This guide is intended to help buyers tell the difference between high quality waist reducing corsets and corset style basques or poor quality corsets.
Search eBay for "corset" and you will no doubt come up with hundreds of search results, and have to sift through dozens of "corset style tops" before you can find the corset you are looking for.
Many sellers attempting to make their item stand out from the rest will include information such as "steel boned" "waist reducing" "tight lacing" or simply "real". But what do all these terms mean, and are they genuine?
A "real" corset is simply a way of distinguishing a traditional boned corset from the corset style basques you often see in the shops, which have a minimum of boning, usually plastic. Steel boning is used in "real" corsets to hold the fabric taut and distribute the tension of lacing. However, it is a common misconception that steel boning will automatically make a corset suitable for waist reduction, so beware of cheaply made steel boned corsets passed off as "real" or "genuine" corsets. If a corset is made to a high quality, it will usually be obvious in the photographs, and there will be no need to describe it as "real", so beware of this buzzword if it is not accompanied by a detailed description.
Waist reduction is the main purpose of a corset. The standard waist reduction for steel boned corsets is around 4 inches. Before bidding on a "waist reducing" corset, ask the seller how much waist reduction is actually possible, and if they say less than a couple of inches, it is not a genuine waist reducing corset. Remember - just because it is 4 inches smaller than your waist measurement, does not necessarily mean you will actually be able to lace in that much. Even some sellers do not realise this, (or at least don't seem to) and will attempt to pass off an inferior corset as "waist reducing". If you are in any doubt, ask for a picture of the corset being laced in, to prove the waist reduction is actually possible.
Specifications for waist reducing corsets:
Waist reducing corsets must be steel boned, with usually around 12-16 bones for a standard corset. (but more for a corset designed for tight lacing) The purpose of boning is not to squash you in, but to hold the fabric taut, thus distributing the tension of lacing and preventing the corset from wrinkling, folding at the waist etc. Contrary to popular belief, boning in a corset actually makes it more comfortable, so don't be fooled into buying a lightly boned corset thinking it will be easier to wear. Corsets should also include a steel busk at the front (unless they have no front opening) and should be laced at the back through quality two-part eyelets (or grommets.) Some kind of flat steel boning is essential either side of the eyelets to distribute the tension. (think hammock with a rod at the ends) This usually consists of flat steels inserted either side of the eylets, but an alternative to this is lacing bones, which are flat steels with holes through which the lace is threaded. Corsets are often sold with pretty ribbon lacing, but this is usually not very durable, and ordinary ribbon is not really strong enough for the kind of tension it will be subjected to when the corset is laced in. Of course if this is the only fault, you can easily change it for a different type of lacing.
The type and strength of the fabric is the key to a good quality waist reducing corset. Some companies sell cheaply made corsets with poor fabric and include steel boning to push the price up, so beware of this. Most genuine waist reducing corsets are made from coutil, a traditional corsetry fabric which is specially designed to take the strain of lacing, or other similar fabrics such as heavy drill or duck. Coutil is considered the best fabric for corsets, although some corsetieres consider it to be overrated. Waist reducing corsets should also have a strong tape around the waistline to take the strain of lacing in, and to prevent the fabric from stretching over time. On the subject of stretch, corsets should obviously be made from non-stretch fabric.
"Tight-lacing" is a term which is often the subject of much confusion. Some people incorrectly use it synonymously with "waist reducing", but it in fact refers to the practice of extreme waist reduction. As mentioned before, the standard waist reduction for normal corsets is around 4 inches, so tight-lacing is defined as more than 4 inches, often as much as 10. If you want to reduce your waist by this amount, you will almost certainly need to get a corset custom made, so if you see a ready made corset described as "tight lacing", they are probably using the term very loosely. I cannot stress enough how important it is to watch out for these terms. I have even seen flimsy basques, not even corsets, described as "waist reducing" and "tight lacing", so beware of these. Just because a seller uses these terms, (and they do!) does not necessarily mean they are trustworthy. Again, ask for pictures to prove the corset will take the stated number of inches off the wearer's waist.
So, to sum up:
Essential features of a waist reducing corset:
- Must be made from coutil or an equivalent strong fabric (tightlacing corsets usually have more layers of fabric)
- Should ideally have a reinforced waist tape (for tight lacing corsets this is vital)
- Must be able to take around 4 inches off the wearer's waist (tight lacing corsets are designed to take much more than 4 inches off) If in any doubt, ask to see proof of this!
- Must be boned with plenty of steel bones, a mixture of spirals and flat steels is usual. It must have a steel busk rather than standard hooks and eyes. (tight lacing corsets usually have more boning than your typical standard one)
- Must have flat steels either side of the eyelets, which must be 2-part (ie eyelets with washers on the back) It is easy to tell if the back is boned correctly, as flat steels will not curve in at the waist, and the edges will be held parallel or in a V shape.
- Lacing should look like flat shoelaces, although stronger ribbons can be used. Most standard ribbons are not strong enough and will not stay nice anyway.
Some features to avoid:
- Fancy fabrics with no coutil or drill etc for strength
- Several layers of fabric, but no indication of what type
- Plastic boning or Ridgeline. This is never suitable for a waist reducing corset, whatever the seller might say
- Hook and eye fastenings. These will quickly bend out of shape and/or pull out as soon as you try to lace in.
- Spiral steels instead of flat steels either side of the eyelets. These will bend into a curve when you lace in, and not serve their purpose.
- No boning either side of the eyelets, or only on one side. (unless the corset has lacing bones) It's usually easy to tell that the eyelets are on the very edge of the fabric.
- Premade eyelet tape. Unless specially designed for corsetry, this is not strong enough.
- Zip fasteners. Beware of standard zips in corsets - they must be specially made corsetry zips.
- Listings using buzzwords like "real", "genuine", "victorian inspired", but with no details of construction
- Listings describing corsets as "waist reducing" or "tight-lacing" but with no details of construction (unless they are not able to give details , for example if the corset it second-hand)
- Listings with bad pictures, or with no picture of back view
- Picture of a corset on a shop mannequin which doesn't show how it will look on a real body. (unless of course the corset is second hand, or pictures can be found elsewhere)
- "custom made" or "made to measure" corsets which only ask for a few measurements (made to measure corsets should use more than just bust, waist and hip - the corsetiere will need at least 10 measurements to make a well-fitting corset)
- Custom made corsets which only take a few days to be made. Properly made corsets take hours and hours of hard work, even when they are not made to measure
- Corsets described as "couture" or "haute couture" but are no different from regular corsets. "Haute couture" is defined as the ultimate in luxury custom made fashion, names such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Mr Pearl are examples of haute couture corsetry.
- A price which looks worryingly cheap. With corsets, you definitely get what you pay for, so if it's less than around £70, (which is very cheap, but we're talking about ebay here) there must be something missing. Most sellers at the time of writing are asking for around £80-£150 for a good quality corset, depending on how well-established the business is.
- Seller is reluctant to give details and further pictures. Most good corset makers will be happy that you are showing an interest in their art!
- Seller doesn't know what you mean when you ask about any of the specifications above