Today, corsets have become a key part of our wardrobe. Historically worn as racy boudoir apparel or an essential undergarment tool for cinching in the waist, we now see them as designer wear on the red carpet or with a jacket and jeans on the street.
Maybe you're here because you're thinking of buying your first corset for waist training, or perhaps you’re enjoying the trend of corsets as outerwear and want a piece for fashion or fun. Regardless of your motivation, here's some basic stuff you'll need to know to get the right fit and look.
A corset is a well-structured garment, constructed with sturdy fabric in a desired silhouette and reinforced with steel boning (rigid or flexible steel rods). This gives the corset great strength for cinching in your waist and accentuating the curve of your hips and bustline—or flattening and trimming your abdomen, depending on your style.
Typically, corsets fasten with the front busk (a piece of corset hardware consisting of two steel stays, one with metal loops and the other with pins) and then are tightened by lacing up the back to get that stunning cinched look.
Corsets are made to fit around your midsection and can be either an “overbust”, which covers the bust, or an “underbust”, which rises to just below the bra line. Depending on your look, your corset can be worn over your clothes or under your clothes, which is called corset “stealthing.”
Corsets come in a number of styles that have varying curve levels and each style is specifically designed to fit a different body type. It’s important to get a corset that fits your body for the ultimate comfort and style.
CS-511 Overbust Corset in Royal Blue
Jargon can be painful, so here's a quick dictionary that explains the different parts of a corset:
- Busk (Split Busk): Refers to the front center opening of the corset. It is comprised of two long flat steel bones.
- Spiral Steel Bones: Boning that moves in all directions to allow the corset wearer to move and twist. Spiral boning is found around the sides and over the bustline in most corsets.
- Flat Steel Bones: Boning that moves in just two directions, usually found in the front split busk and at the back lace closure of the corset.
- Shell Fabric (Exterior): This is the stunning (but strong) layer of fabric you see on the outside of the corset. Our corsets are generally crafted with high strength, high shine satin, high strength polyester, poly brocade fabric, cotton, PVC or premium lambskin leather.
- Grommets: The round metal holes the laces glide through at the back of the corset. At Orchard Corset, our grommets are set between two flat steel bones.
- Modesty Panel: Also called a lacing guard, this flap of material is usually 5-7 inches wide and attached to the back of corset. The modesty panel is usually fashioned from the same material as the corset and not only protects the wearer from lace burn, but creates a cleaner look as it covers the gap between the lacing bones for a seamless look. Some corsets (like most of ours) also include a small 1/4 inch modesty panel at the split front busk.
- Channels (Bone Casing): An extra strip of material sewn into the corset to create a pocket, or channel, to hold the steel bones in place. This not only keeps the bones from moving around, but reinforces the fabric for a more durable and long-wearing corset.
- Strength Layer (Lining): This is layer of cotton or other strong fabric to provide strength and durability to the corset. This can also be the lining of the corset (as it is with our corsets) or a middle layer between the exterior fabric and fashion liner.
- Waist Tape: A layer of material to provide additional strength and support at the waist of a corset, as there is more pull and strain on this section of the corset wear the corset is cinched with the pull loops. The waist tape can be seen between the layers of the corset, or exposed on the inside.
- Pins (Nobs): The steel "buttons" along the one side of the front busk that are inserted into the loops (hooks) on the other side of the split busk to fasten the corset.
- Loops (Hooks): The steel attachments on one side of the front busk designed to hold the pins (nobs) on the opposing side of the split busk to fasten the corset.
- Boning: In early corsets, the rigid structure was achieved with actual bones, usually from whales. Modern corsets, like those at Orchard Corset, are constructed with spring steel bones, both spiral and flat. Be aware that lesser, flimsier fashion corsets are often made from plastic boning.
A corset works by compressing your waist. When worn properly, a corset offers an instant shape transformation to your body, into a traditional and dramatic hourglass shape or into a more modern smooth curve. When worn consistently, corset waist trainers can offer semi-permanent results over time by moving the floating ribs, and temporarily shifting organs while you are 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.
