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WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A QUALITY CORSET?
[READ ONLY PAGE. Updated 4/9/15]


Q.1. Does it really make all that much difference if I buy a well-fitting, well-made standard-patterned or "readymade" corset, versus a fully custom corset? I've found some for around $75 and might want to start there to see if I really do like corsets.

A. Judged by many criteria, it does matter, and matter greatly. For some, it may not matter at all.

A correspondent in May 2011 sent these wise words for inclusion on this page:

"I wish the differences between custom and factory-made corsets were known to me when I bought my first corset. A fully custom corset is so much more comfortable than a factory-made one, due to the fact that it is patterned for your unique body rather than for some standardized figure. Factory-made corsets usually have issues such as torquing on the body, pinching, twisting bones, or wrinkling of fabric. It might be made to fit too tightly around your torso at the top or bottom edges (ed. note: this creates 'toothpaste' or squishing out of flesh and tummies). I've found that a factory-made corset I ordered once did not provide the promised waist reduction when closed in back. I ordered my corset to close in back at 20," and in fact it only closed to 21.5"." Maria Von T.(5/11/11)

I once had a client tell me she had ordered a "custom" corset and was certain of her facts, when she had ordered a standard size or factory-made corset for which she only sent in one measurement, and that was her snug natural waist. By any reputable corset business standards, this is nothing short of misrepresentation, but the client was out her money and there was no recourse.

Being bamboozled by a business is much easier to suffer today than in the past, since 2011 has seen flooding of the corset market by imports from Pakistan and China, and the selling of same by uneducated store owners and sales staff. Even so-called "high-end" stores or boutiques are sometimes clueless when it comes to quality corsetry. Early in 2000, I called the San Francisco Nordstrom's, a reputable department store for the most part, and when I asked a sales lady a question about the "busk" on a $1500 corset by Stella McCartney, the lady had no idea what I meant!

I was likewise astounded on May 11 to receive what I call a "hustle" from a Chinese company that purported to sell factory-made "corsets" with styles starting at $7.10 and going up to $12. You can see several examples of dubious quality corsets pictured here.
Yes, you read that price right. I would bet a shop might re-sell these at a whopping five-times markup or more. Sue Nice on our team, said that sometimes private clients come to her for a replacement for "wannabe" corsets they have purchased, telling Sue that the best they can say is that at least they were not "out that much money." That's a sad commentary on how uneducated, undiscerning folks who are unwilling to inform themselves about what they are buying, can be easily taken advantage of, and I hear it all the time.

I also encounter some people asking me to "pick a corset for me, I don't have time to read what you sent me." At this point I normally reply that it seems that ROMANTASY is not the proper corset business for them, as most surely we are not! If you don't want to take a bit of time to protect your investment and do a wee bit of homework to benefit yourself, then most likely you will be a disappointed client in the end.

Can you sometimes luck out with well-fitting factory-made corsets? Sure. But will they last very long before inferior fabrics unsuited to lacing down begin to fray or shred? If you only spent $35, $75 or perhaps even $100 and wore it a few times for fun, then perhaps this expenditure is just fine. If you want more from the dollars you have, then it will take about three times or more as a purchase price to get close to a quality purchase and then multiple measurements will be required.

Fully custom corsets mean that a minimum of 8 measurements will be taken. However, what it will not mean, is that a sole corsetmaker or corset business will not necessarily tell you what figure silhouette his or her patterning practices or preferences will create when you wear their custom corset. A person wrote that she was convinced she had purchased an "expensive, proper, full custom hourglass corset," but one that was causing repeated leg numbness and skin pinching, plus days of soreness once she took the corset off to rest for a week. Numbness is nothing to laugh about and everything to be concerned about. When I reviewed the company's photos I saw that most of the silhouettes their corset created were U-shaped, I realized that the bottom half of this person's corset was likely pressing the anterior femoral nerve down on the hip bone as she laced down, and reducing blood supply, thus creating numbness. The solution is a hourglass, wasp, or possibly the straight-rib silhouette with the corset bottom half curving out and comfortably over the hip bone.

if you are thinking what I am, right about now you are saying that "you get what you pay for," and then if you don't work with ROMANTASY -- sometimes you don't!


Q.2. Can I do just as well purchasing my own store-bought satin, and get a discount on my corset price?

A. We don't recommend that you do this, but at a minimum before purchasing any fabric, please submit a swatch to us for approval.

