The NY Public Library just released thousands (187,000 to be more precise) of public domain photographs, ranging from the 11th to the 21st century. Not only that, they’ve created an amazing visualization tool which allows users to browse the photographs, prints, maps, and more with ease. Check it out!
I did a bit of scouring and found some images of interest to corset enthusiasts. This small collection of photos, illustrations, paintings, and other materials represent an interesting range of nationalities and varying social classes. I hope you enjoy these corseted ladies from history.
Drunks make and break promises left and right, but a well-functioning sot is much more likely to follow through! In my tipsy vlog on leather corset care, I mentioned that I would soon be blogging about my first experience ordering a custom corset. Ta-da: as promised. It’s a very exciting and multi-step process, especially for those who aren’t used to having garments whipped up for them in collaboration with a design house, so I’m happy to share my experience.
The hardest part was deciding what I wanted (first in my long queue of dream corsets, anyway)! A common misstep that clients often want to take is to put too many design elements of every corset they might ever want into a single corset: teal butterfly brocade with silver piping and pockets and straps and and leather panel of contrasting color and D-rings and… too many “and’s” can lead to a costly corset and unfortunate aesthetic disaster. Having seen this unstoppable force of sheer giddiness in motion before, I pulled my excitable instincts back and decided to keep it simple. No fancy fabric choices: just plain, black, glove leather.
But I want SHINY!
Tell your inner fish:
It doesn’t speak.
I chose basic black because not only is it classic, but people looking at you will tend to see your silhouette and your personality, rather than the garment itself. I learned this lesson the hard way from a previous store manager, Holly Bobisuthi — who, for the record, one cannot keep away from electric teal tones or animal prints if one’s life depended on it — when everything inside me wanted a corset of multiple panels of insane Escher wool in black in white.
But why do people compliment my waist line more in my RTW plain black corset, when my wool one is a full inch smaller? My iliac crest is OBVIOUSLY more pronounced in it too!
Because young one. They only see the fabric, not the shape.
In my memory, she speaks to me like a sensei.
Basic black, lessoned learned.
The design I chose, granted, is a lot of corset. Highback, underbust, 18″ waist, accommodation for my ribs and hips, and longline Dollymop designer points framing the rear. I ordered something custom that is clearly custom. No one else has this corset — yet, anyway.
It’s no secret I get my corsets from Dark Garden. Excellent service, high quality materials, in house design and production, I work there… as well as the fact that I hate ordering things online, especially when fit is such a consideration (I won’t even order shoes online). Any corset maker that has a customer service team you can *speak to* regarding fit, style, and manufacture is a step above the rest.
Initial Measuring and Consult
All of the necessary measurements for the style of corset I was ordering were taken. I explained to the Master Designer what I was looking for (a specific shape of waist curve), that I was a tightlacer, and she inquired as to my desired waist measurement. She was open to modifying her standard design for the Highback Pointed Victorian to meet my aesthetic, and for her grace, ease, and flexibility to what I was looking for, I felt very taken care of as a custom client.
With the notes and measurements in mind, her senior pattern master came up with a mock up pattern just for me, and a mock up was created out of muslin for a first fitting, pictured below.
Notice a couple things:
• a custom corset has a lot more panels than a ready to wear corset, allowing for more curvature with less stress on the matrix of threads essential the the makeup of the fabrics (benefit of which: custom corsets last longer).
• I’m totally stoned from satisfying compression made just for my body. Yummmm…..
During the fitting, the master fitter took notes on the mock up for the pattern to be adjusted accordingly. This was time to speak up if any changes were desired. Kalico Delafay happened to be walking by and I blurted, “Hey, can we put a Dollymop bottom on this thing?” After a look between the two designers and then finally a nod, the deal was sealed. Yes! I love the hybrid corsets.
The mockup fit so well, the master fitter was confident that a second fitting was not necessary. My order was moved into production.
As a front-of-house person, I’m not really supposed to disturb the stitchers at work, but I was too excited when I discovered it was MY custom frankenstein corset coming to life!
AHHHHHHH SO EXCITING
And then, after the deciding, the ordering, the measuring, the mockup fitting, the production, it was done! And it was beautiful.
Here’s to many more adventures in my wardrobe’s gem! I can’t wait for my next custom corset. I’m thinking about a sweetheart with a very reduced waist line, but my mind changes too often to tell with certainty. Perhaps something with the Swarovski crystal treatment… Indulge my inner fish!
I ran into my good friend Jason, a gifted San Francisco stylist, at the end of my shift at the Dark Garden booth at the Folsom Street Fair, and so we took to the street arm in arm to enjoy the festivities.
A man in a cock ring and not much else struts by. “Those shoes are Balenciaga,” Jason whispers to me. “And that slutty secretary look over there,” pointing to a young girl in a pencil skirt and chrome slave collar: “designer.” I feel like I’m experiencing the directors commentary to the kinky fashion event of the year.
We quip back and forth our praises and criticisms of the fashions of our Dionysian, hedonist, burner, political, and otherwise creatively empowered fellows. I feel free and comfortable in my G-string, thick knee high leather buckle boots, patent leather Dark Garden corset, thigh high stockings, spiked bra and collar. I rock a bun-hawk and the joke was that I was Miley Cyrus for the day (turns out that’s a fetish for some people).
