I’ve been wanting to cover corsets in a little more detail on the blog for some time now. While there are many amazing (and far superior and more knowledgeable) resources available online, from The Lingerie Addict’s corsetry archives to the phenomenal Lucy’s Corsetry, which I could literally read for hours, I’ve recently begun receiving more and more questions about them. While not a regular corset-wearer or waist-trainer, I have worn them before, and it’s an aesthetic I like for certain occasions (I’m a sucker for good old fashioned 19th century fancy-lady dress porn). Compared to bras and panties, however, corsets can be both intimidating and cost-prohibitive: from a fit, comfort, and price tag point of view, shopping for corsets and figuring out your fit requires a much larger investment of time, energy, and money than almost any other piece of lingerie (except maybe latex?).
Please note: I’m not going to address any health-related corset topics, for a variety of reasons, the primary of which being that I’m wholly unqualified to do so. Your personal needs and comfort preferences are your own, and if you have medical questions related to corsets, please consult your doctor.
I’ve had a few corsets made for me in the past for plays or specific theater projects. My height and my bust size meant that there was rarely a suitable corset in the theater’s stock, and so each corset was made for me specifically with a few points in mind: it had to be tall/curvy enough, it had to match the play’s period (in my cases, 1870, 1879, and 1884– see? 19th century clothes love me), it had to suit the character’s social status (maid, middle-class professional woman, traveling American aristocrat, etc.), it had to work cohesively with the demands of the production, from the costume designer’s full production design to the choreography and any stage business, and, finally, it couldn’t be SO specific to my body that it couldn’t be adapted for use on another actor in future productions. When I wore corsets on stage, I had the opportunity to provide very general fit feedback, but I’ve never had a corset that was fitted within millimeters to my unique body in a style and design of my choosing.
Note: I tried to find good photos of these actor days on Facebook and it was so long ago it was PRE-PHOTOS-ON-FACEBOOK smartphones didn’t really exist so there were no fitting-room selfies even good grief I’m old.
I’ve loved wearing the first two corsets I’ve modeled on the blog– the Evgenia Lingerie Ribbon Corset and the Fairy Tales by Angela Friedman Cherub Waspie. They’re beautiful, impeccably crafted pieces that are easy to style with my more “everyday” lingerie sets and could even translate into outerwear. While each offers some slight waist reduction, they’re technically ready-to-wear garments (RTW), and as such aren’t designed to fit with the specificity of a custom corset. They’re also underbust corsets, which is great, as it means lots of people who wear lots of different bra sizes can still enjoy them, but it also means that you won’t get the same dramatic look you might get from an overbust corset.
Lately there are more and more stores offering RTW corsets, even waist-training corsets, every time I turn around. I’ve heard fantastic things about What Katie Did and Vollers, in particular, and Karolina recently wrote a great post comparing three different RTW waist training corsets. RTW corsets tend to cost less, usually between $75-400 (What Katie Did’s are on the pricier end, although they offer exceptional quality and multiple shapes for different figures, including full-bust), and some brands offer a few options for custom colors and trims.
While I’d love to try a RTW overbust corset some time in the future (especially What Katie Did), I realized at the beginning of this year that every time I came close to purchasing one, I wound up walking away from the transaction. After 30-odd years of trying on clothes and 18+ years of trying on bras, fit has become really, really important to me, and I was loathe to commit $200+ to a specialty item that might only be an “okay” fit. Furthermore, I knew I wanted to wear a corset in the 2015 holiday editorials, which I’ve been busily planning since, oh, January, and furthermore I wanted a corset with a very specific look. And finally, with a real-live corsetiere right here in New York City (at the time), I could actually have my fittings in her workshop and have adjustments made in person. How could I pass that up?
I first approached Angela Friedman in May to ask if she wanted to take on this project and to get a sense of what her rates would be. While I adore her RTW corset styles, they are designed for much smaller busts than mine, and generally for shorter statures. Though Angela has created corsets for full-bust clients before, we quickly determined that between my height and my bust size, the best thing to do would be to create a brand-new pattern, rather than customize an existing one. I decided to invest in a fully bespoke corset– brand-new patterns and designs would be created just for me, and I could pick any fabrics, trims, and embellishments I wanted (as far as my budget allowed). We negotiated a payment plan, took some measurements, and scheduled our first fittings. We had three fittings in June, July, and September, and the final corset arrived in the mail on October 11.
This post is part 1 of a multi-part series that will run through the end of the year. In the next posts I’ll talk a little more about what went on in each fitting (cats were involved, obviously), as well as chat with Angela about her history with corsetry, the bespoke side of her business, and get the scoop on just how she arrived at what she told me is “probably one of the most complex patterns [she’s] ever done.”
I’m really excited to talk about this with you all! This is one of the biggest investments I’ve ever made in an item of clothing, and the first garment I’ve had made entirely for me from start to finish since my acting days. I have tons of behind-the-scenes photos on the way, and the final corset will appear in late November/early December as part of the 2015 holiday editorials. Before then, do you have any questions you’d like me to ask Angela? Let me know in the comments!