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steel boned corsets

The Complete Corset Guide 2022

What is a corset?

Corsets have been redesigned and redefined over the centuries, but a contemporary (modern) corset is a garment that is designed to cover the torso and fit more tightly than street clothes. Corsets range from gentle to curvy in silhouette, and they are often used to smooth the tummy and love handles, make the waist appear more narrow and the hips more broad, and for overbust corsets also securely lift and support the bustline.

Corsets can look very different depending on their length, silhouette, and fabric, but they all have certain elements in common: they all contain panels of (usually non-stretch) fabric that snugly holds the body, they contain boning which provides vertical tension in the garment so that it does not wrinkle or collapse on the body, and they have a lacing system which allows you to tighten and loosen the corset to your exact comfort and preference.

What are the different types of corsets?

Corsets can come in many different styles and lengths; the one that’s best for you depends on how long your torso is, how much range of motion you would like, and whether you have any areas where you need the most support (for instance, bust, back, or lower tummy). Let’s start from shortest to longest:

Corset Belt is the shortest option - as the name suggests, this looks more like a belt than a full corset. It still contains all the “corset parts”, like panels, bones, a lacing system, and sometimes a busk. Its primary purpose is to cinch only the part of the waistline below the ribs and above the hip bones. While it is very easy to move around while wearing a corset belt, it will not support the bust, upper back, or lower tummy.

Waspie is the next shortest style. It tends to cover at least the lower (floating) ribs, and it may not reach over the hip bones but it often dips down a little bit over the lower abdomen, and not cut straight across the way that a “belt” looks. Waspies came about in the 1940s with the New Look fashion. The new shorter corsets were named after wasps (the insects) as their sole purpose was to exclusively cinch the waistline. Along with strategic padding to make the shoulders and hips appear more broad, waspies gave the wearer a more “wasp” like, almost segmented appearance.

Waist cincher is the next corset length. In the corset world, cinchers are often interchangeable with waspies. If a brand offers only one style of very short corset, they might choose to only use “waspie” or only “cincher” to describe it. However, for brands that offer many different corset styles and lengths, a cincher is usually a little longer than a waspie, but shorter than a full underbust. Cinchers are almost always cut high on the hip to leave the hip bones free.

Full underbust corset, as suggested from the previous paragraph, is the next longest corset. As the name describes, this corset stops under the bustline, where the underwire would be in a bra. An underbust corset usually comes down a little lower to cover and support more of the lower tummy, compared to a cincher. An underbust corset can be cut high on the hips, stop at mid-hip, or extend down over the low hips, which leads us to…

The longline corset is a corset that extends low on the front and sides in order to cover and support the lower tummy and hip area. It usually stops right at the crease where the lap meets the torso so that it maximizes lower tummy coverage but still allows the wearer to sit comfortably. Although both overbust and underbust corsets can be longline, usually when someone says “longline corset” they are typically referring to a corset that stops at the underbust, but is always low on the hips.

Demibust corset: Instead of an overbust or an underbust corset, a demibust comes up halfway on the bust, offering similar coverage to a balconette bra. Many antique and historically inspired corsets tend to be demibust.

And finally, an overbust corset fully covers and supports the bust, and it usually (but not always) has a sweetheart shape at the top edge. Overbust corsets can have a short hip, mid hip, or it can be longline.

What is a waist cincher?

In fitness communities outside of the corsetry world, “waist cinchers” can also be used to describe fajas or stretchy bands made from latex or neoprene. These are not true corsets per se, but they are another form of shapewear. When shopping for a corset cincher, be sure that the listing says that it contains a strength fabric, steel bones, and laces. When shopping for the “fitness” style cincher, it will not contain a strength fabric or laces, but rather a stretchy fabric and several rows of hooks and eyes. 

What is a Steel Boned Corset?