Also, kindly read and consider the wise words below from our former esteemed corsetier, Mr. Michael Garrod of the True Grace Corset Company,and from present team member Sharon McCoy Morgan, regarding fabrics suitable for corsets and tight lacing.

Problems we have encountered when clients shop for their own fabric include: (1) purchase of inferior quality,
(2) a fabric that their chosen corsetiere may not use,
(3) a fabric that requires additional labor corset for overlay over a basic strong corset,
(4) a fabric that requires additional labor cost for pattern mirror-matching, and
(5) a fabric that requires additional labor cost to either cut judiciously from a too-small quantity, or to properly lay out panel pieces that achieve an artistic pattern, even if a random one.

Observe the gold store-bought satin shown right. The white vertical stripes are actually fraying fabric from clothing rubbing over the top. This corset had been worn for only a year or so before it began to show this wear. We highly recommend that you order our stronger cotton-backed satin, which comes in about 14 attractive colors, however, if you decide to shop for your own fabric, we urge you to send us a swatch in advance of purchase, so that we can test it for suitability.

In one case, our bride-to-be client went out to purchase white satin, yet came back with black velvet! The corsetiere she chose to make her bridal corset did not work in velvets, and for an upcharge, we had to change to ] another maker on our team who did work in velvet.

Note that not all corsetieres on our team offer discounts if you provide your own fabric, and those are generally quite modest, such as from $10 to $25. Please inquire when you place your order. The large majority of cost of construction is not in the fabric and findings, but in the labor and skill level that goes into patterning and production.

"The uninitiated might well think, with the plethora of fabrics available in the large stores these days, that the corset maker's supplies were healthy. The truth is, they are not. At the turn of the 19th century, when the production of cotton fabrics reached its peak, there were 80,000 looms operated by about 20,000 firms in England alone! A substantial proportion of that output was geared to supplying a very large corset industry, and the demand was for high quality, strong cloth. This was made both for the outside surface as well as the lining of corsets. A gradual decline in consumption of corset cloth took place during the 20th century, making a nose dive in the 70s and 80s. This had catastrophic consequences, resulting in most corset manufacturers, as well as suppliers, going out of business by 1985. Few remain in existence. The most important aspect of a corset, especially if it is subjected to tight lacing (Ed. note: tight lacing is generally defined as lacing a garment so that the natural waist is reduced four or more inches for six more more hours at a time, day-in and day-out for a year or so), is that it will withstand usage over many months--if not years. It is not enough to have a lining material which is strong, combined with a lighter weight outside--it will not last. The lighter fabric has to be backed, preferably bonded, so that there is no possibility of it coming under tension and breaking. The corset maker of a century ago would not have had problems like this to overcome!

"What we can buy in the shops these days is fine for constructing dresses and the like, but as a material for a corset you can write most of them off as useless. I have learned through bitter experience that even an interlined corset, with a lightweight nylon covering outside, is at risk of failure at the seams. Supplies of corset weight materials, specifically brocades and satins, are very limited. In the United Kingdom the choice is down to only a handful of designs, and these mainly exist in black, pink or white. Other colors are very rare indeed. There are isolated sources within Europe, but here I have so far found only three suppliers of good quality materials--I have paid as much as $45.00 a meter (about $60US per yard) to get what I need! The situation with lining materials is totally different. Even though the demand for corsets by the public in general is now almost non-existent, corsets still require surgical supports. (Ed. note: not by ROMANTASY's recent experience: our orders double almost every few years! Imagine the growing national demand when you consider off-the-peg steel boned corsets of certain--if not perfect--quality). I was told by a manufacturer I visited recently that the demand for this type of corset remained unchanged, so that the coutils (similar heavyweight weaves) are still easily obtainable. So -- if you are lucky enough to have a corset in a quality brocade, do not be surprised at what it costs; You are lucky to get it at all! If your corset is made with anything else, then it may not survive heavy wear." -- Michael Garrod

"Silk can be tricky. I use the dupioni silk basically as an overlay and cut pattern pieces in only one direction of the weave, otherwise the silk can easily split along the grain. As a single fiber it is the strongest of all, but it's hard to find a heavy weave silk, most likely because of the production expense. Of course, cotton being a cheaper natural fiber, is more cost-effective to use to manufacture heavier weaves. That's generally why all "work horse corset" fabric, especially for tight-lacing corsets that are expected to lace down many inches for many continuous hours and days of wear, is generally cotton. Silk taffetas are usually good bets for a fancier corset fabric. However, in general I don't like using regular acetate taffetas. They are hot to wear, and don't stand up well to wear over time. By the time I treat taffeta as on overlay for construction purposes, the body just can't breath with that synthetic 'stuff' on the outside." -- Sharon McCoy Morgan



Q.3. What is the difference between rubber, latex, and PVC (polyvinyl chloride pictured below in purple PVC with orange and yellow PVC flames)?

