Drafting an Underbust Corset:
Buying a Corset
So what if, after all this, you are unsure you are ready or able to make a corset? The best answer is to buy one, although I encourage you first to examine your reasons. If you don’t have the sewing skill or tools necessary to make a corset, buying is probably for you, at least until you have obtained the tools necessary and used them for long enough to build your skills. If you have no desire to make corsets yourself you will definitely need to buy. If you are just unsure of yourself or afraid of mistakes, however, I strongly encourage you to try to make a corset by yourself. You may need to make a few before you have a model suitable enough for long-term wear, but no one develops skills overnight, especially with corsetry. Every successful corset maker has 2-10 corsets that are ‘so-so’ to ‘unacceptable’. It’s part of the learning process, and you will never get an acceptable product if you are afraid to try.
If you decide buying is the way to go, the first question usually is: how do you determine which maker to buy from? Really, though, you should not start out with a maker. Just like choosing which corset to make, your buying decision should start out with what shape you want the corset to give you and under what circumstances you want to wear it. These are more important because they will help you choose a maker that can suit your individual needs. If you do the opposite, and choose a maker without finding out if they do what you want, you will get frustrated or not be happy with your ‘second choice’ product.
Once you have decided on what you want your corset to look like, then you can try to find a maker. Here’s a list of some makers on the web: Maker's List.
Be sure and search through all the makers, compiling a list of those that make the kind of corset you are looking for. Then go back and figure out which ones make the kinds of corsets that fit your purpose. Some things to look for:
-fashion corsets generally do not reduce much and may be made of plastic boning or inferior fabrics. They are for occasional wear, but they are cheaper, so for a one-shot or rare-use item, this is your best bet.
-daily wear or tightlacing corsets are generally the cream-of-the-crop, made with personal attention and the best materials available. This doesn’t come cheap, though, so compare prices and be sure to check references. Beware of someone who has these listed well below the standard for reputable companies, they may be trying to pass off inferior materials on the unknowing.
-corselets, cinchers, and bustiers usually indicates fashion corset, but not always.
When in doubt, check with the maker. They should have a contact email or telephone number listed, and a reputable company should be happy to discuss their materials and standards with you. If they refuse to tell you about their construction I’d raise an eyebrow.
If you want a piece that will last through many wearings or tightlacing, here are some additional questions to ask. The boning should be steel, either stainless or spring. Avoid corsets that only use plastic boning. The base fabric should be a high-quality corset coutil. Avoid anything with spandex or stretch, it will not hold up to the stresses of long-term corsetry. The corset should be lined with cotton or you should wear a corset liner. The sweats and oils on your skin will degrade the base fabric of a well-worn corset, so you should try to keep them off of it as much as possible. Additionally, leather should be lined with a base fabric to keep it from stretching out of shape. Remember, leather is the skin of a cow, and will stretch and conform to you almost as much as skin would. Finally, fit is more important in long-term use. The laces should lace with an even gap down the back, and never unevenly or closed. Both will create back problems and pains for you, the wearer.
The next question when buying a corset is price. I know, this is usually the first question asked, but really, it belongs here. Why? Well, first of all, you need to know the industry standard to know whether or not you are getting what you want. And the set price of corsets fluctuates from year to year depending on boning prices and availability, busk prices and availability, fabric costs, shipping costs, machine costs, time investments, current fashions, and a number of other reasons. You need to start researching makers to discover a standard price for what you’re looking for. After you have a median price, you can question the ones that are lower to find out why. They may be using cheaper materials than the standard, or they may have less experience or reputation. Research them at corsetry sites and on LJ communities and/or email lists as well as emailing them directly. After you have complete information you can make an informed decision based on what you know of the person. You may decide that reputation doesn’t matter to you and are willing to go with a less-known company or individual to get a lower price. Or, you may decide that you value the knowledge and experience of the reputable houses and are willing to pay a little more to ensure you get exactly what you need.
Now, I’m sure some of you are squealing in outrage at the prices you are encountering. A common question from a first-time corset buyer is “Why does it cost so much? It’s a small garment!” Let me explain how most designers and houses determine their prices.
First, there is the cost of materials. Browse the websites of some corset
supply sites (Corsetmaking
in the US, Farthingales
in Canada, and Vena
Cava in England, for example). Note the prices on boning. Most corsets
have 10-20 bones, on average. Some have more, especially period pieces
from 1800 and earlier. Then there is the cost of the fabric, coutil, and
the fashion brocade as well as lining, if provided. Coutil usually runs
around $20 a yard, USD, and brocade can range from $15 USD to $30 USD
and above per yard. Add in grommets, lacing, thread, machine needles,
busks, piping, and bias tape, if used, and the cost of materials alone
is around $40-$60 USD. There is also the issue of tools the maker must
have available. A sewing machine, grommet setter, and bias tape maker
all cost money, as well as upkeep and maintenance. A fraction of those
costs are included in the price of your corset. Additionally, to make
a corset you need a pattern. Makers must either purchase a commercial
pattern for $5 to $30 USD, or draft their own from your measurements.
If they draft the pattern you are paying for their paper, rulers, and
calculator, as well as their knowledge and experience in creating patterns.
Pattern drafting is a skill, and the time they spend on using it costs
you money. Finally, corset construction takes 5-20 hours per corset. You
are paying for the time of the maker, and the cost per hour is usually
determined by the maker’s experience and reputation. The more corsets
they have made and the more well-known they are, the more you will pay
because you are insured of getting a quality product made by a person
who knows what they are doing, and the more experience they have the less
time it will take them to make what you want. All of these are included
in the price. Finally, there is a profit margin added in. Makers make
corsets for a living, and the profit goes towards that. In most retail
fashions the clothing is marked up 30-40% above the cost of buying the
clothes and operating the store. Corsetry is no different.
. . . On to Wearing a Corset!