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!


  • Lauren

    September 23, 2009 at 2:30 AM

    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)

  • Isis

    September 23, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    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.

  • Livy

    December 20, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    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.

  • Katie Cahill

    May 6, 2018 at 1:27 PM

    I need to wear a girdle every day. I got so used to it over the years and it's got so comfortable and supportive that I feel all loose and miss it when it's off. I usually wear a playtex as my regular everyday girdle, but today I am corseted in a much longer Rago zipper girdle with luxurious satin stretched across my bum and two more slats of satin encasing my thighs – while a gorgeous floral detailed front panel flattens my belly.
    It's simply amazing how comfortable and supportive this all feels as it shapes me as beautifully as can be. I think a man would come off just looking at me so gorgeously attired – especially with the six suspenders holding my black nylon stockings up.

    Today's women simply do not know how lovely and desirable all this could make them. Even a plain woman in bra, girdle, suspenders, nylons and heels looks stupendous!

    This is a boned zipped girdle as I have grown to like bones on me too. Bones form marvellous support around the waist really helping to hold me in and form me and hold me up in great comfort and style.
    I feel just completely taken over as I walk around in it all. I'm developed into a trussed up person who has grown to like the truss. It looks and feels gorgeous in this girdle with all the silk and satin panels.

    And the nylons are the "icing on the cake" – my feet and legs feel simply fabulous and look it too.
    I just don't know why women no longer wear this fab gear as it really and truly gives you a lovely figure too.
    As I say it even makes ordinary looking women like myself really attractive, desirable, and dare I say – sexy!

  • Katie Cahill

    May 6, 2018 at 2:52 PM

    Of course a girdle is always too damned tight, it's hard to forget you have it on. It's really restrictive and it can be tough to wear it and put up with it all the time. And gawd what a relief when we take it down at night. It is indeed a mystery how we can wear them all the time. That does require a bit of discipline.

    I think the woman put it best who said that wearing a girdle is a frame of mind. You simply have to want to improve your figure at any cost, even at the cost of having your buttocks jammed in together all day every day inside a girdle. You have to be able to accept the pressure forcing you in non-stop all the time. You have to bear all the increased pressure when you sit down, you have to stand up a lot in a girdle. The continuous pressing in is a thing that can be temporarily forgotten when you're engrossed in a chat or looking at TV, for instance. You simply have to be dedicated when wearing a girdle.

    Nylons are of course a joy to wear in comparison, the flimsy nylon stretched across a stout country woman's legs looks simply awesome. That's why these are the "weapons" of ordinary women.
    Biggest secret of all is to let your belly go and let it rest into the front panel of your girdle.

    Yes there are times I want to take my girdle off , but it's not long off when my body wants it on again as the support of a good firm girdle can be heavenly as we get on in life.And if you've had children you need a girdle, end of story. I haven't but I still need it.
    Thing is I have the waistband of my longline bra coming down over the girdle's waist.

    And you have to sit up straight in a girdle but it gives you poise and confidence. And you're much more confident wearing any skirt or dress when you have your girdle on underneath.
    Despite all its faults a girdle is simply fabulous the way it holds a person up – and this goes for males as well as females. it's taken me two years to lose a stone and a half and all that time my girdles have helped in several ways, in making me slimmer instantly while I waited for the weight to come down and in helping me not eat or drink as much, as of course there's less room for food and drink with a girdle continually flattening you.
    All that said it's simply amazing how comfortable a girdle can become, how it becomes a part of you, a way of life. And the younger you start out in a girdle the better. I was only thirteen myself.I remember I was called the Dead End Kid from my bottom that was hard to the touch in that first girdle. It kept my bottom in check so it didn't look like there were two cats fighting in my dress as I walked down the street. And I never talked about it as it was an unmentionable then, just as it still is today. it's amazing how comfortable it became after those initial trying times in my first girdle.
    And though wearing a girdle, suspenders and nylons etc can appear very sophisticated it hasn't basically changed me at all. Though I have to admit I do feel a bit different to the ordinary mob in leggings and the like.

    If I have it off for any appreciable time today I begin to feel I need it back on. It's the same with heels – I've worn them for so long that I don't feel comfortable in flat shoes anymore. Even two inch heels will do the trick and make me feel normal again.
    I don't really feel a girdle squeezing me anymore. Rather I feel well held and I need to feel like this. I have to admit that I feel naked today, really loose, when not in a girdle. For instance in the mornings I breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I get it fastened up around me with my belly, bottom, hips , thighs and waist all feeling the better for being girdled up for the new day. Everything about a girdle then feels good, my back immediately feels wonderfully supported, my buttocks feel hugged, my belly feels a lot better. Above all my hips and thighs feel a lot better pulled in, while my legs and feet look and feel simply awesome. And as I say i then need the heels to walk in comfort.

  • Katie Cahill

    April 15, 2021 at 3:14 PM

    I think many don't need a corset, like me a girdle does the trick. I think it's even better than a corset because it pulls my thighs and my bottom in and does so with nice support. A girdle fattens my entire belly, not only around the waist, but pulls me in and even holds my upper legs in together.

    Yes, yes, it's awkward to get on, but once in a girdle is very comfortable. The waistband is just like wearing a belt, I love the feeling of my belly being supported by the satin front panel while the crease of my bottom disappears and is hidden under my pencil skirt.

    My girdle is such great support all day long that I often tend to slouch inside it. And it's awesome to behold with the suspenders (garters) fastened to the tops of my nylons. It gives me a nice hug around my bottom too. I can't wait to get it on mornings. Then, what a gorgeous figure it gives, a figure to die for, the biggest reason for wearing a girdle. I feel totally like a fashion model.

    • admin

      May 16, 2021 at 5:53 AM

      Great thoughts! Girdles are fantastic for the column shape from about the 1910s through the 1950s. Before then, the body was shaped and curved much more by cinching and padding both, and the fashionable shapes changed quite a bit. To get those accurate silhouettes, a corset is very necessary.

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