There is so much to waist training, we could write a book about it! And actually, we already did - check out our Ultimate Guide to Waist Training.
It shouldn’t be! Wearing a corset is not dangerous as long as you use what we call “safe and sane” corseting practices. This means finding a corset that fits your body type.
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 them for good posture while sitting for long periods at work.
In general, your corset should never, ever cause you any pain. Ever! Check out our article about waist training safely and the Pros & Cons of Waist Training.
You’ll need to figure out both your size and which style works best for your body type. Corset sizes reflect the closed waist measurement of the corset (in inches) and range from size 16 to size 46.
The quickest way to determine your size and style is by chatting, calling, or emailing our expert sizing team. We’re here to help and would love to hear from you!
Steel-boned corsets are sized primarily using your waist (in inches). See this video that can help you with sizing and our tips for measuring properly. As a general guideline, you can use your natural waist (where you naturally bend from side to side) to determine your corset size:
- 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
But size is only part of the equation of a well-fitting corset. You also need to know the curve that works best with your body, aka your style number. Read more about our curve levels and corset styles in our Corset Buyer’s Guide. And contact our expert sizing team to get your ideal corset recommendation.
Steel boned corsets fit in two categories: underbust and overbust.
- Underbust corsets fit right underneath the breasts and can easily be worn underneath clothes. They come in a number of different styles for fitting the contours of your bustline and hips.
- Overbust corsets cover the breasts and can be worn as corset tops with your skirts or jeans. They can also be worn under clothes in place of a bra and underbust corset to give you that desired hourglass shape.
See our Corset Buyers Guide for choosing the style that fits you best.
You might have also heard of things like corset tops or corset shirts. These terms are typically used to describe fashion corsets that (unless they're steel boned overbust corset with straps) don’t offer the same cinch that a steel boned corset does, so we don’t include them here.
Instead of a garment that skimps on structure, we recommend our premier overbust steel boned corset tops or pairing a steel boned corset with your own top or dress to get both the fashion and the dramatic shape you’re looking for. Check out our Look Book for ideas!
A corset without steel boning is not really a corset. Why? Because the steel boning is necessary for the “cinching” of the waist and shaping of your figure. Corsets that use cheap plastic boning are simply for looks or fashion, and will literally burst at the seams if you try to tighten down.
Quality corsets have both flat and spiral boning to allow for movement. Flat steel bones, found at the front busk and lacing bones, are only able to move back and forth, and only slightly. Spiral steel bones are found throughout the body of the corset and can be moved in multiple directions, allowing you the modest ability to twist and bend while still keeping your shape.
Corsets and bustiers are also often confused. What’s different between the two? In simplest terms, a corset "cinches" your waist, while a bustier "boosts" your breasts.
A bustier is a fancy bra-plus-shapewear combo that smooths the midsection and uplifts breasts. Bustiers often use a hook and eye closure like on a bra and only have laces for appearances, if at all. They also use plastic boning to help smooth fabric and maintain structure.
Corsets tighten with a combination of rear laces and a front steel busk closure and have spiral steel bones in them to help maintain vertical tension and create that desired hourglass curve.
The terms "waist cincher" and latex "waist trainer" are used to define those shaping garments that target the abdomen specifically. That is where the similarity to corsets ends.
A waist cincher will usually shave an inch or two from your waistline while you are wearing it and is designed to provide a slimming and smoothing effect underneath your clothes. By contrast, corsets can be worn over or under your clothes, and are designed to create that "hourglass figure," instantly taking inches off your waist - generally 3” to 6”, depending on your body type and how easily compressible your midsection is.
Read more about the differences between waist trainers and cinchers and when to use each.
“Ready to Wear” corsets are in-stock corsets. They come in standard sizes and can be ordered for delivery immediately. These are the type of corsets sold by Orchard Corset and they are also referred to as “Off-the-Rack” corsets.
