Corsets & Corseting 101 - FAQs

You may have in your mind an idea of a corset as a sexy piece of lingerie (which it can be) or as a popular fashion of the 1800s (which it was), but the most accurate description of the modern corset is a tool to pull in your waist, giving your torso an hourglass shape, much like a bra supports and gives shape to your bust.

Today, corsets are growing in popularity as women discover just how useful a corset can be for creating killer curves (not to mention the many celebrities who’ve taken to wearing corsets). In fact, over the last 10 years we’ve sold tens of thousand of corsets and have talked to thousands of women about corsets and corseting. As such, we consider ourselves something of corset experts.

This article is intended to give a complete overview of the modern corset and answer common questions about the garment. Have a question that we don’t answer here? Ask it in the comments below and we’ll answer ASAP!

What is a corset, exactly?

Corsets are constructed from a strong, yet flexible fabric (cotton / satin / leather) that is reinforced with steel boning (flexible steel rods) to give the corset great strength for cinching in your waist and accentuating the curve of your hips and bustline. Typically corsets are tightened by fastening the front busk (a piece of corset hardware consisting of two steel stays, one with metal loops) and then lacing up the back. Corsets are made to fit around your midsection and can be either an “overbust” or an “underbust,” and depending on your style, can be worn over your clothes or under your clothes. Corsets come in a number of styles that have less and more extreme curves, and that fit a variety of different body types.

Should you wear a corset?

Steel boned corsets are worn for many reasons and situations. Some women wear them as a fashion statement, or for weddings or costuming, while others wear under their clothing for back and posture support. Most women who wear corsets, however, wear them simply to turn heads with that classic hourglass figure.

Is wearing a corset unhealthy or dangerous?

Wearing a corset is not dangerous as long as you use what we call “safe and sane” corseting practices. This means find a corset that fits your body type. Here’s a question we ask: “Is your corset causing you pain?” If the answer is a resounding “YES!”, then loosen the darn thing or take it off completely! The idea of no pain, no gain does not apply here. (Related: See Pros & Cons of Waist Training)

In fact, not only are corsets completely safe when worn properly, but they can be helpful for controlling back pain and correcting posture. We’ve talked to women who wear corsets for back support after injuries and we know many who wear one for good posture while sitting for long periods at work.

How does it work?

When worn properly, a corset offers something of an instant “‘hourglass” transformation to your body. Also, dedicated “waist trainers” can obtain semi-permanent results over time by moving the floating ribs, and your organs temporarily shifting while wearing the corset. Sometimes wearing a corset can lead to weight loss because the corset also acts as an external LAP band, encouraging you to eat smaller quantities.

What is waist training?

This is a big topic, and we’ve developed a whole section on waist training.

Why is steel boning important?

A corset without steel boning is not really a corset. Why? Because the steel boning is necessary for the “cinching” of the waist. Corsets that use cheaper plastic boning are simply for looks or fashion, and will literally burst at the seams if you try to tighten down.

Spiral Steel Boning vs Flat Steel Boning

Corset are comprised of both flat and spiral boning to allow for movement. Flat steel bones, found at the front busk and lacing bones, are just that -- flat. They are only able to move back and forth, and only slightly. Spiral steel bones are found throughout the body of corset and can be moved in multiple directions-allowing the wearer a modest degree of twisting and bending.

What results should you expect?

This is one of the most common questions we get. It’s also one of the most challenging to answer because of the many factors involved, including your unique body type. The best answer is: “It depends.” See real life before & after images and testimonials. Or, see our video on the topic.

What’s the difference between a corset and a bustier?

Corsets and bustiers are often confused. What’s different between the two? In simplest terms, a corset "cinches" your waist, while a bustier "boosts" your breasts. A few more details:

  • A bustier is a fancy bra-plus-shapewear combo that smooths the midsection and uplifts breasts.
  • Corsets tighten with a combination of rear laces and a front steel busk closure … bustiers often use a hook and eye closure like on a bra (and only have laces for appearances). In the plaid picture we've used here, notice that the corset has steel busks on the front.
  • A corset provides that hourglass "cinch" at the midsection. A bustier doesn't.
  • Corsets are typically much more expensive because they require a certain quality standard of construction to work properly.

What’s the difference between a corset and a waist trainer?

First, let us begin by explaining that the term “waist trainer” is often misused. What you have probably seen described as a “waist trainer” is really a latex waist cincher.

A corset is typically made of satin, cotton, mesh or leather, and uses steel boning to shape your waist. A waist cincher (trainer) is a type of shapewear made of latex that uses the elasticity of the material to “cinch” in your waist. Corsets are much more specific to size correctly, whereas a “waist cincher” is more like sweat pants… a few sizes fit all. Corsets can be worn over the clothes as a fashion statement.

