1. Corset Basics

If you've been following my progress, you know that SheDaddy is on a mission is to feminize me, body, soul, and mind. Today we focus on her latest plan to improve my body. Pay attention, because this could happen to you!

Step one was to put me on a strict diet and exercise regimen because let's face it, I was fat. Over the past year, I've lost 12.7 kilos (about 28 lbs) and reduced my waist by 18 CM (about 7 in). I have about 7 kilos (15 lbs) more to go, and we will see what the effect on my waist is then. I used to look like a bulgy blob. Now I look like a column, with my waist roughly the same size as my hips and natural, unenhanced chest. SheDaddy is pleased with my progress so far, but this is nowhere near good enough for her exacting standards. She wants her sissies to have that classic, feminine, "hourglass" shape, and as we all know, what SheDaddy wants, she gets. To achieve an hourglass waist, dieting is not enough. Waist training with a corset is the only solution.

I have been using corsets since beginning my feminization not only to pull in my errant waistline but also because they are beautiful. My most recent purchases (a bit less than a year old) now close completely in the back. Since SheDaddy wants me to have a smaller waist, I can't use these to get one. So it's time for a new corset and with SheDaddy's new "Waist Training Mandate," I have been doing some extensive research and have learned a lot about this fascinating garment.

About Corsets

There is no more complex or controversial article of clothing in the history of fashion than the corset. I'll focus most of my attention on the practical aspects of corsetry, but the history is fascinating, and I want to share a bit about that with you. I recommend two books highly:

I'm a huge fan of the author, Valerie Steele. She's the director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and writes with brilliance and a great love of all things fashion. She has written many, many wonderful books and her new one (due to come out in September) is about your Pammy's favorite color: PINK! Her Fetish book is great reading, with a chapter on corsetry. The Corset book is a vastly expanded discussion of history, including chapters on the medical questions, history and contemporary corsetry. She has many other books, all of them fabulous.

Corsets have always been controversial, and the controversy continues to the present. There are two reasons for this: one is medical, the other sexual (or textual). Historically, society and medical doctors blamed corsets for a variety of ills. Dr. Gottliebn Oelssner, a German MD from the 18th century called corsets "the sleeping murderer." American doctors from that period didn't like them much either, describing them as "a slow and fashionable poison." In 1901, the French League of Mothers of Families called corsets "The Assassins of the Human Race." Since then, they have been blamed for sterility, insanity, miscarriage, cancer, liver damage, giving birth to idiots, hysteria, overstimulated sexual appetite (not sure what the problem with this one is) and death. Steele and a medical doctor (Lynn Kutsche) have examined the anti-corsetry medical claims and have found that most claims of corset induced disease are either invalid or greatly exaggerated. They also put to rest the persistent myth (often repeated by feminists today) that Victorian women had some of their ribs removed to make their waists smaller. This isn't to say that corsets can't be misused. Of course, they can, just like anything from hammers to scarves.

Feminists love to hate the corset. I was fascinated to learn from Steele's "Corsetry" book that this isn't just a modern day phenomenon: 19th-century feminists loathed the corset and wrote about it in much the same way as our contemporary feminists. Feminists view the corset as just another way the patriarchy has of making women docile and "feminine." (The word "feminine," when used by a feminist, is rarely a compliment.) The historical sources feminists use to support this article are not credible (see Steele for more), but I won't dissect them here. Instead, I'll point to the fact that corsets have undeniable erotic appeal, and I would argue that far from being oppressed by corsets, 19th-century tight-lacers were the sexually liberated female fetishists of their day.

I may write more about this at some point, but the topics of corsetry (along with high heels and some other articles of clothing) and makeup are a bizarre intersection point where male misogynists and feminists, ordinarily mortal enemies, find themselves in total agreement. Corsets, high heels, and makeup will forever remain bashing fodder for men who fear the power that beauty gives to women and the feminists who envy the same. Because we are, at the bottom, sensual and sexual beings, a women's beauty will always triumph over those who seek to suppress it, whether these are the men who fear it or the women who can't compete with it.

Women, such as our SheDaddy, who understand this, will always rule. And in fact, power is not conveyed by the article of clothing, but by the person who wears it. A powerful woman and a maid may both be wearing corsets, but no one ever has to ask which is the mistress or who is the servant.

As for feminists, I prefer to admire women like Dita von Tease, Madonna or our own SheDaddy, all of whom are strong, independent and intelligent women who love corsets and celebrate their beauty. I concluded these sections with two contemporary corset images:

The top images are from my favorite fashion designer, Theirry Mugler, from his couture 1997 collection. Many of his most powerful designs feature corsets or corset-like elements. The lower picture is, of course, Madonna with her famous corset dress. Do these women look submissive to you?

Practical Corsetry

Enough philosophy. Let's get practical. Even among practitioners of corsetry, there are many and diverse opinions on important matters. And of course, since these are corsets, the opinions are passionate.

What is a Corset?