A steel boned corset is any corset that contains steel bones! This might sound like circular reasoning, but there are other corsets that contain plastic bones, or even carbon fibre bones. Steel bones are the industry standard. I would avoid OTR corsets made with featherweight plastic boning, as they soften with body heat and they can end up twisting and warping, and poking into the body uncomfortably. While steel bones sound hardcore and intimidating, they are actually more comfortable than plastic bones! The bones provide vertical tension to prevent wrinkling, and they also help hold in the tummy and encourage proper posture. Contrary to popular belief, the bones do not mold or force the body into a particular shape (it is the fabric that determines the silhouette). There are good corsets with steel bones, and there are bad corsets with steel bones, so not all steel boned corsets are made equally. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, not to worry! By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll feel almost like an expert.

What is a Waist Trainer?

A waist trainer can refer to three different things, depending on the context and the industry! Firstly, a waist trainer can refer to a waist training corset, which is what we carry. In the fitness industry, a waist trainer may be used to refer to a latex or neoprene cincher. And lastly, a person who trains their waistline may describe themselves as a waist trainer (or trainee). Because of the confusion around this specific term, many brands have moved away from calling their corsets “waist trainers” and will instead use the term “waist training corset” so that there is no misinterpretation.

What is a Waist Training Corset?

A waist training corset is a corset that has the strength, durability, and comfort to effectively be used for waist training. Not all corsets are waist training corsets! A good quality waist training corset has a strength fabric that will not rip or stretch significantly with wear. The grommets should not pull out, even after months of daily use, and the corset should also have enough steel bones (and nicely distributed around the body) so it does not cause wrinkles, bruises, or hot spots on the body. Lastly, the curve and the silhouette of the corset should allow the wearer to gradually and comfortably cinch their waist 4-6 inches minimum if they would like to see long term effects.

What is a Waist Taming Corset?

“Waist taming” is a relatively recent term. Training the waistline involves wearing a corset on a near daily basis with the eventual goal of changing your body in the long term, narrowing your natural waist (seeing a lasting result, even when the corset is off). By contrast, “taming” the waist is used by some brands to describe using a more lightweight corset to shave off an inch or two from the waistline only while the corset is being worn - in other words, using the corset as temporary shapewear. A waist taming corset is usually not as curvy or as strong as a waist training corset, and they are built with more lightweight materials. They are sometimes more embellished and decorative, so they can be used for special occasions or fashion use without the “commitment” of training the waistline.

Are corsets only for waist training?

Absolutely not! Corsets are clothing and have a multitude of uses. Consider the fact that specific shoes are designed for running, dancing, or working; some sneakers are designed for casual wear while stilettos are designed for special occasions; some shoes are custom designed by orthopedists, while others you can pick up at a local shop. In the same vein, there are many different kinds of corsets, to fit different body types, and are designed for different uses – including therapeutic back support, waist training, or just for a special occasion.

What is the corset diet?

The “Corset Diet” was a viral fad from around 2013 after several celebrities admitted to using corsets and waist trainers to reshape their bodies after pregnancy and to get “red carpet ready.” However, to call it a “diet” is a flawed concept; the corset is no more a diet than a pair of running shoes is a marathon!

Corsets do hug the waistline snugly and some corset wearers have reported that wearing a corset prevents them from eating large portions in a single sitting – however, spread throughout the day, a corseter can still eat as much as someone who does not wear a corset, and if calorically dense foods are consistently chosen, then no weight loss will result from wearing a corset.

Corsets are more about the waist than the weight, and if you have a desire to lose weight for your own personal reasons, it would be wise to incorporate several changes to food quality, activity levels, proper rest and other lifestyle changes and not rely 100% on corsets for magical results.

What type of corset is best for me?

The best corset is the one that fits! When we discuss rib spring and hip springs, you will see that just as all bodies are not a cookie cutter size and shape, it’s necessary to have different corsets to fit each unique body, and some corsets fit some folks better than others.

Can Men wear corsets?

Absolutely! During the Regency period (approximately 1820s), men started wearing corsets, and while it may have fallen out of mainstream fashion, they never fully stopped wearing corsets – instead, the corset evolved into other garments. In the 19th century, wearing a short corset allowed soldiers to continue to fit into their uniforms despite fluctuating waistlines, and corsets also protected horse riders from kidney damage. Today, the men’s corset can be seen as weight lifting (hernia-preventing) belts, and kidney belts for motorcyclists. However, more and more men are starting to see the benefits of bonafide corsets and enjoy the hug for themselves.

