Disclaimers - I am a corset maker and I sell corsets for money. So I DO have a vested interest in where people chose to buy their corsets. I also don't purchase ready-to-wear (RTW) corsets myself anymore, because I make all my own custom. I haven't purchased a corset since 2010, so I can't personally speak to any of the sellers I mention, but my information is based on examining corsets from various sellers, and from reports from others. Finally, this is all my personal opinion. Opinions and experiences differ from person to person and that's perfectly fine. Also, unless noted, I have received no compensation in any form for any of my opinions.
General Corset Buying TipsWhat you're looking for in a corset will vary wildly from individual to individual based on the look you're going for, your experience with corsets, and your own body shape and specifics. So it's difficult to give general advice for what to look for. Here are a few things I would pay attention to.
- Steel bones and the type of bones - Most corset buyers these days know they are looking for steel instead of plastic. Plastic bones warp very easily, sometimes in only a few hours of wear. They also can be uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous and generally are not worth any amount of money. But beyond steel, you should look into the type of steel bones used. Most quality corsets are primarily boned with spiral steel, which is flexible, comfortable, and encourages curves. Many cheap corsets are boned with flat steel, which makes them less comfortable and more cylindrical in shape, but cheaper to produce.
- Type of fabric - what gives a corset its strength isn't just the bones, but the type of fabric(s) used. High quality corsets typically use coutil as a strength fabric, but there are cheaper alternatives that work almost as well such as cotton duck and twill. Not all corset listings will tell you all the fabrics used, but it's something to look for and be aware of.
- General shape and construction of the corset - A corset can only shape you to the extent that the corset itself is shaped. If the corset is only gently curved, you won't get much of a waist reduction out of it. What are the waist and hip measurements and how do they relate to your own? Many cheap corsets are less curvy than the average woman is naturally. Which defeats the whole point, IMO. As for construction, you won't really be able to tell much, except you can see or read how many bones a corset has. In general (to a certain point) the more bones a corset has, the more comfortable it will be, the better it will shape you, and the stronger it will be. Another important number is the number of panels a corset has. The more panels, the better shaping the corset can give and the more curve it can have. A common number of panels for a corset is 10-12, or 5-6 per side. There are an infinite number of ways to construct corset panels, however, so this can vary. However corsets with a very low number of panels, such as 4, should be a sign of low quality and cheap construction. I have a hard time calling 4 panel constructions corsets at all. They are more like boned garments to me.
- Reputation of company/maker - When buying anything online, especially if you're going to be spending a significant amount of money, it's a good idea to do your research. Some sites (such as Ebay and Etsy) allow you to look at the feedback of sellers. But there are also lots of sites out there devoted to reviewing corsets to help buyers make good choices. I recommend you start your research at Lucy Corsetry. Lucy has tons of reviews of corsets up, and her site is a treasure trove of information about corseting. But a general googling of the seller/company you are considering buying from should be helpful, too.
- Shop around - Corsets vary hugely in price, style, and quality, so it helps to know about as many options as possible before you buy.
More general advice: I have an old post about what to look for in a quality corset and the Lingerie Addict has a good article on the topic as well.
Where Not To Buy A Corset
Now, right off the bat this one has exceptions. It's not that you cannot find a good quality corset on Ebay. But the ratio of quality, real corsets to horrible, horrible crap is not favorable for the buyer. Ebay is filled with cheap rip-offs of better quality corsets. I've personally taken apart several cheap corsets bought off Ebay, and the quality is so bad I consider them actually dangerous. The plastic boning used has the strength of a plastic coffee stirrer, and the fabric is typically some hideous satin leotard fabric. These are "corsets" so poor in quality that I doubt you could get through a single evening before the boning sags outwards and gives you a cheap corset potbelly.
Moreover the sellers on Ebay (and other cheap corset websites) tend towards very dishonest selling practices in which they use photos of designer couture corsets to sell their cheap knock-offs. If they DO post pictures of their actual product, the photos are usually manipulated, either digitally or through sneaky lacing techniques, to look curvier than they usually are. The standard shape for these "corsets" is a straight up-and-down barrel shape with no curve at all. They don't even have a waist!
As I said, there are reputable makers who still sell on Ebay, but unless you have reliable information as to a maker's reputation and quality, I would avoid Ebay.
2. Renaissance Faires or other Festivals/Conventions
Look, it's possible to buy both very, very poor quality corsets and decent quality corsets at in-person events. I personally sell corsets at conventions, so it's not that I'm telling you never to buy a corset in person. "Wait," you might say, "wouldn't it be a great idea to buy a corset in person because you can see what you're getting and try it on? " Yes and no. In theory the idea of buying a corset in person is fantastic. But in reality there are a LOT of very shoddy corsets sold to people at these events.
Ren Faires and other large events feature a variety of sellers, from truly skilled artisans to people who sell their wares overpriced and in large numbers. The corset sellers I've had interactions with and heard about unfortunately seem to fall into the latter category. The vast majority of the corsets you will see for sale are plastic boned. Some of them are of truly ASTOUNDINGLY bad quality and moreover, way overpriced.
Someone brought me a corset to look at once that had been bought for over $300 at a Renaissance Faire. My reaction was mostly speechlessness, but I did manage to say that it looked like what someone would make if they had had a corset described to them but had never actually seen one. (Guys, the bone channels were about an inch wide, with plastic 1/4" bones just floating loose in them. And this is a very well known seller.) In this particular instance, the corset had been laced onto the buyer by the seller and looked decent at that time, but the buyer never examined it closely until they got home and took it off. And it never looked that good on again. Some sellers unfortunately know how to pressure people into sales and are experts at avoiding or lying in response to questions about materials and quality. And I have personally been chased out of shops/stalls multiple times when I was looking too closely at the corsets on display.
So if you are going to buy a corset at an event, make sure you do your research about what makes a quality corset first. Ask specific questions about the materials used (boning and fabric) and examine the corset closely. A reputable maker/seller will be happy to talk about the construction and materials used. If you get too much pressure from the salesperson, leave and think about it before buying. Hey, you have the internet on your phone, right? Do some quick research on the shop name. And don't shop drunk. Unless you're shopping at my booth. ;)
In the next post, I will be tackling that megalith of corset sellers, Corsets UK/Corset Story. I will explain why you should really think hard before buying from them. And eventually I will get to where you SHOULD buy a corset. :)
The rest of this series is now up: Where Not to Buy a Corset, Part 2: Corset Story
Where You SHOULD Buy a Corset, Part 1
Where You SHOULD Buy a Corset, Part 2