Even among corset fans, this is a hard question to answer. Here's my definition:

  1. A corset is a work of art.
  2. A method or technique for creating illusion.
  3. A method of control

Corsets makers have fashioned a seemingly endless variety of fantastic creations, worthy of inclusion among the best of all artistic fashion. And corsets allow us to achieve the illusion of a silhouette that nature rarely (or never) provides. But certainly, it is a method of control. The word "Corset" is a montage of two French words: "corps" (body) and "serrer" (set) which means to "tightly close" or "to encase."

This is a very general definition, but I believe most corset fans would agree with it. Certainly, I believe everyone would agree that corsets are all about control, support, routine, discipline. It is a brilliant stroke of Dom de Luxury to include corsetry in her training program for this very reason.

Generally speaking, the greater the control, the more impressive the illusion. To create the illusion of the perfect waist, the true corset must contain some solid parts, called "bones" (because these were originally actually pieces of bone, usually from whales). By this definition, spandex shapewear and fancy girdles, which are sometimes marketed as "corsets", are completely out of the picture. You often see "cinchers." Some cinchers are boned like genuine corsets, and some are just fancy shapewear. And there are fashion accessories which have a lacing element, but no control. These are beautiful and lovely but are not corsets.

There is nothing wrong with any of these garments. You need to decide what you want the garment to do for you. If you are born with the perfect figure, you would probably be pleased with a 'fashion corset" which does no shaping. If you want only minimal shaping, purchase a latex "shaper" or "cincher." But if you want an hourglass or wasp waist and weren't born with one, the only way to get it is with a corset. And not everyone enjoys wearing a corset. If you enjoy wearing tight fitting clothes like control top pantyhose, tights, spandex, tight belts, you will probably love a corset. If you hate this sort of thing, or it makes you feel claustrophobic, then corsets are not for you.

The important thing is to first know what you want and then buy the clothing that will give you what you want. If you buy a "non-corset" corset there's nothing wrong with that. But there's a lot wrong with somebody selling you something that promises the body shaping ability of a corset, only to find when you get it home that the shaping isn't going to happen because what you bought isn't a corset.

The Anatomy of a Corset

Corsets are marvels of engineering. To make an informed purchase, you need to understand their construction.

This is a drawing of a typical corset. The inside (light blue) is the part of the corset close to your skin. You typically wear a corset with a liner between the inside of your corset and skin. The liner protects the corset from body oils and sweat and may be as simple as a t-shirt or as fancy as a custom liner purchased from a corset shop. The outside is what everyone sees. The outside is always covered with a fashion fabric and is sometimes fabulously decorated. The inside of a real corset will have "strength" fabric, sometimes more than one layer of strength-fabric. Coutil, which is a very strong and unstrechable fabric, is a favorite. Unfortunately, coutil is very expensive in the U.S. because of import fees but canvas, duck or poplin can be used instead. Corsets usually include an extra piece of strong cloth along the waist for reinforcement. Called the waist tape, it adds strength and prevents stretching. There is sometimes a lining placed on top of the strength layer to add visual appeal, or the corset maker can simply let the strength fabric and waist tape be the lining.

Busk: The busk is the center front of the corset. One side of the busk has metal hoops; the other has studs, both mounted on steel "bones" sewn inside the corset. The two halves of the corset are laced together in the back with cord or ribbon, which go through metal eyelets. The best eyelets are in two parts, with the main a shaft with a rounded flange, on the other side a flat washer.

The corset is comprised of several panels which are cut to a specific shape to create the fit. Metal bones are placed inside vertical bone channels. These bone channels often (but not always) follow the seamlines of the corset. Bones do not create the shape (that is the job of the panels), but they support it and force the body to bend to their will. Most bones are either flat pieces of spring steel or spiral wound objects that look like a flattened coil and are more flexible. Many corsets use both. Cheap corsets typically have weak plastic bones. There is usually an extra piece of fabric that sits behind the laces (not shown). Called a back protector or modesty panel, it serves to cover the skin crease caused by tightening the corset and protect the skin from friction from the laces. In really high-quality corsets, the modesty panel sometimes contains bones in an "X" shape. It's also desirable to have a front protector under the busk hooks, which is called a placket. Not every corset has a placket.

Buying a Corset

Corsets can be expensive, and like anything else, the price is no guarantee of quality. There are four levels of corsets, listed from most expensive to least:

  1. Custom made by an expert to your specifications. Custom work will involve multiple measurements, discussion of the selection of material, all kinds of stuff. These can be very expensive, from $500 to $3000 or even more in some cases.
  2. Customized corsets. Lots of fine makers have basic designs that they can adapt to your measurements and needs. Not everyone has been happy with this option. Most of the unhappiness with customized corsets has been the fit. If you go this route, make sure that you and the corset maker are clear with each other that you will be getting a corset with the measurements you want, and not just the type of cloth, colors, etc. that you specify.
  3. Off the Rack (OTR) Corsets. These are ready-made corsets that will (hopefully) fit you. The fit of OTR corsets, like OTR jeans, is rarely perfect. Of course, clothes are generally more forgiving and and the requirements less precise than a corset. There are many, MANY people who feel that OTR corsets are not worth purchasing. Many other experts don't agree and feel they have a place. Certainly, if you are new to corsetting, you don't want to spend $1,000 to discover that you don't like it. I have found OTR corsets that have worked for me, so I would encourage any newbies to try these out first. Typical costs for a good quality OTR corset range from $70 to $100-$120.
  4. Cheap, non-corset corsets, which can be pretty or beautiful, but do not shape your body. Prices for these are all over the map, depending on brand and construction, but can be anything from $20 to $100.