What size corset should I buy?

Many corset brands will recommend purchasing a corset 4-6 inches smaller than your natural waist, but the truth is that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to corsets. The size you choose will depend on your goals and your use for the corset, as well as how curvy your body naturally is, and the curviness of your corset as well!

However if you’re looking for what waist reduction is a safe and reasonable amount for a beginner, generally speaking – someone with a natural waist around 30 inches and under will be able to cinch their waist about 4 inches. Those with a natural waist of 34-35 inches or more have a tendency to be a little more compressible, and I recommend a corset closer to 6 inches smaller than their natural waist (because most corsets 4" smaller will lace closed after the first couple of weeks). And for those who have a natural waist of more than 40 inches, these clients are often able to achieve impressive reductions, closer to 8 inches of reduction!

As a rule of thumb, if you’re looking just for back support and light wear, a 10% reduction is manageable (go down a size if you’re between sizes, and use the laces to keep a lacing gap in the back). If you’re looking to waist train over time, I would not recommend a corset more than about 20% smaller than your natural waist for your first corset, as it won’t wrap around your body properly.

Now that you know your ideal waist reduction, be sure to read the sections on rib springs and hip springs, so you can find the corset with the right curviness that fits your body best!

What Corset Style is Best for Me?

Choosing a corset style is not a “one type fits all” situation – however, most people will be most comfortable starting with an underbust corset. Recall, an underbust corset extends from the rib cage just underneath the bustline, down to the upper hip. This length of corset is a good compromise between fully supporting your back and core, while allowing a good range of motion.

Compared to waspies or cinchers, underbust corsets will support more of the upper back and lower tummy. However, if you have a very short torso (under 8 inches or 20cm from underbust to lap), you may opt to wear a waspie, because it may end up fitting you similarly to a full underbust corset. See the next section on how to measure yourself for a corset in order to determine whether a corset will be too short, too long, or just right for your unique torso length.

Compared to overbust corsets, underbusts are easier to hide under clothing, easier to fit to the body overall, and they tend to be less expensive as well. However, if you have a full or heavy bosom and you would specifically like a corset to help with bust support more than waist reduction, then you may appreciate an overbust corset.

How Do I Measure My Body for a Corset?

There is a minimum of four basic measurements required to find a well-fitting corset (five if you would like an overbust). One measurement takes into consideration how long your torso is, and the others mark your circumference at various parts.

Full bust circumference (this is only needed for overbust corsets): With a soft tailor’s measuring tape, measure around the largest part of your bustline. This measurement should be snug.

Under bust circumference: With a soft tailor’s measuring tape, measure around your rib cage just beneath your bustline, where the bra band normally wraps around the body. Breathe comfortably and take this measurement a little loosely.

Natural waist circumference: this one may be more tricky to find. If you can feel where your ribs stop and the squishy part of your waist begins, mark this spot and measure around that point. If you cannot feel where your ribs stop, try measuring an inch or two above the belly button, and take the average between these. This measurement should be snug.

Upper hip measurement: try to feel for your upper hip bones, and measure at this spot. If you can’t feel where your pelvis is at all, try looking in a mirror to see if you have “Venus dimples” along your back, and measure around this point. If you have any lower tummy that compresses easily and needs support, take this measurement snugly. If you have sensitive hip bones that stick out or bruise easily, take this measurement a little loosely.

Lastly, your torso length: This is the only vertical measurement. Find a hard chair or bench, and place it in front of a mirror. Sit down in front of the mirror, with good posture. Measure from the underbust line (the crease under the breast) down to where your lap begins. This means that the measurement will be taken a little off-centre (not along your navel), and this is normal. You can choose to measure from under the left breast to left lap, or from right breast to right lap, or you may choose to measure both sides and take the average between the two.

What is a hip spring and why is it useful?