A waist cincher is designed solely to fit under your clothes. To truly modify your waist (waist training) a steel boned corset is required. Latex cinchers are great for creating a smoother, more flattering figure under clothing (or at the gym, if we look to celebrities for guidance) and can create a temporary hourglass figure.

Underbust vs Overbust

Underbust corsets fit right underneath the breasts and can easily be worn underneath clothes. Overbust corsets can be worn under clothes in place of a bra and underbust corset, in addition to being worn as tops. Underbust corsets come in a number of different styles for fitting the contours of your bustline. Here’s a helpful article for choosing the style that fits you best.

What size should you get?

This is the most common question we get, and probably the most important. Steel-boned corsets, are sized primarily using your waist (in inches). As a general guideline:

  • If your natural waist* is under about 38”: order 4-7 inches smaller than your natural waist.
  • If your natural waist* is over about 38”: order 7-10 inches smaller than your natural waist.

*We define natural waist as where you naturally bend from side to side.

Other important factors:

Here’s a video that can help you with sizing, and here are some more tips for measuring properly.

What type of fabric should you choose?

After we have recommended a size and style for a customer, one of most commonly asked questions that we get is “Which fabric is best?” All of the fabrics (cotton, satin, mesh, brocade or leather) are beautiful and made of very high strength materials. But all of the fabrics do have pros and cons and one may be a better option for you than the others. Here’s a list of the most common types and our recommended use.

  • Satin - If you plan to wear your corset under your clothes we suggest satin. Your clothing will glide over the top of the corset like a slip under a dress rather than clinging to it.
  • Mesh - A lightweight and breathable material. It’s comfortable, easy to wear under or over clothing, you can wear it in the hot summer months without getting too warm, and it gives a great silhouette because there is so little bulk to the corset.
  • Cotton - If casual comfort is more your thing, then cotton would be the one for you! Cotton takes a bit longer to feel like it’s broken in, but once it is, it will be as comfortable and easy to wear as your favorite denim jeans. Wearing cotton corsets under clothes is a little trickier because of the thicker fabric.
  • Brocade - The brocade fabrics are a gorgeous, thick polyester blend that almost feel like a tapestry or upholstery fabric. They look more elegant than a plain fabric and can add something a little extra to your outfit. As it is a thicker, woven fabric, it will take more uses for it to be as comfortable as a thinner fabric … but once it is broken in to your body, it will be a comfortable and classy addition to your wardrobe.
  • Leather - Our lambskin leather is incredibly supple. It’s a material that is comfortable almost immediately. Lambskin isn’t the stiff and rigid leather that most people expect when they think of leather fabrics. Although your clothes wouldn’t cling to this fabric if you wore it under your clothing, it does have a bit more bulk to it, so it’s better to wear it over your clothing and show it off. We don’t recommend daily waist training in your leather corsets though; as leather is a natural skin and can stretch out slightly over time.

What’s the best way to fasten a corset?

Corsets are made with a variety of fasteners for tightening/securing around your waist. By far the most common, and best, system is a front split steel busk. One side has the loops (hooks), and the other pins (nobs). You can see these straight down the front of all our corsets. We’ve found this is the quickest, most durable and sturdy way to secure your corset. You can also find corsets that use a zipper (common in reversible corsets, but not very strong) or wire hook and eye closures (more discreet than busks, but not as strong and they take forever to close).These are generally used with latex cinchers.

How do you lace a corset?

Here’s a demonstration video showing how to lace a corset.

Should you wear over your clothes or under your clothes?

This is a personal preference. Women who simply want the hourglass shape will wear the corset under their clothes (typically a mesh or satin corset). This is called “stealth corseting.” Many women like the look of the corset when worn over their clothes, and will include it as part of their regular wardrobe.

Should you get one custom made?

For most women, on off-the-rack (OTR) quality corset like those we sell at Orchard Corset will be a perfect match. However, if you engage in a serious waist training regimen you may find over time you need a corset with more extreme curves than are found OTR. Additionally, a well-fitting overbust corset is more difficult to find than an underbust corset for some women. It is important to note that custom corsets run anywhere from $250-$1500 - so we recommend trying an OTR corset first before getting one custom made.

How do you clean a corset?

We recommend taking your corset to an experienced dry cleaner if needed. Never machine wash your corset! You may spot clean with a mild detergent and allow to dry.

Air out your corset after each wearing by placing it lining side up and center it over a hanger or chair. A small amount of fabric freshener may be used between cleanings on the inside lining only. Be sure to dry completely before storing. Never dry your corset outside as sunlight can damage the fabric. Here are some more cleaning tips. Also, See our video on the topic.