts also recommend gently spraying only the interior of your corset with plain, filtered water. For the lowest risk of potential damage, utilize a misting bottle such as those which are used to water hanging plants. Some corset fans have also been known to use a 1:1 mixture of water and generic, unflavored vodka, as they claim that the vodka kills unwanted odors faster than plain water can.
If your corset does pick up a stain, you can spot-clean it using a soft, ideally un-dyed cloth soaked in warm water. After thoroughly wringing out the cloth, gently pat and rub the affected area until the stain is gone. For more persistent stains, you may add a small drop of gentle, unscented liquid detergent or fabric freshener. Avoid any detergents labeled as biological or enzyme, as they contain enzymes which can potentially have a degrading effect on the bones of your corset. (If the area in which you live does not use biological and non-biological labels, any hypoallergenic detergent or freshener will not contain enzymes.)
We do not recommend washing your corset yourself, and strongly suggest that you visit a dry cleaner if you do feel that the garment requires anything more involved or thorough than spot-cleaning. However, if you do wish to wash your corset at home, you may do so by hand using small amounts of gentle, unscented soap. (Most plain bath soaps will suffice, as long as they definitely do not contain any scent or color additives).
Wash the corset in warm water, rinse it in cold water, and then allow it to air dry thoroughly before wearing it or placing it back into storage. While it is drying, do not place it near a radiator or other source of heat, as this will warp the bones. If possible, wash your corset only in sinks in which harsher cleaning chemicals are not regularly used (such as a personal bathroom or guest bathroom sink), as even trace amounts of strong chemicals can cause permanent damage to a delicate corset.
One Lace-t Thing: Relacing Your Corset
Relacing a corset may seem to be the most daunting task of all. In this day and age, when most corsets arrive fully laced, it is easy to simply hope that the laces will not fail until the entire corset itself does. However, the laces are often the part of the corset which require most frequent replacing – because the ribbon has torn or frayed, because your body has changed sizes and more or less lacing is needed, or simply because you want to try out a different color.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling on a professional corseter / corsetiere when relacing is required. However, if you are interested in learning how to relace a corset yourself, we have provided a simple step-by-step guide below.
Note that we will only be covering standard lacing, also known as v-method or bunny ear lacing. While there are other methods of lacing a corset which can be equally effective, this is the technique which is most widely used today by corset fans of all experience levels.
First of all, you must fully remove the existing laces. Begin by untying or cutting the ribbon, if it is not already torn, and pull it slowly and gently through each grommet until the laces are completely removed. Do not pull too quickly or roughly – fast, jerky pulls can cause damage to the fabric or grommet.
Next, prepare to begin the relacing process. Fasten the busk completely, as this will prevent the sides of the corset from shifting, which often results in uneven laces. Place the corset on a flat, smooth but not slippery surface, ensuring that there are no bumps, uneven places or other irregularities which might interrupt your lacing. If you are worried about the end of your ribbon tearing or fraying during the lacing, briefly singe it (by exposing it to a small heat source, such as a lighter) to prevent this.
Staring from the back or inside of the corset, pull one end of the lacing through each of the top grommets. Pull gently and carefully, making certain that the two lengths of lacing are exactly equal. Place the right-side piece of the lacing out of the way, so it does not get tangled or caught; hold the left-side piece carefully in your hands.
Still moving from back to front (or inside to outside) thread the left-side lace into the next grommet on the right side of the garment. (This should be the grommet directly below the one which the currently unused right-side piece of lace is currently occupying).
Next, skip one grommet on the left side and pull the ribbon back-to-front through the third grommet on the left. This will leave one empty grommet between two laced ones. Once you have successfully threaded the ribbon through this grommet, pull gently and carefully so that the ribbon is tight and no slack remains between the grommets.
Continue threading in this manner – skipping one grommet on the left, then moving to the very next grommet on the right, always threading your ribbon from back to front – until you reach the waist of the garment. Many corsets will feature two pairs of grommets closer to one another (usually separated by about half an inch instead of one inch) to denote the waist. If your corset does not feature this distinction, choose the two middle grommets on each side and use a temporary method such as pins to mark them as the waist.
Still moving back-to-front, thread the lacing through the lower of the two waist grommets on the right side of the corset. (This will leave two empty grommets between laced grommets on the right side).
Pull the ribbon all the way through, leaving no slack anywhere in the top half of the garment.
Next, move one grommet up (to the upper of the two right-side waist grommets) and thread the lacing through, this time moving from front to back, or from the inside of the garment to the outside. Do NOT pull tight. This will be your waist loop, and should be where all the slack is held. Instead, pull so that you have only enough ribbon to finish lacing the bottom half of the corset.
Starting from the grommet directly below the two left-side waist grommets, continue your lacing pattern for the bottom half of the garment.
However, this time, move through each grommet you lace from front to back. Pull the laces tight, but leave as much slack as possible in the waist loop.
When you reach the final grommet, tuck any remaining ribbon out of the way so that it does not come loose as you continue lacing. Return to the top of the garment, this time taking the right side piece of ribbon into your hands.
As before, lace the ribbon through all of the currently empty grommets, moving from back to front, inside to outside. However, it is recommended that you move more slowly and pull the ribbon tight more frequently as you lace the second side, as you must also be careful to create the correct design with the pre-laced ribbon.
The simplest way of doing this is to remember a simple pattern: each time you lace a grommet on the left side of the garment, the ribbon you are currently using will move over the pre-laced ribbon. As you move to the next grommet, on the right side of the corset, you will instead go under the pre-laced ribbon. This will create a pattern of similarly sized and spaced “X” shapes down the length of the corset.
Create your second waist loop as described earlier, using the two empty grommets on the left side of the garment. Lace the bottom half of the corset from front to back, but continuing the same over-under pattern with the ribbon as discussed in the preceding paragraph.
Once the ribbon has been completely threaded through both sides of the garment, ensure that there is enough slack in both waist loops to allow for loosening and tightening of the corset. If you believe that the loops are too small, pull upwards from the bottom half of the garment to eliminate any leftover slack which may remain at the base of the corset.
If this is the case, you may tie the two ends of the ribbon together at the bottom of the garment. If you do not wish the resulting knot to be visible, tuck it under the corset or corset liner. You may use any type of knot for this purpose, but we recommend one which is sturdy and does not come apart easily as you move around throughout the day. (Note that the knot or bow which ties the waist loops together once the corset is on, on the other hand, should be a knot which is quick and easy to undo, should you need to get out of your corset in a hurry.) Congratulations! You’ve successfully laced up a corset all by yourself! Now, put that bad boy on and enjoy your fabulous new hourglass figure!
The proper methods of caring for and wearing a corset are admittedly somewhat more complicated than those required to wear a T-shirt or a pair of denim jeans. However, the results will be more than worth the effort. You’ll stand up tall and proud, your weight will drop, those inches will practically fall off your waist, and, best of all, you’ll both look and feel great! Not to mention, a properly maintained and cared-for corset can last for years without requiring anything more intensive than a re-lacing, and still look just as great as the day it arrived.
So why wait? With this handy-dandy guide in your brain or on your screen, there’s absolutely nothing to fear about owning a corset of your very own. You’re ready to commit, so head over here to our fantastic catalog and pick out the perfect corset for you today! (And, as always, feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions regarding topics not listed in this guide.)