A hip spring is calculated by the difference between your waistline and your hips. For instance, if I have a 28” natural waist and a 34” hip, my hip spring is 34-28 = 6 inches. If I wear a corset that reduces my waist down to 24”, but does not change my hip measurement, then my hip spring becomes 34-24 = 10 inches.

When shopping for a corset, you want to find the right size and curviness so that it will cinch your waistline to a comfortable but realistic reduction, but it will match your hip measurement as closely as possible.

If you buy a corset with too much hip spring, the corset will flare away from your body like a tutu. 

If you buy a corset with too little hip spring, the corset will pinch your hips uncomfortably, or you might not be able to reduce your waistline because your skeletal frame is stopping the corset from lacing any smaller.

When the hip spring is just right, your corset will only reduce the compressible part of your waistline, but will leave your hips comfortable and your lower tummy supported.

This is why a person shouldn’t choose just any corset based on a silhouette that simply “looks nice”’; a well-fitted corset must take into consideration your experience level, compressibility, and your unique proportions!

What is a rib spring and why is it useful?

Your rib spring is calculated by the difference between your rib cage (underbust) and your waist. For instance, if I have a 28” natural waist and a 31” rib, my natural rib spring is 31-28 = 3 inches. If I wear a well fitted corset in size 24”, it will reduce my waistline but leave my ribs the same size. The corset’s rib spring is therefore 31-24 = 7 inches.

When shopping for a corset, you want to find the right size and curviness so that it will cinch your waistline to a comfortable but realistic reduction, but the top edge of the corset will match your own natural underbust measurement as closely as possible.

If you buy a corset with too much rib spring, the top edge will flare away from your body and wobble around when you move.

If you buy a corset with too little rib spring, the corset will cut into your ribs and cause “muffin top” where a roll of skin folds over the top edge of the corset. This is particularly noticeable in the back by your shoulder blades. You may also notice that it’s tricky or uncomfortable to breathe naturally. You might also not be able to reduce your waistline because your skeletal frame is stopping the corset from lacing any smaller.

When the rib spring is just right, your corset will only reduce the compressible part of your waistline, and your ribs will feel comfortably supported. You will be able to breathe comfortably and there will be a smooth transition from the corset to your body with very little “muffin”.

This is why a person shouldn’t choose just any corset based on a silhouette that simply “looks nice”’; a well-fitted corset must take into consideration your experience level, compressibility, and your unique proportions!

When Should I Wear My Corset?

For most folks, putting on your corset in the morning before breakfast will be the most comfortable time to lace up. Many find that they’re able to get an inch or two more reduction on an empty stomach, compared to later in the day when you’ve eaten several meals and your stomach and intestines have expanded. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to wear your corset during the day, some folks opt to wear their corset to bed - in this case, I would recommend waiting about two hours after your last meal for a more comfortable experience.

How can I hide my corset under my clothes?

Hiding your corset underneath your modern street clothes is commonly called “stealthing”. There are a few things to take into consideration: a corset that stealths well may be beige, brown or cream coloured, close to your skintone so that it hides well under even light coloured outfits. It should ideally not contain dramatic points at the top and bottom edges, but rather should be a little rounded or cut straight across.

Potential areas of concern (where the corset is difficult to hide) include the upper back by the shoulder blades (where “muffin top” or a roll of flesh tends to appear), and the lower tummy where the corset can create a distracting lump. A high-backed corset can help smooth over the upper back – but if you already own a corset with a low back, then cute boleros, jackets, and vests can conceal any muffin. As for the points at the lower tummy, a pair of control-top briefs or even bike shorts with enough compression can help smooth over the lower edge and create a more seamless line between where the corset stops and the hips continue.

Can I sleep in a corset? 

Plenty of people sleep in their corsets every night! For those who find their mattress uncomfortable and regularly wake up with back pain, corsets can provide wonderful lumbar support and keep you feeling hugged all night long. That being said, it’s definitely not a requirement to sleep in your corset. Some people prefer to wear their corsets as daywear, as underwear, but sleep uncorseted and free. Others who cannot wear their corsets during the day but wish to waist train may prefer to “get their hours in” exclusively while they sleep. Different schedules work for different people! If you do decide to try sleeping in your corset, loosen the corset by 2-3 inches so you don’t feel claustrophobic. If you’re a side sleeper, placing a pillow in the hollow between your waist and the mattress can help prevent you from rolling around awkwardly (and will also help prevent your corset from warping).

