V357: Beginning Corset Training – Day 1

My New Years Resolution for 2013 is to experiment with corset training.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing extreme. I’m just curious about the effect consistent pressure on the natural waist will have on my very modern body.

Anyone who studies historical costuming will notice the quite large differences in proportion throughout different periods.  We come to expect an exaggerated difference in Victorian proportion, because we know they wore corsets, but there is also a rather large difference between 1950s proportion and now.  Why is this?

The answer is quite simple – we no longer wear anything tight around our waists.  No really – think about it – with the exception of the occasional off-the-rack dress or pencil skirt, next to nothing in ready-to-wear clothing is designed to fit at your natural waist.  Sewing patterns from the major pattern companies don’t even fit at the natural waist.

The effect this has on our modern bodies is that there is no constriction to the waist whatsoever, and so it is free to do as it likes (not necessarily a bad thing).  If you are like me, and you have a sweet tooth, or a Jack-In-The-Box tooth, then that nipped-in waist may go out the door rather quickly.

Here is my body.  I am a tube.  This is the result of low-rise jeans

So I’m curious to see what effect a confined waist has on my body.  I’m also interested to see if this day-to-day training will have an effect on my costumed silhouette, as I have read that corset training allows one to reduce the waist far more than previously, when wearing a corset.

My current measurements, here for the public, are:

  • Natural un-bound waist – 28 inches
  • Victorian corseted waist – 27 inches (or 26 if I really squeeze)
  • My goal – 25 inches
  • My extreme goal – 24 inches

I’ve started off with a very simple, light-weight corset I bought on eBay.  It’s no great thing, and cost less than a pair of jeans, but it came with a steel busk, and is the proportion I wanted – an underbust with a short length – to be able to wear with jeans and under sweaters every day, without being noticeable.  By no means is this a work of corsetry art, but it fits as well as my old Victorian, my own make, and reduces my waist gently and comfortably to 27 inches.

This corset, day 1, give a comfortable 1 inch reduction to my natural waist.  I have 2 more inches I can squeeze, to close the gap in back, before moving to a more curvaceous corset.

I plan to wear this until the edges in back are touching – there is about a 2 inch gap right now – and while that is happening, I will be working on an authentic Victorian corset, drafted by Chrissy of The Laced Angel, that includes all the hip and bust fullness necessary to achieve a considerably smaller waist.

My overall intention with this experiment is not to deform my body, but to study the effects, and to attempt to improve my proportions when wearing historical costumes.  I will report my progress regularly here. 🙂


  • Himiltrude fan Austrasia

    January 20, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    I am curious, how old are you? I ask, as most people started some sort of training while their bodies were still growing. It would be interesting to see the effect at a later age.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 20, 2013 at 8:46 PM

      I am 29. I didn't start costuming until I was about 20, but back then my waist in a Victorian corset was 26 inches. So I've put on an inch over the years, but the waistline of jeans also lowered considerably in that time, too. I don't expect to ever achieve a truly Victorian silhouette, because as you say, the women of the past wore constricting garments from a young age, but I do hope to trim a few inches off and, perhaps with the help of a little padding up top, achieve the 10 inch difference between bust and waist.

    • Anonymous

      January 21, 2013 at 5:21 AM

      Woot! We are size sisters! 😛

      I got down to 25 inches rather easily because of my "natural squish." You are much more toned than I am, so I'm really interested to see the difference in corseting results between the two of us. I also use overbust corsets instead of underbust corsets (the only underbust I have fits terribly). I wonder if the type of corset affects the training at all. Most ladies seem to use underbust corsets.

  • Rose

    January 20, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    Also remember that some of this has to do with how long waisted or short waisted you are, and how much "squish" factor you have. Before the kidlet I could corset down to 23 1/2, post-kidlet with significantly more squish factor I can only get to 26, but, the ratio of reduction is bigger. I attribute the ratio reduction to not only the squish but years of costuming with a Victorian corset. The body is used to it, it doesn't hurt, I can function, although not like some of these women who ride bikes and are uber active while tight laced. Have fun with it!