Suddenly, jarringly, I hear a voice from the past ask if I went to <my high school>. To my awkward surprise, I turn to be face to face with one of my worst enemies …a square.
I detest those who show up to a party as if its a spectator sport. But there I was in full leather regalia suddenly faced with the awkward task of making small talk with some dude in khakis I had nothing in common with. What really gets my goat, in addition to the lack of effort, is the shameless admission of tourism: “I came from San Jose just to see the show!” Fuck. This. Noise.
I feel so blessed to live in San Francisco. Historically this city has enjoyed a critical mass of creatively empowered folk who love to party while making the world a better, more understanding place: from human rights activism to artist community communism. Unfortunately, just two days ago I heard the unsettling news that one of my favorite venues lost their lease. It seems that there has been a lot of changes in the SF subculture scene in the last decade, but I’d love to think the changes are evolution, not devolution. However, it seems that SF, with the influx of Googlers and tech-money, is running out of room for creatives; in fact pushing them out to make room. (Wouldn’t want to mar a glossy reputation with a little sin, now would we?)
This begs for a call to arms. Too many amazing spaces for creative expression have been compromised and shoved around in recent years to take it sitting down. There are those in a society who are consumers, and there are those who are movers and shakers: who step up to the plate and innovate experiences and environments for others to enjoy. There are many, many roles to aid this design into fruition, however. Legal, zoning, fire marshall issues, interior design, talent and/or volunteer coordination, contractor labor, fundraising, marketing outreach, branding… In order for these communities to stay alive and thriving, this is a crucial moment to ask: how can I contribute in an impactful and sustainable way?
What does this manifesto have to do with corsetry, some of you might be asking. Well, corsetry is different things to many people. Some are brides, looking for shape wear or a dress bodice. Some are scoliosis patients looking for pain relief. Some are endowed ladies looking for bust support. Some are fashionistas, making a statement through aesthetic and silhouette. But to me and my kind, it’s an expression, sensation, and signifier of leather subculture.
Mainstream fashion incorporated the corset for many centuries, up until the 1920’s, when empowered young women wanted boxy boyish figures and short locks. In presenting this image, they eschewed femininity and presumably likewise, the turn-of-the-century definition of lady-like behavior. Corseting came back into main stream fashion in the 1950’s with Dior’s “New Look”, a fit-and-flare style that featured a tiny waist and an extravagant amount of fabric in the skirt — in celebration of the abundance suddenly allowed at the end of the Second World War.
But subculture folk never stopped wearing corsets. Literally compelled by a force greater than the mind, corsetry means more than fashion and weddings. It’s not a trend, it’s an obsession spanning centuries, and in some cases a signifier of camaraderie.
Though I may seem all Dark Garden, all the time, there are many corsetiers out there whose work I admire and point of view I respect. I hope to expand my corset wardrobe to include all my esteemed fashion-crushes, but for the moment, allow me to pay humble hommage to one of them.
Fran is a one-woman business who makes corsets especially for waist trainers and tight lacers (she uses the terms interchangeably, whereas I find the two to have uniquely specific meanings. A dedicated post on this controversial delicacy will come later). She is highly respected in the corset community, having tastemakers such as Lucy’s Corsetry cheerleading her awesome product. Understanding asymmetry on a personal level, she specializes in anatomical corsets, and in fact seems to eschew ready-to-wear sizing all together: from her corsets to her tank liners!
While putzing about on the blogosphere for corset nerdery, I came across this gem of particularly articulate sincerity in one of her vlogs, the topic of which is how to best communicate in the ordering process. I thought it was well worth a share:
For me, tight lacing is just sort of a part of my life, as it has been for a long time. Nothing really fantastic about it, or fetishistic about it, for me. It’s just part of me. And for tight lacers, that’s really what it is. Even if it does start out as a fascination or a fetish thing, if you do it every day, it becomes something more. Not necessarily just a ritual, but a part of you, like the food you like, and the car you drive, and the clothes you wear. Something that ends up defining you in a lot of ways.
Fashion corsets are like Vampires: they are among us.
Often concealing their identity, fashion corsets keep their evil secrets of sweat shop origin and very limited functionality in the shadows and yes, they will suck you dry.
After futzing around with poorly made garments, having invested significant cash, a person may begin to think to themself: perhaps corsetry isn’t for me. Perhaps there is no answer to my issue, no holy grail at the end of my epic quest for fashion, support, and relief…
Be not swayed by these charming imposters, for they merely promise to be something they are not — the real deal is out there, and its addition to your wardrobe can be a total game changer.
Last night I was watching popular reality TV show Double Divas. I love that show, because it’s all the fun parts of being at work (you know, lingerie, boobs, interesting people) only I get to drink a bottle of wine while enjoying it. Also, it’s in the South, which is basically a parallel universe to a Californian. All of this, plus the antics of harmlessly insane middle aged boob-experts makes it a fun watch.
