Updated July 30, 2019
You’ve heard the hype about waist trainers and the celebrities who use them. Rule #1: Take health tips from Jessica Alba and the Kardashian sisters with a very large grain of salt. Rule #2: Do your research before hopping onto any new trend.
We’re in a unique position to offer advice on waist training. We’ve sold many thousands of corsets and trainers over the last 20 years, and have the benefit of feedback from hundreds of women about their waist training journeys. In the last 5-6 years we’ve seen a disturbing trend: everyone from bloggers who’ve worn a trainer for a week, to medical professionals who’ve never worn one, offering advice on waist training, with little to no experience or expertise to back up their claims.
(Pictured here: Serious waist trainer Marisa G. took 3" off her waist. Read more.)
This article is our attempt to clear up the misinformation about waist training and educate people about the best ways to approach this centuries-old practice for accentuating an “hourglass” figure.
First, a Quick History of Waist Training
Waist training — also known as waist cinching — goes back as far the 1500s, and was a common practice among the fashionable European and American women in the 1800s and early 1900s. (Related: See how a corset shapes a waist.) In fact, corsets were one of the first mass-produced fashion garments for women.
By the 1850s, steel boning (steel rods used to stiffen the corset) and metal eyelets for the laces had been added to the corsets, making tight lacing, and the modern practice of “waist training,” possible. Waist training is the process of progressively tightening the corset over a period of weeks and months to pull in the floating ribs and even do a bit of rearranging of internal organs to achieve a smaller and smaller waist size.
Waist training peaked as a common practice in the early 1900s before falling out of fashion in the 1920s, replaced by the straight, slender lines favored during the Flapper era. For much of the 20th Century, waist training was practiced only by a fringe few in the historic costume, pin-up, fetish/BDSM and haute couture circles.
In recent years, however, waist training has made a big comeback. It started in the early 2000s with the Steampunk movement and the use of corsets in Steampunk fashion. More recently, celebrities including the Kardashians, Jessica Alba and the cast of Jersey Shore have put waist training back in the spotlight with their use of latex waist cinchers.
Corsets vs Cinchers for Waist Training
Understanding the differences between steel boned corsets and latex waist trainers is an important part of educating yourself before waist training.
Waist cinchers are shaping garments that specifically target the abdomen. A waist cincher is designed to provide a slimming effect underneath your clothes and will usually shave an inch or two from your waistline when it’s on. Most cinchers are made from a combination of nylon and latex or Spandex, some with plastic boning or “ribs.” If you carry your weight in your tummy, a waist cincher can help give you more of a waistline, but not the hourglass curves of a steel boned corset.
Steel boned 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. Corsets will instantly take more inches off your waist (generally 3” to 6”, depending on your body type and the amount of fat you carry around your midsection). Corsets help you to re-shape your body over time (like braces for your teeth) because they can be cinched using the laces, whereas a waist cincher (contrary to the name) can not because the closure on a cincher has only eyes and hooks, not laces.
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. If you choose to wear your corset under your clothes, we suggest you wear a layer between you and your corset like our Seamless Bamboo Corset Liner. A liner helps to keep your corset in pristine condition and is more comfortable to tightlace for longer periods of time. Corsets come in a number of styles that have less and more extreme curves, and that fit a variety of different body types. (Related: See Corsets 101.)
So which one is best? Many women find they want to waist train almost around the clock, but sleeping in a steel boned corset is not for everyone — and you certainly shouldn’t work out in one! That is where you might benefit from both. Cinchers are more comfortable to sleep in and work out in, but still provide some support and shaping. While corsets can be hidden under clothes (specifically the mesh versions), they are bulkier, and if you are looking for some slimming help underneath a fitted top or dress, the cincher is easier to hide (as it is meant for that).
So, is Waist Training Safe?
You’ll find plenty of critics who talk about how dangerous wearing a corset or cincher can be, but the truth is that when used carefully and sensibly, they are no more dangerous or ridiculous than the stiletto heel — a fashionable tool for accentuating a classically feminine figure.
The key here is what we call “safe & sane” waist training. It goes a little something like this: Is your corset or cincher causing you pain? If the answer is a resounding “YES!”, then loosen the darn thing or take it off completely! When cinched properly, it should feel like it’s giving you a tight hug.
In our experience, the common criticisms of waist training, including bruised ribs, acid reflux, shallow breathing and back pain, are most often the result of taking waist training to the extreme, tightening too far too early, or wearing a garment that is sized incorrectly. (Related: See how to correctly size a corset & pros and cons of waist training.)
Extreme waist training, as practiced by Ethel Granger (13” waist) or Cathie Jung (14” waist), makes it more likely that you will experience some of these adverse health effects. Corsets worn for long periods of time and cinched very tightly can and often will redistribute organs (kidneys, liver, intestines) as seen in this MRI. It is important to note, however, that pregnancy has a similar effect on a woman’s internal organs.
In terms of long-term harmful effects, we have yet to hear negative customer feedback or read a study about long-term consequences when “safe and sane” waist training is practiced.
"A corset is not going to harm anything," said Manhattan-based gastroenterologist Dr. Burton Korelitz in an interview with Racked.com. "You have my reassurance that in almost sixty years of practice it has never come up as a problem."
It’s equally important to note that neither is waist training a magical way to lose weight, as some claim. Wearing a corset or cincher can help reduce your appetite at meal times, but they don’t melt fat … they simply redistribute it. If you want to lose weight, exercise and eat your vegetables!
Is waist training good for you? The primary health benefit from waist training is for pain relief and support after back injuries. One of our customers, Teresa Panez, uses a corset as part of her rehab program after a car accident. Another, Hannah, wears hers for pain relief from scoliosis.
When waist training, what is the corset actually modifying?
This is a common question on our blog and social media channels as well as in our customer service chats and phone calls. Waist training in a steel boned corset will NOT modify your hips in any way. Your hip bones are going to stay put.
Your hip bones aren’t going to move, but that’s not the case with your two bottom ribs. Those ribs are your floating ribs and if you are wearing a corset that comes up high enough to cover the lower ribs, through patience and diligence in your waist training, those two ribs can be pulled in along with your waist to give you an hourglass shape. (Related: See waist training before and after examples.)
Keep in mind though, that for the most part, the body modification you are making with your waist training is not permanent and you will need to continue with some maintenance corseting or those ribs will float right back to where they started!
If you decide to proceed from here, you can make the waist training process safer and more comfortable by following some basic rules.