Made to Order corsets shouldn’t be confused with a bespoke or custom corset. A Made to Order corset is available in standard sizes but may have some custom details as requested by the customer, such as fabrics or detailing. The sizing, however, remains standard with little room for changes.
Custom or Bespoke corsets are the most personalized and can be the highest quality of corset. They are handmade by a person or small business working in their on-site atelier or home studio. These corsets are fully customizable, made to measure, and range from several hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars.
For most women, an off-the-rack (OTR) quality corset like those we sell at Orchard Corset will be an ideal match. However, if you engage in serious waist training, you may find over time you need a corset with more extreme curves than are typically found in an OTR.
Additionally, a well-fitting overbust corset is more difficult to find than an underbust corset for some women since they focus on the bust area—not just the waist and hips. It is important to note that custom corsets can run into the thousands of dollars, so we recommend trying an OTR corset first before getting one custom made.
Once you know your size and style, you’ll probably think, “Which fabric is best?” All of the fabrics we offer (cotton, satin, mesh, lace brocade, PVC and 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 when they’re recommended:
- Satin - If you plan to wear your corset under your clothes we suggest satin. A satin corset allows your clothing to glide over it, acting like a slip under a dress, rather than clinging to it. Satin is also stunning over clothes, giving a polished look. If you have pets, you might really love the satin material as we have found that pet hair is less likely to cling to the outer material!
- Mesh - Mesh is 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’s 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 a cotton corset under clothes is a little trickier because of the thicker fabric although not impossible!
- 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 brocade is a thick, woven fabric, it will take more uses for it to be as comfortable as a thinner fabric … but once it’s broken in, 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 cowhide 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.
- PVC - Similar in look and feel to vinyl or patent leather, this man made material is a show stopper! We love how this one keeps you cozy warm when it’s cold out and how it can take any outfit up a notch. This fabric is similar in thickness to our lambskin leather, and like the leather it might not be the ideal corset for you if you plan to hide your corset under your clothing, what we call stealthing! But, if you want to train your waist in a bold fabric, PVC could be the one for you.
- Lace - Our lace mesh weave is a dual layered alternative to our popular mesh fabric. Feminine and strong lace is backed with comfortable, breathable mesh for a corset that is as breathable as our regular mesh with a floral twist! Just like our popular mesh corsets, the lace option is great for hiding under your clothes because it is so lightweight and hugs the body closely.
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.
- Make sure to fully loosen the laces on your corset before putting it on.
- Find the right side up by determining the location of the garter tabs or the knot in the laces, which are both along the bottom of the corset.
- Place the garment around your body with the hooks and pins in the front and the laces in the back. If the corset is right side up, the side with hooks will be in your right hand and the side with pins will be in your left.
- Clasp the stainless steel hooks and pins in the front, making sure all are fastened securely.
- Then tighten the laces by pulling on the pull loops (bunny ears) in the back and pulling on the x’s of the laces.
The great thing about our steel boned corsets is that you can make micro-adjustments to the laces until your corset fits perfectly (after seasoning). For example, if you feel a little tightness at the rib, you can loosen the laces there slightly while keeping the cinch at your waist.
- Make sure to fully loosen the laces in the back before attempting to unclasp the busk.
- Gently unclasp the stainless steel hooks and pins in the front of the corset.
We recommend taking your corset to an experienced dry cleaner if needed. Never machine wash or fully submerge your corset! You may spot clean with a damp cloth and mild detergent, or with a disinfectant wipe and allow to dry.
To get the most wear out of your corset, use a liner and store it properly. Our corset liners will help your corsets to stay cleaner, longer! A layer between you and your corset keeps natural skin oils and moisture from settling into your corset.
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. We have beautiful fabric storage boxes created specifically with your corsets in mind.
Read on for some more cleaning tips and see our video on corset care.