But last night they said a thing or two on a subject that I a happen to be an expert. And I have a thing or two to say back: never wear fashion corsets for back support.
In season 2, episode 2, they meet a professional horse racer lady (her official title, I’m sure. Right there on her business cards) who needed bra help. They did their altruistic duty of making a big sale on national television, and further suggested a customized waist cincher for back support while she is riding.
This actually is a great suggestion. In the 19th century, officers in The Cavalry would wear corsets for back support while horseback riding. A well patterned and constructed steel boned corset can be a suitable replacement for a back brace (under advisement from your physician, of course). During a high impact activity such as horseback riding, extra support can be beneficial to the spine and also help prevent immediate and long term back pain.
HOWEVER, what the divas came up with was not a proper cincher that should ever be expected to perform any sort of supportive or shaping duties. It was an elusively imposterous fashion corset.
This particular “corset” was made with what looks to be elasticized fabric, plastic boning, with hook and eye closures. For the layman: No strength, no shape, and no support.
Based on this, I speculate that their qualifications for knighting a garment a “corset” is that it sits on a belly and laces up the back. *shivers*
Does this look like back support to you?
Which silhouette would you prefer to rock, for equestrian purposes or otherwise?
Now you can see the folly of “fashion corsets”!
A corset that can be sucessfully applied for shape wear, waist training, back support, or erotic restriction will, by its very nature of functionality, have the following qualities:
– Non elastic fabrics (cotton-poly, silk, or leather, for example)
– Steel boning (which allows the garment its supportive architecture)
–A busk (steel “buttons” in the front: the strongest closure.) *in some cases a corset will have a flat front with no closure*
– A well-made pattern, curvaceously shaped to accomodate the bones and organs of a real human body …only dress forms are shaped like this ) (
That’s not to say that these fine garments can’t be fashionable, the distinction is that fashion is not their only purpose for being.
Anyway, I hope none of you watched Double Divas and then ran out to Victoria’s Secret to get your new super supportive back brace. Have fun with your clothes and be safe: I would hate to hear another horror story of poorly made corsets injuring fine folk due to false promises!
I used to know nothing about anything. I was as green as spring grass (and twice as fresh). I didn’t have a trained eye or focused vision; I just liked what I liked and wanted what I wanted.
At the time, I thought any steel-boned corset was the real deal. I was also broke and so even $150 for a garment sounded exorbitantly expensive. “Anything for love,” I thought, and bit the bullet. What I wished I knew back then is that investing in poor quality, uncomfortable garments isn’t worth the “half price” cost. I couldn’t wear it for more that a couple hours at a time before getting incredibly uncomfortable or cranky. I had sores on my skin from where it dug into my hips and ribs. Youch!
Once I started wearing well-made corsets, everything changed. I found that compared the terribly uncomfortable contraptions I had been trying to force myself into, a well made garment made me look and feel so good I never wanted to take it off again. Now I comfortably wear a corset for about 8-14 hours a day.
Here are some before and after pictures: before and after I knew any better about corsetry, evidenced in the silhouette:
Here I am in my first steel boned corset, which I ordered off the internet from “Corset Heaven” in the UK. I went for it because of the ridiculously cheap price and because the description said it was a waist training corset. Years later, as a corset professional, I can now say with assured authority that not much about this corset makes it appropriate for waist training. You can see that it is actually cutting into my hip, creating an unflattering (and uncomfortable) line. The point in front comes down so low that one is constantly aware of the corset when one sits. Most importantly, it does nothing to train the waist. Notice how it is shaped like inverted parentheses: ) ( as opposed to the ideal S shaped curve. Put bluntly: I look like a tube. A cute tube (this was in my youth), but a tube, none the less. I couldn’t wear this thing for more than a few hours max before I would bark: get this f*ckin thing off me! And this is also why I hate corsets with paracord. It looks tacky, callouses the fingers, and digs into the skin.
The fabric colors of my first Dark Garden corset was very similar to the one I ordered from Corset Heaven — it was as if I was trying to fulfill the vision. However, the two could not be more disimilar in terms of quality of construction or shape. You can see for yourself the difference between the two garments in resulting silhouette alone.
Whereas I was eager to start waist training around the time I ordered from Corset Heaven, I was discouraged at the bulky, poor fit — and a disconcerting lack of a waist! After being over $100 in the hole on the idea, it didn’t feel good to have a crap quality garment. And so I didn’t actually start my waist training journey until I got my hands on a Dark Garden waist cincher. This picture was taken on Day 1 of training, which happened to be at the Bay Area’s annual Dicken’s Faire.
At Dark Garden, we have an antique Edwardian dress form, which showcases what a lifetime of corsetry might achieve. It looks a little beat up, but hey, it’s literally 100 years old!
People and adverts from the era: check out their silhouettes!
Can you imagine being at that party, surrounded by gowned hourglasses? I think I would swoon.
You may have noticed by now that I’m into historical research, but I’m not exactly a costumer. For me, it’s a lifestyle, a body mod, and a fashion statement. In the mainstream, it is also a nearly extinct Western feminine tradition to which I cling, to the point of idiosyncrasy. What does corsetry mean to you?