Tuesday, September 22, 2009


All Tied Up: Surviving The Day in a Corset

We in this modern age, this 21st century, are witness to a strange and fascinating phenomenon - women having the desire to wear hot, heavy, and restrictive clothing outside, in the ridiculously hot American Summer, for entire days, weekends...sometimes even longer. Why do we do this?

I have often been asked this question, whilst teetering somewhat uncomfortably in full Elizabethan regalia, fanning myself weakly, and shying away from the sweltering California sun as if it were the Black Plague. I must say that I do not have an answer, at least not one that seems at all logical or rational. Usually it's something along the lines of "look pretty," "want to wear costume," "pretty pretty princess..." So since I can't come up with an acceptable answer for why we do these crazy crazy things, I will instead give tips on HOW to do these things.

As a female, you will almost always wear a tight-fitting bodice no matter what period you are playing in, be it at the Renaissance Faire or an Edwardian picnic. Depending on your character's station, you may also be wearing a corset (also called "stays" and "bodies"). Generally speaking, the higher the station, the more underwear you wear, and this can get really quite uncomfortable. Here are some tips for cross-era survival in stays:

1. Make Your Corset Breathable. Construct it from non-synthetic materials, such as cotton and linen. (I would not recommend silk for hot weather because sweating may soften and ruin the fabric.) Use only the necessary boning, and if at all possible use boning that is also breathable, such as hemp cord or reed.

2. Wear something under your corset. You do not want a sweaty, dirty corset, and you need a layer to wick away moisture from your body. A soggy corset is...well that's just plain gross. Make sure you don't have any bunched up fabric or shirt side-seams pulled in funny positions, as this will be uncomfortable later, when you're laced in.

3.Lace Loosely. This seems like a no-brainer, but just like women of your chosen time period, we today like to be as skinny as possible too. However, it's just plain stupid. Lace your corset so it comfortably hugs your frame, smooths down any chemise, shift, or shirt you're wearing underneath, and supports your upper body. If you feel like you can't breath, for goodness sakes loosen it! Think of your corset as a smooth under-structure for your bodice to stretch over, not as a means of shrinking down two sizes.

4. Lace Wisely. How you lace your corset has a lot to do with how it feels to wear. With Victorian corsets that tighten and tie at the waist (instead of at the bottom or top), you want this point to be just below the bottom of your ribcage. Any higher and you will suffer lower back pain all day. Here is a lovely tutorial from Wasp Creations on how to properly lace a corset.

5. Don't Eat Too Much. Don't think of this as starving yourself - please DO eat, but eat just enough and eat the good stuff, not junk food. Because your stomach is constricted, you do not feel as hungry. Eating a large or even just normal-sized lunch could lead to some serious discomfort. This rule does not apply to water...drink LOTS of water.

6. Try Not To Slouch. For some of us, this is inevitable, but it puts a lot of strain on your back. If you feel your back aching, sit down and lean back if possible, or straighten up and try holding your shoulders back a bit.

7. UN-lace Wisely. At the end of the day, don't take your corset off too quickly, as this might cause you to faint and could even break the busk (in Victorian corsets). Instead, loosen the laces and breathe, loosen more, then take it completely off. You will feel like your torso is collapsing a little, so it is recommended you de-corset while sitting down.

As always, feel free to add your own tips, tricks, and advice in the comments below. I love getting comments from you guys and I read every single one!


  1. How excellent. I have just received a new corset and I plan to take all this advice when lacing/wearing! Comfort is key, and I am glad you emphasized it! I do need to find a shift now :o)

  2. Exceelent advice!

    I have an ample figure and prefer fully boned stays- however that don't breath so well. So I often cord every third boning channel with hemp, on the front, and on teh back, where I don't need as much support, I cord most channels. Makes for good summer stays that breaths well. :-)

    Also, I always lace myself very slowly. I lace myself snugly and then I lay down for ten minutes. Then I lace myself down a bit more, without any discomfort at all.

  3. And not to forget: a fan is not only a pretty accessory!

  4. Excellent advice Isis, and also Madame B. How could I forget the fan, especially after using it to such great effect last weekend!

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  6. and if you are going to be in the sun, prefer light colors. Atleast on the top of your outfit. Black, dark blue and green look grand and slimming, but will also be hot. And surprisingly i have noticed that long sleeves maybe more comfortable than short ones if the fabric breaths well. Use hats if possible to give your head and neckline some shade.. or a parasol. Use comfortable shoes - if your feet will sweat and ache so will the rest of your body.

  7. I'm well used to girdles and now I see I need to wear a corset as well, especially for my tummy.