Before you purchase a corset, you need to decide what you want to do with it. The requirements for a corset for waist training, which is what I am interested in, are going to be a lot higher than one used for occasional tight lacing or light body contouring. And if you are one of those rare, lucky individuals who was born with the body shape of your dreams, then don't waste a lot of money on a highly engineered corset. Buy the prettiest thing your heart desires and enjoy the envious glances from the rest of us.

How to Determine Quality in a Corset

While everyone agrees that the very best corsets are custom made, I'm going to assume you are new to corsetting and will be buying an OTR corset. Here are some things to look for in an OTR corset:

  • The bones should be steel. You can use a magnet to make sure they are.
  • The front closure should be a metal busk, not hooks and tapes.
  • The grommets should be two-part metal ones.
  • You don't need lots of layers or coutil, but the strength layer should be strong, stable and sturdy.
  • It should have a waist tape. If there is a lining, it might be hiding the waist tape.
  • good grommets fairly closely spaced (not 2 inches apart)
  • Good stitching and good fabric cut on the grain (these can be hard to spot without some expertise, I admit)
  • Real corsets are not sized as "small, medium, large." They are always based on the waist measurement.

I should mention that some of these considerations don't apply to custom corsets. For example, some custom corsets don't need waist tapes because of special features of construction. Other custom corsets use expensive plastic bones that are reported to be as good as steel bones. So if you are spending $500 or more on a corset from a reputable maker and it uses plastic bones and doesn't have a waist tape, you will probably be OK. If you are spending $70 on a corset with plastic bones and no waist tape, you probably aren't getting a corset. You are getting some cheap shapewear.

Getting the Right Corset Size

There are two types of corsets: overbust and underbust. Overbust corsets are just what they sound like: corsets that go from your hips to over your bust. They can be gorgeous, but for beginners (and especially waist trainers) I recommend underbust corsets.

The corset itself must have a curve. A lot of cheap corsets are cylindrical tubes, with no waist. If you buy one of these and cinch it up, you will not look like an hourglass. At best, you will look like a narrower tube. The hip portion and upper portion of the corset should be wider than the waist portion. People differ in their natural curvature, so you don't want to buy a corset which is less curvy than you are. You might want to purchase a corset which is curvier than you are, but not by too much. For the waist measurement, the usual advice for waists larger than 8 inches or more is to get a corset 7-10 inches smaller. Otherwise, get a corset which is 4-7 inches smaller than your natural waist. I think this is good advice, but I would suggest you decide for yourself how "squishy" your waistline is. Some people have 40-inch waists who have very little body fat, and their waist is not very "squishy" or compressible. If you're one of these, then buying a corset which is 10 inches smaller might be unrealistic. Similarly, you might have a smaller, but very squishy, waist. If so, consider purchasing a corset smaller than the recommended 4-7 inches.

A critical measurement is the torso length. In my experience, a lot of places that market cheap corsets do not even ask for this measurement. I bought my first steel-boned corset online, and the only measurement they accepted was the waist. When I got it, I noticed that when I sat down the corset pressed tightly against my legs and my chest, right below my breasts. Aside from being uncomfortable, this pressure eventually forced one of the steel bones to rip the cloth and fall out of the channel. These corsets were extremely well made and very inexpensive (about USD 35). If you are a casual wearer, you might be fine with these corsets. If you wear them a lot or want to use them for tight lacing, my advice is not to purchase any corset from any source which doesn't ask for all measurements.

Measure yourself for a corset.

For all of these measurements (except the torso length), make sure the measuring tape is parallel to the ground.

  • Underbust This will be about the same as your band size for your bra. You measure right at your bra line.
  • Upper Hip Measure just at the tip of your hip bone
  • Measure your natural waist. If you aren't sure where your waist is, you can locate it by bending from side to side while looking in a mirror. The most "inward" part of your side is where your waist is. Don't hold your breath or suck in your stomach; you want the true waist size.
  • Torso Length This is easiest to measure sitting down. Place a tape centered under your breast, right at the bra line, and extend the tape to the top of the thigh. Sit straight.

Using these four measurements, along with an honest appraisal of your own "squishy" factor, should give you a flying chance of getting a well fitting corset. If you are lucky enough to live in a city with a corset shop (as I do), the easiest way is to walk in and ask them for a corset. If you want to waist train, make sure you mention that. The corset owner will take one look at you, and pull out the perfect corset, usually without even having to measure you. If not, try to locate a reputable online corset dealer. I purchased my most recent corset from Orchard Corsets at their retail location. If you go to them, do take advantage of their online sizing help options (email or chat).

Thanks for reading and if you have something nice to say or a good idea or suggestion, you can always