How should I take care of my corset?

Corsets are more structured than other garments – they contain steel bones and multiple layers of fabric (and these different layers are often made from different fibers, for instance silk and cotton). Because steels can rust with repeated exposure to water and air, as well as different fibers can shrink at different rates and cause wrinkling and warping, I recommend not laundering your corset if you can help it – treat it like a good coat that you would take to the dry cleaner. Wear a thin tank top or liner between your body and the corset, so that your liner traps the skin cells, oil, lotions, sweat, etc. and these don’t transfer onto your corset.

Each time you remove your corset, hang it from the laces or drape it over a railing or the back of a chair, lining side out, for 8 hours or overnight so that any moisture has the chance to evaporate. Unflavoured and unsweetened distilled spirits (like vodka) spritzed lightly onto the lining side of the corset (not the fashion fabric) can help kill microbes and assist in moisture evaporating more quickly. Rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) can do as well, but beware as the bittering additives in rubbing alcohol can leave a stain or residue on your garments.

If you soil or spill something on your corset, for instance gravy, take a butter knife or credit card and scrape off as much of the remaining gravy as possible. Take a soft, damp (but not wet) lint-free microfiber cloth and dab at the mark, trying to absorb as much of the gravy as possible, without rubbing so as to risk spreading it. Club soda or sparkling water works well to lift fresh stains on silk. You may also try a gentle detergent made for delicates such as Woolite, or Ivory bar soap to gently lift the mark or stain. Before using any product on your corset, try a spot test on a discrete area of your corset to make sure that the fashion fabric won’t stain or show lasting residue.

When storing your corset for the short term, hanging it by the laces on any hanger will be just fine. If you’d like to store it over the long term, I would recommend getting a breathable dustbag or garment storage bag for your corset. Tie the laces neatly, and gently fold your corset into the bag. Store it in a place where it will remain cool and dry, with decent ventilation to avoid mould or mildew. If you have moths or other pests in your area that may dine on your wools and silks, I would recommend placing cedar chips or moth balls outside of the dust bag (not inside with the corset, as direct contact with the pesticides can damage your garment).

A well-maintained corset can last many years if treated well!

What is stealthing?

“Stealthing” is the act of hiding a corset underneath your clothing. Some corsets are easier to stealth than others. Corsets that “stealth” poorly are those that have brightly coloured fashion fabrics (which show through sheer or light tops), corsets that have lots of texture or bumps on the outside of the corset (for instance swing hooks, high profile embellishments, bulky external boning channels, etc.) and corsets that have points at the top and bottom edges.

Corsets that stealth well tend to be a neutral colour or skintone shade; they tend to be constructed fairly smooth on the outside, and they tend to be cut straight across or gently rounded at the top and bottom edges so that there are no points or edges that poke out.

What is corset training?

Corset training (sometimes called waist training) is the process of wearing your corset with the intent of a future goal. This goal might be to be able to lace closed a size 26” corset, for instance. A person with this type of goal might be seeking a specific “look” for a special event, or they might want to be able to fit into a vintage gown that has a non-stretch waistband.

Another reason, and probably the more common reason that people waist train these days, is so that their waistline looks more narrow or their figure looks more curvy all the time (i.e. even when the corset is removed). To train your waist, the body responds best to consistency – wearing the corset at a moderate reduction over many hours, until your oblique muscles take the shape of your corset, and to a certain extent the fat pads underneath the skin may be slightly affected as well.

Do I need to season my corset?

