Archive for January, 2009

To Corset or not to Corset…

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

To corset or not to corset…..

Notes on dressing in Historical Costumes.

I love to play ‘dress up’! I always have, and I still love it. One of my favorite dress up activities is wearing historical costumes. They are fun to make, and to wear, and I have had many great times taking my costumes all over the world. Our travels have included England, Venice, Guam, Williamsburg VA, San Francisco CA, Ferndale CA, Victoria BC, all around the Northwest, and most recently, Cape May NJ. and Newport Rhode Island. So here is a short article for my friends in the various groups that I play with, to answer a question that I am often asked:

“Do I have to wear a corset?”

Many of us historical costume enthusiasts find it great fun to” Dress The Part”. We wear our historical costumes to parties, Renn. Faires , historical celebrations, re-enactments, shopping, teas, pretty much any place we can – why? Because it’s fun!

I’m often asked if it is necessary to have a corset for your costume. And, even though I am a corset maker, the answer is “No!”. You can wear an historical style dress, participate, and have a good time, and just wear your modern undergarments with your costumes with my blessing.

When the time comes that you want to ‘raise the bar’, make something a bit more complex, and dig a little deeper into the study of historical costuming – then you need to consider the proper underpinnings – corset, hoops, panniers, farthingales, bustles, and pads. These are the things that change the shape of a body and effect the proper silhouette so your costumes hang well, and look appropriate for the historical period you are trying to represent. They also make construction easier – there is a reason these are called foundation garments!

I want to talk specifically about corsets – and hopefully dispel some of those myths we have grown up with.

Myth #1 “I can’t wear a corset it’s just way too uncomfortable!”

I have made corsets for virtually hundreds of clients. One of the most common things I hear at the fitting is “Wow – this feels great – it’s much more comfortable that I expected! “ And – yes it is! – a well fitted corset should be comfortable. We are not Scarlet O’Hara (oh! don’t get me started….) – corsets for real women were not outrageously tight. Remember that a corset was common dress for over 400 yrs. Women had to live, work, and carry on their lives. Movies and magazines have done a great miss-service to the truth about wearing corsets. You can find a plethora of articles in historical print on the “evils of corset wearing”. This makes good copy, but it isn’t historical fact. For comparison, look at the articles that surface every time platform shoes come into fashion – I think you can see the pattern.

Myth #2 “Corsets are just for the upper classes”

Oh, wrong again. From the Renaissance to the early 1900’s, most all western women in anything but the lowest of classes wore some kind of stays – with a couple of minor exceptions. Unless you are playing the part of a beggar – or a bohemian libertine – or some such exception, you would effect the proper (but maybe not the most fashionable) silhouette for your time period.

Myth #3 “Men forced women to wear corsets – it’s degrading!”

Well, I could write a book on this one – and many have – let me refer you to anything by Valerie Steel – one of my favorite authors on the psychology of dress. Fashion history is far more complex than the so called “oppression of women”. One of the primary reasons to wear historical fashion is to learn more about how people actually lived – it is a fascinating subject, and one I never tire of exploring.

Myth #4 “ Corset are good to wear if you have a bad back”

I – am a corset maker and not a doctor – do not recommend wearing corsets for a bad back. You are much better off exercising and strengthening your muscles to keep your back strong. Even weight lifting belts are not recommended anymore, as they then to allow a person to strain their back rather than protecting the back. Using a corset for a brace will only make you dependent upon the brace. Other times when you shouldn’t wear a corset include gastrointestinal problems, pregnancy, if you are very young and still growing, or if you have osteoporosis.

Please apply your common sense.

There are many more ‘myths’ about corsets, but I will save those for another day.

I hope I have given you a little insight into corset wearing. Effecting the proper silhouette is the important factor. Be sure that your corset is a good fit – custom fitted corsets are the best – corsets cut directly from vintage patterns will rarely fit a modern body. It takes a good pattern drafter to take a pattern from an historical corset and adapt it for a modern body. I recommend a custom pattern – made from your measurements – if you choose to build your own corset. The Fitting Room offers custom patterns as well as custom corsets.

See you all soon, sporting the latest fashions from years gone by!


Here are links to some of our local Seattle costume related groups:

(don’t forget to play the game with my Tarot of the Tailor cards on this site)



Girl Genius Corset

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

I thought you might like to see something a little different – I received a custom order for Agatha’s shorty corset from the outstanding Web Comic –  Girl Genius –  

As the authors are my friends, I had their permission to use their design, and show it to you – it is always polite to ask before copying the designs of others…. (hint hint)

Agatha's "work" Corset


Now I can’t wait to make the tool belt corset for me!

Edit this entry.