A. PVC is a plastic fabric that comes in many colors, including sometimes, amazing holographic prints. As far as I know, rubber and latex are the same material. Both are made of rubber. Rubber is sometimes thicker for a corset, latex lighter.

I've never trusted latex corsetry for serious tight-lacing and longevity, although I know one corsetmaker who swears her gluing technique makes latex stand up to tight-lacing. I cannot attest to that. Mr. Garrod, for ROMANTASY, provided superlative rubber corsets which he both stitched and glued using thicker European rubber, but he never would guarantee a corsetís durability much past five years. Rubber/latex will eventually deteriorate. PVC can crack over time. My True Grace rubber and PVC corsets are doing fine after 12 years although dulling. You shine a rubber or latex corset with Rubberall.

Sometimes PVC will crack at the waistline (where pressure is most) and show the stitch marks a little bit. Some PVCs are lower quality and after a year or two may even begin to peel and ruin your entire corset! Neither rubber nor PVC is perfect for a tight-lacing long-lasting corset.


Q.4. Do you use steel boning?

A. Yes.

We never use rigilene or plastic boning that is more suitable for theatrical style and comfortable lingerie-style corsets. We use spring steel bones that have been coated in white plastic and tipped on rounded edges. Typical is the 3/8" wide bone in two weights, however we can and do use 1/2" wide bones on occasion and for certain purposes or to fulfill a client request for a more sturdy corset. Some wholesalers from Asian companies promoting readymade corsets of dubious fit and quality, claim they use all stainless boning and busks. We cannot verify that claim and urge caution if you purchase from those companies. However, we do not recommend all stainless boning, because spring steel takes on your torso shape with some wearing of the corset, and becomes more comfortable over time. Stainless boning will assuredly remain quite stiff and unyielding over time, and would therefore be more suitable for short periods of wear, or a fetish appearance and certainly, more uncomfortable long wear.

Q.5. What is the difference between a department store belt and your waist-training belt?

A. There is a great deal of difference.

If you look carefully at the belt (when in production; as of 2011 the belt is not in production), you will see it is extra wide, from 2.25" to 3" wide. It is extra thick as well, made of very strong lattigo leather for sturdiness (two thicknesses), and nicely stitched four times. It has a roller buckle and five or six grommets and is larger in diameter than usual grommets in order for you to buckle it on more easily. It is not easy to put the belt on, once you start reducing 2" more from your snug waist size, the level where you should start waist training. You will need those larger grommets.

The training belt will withstand many pounds of pressure at the waistline, likely to mount to 50-70 lbs. once you belt down 4" or more. Thus, it is completely unlike any commercially available belt you could possibly find in department stores. ROMANTASY designed this one specifically for waist training. It works extremely well for many clients.


Q.6. I want to tight-lace and waist train. Should I order a spoon busk, wide stainless busk, or regular spring steel busk? Should I order a boned flap under the front busk?

A. The answer is unclear.

We will assist you make this choice considering other factors than the one you mention. Corset busks come in three styles and several lengths (see image to right), but at ROMANTASY, we provide the service of cutting down, smoothing, and re-tipping ends of both busks and bones, to achieve any length needed.

The most common busk and the one we will employ without a specific request to the contrary, is made of spring steel that is dipped in white plastic. It is of even width top to bottom and 7/16" wide when stud side is joined with clip side. You may request a slightly wider spring steel approximately $25 to your corset cost. These busks are flexible and eventually bend gently inward at the waistline and take on more of the actual torso shape.

The even-width wider stainless steel busk seen left in the black and navy 1901 corset by Sharon, is often preferred for tight lacing because it doesn't flex and permits very tight lacing with excellent lower tummy control. The standard busk may tend to snap in the middle after substantial lacing down over time; the stainless busk is much sturdier over time.