Some brands say that seasoning a corset is absolutely imperative, while others say it’s nonsense. Whatever your persuasion, there is an undeniable “getting to know one another” period of time. In the beginning, the corset is still new and “crispy” with fabric sizing. As you wear your corset in more, the corset will begin to lose its crispiness and will feel more pliable. It will soften (but not stretch) and will wrap around your body more readily. At the same time, your body will need a bit of time to get used to wearing a corset - most people are not accustomed to wearing a rigid garment around their waistline. So just like a pair of shoes may be broken in, and your feet might feel a little tender the first few times you wear them, so your waistline might feel tender the first week or two that you wear a corset. However, the body will become more accustomed to the compression and a well-fitted corset will begin to feel more comfortable.

So corset seasoning may not be necessary for all corsets, but it is important (especially for your body) to start slow.

How do I lace myself into a corset?

To start, turn your corset with the back lacing panel up towards you. Loosen the laces by pulling on the chevrons or Xs from the waistline, distributing the slack through the top and bottom of the corset. You might find it easier to do this by unclasping the busk, so you can take one side in each hand and “wiggle” the two halves of the corset away from each other.

When the lacing gap is quite wide, you can then wrap the corset around yourself, with the laces to the back and the busk in front. There should be no stress in the laces at all and you should be able to wrap the corset easily around your middle without struggling or twisting. Use a mirror to ensure that all the busk pins are nestled securely into the corresponding loops in front, and that your corset is sitting straight on your body and is not twisted or leaning.

Locate the “bunny ears” (the loops at the waistline), and give a gentle tug to pull in some of the slack. Once that’s feeling snug, you’ll then want to reach behind you with one hand and pull on each “X” above and below the waistline, taking in the slack and redistributing it back towards the center (move the slack into the bunny ears). It helps to look behind you in a mirror to ensure that there are no “bubbles” of loose lacing, and to ensure that the two back edges of your corset are more-or-less parallel.

Once your corset is comfortably snug enough for your preference, take the two “bunny ears” and tie a bow, just like you would tie an apron behind your back. You may leave the “tail” loose, or you can tuck the extra lacing underneath the corset at the bottom.

If you own a corset with a fashion fabric of satin or a printed cotton, try to avoid tying your laces around your waistline. The constant abrasion from the laces can rub away at the ink printed onto your lovely corset, or wear away thin spots in your satin.

What are the different types of lacing?

There are several different types of laces that come with corsets. The two most common types are “shoelace” (usually a nylon flat braid or round cord), and satin ribbon. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Nylon shoelace is often seen as the standard “workhorse” type of corset lacing. It is abrasion resistant, strong, and difficult to snap, not to mention affordable. Some find that it creates a lot of friction, so it can take more strength to lace up your corset – however, when your corset is tied off, it’s not likely to slip open or loosen. 

Ribbon lacing definitely has a more polished appearance, and it comes in a variety of colours. Ribbon can be more expensive, and if it catches on the edge of a grommet, it can show “runs” or scarring like any other satin. Ribbon lacing tends to be more slippery, so some people find it easier to lace up, but it may loosen or slip sometimes. Ribbon also tends to be less bulky so it’s often easier to “stealth” under clothing.

Removing your corset:

Removing your corset safely and properly should be the reverse order of the way you put the corset on! First, undo the bow that is securing the laces. Use your thumbs to slowly pull at the Xs of your corset, distributing the slack of the laces away from your waistline and towards the top and bottom of your corset.

The more dramatically you’re laced down, the slower you may need to take this process – give your body time to adjust, and take a minute to stretch and wiggle partway through (this allows your core muscles to “wake up”, and is especially important if you’re wearing a corset for a back injury – it will prevent muscle cramps or spasms).

If you’re the type of person to normally get lightheaded after standing up quickly (a sign of POTS), you will appreciate slowly unlacing and loosening your corset so that you don’t get lightheaded during this process either.

Once your corset is nice and loose, and there is no more tension on the laces at all, you can then unclasp the busk. If you have to twist and wrangle the corset to get the busk to open, your corset isn’t loose enough and you will risk damaging the busk! After you remove the corset, please see the “caring for your corset” section for more tips on extending the life of your corset.

Cleaning your corset

(see “how can I take care of my corset”)


The complete corset guide has been created in collaboration with renowned corsetry guru Lucy of Lucy's Corsetry, who designed the Polly and Artemis corsets exclusively for True Corset.