Friday, March 15, 2013

Corset Myth #1: Corsets are Painful

This is a post that I always THINK I've already made, but I have to remind myself I actually haven't.  Partly it's because this is part of my corsetmaking panel presentation, partly it's because I've linked to a bunch of great articles about corset myths.

But these myths and questions come up over and over again when you talk about wearing corsets.  I hear steampunks repeat them as often as people in the general populace.  So let's address the most common misconceptions about corsets.  I'm going to do this over a series of posts, since I can get wordy on the subject.
One shape does NOT fit all.

1. Corsets are painful.
Look, I'm only going to say this once.  If you are in actual PAIN while wearing a corset, YOU ARE WEARING THE WRONG CORSET.

I like to think of corsets as being the same type of garment as shoes.  Imagine you walk into a shoe store (or worse, a shoe website) and you've never worn a pair of shoes before in your life.  You don't know your size, you don't know what kind of shoes you like or find comfortable, you're not aware of any special foot issues that require special shoe features.  You take a guess at what pair and size of shoe you need just by looking at it.  Would it surprise you if you put the shoe on and it hurt?  Probably not.

This is how most people buy corsets the first time.  We don't have a lifetime of experience wearing and buying corsets the way we do shoes, so we have no clue what we're doing.  Sometimes, maybe we get lucky, or are able to make educated guesses about what we need.  But often, we end up with the wrong corset, in the wrong size, made of the wrong materials.

Just like shoes, the cheaper they are, the worse they fit, the quicker they fall apart, and the more likely they are to be uncomfortable.  Just like shoes many of us have body shapes that require certain features in our corsets.  I have ridiculously high arches and therefore have to be very, very picky about what shoes I wear, otherwise I can develop so much pain that I can't walk.  With corsets, we all have such different bust size, bust-to-waist-to-hip ratio, ribcage size, etc, that it's a miracle anyone can wear standard sized corsets at all.

So, why might a corset be painful?  First of all, it might be really cheap.  If you're trying to wear a $15 corset made in China, I have found your problem.  Cheap fabric that doesn't support and shape the body, flimsy plastic boning, horrible shape...these things all make an uncomfortable corset.  The plastic boning especially is terrible because it buckles under the stress of lacing and will end up poking you uncomfortably.  Trust me.  This is how I started wearing corsets.

So let's say you are wearing a slightly higher priced and higher quality corset.  You listened to someone and bought a corset with steel boning.  But it's still hurting you.  It's probably either the wrong size or simply not a shape that works for your figure.  Off the rack corsets are made to fit the largest amount of people, which means they are made for an average figure.  I think very few of us actually have an average figure.  If you have hips or bust that are either significantly larger or smaller than this average, it's going to be difficult to find an off the rack corset that fits you really well.

A lot of women buy a corset by the waist size.  They want to wear a corset to cinch in their waist, so they pick a corset with a size smaller than their waist size.  (Which is fine.) But with an OTR corset, there's not usually a very dramatic hourglass figure, so you often end up with a bust and/or hip that is too small.  Which is uncomfortable.  You wind up trying to lace into a corset that is too small all over, which ends up with you squeezed like a sausage in a casing.  Whereas in order to actually reduce your waist, you need plenty of room in your hips and bust, because you can't actually just squeeze and make the human body smaller.  All you can do is temporarily redistribute the excess.

I've had women ask me how I get such a dramatic waist cinch (which actually isn't that much of a reduction, I'm just a pretty extreme hourglass normally.)  I started into a whole explanation of corsetmaking principles, before I realized what they really meant was "I bought a corset online, how do I get it to be shaped like that?"  And the answer is: you don't.

Now there are some corset sellers out there who sell curvier OTR corsets, but you're going to be paying for it.  This is also why people have a lot more success with buying OTR underbust corsets, because those darn boobs cause 70% of the problems.

So, let's say you have a well-fitted, high quality corset.  Will it ever be painful to wear?  Well, this depends, again, on the corset.  If you are tightlacing and going for a really large reduction, well, yes, it might be painful.  In which case you probably shouldn't be trying that much reduction.  The more severe the reduction, the less time I can comfortably wear a corset, I find.  Eventually, after several hours, it feels good to be out of a corset.  But in my most comfortable corset, (my steampunk patch corset, fyi) it's not a problem to wear it for 12-14 hours.

Next time on Corset Myths: "Can you breathe in that?"

Corset Myth Series:
Myth #1: Corsets Are Painful
Myth #2: You Can't Breathe In A Corset
Myth #3: Corsets Are Bad For Your Health


  1. As I read this post, I find myself tempted to shout things like "Amen!" And "You tell 'em, sister!" I loose track of how many times I try to tell people about REAL corsets and not the silly corseted bodices they get at hot topic! I look forward to the rest of the posts in this series.

  2. Excellent timing! I've just finished my second corset mockup (this one FITS, huzzah) and I'm excited to see this article! A few of the people I've talked to have expressed surprise that I would want to do such an "uncomfortable" thing, especially putting in so many hours to make it myself. I'll be linking them to this article. Looking forward to "can you breathe in that?" and the rest of the series!

    1. Congrats on getting a mockup that fits! That's the hardest part.

  3. Thank you for finally putting these myths to rest. Now i can tell my mom to stop trying to feed me bs about these. ESPECIALLY since i am trying to get a great quality coreset for cosplaying but moms trying to make me panic to where its like "OMG I CAN BREATHE! ITS NOT TIGHT ENOUGH!" so thank you. i am glad to have found these