6 Dos and Donts When Buying a Vintage Corset

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6 Do's and Don'ts When Buying a Vintage Corset

A corset is a woman’s undergarment that fits from the bust, or just below it, to the hips. It is worn to shape the figure by cinching the waist. Corsets have been worn for centuries and were especially popular in Elizabethan times when whalebone supports were added to give the garments more structure. Although vintage corsets are not quite that old, some are available with whale or steel boning. There is no clear definition of vintage clothing, but it can be described as pre-owned clothing from an earlier era. Antique clothing is generally more than 100 years old, but the rule tends to vary.

Vintage corsets are no longer worn only as undergarments for period costumes. A century ago only women in the entertainment industry appeared in corsets worn as outerwear, but contemporary fashions allow women the freedom to show off the feminine beauty of vintage corsets. Before buying a vintage corset take the time to learn what kind of corsets are available, what fabrics were used, and how to choose the right size. Consider what will be worn over the corset, if anything, check the corset’s condition, and take note of the types of fasteners. Vintage corsets are available from specialist stores and online sources, such as eBay.

1. Do Understand the Types of Vintage Corset

Vintage corsets come in three designs: underbust corsets, overbust corsets, and waist cinchers. Underbust corsets sit under the bust, leaving the breasts exposed. Overbust corsets supply the most support and coverage, running from the hips to the breasts. Waist cinchers look like wide belts that are boned or unboned, and sit on the waist. They are typically around six to eight inches wide.

Overbust vintage corsets feature a range of necklines, including straight, sweetheart, plunge, and scoop necks, with different styles best suited to different body types. Women with small breasts should consider an underbust vintage corset or a straight overbust corset. Those with average size breasts should consider straight or sweetheart necklines; women with full breasts should opt for sweetheart or plunge necklines.

2. Do Choose the Right Materials for a Vintage Corset

Vintage corsets are available in a variety of fabrics, with silk being one of the most popular. Even though silk is beautiful and luxurious, it is a delicate fabric. Vintage silk corsets may not be suitable for regular wearing. Those who are shopping for vintage corsets for waist training, or long-term shape modification, should look for more durable cotton corsets. In addition, cotton and natural fabrics breathe better than synthetics.

Most corsets come with boning for added support. This refers to strips of stiff material embedded in the fabric vertically to aid shaping. Antique corsets feature whalebone, while more modern ones come with steel or plastic boning. The use of whalebone became less common towards the end of the nineteenth century as metal became more common. Plastic boning is less durable and more modern that steel.

3. Do Choose the Right Size Vintage Corset

Since the purpose of a corset is to narrow the waist, be sure to choose a vintage corset that is at least four inches smaller than wearer’s waist measurement. For women with waists larger than 34 inches, increase this to five or six inches. Clothing sizes have changed over the years and it is best to have the wearer try the vintage corset on before buying it. Where this is not possible, compare her waist measurement to the garment. The waist measurement should be taken with a cloth or tailor’s tape measure at the natural waistline. This changes from person to person and is usually situated between the ribcage and the navel. If the wearer cannot try the corset on, try to buy from a seller or store with a returns policy.

A vintage corset that fits well should sit against the skin snugly, without being too tight. The boning should not mark the skin and the wearer should be able to sit down comfortably. Longer corsets tend to dig into the pubic bone when the wearer sits down, which makes sitting for extended periods impractical while wearing the corset. It is important to distinguish between this type of discomfort and a corset that is too tight.

4. Do Consider What Will Be Worn Over the Vintage Corset

The construction and cut of corsets have changed over the years. If the vintage corset will be worn as part of period costume, research the type of corsets worn during that era. A period dress may not fit properly without the right foundation garments. In addition, if the item will be worn under contemporary clothing with a specific dress or top make sure that the neckline matches the outer garment. If the corset will be worn as outerwear choose an extra ornate design for added flair. Some are adorned with lace or ribbon for a more feminine finish.

5. Don’t Forget to Check the Vintage Corset’s Condition

As with any pre-owned item, be sure to check the condition of the vintage corset before committing to a purchase. The excitement of finding the perfect, unique, quality corset will soon disappear if it is not in an acceptable condition. Check under the arms and bust for staining, check the material for obvious signs of wear, and make sure that the boning is in good condition. Although odours can usually be removed, stains may be permanent, especially if contaminants have had time to settle into the fabric and discolour it.

Be sure to check the stitching for loose threads and that any embellishments are in good condition and firmly attached to the garment. Vintage clothing may have cosmetic flaws and some damage could be acceptable, particularly if the corset will be worn under clothing. If the corset is bought from an online source, ask the seller for clear photographs of both the front and the back of the corset. Also ask if any flaws are present.

6. Don’t Choose the Wrong Fasteners for the Vintage Corset

Vintage corsets can be back or front fastening. Front fastening corsets are easier to put on and take off and this can be done by the wearer herself. These corsets usually fasten with hooks and eyes. Back fastening corsets often feature ribbons or other decorative fasteners. They are put on by pulling them over the wearer’s head or having her step into them, and generally require assistance to fasten properly.

Finding Vintage Corsets on eBay

eBay is the perfect place to start looking for the right vintage corset. Search for the item that you want by typing a keyword or phrase, such as "black vintage corset", in the search box that can be found on every page. Control the number of results displayed by choosing the most appropriate category and item characteristics. Use the advanced search feature for more searching options. Many eBay sellers have returns policies like those of high street retailers. Look for one of these sellers when shopping for clothing.

Evaluate the Item and Seller

Before committing to a purchase, evaluate the item and seller. All the information that you need to do this can be found on the item listing page. Click on an individual listing to see details about the item, including photos, buying options, the seller’s accepted payment methods, the seller’s return policy, where applicable, and the seller’s feedback information. If you have any questions about a listing, ask the seller by clicking on the "Ask a question" link.

The seller feedback feature lets you see what other buyers have to say about a specific seller’s products and customer service. Detailed seller ratings provide additional information about the accuracy of the item description, the reasonableness of postage and packaging fees, how long the seller took to dispatch the item, and the seller’s communication.


Corsets have been in use for centuries. Vintage corsets describe corsets from a different era, usually not more than 100 years old. Many people see these undergarments are the epitome of femininity, and vintage corsets allow contemporary wearers to experience a little bit of the past. When shopping for a vintage corset, understand the differences types that are available and bear in mind that some styles are better suited to particular body types. Choose the best fabric and boning material for the wearer’s needs, taking into account the purpose of the garment and the wearer’s preferences.

The corset should fit the wearer properly, with a four to six inch difference between the wearer’s waist size and the garment. The vintage corset should not be a tight fit; instead it should sit snugly without digging into the wearer’s skin. Boning should not leave marks or indentations. Consider the purpose of the corset and ensure that the corset chosen fits the period if worn as part of costume. True vintage corsets are usually pre-owned and should be checked for obvious signs of wear. Some stains cannot be removed and corsets that look tatty and worn should be avoided. However, some wear is normal and should be expected. Choose a corset that fastens in such a way that the wearer can put it on and take it off without strain. eBay sellers stock a number of vintage corsets fit for period costume, everyday wear, and outerwear.

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