Understanding Corsetry: Part 2
“Not all corsets are created equal.” – Ali Cudby
Ali Cudby is the author of the bestselling bra fit guide Busted! and founder of the FabFit Academy, an international bra fit training and certification program designed specifically for lingerie professionals. Ali’s bra fit advice has been read by millions of women worldwide and has been featured in TV, radio and print ranging from Cosmopolitan to Weight Watcher magazine. You can find Ali online at www.fabfoundations.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AliCudbyAuthor, and on Twitter at @alicudby.
In Part 1 of this two-part series we covered Buying, Merchandising and Selling Corsets. In this article, we’ll cover the differences between custom and ready-to-wear corsets.
Not all corsets are created equal. To explore some differences, I met with Angela Friedman, a New York City-based designer of both custom and ready-to-wear corsets.
Unlike many other lingerie items, the corset favors women with some body softness. Padding makes it possible to dramatically cinch in a waist and create the hourglass shape corsets are known for. A corset can snip as much as six inches off a woman who is used to wearing them, and 3-4 inches off an average corset wearer. Hardbodies, by contrast, may only see a 1-2 inch difference in a corset.
According to Friedman, the determination of who needs to go custom vs. ready-to-wear depends significantly on the bust size. A curvy, busty woman with a relatively small ribcage – like me – would be relegated to either underbust models or a custom corset.
Angela agreed to make a custom corset for me, in order to show you the steps along the way.
Above and below: Ali Cudby’s mock-up in progress. A corset mock-up is a disposable version of the corset. It’s one layer of cotton made for a short-term fitting.
“Measurements should be snug, but not tight — the tape should rest taut without digging into the body.”
I met Angela in her New York City design studio, and we started by taking measurements — 22 of them, in total. The measurement process is critical, and Friedman cautions women not to measure themselves. She advises customers to go to a professional seamstress. She also suggests that women get measured twice, and make a diagram of exactly where they were measured, to cut down on any confusion. Measurements should be snug, but not tight — the tape should rest taut without digging into the body.
Some other things a custom corset designer needs to know is how muscular a customer’s body is and if they need extra expansion to breathe. As a former costume designer for both opera and ballet, Angela understands these critical elements all too well. She shares, “you’d think that ballet dancers would be great for corsets, but it’s really not the case. They are so tiny and muscular so there’s nowhere for their body to move. They are tougher to fit than most people think.”
It’s also helpful for a designer to know if women have breast implants, since they will sit differently in the corset than natural breasts.
Once the design stage is complete, the next step is creating a mock-up. The mock-up is a disposable version of the corset. It’s one layer of cotton and is made for a short-term fitting. At the mock-up fitting, the designer will take a look at how the corset sits on the body, and will make adjustments. They will place the boning and determine the overall lines of the garment, such as defining the bust and the transition from waist to breasts.
Above and below: Ali’s Corset mock-up by Angela Friedman.
After the first fitting, the corset will either go straight to final production or, if a lot of changes are required, a second fitting.
A note about quality: corsets vary dramatically in price, and materials are a big reason for this. Quality corsets are made with steel boning – and only steel. If a corset is made with plastic boning, a customer may save some money at the register, but will end up with something that is likely to warp when it’s worn. Plastic doesn’t hold its shape once it warms up on the body.
All these quality factors add to the price, and a corset built at this level will last a lifetime. For additional markers of quality, check out Part 1 of the article.
So what should drive a customer’s decision to go custom or ready-to-wear?
First and foremost, it’s bust size. Off the rack corsets don’t tend to be designed for the bigger bust. If a woman is sporting serious curves and can’t spring for custom, underbust styles eliminate the transition from waist to breast and are a great option.
Here are some other factors to consider in the ready-to-wear vs. custom decision:
- Height. Standard corsets are best for women who are 5’2″ to 5’6″ although there are variations from designer to designer.
- Clothing size. Women between US dress size 6-12 generally do best in ready-to-wear options.
- Body asymmetry. Whether it’s breasts, hips or back from scoliosis, an uneven body lends itself more to customization.
Above, the finished product: Angela Friedman’s custom corset for Ali Cudby.
The final result creates a dramatic hourglass that works for black tie, or with jeans. Corsets are an incredibly versatile and fun addition to any wardrobe – and when they fit properly, they are surprisingly comfortable, to boot!
To help with corset shopping, Angela and I constructed a handy corset glossary.