The wedge busk is also of stainless steel and quite stiff, 3/4" wide at the bottom and 3/8" wide at the top, while the spoon busk is in slightly curved stainless steel and quite stiff, 1 and 1/8" at the top and 2 and 5/8" wide at the bottom and 3/8" wide at the top. The spoon busk creates a more rounded tummy seen in the brown corset by Sue Nice. Since more labor and materials costs are involved, the wedge busk adds approximately $50 while the spoon busk adds approximately $125 to your basic corset cost.

The underbusk is a single piece of steel, normally stainless steel from 3/4" to 1" wide, and when inserted inside a fabric flap under the front busk adds a goodly amount of lower tummy control and a straight front. Some who tight-lace order this feature to add strength to the corset quality. It normally adds $45 to the basic corset cost. Whether or not you wish this to shore up a front busk will be up to you. Owner Ann has had to remove this underbusk bone in one of her corsets, as it was too stiff for her purposes and put uncomfortable pressure on her breastbone in the center of her upper torso. It is far more common to see employed in European-made corsets than in American-made corsets.

A front or side-lacing corset without use of a busk is not recommended except for clients with inability to reach around back, take a bit of time, and learn how to lace up. A front busk renders better lower tummy control overall.


Q.7. Should a corset have an underbusk or flap under the front busk? What is its purpose?

A. Some corsets come with an unboned underbusk or flap and some do not.

The ones that do not usually employ a stitching technique that ensures the front edges meet evenly at the busk so that your dress fabric (or skin) does not show through in front. The purpose of the flap is to give extra security that will not happen, and also avoid skin pinching if you wear the corset over bare skin which we do not advise, due to possible soiling (order our CorPro tube top and wear your corset over that).


Q.8. What color is the thread and how perfect is the stitching?"

A. The corsetiere will choose the color of stitching which is normally the approximate color of your outer fabric, but may be contrasting. Color of thread is considered an artistic, not quality, matter.

You may request contrasting color thread. Stitches are of approximately even width and suitable tightness. Stitching for bone casings which hold the bones, will be very straight. Of course stitching or any element of construction of a corset by a human being vs. a robot, will always include small variations, but we strive to keep stitch lines (which delivers quality) in your corset, within a 1/8" variance, and bone casings and binding widths within a 1/8" to a maximum 1/4" variance.


Q.9. How will be corset be bound at the top and bottom and in what color?

A. You will normally be asked to choose the fabric type and color of the binding which is a strip of fabric typically, but not always, cut on the bias, that covers the raw upper and lower edges of your corset. The binding we offer is always of substantial quality.

If you do not choose, the maker will normally use the same fabric she uses for your corset, or a similar one, in the same or similar color. Sometimes a cotton corset is bound in satin, and sometimes a neutral color not precisely the same but attractive and coordinating will be used. We also use white, ivory or black petersham ribbon, which is similar in appearance to grograin ribbon (but not the same).

On the outside, binding should be relatively smooth and of even width around the corset, terminating in front and back at the busk and grommets in a neat fashion with no raw edges showing. On the inside, binding may show more variation in width but raw fabric edges will be tucked and stitched under.

If you order a reversible corset for a modest upcharge (note that any underbust style may be reversed, but this is normally not recommended for full figure clients because it puts too much pressure on the boning), then binding will be approximately equivalent in artistry and finish on both sides of the corset. There may be a minor variance in the width and finish of the binding at the front busk and back grommets, and the precision with which each side of your corset meets, depending upon the skill level of your chosen corsetiere and your artistic preferences. Such preferences must be clearly expressed when you place your order, so we correctly advise you about this matter.


Q.11. How much of a waist reduction should I order?

A. There is no precise or ultimate answer that fits for everyone. We will gladly assist our clients make the best decision as to how much of a waist reduction to order for their corset, based on several factors.

Factors include plasticity of the torso, experience in tight-lacing and wearing corsets, individual goals and reasons for wearing a corset, and other.

View the image to the right. This client measured the derriere too tightly and ordered her corset to close with too much waist reduction, resulting in an uneven and overly-wide back gap. As a general rule, it is desirable that the gap be more or less even top to bottom, after a period of seasoning a new corset. It is also desirable that the gap initially be no more than 4" wide, to avoid the risk of torquing on the body and the corset creating "hot spots" where the corset may pinch the skin.




What are the Elements of a Quality Corset?
 
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