  • Anonymous

    January 20, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    I, too, have been curious in an experiment such as this. Good for you for trying it out. And you make a good point – we have nothing to hold ourselves in any more. However, there are still lots of undergarments designed to flatten, squish, suck and nip in all of our "not so nice parts" and I guess that will never go away for women. Good luck! I'll be interested to read about what you discover.

  • Anonymous

    January 20, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    I've heard from people that after a long run of Dickens Fair their waist is noticeably smaller. I'm looking forward to your results! I have similar proportions and have thought that I should wear more wide belts, at the very least.

  • KdBoice

    January 20, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    Best of luck with the project! It would be interesting to note the "live" measurements of women then and now as opposed to the prescribed/ideal measurements noted on patterns and similar documents.

  • Adi

    January 20, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    Also consider the amount of flesh that you have to squish. As a rather full young woman, I can squish down over four inches — probably more if my corset were smaller, and without any serious pain (my back will start to hurt by the end of the day). As a slender young woman, you have less extra flesh that you can displace before you start to shift your bones.

    From my own research on waist training, I just want to pass on a couple points of advice that I learned: please remember that serious training, where you actually shift your bones, is a very serious thing to consider and not to be taken lightly (but from what you've said, it doesn't sound like you will be doing anything drastic). Also, I've learned that if you start to find that you hate your corset, take a day off rather than pushing through. You will feel better about it in the long run.

    In all, happy cinching!

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 20, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      That's really good advice. Thanks! I don't think I will do any bone-shifting, but you bring up a really good point – I wonder how much can reasonably be squishy out of the waist. Maybe getting to 24 inches won't even be possible, without starting to become unhealthy…

  • Ash

    January 20, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    Good luck with your training! You seem to be a similar build to me, which means you might also run into problems with the taper of the shop-bought corset putting too much pressure on your ribs long before you run out of waist squish. Do bear in mind the length of your ribcage when planning your custom made corset!

    Also if that satin ribbon around your waist is the lacing, you may want to look into replacing it with proper laces, it won't last very long at all and will gradually distort or cut into your hands when you try to lace up, and eventually may fray or snap while you're wearing it. Decent laces are the easiest way to make a cheap corset last longer. Also, long-term, tying your laces in front instead of in the back will damage them.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 7:54 PM

      Thank you for the advice – yes, I have moved the lacing loops down already, and it has relieved the pressure on the back. I also need to put a gusset at the hip. This cheap corset is very tubular, as you say.

  • Meryl

    January 20, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    Good luck and have fun with your training !!
    I started mine at a young age, and now I can achieve a truly Victorian silhouette ( is the smallest I can go), but I've done that in … years, really, but also because I wear tight clothes on the waist, everyday. I suggest, if you go further into training, or just wear a corset regulary, that you buy one from a corsetier, custom made, so you can wear it without pain or hassle. There are some without a front busk so they're totally invisible under clothes, but a bit harder to put on.
    Anyway, the key is to have fun, so if you don't like it or don't feel like it on some days, just don't put it on, you'll wear it later !

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 7:55 PM

      I'm pretty bad about sticking to things, so I'm afraid of not wearing it one day and then just giving up! Maybe if I perservere for a couple weeks, it won't feel so weird or like a chore. I do like the effect already, even after just one day 🙂

  • toastchef

    January 20, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    As a theatrical costumer, I have noticed, over the course of my career, the proportionately larger waist which I think, as you do, is attributable to never wearing anything without stretch or fitting at the natural waist (also, nobody knows where their natural waist is!) Being over 50 and having spent my formative years pulling up and in at the waist during ballet classes, my own waist measurement, even at my heaviest weight, is almost always smaller than the young, fit girls that I'm measuring.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      It's so true! Another facet of the low-rise jeans "phenomenon" is that hips are being bound, and for some girls, like me, the tightness of the waistband around the hips is creating a new shape! Eeeek! I want an hourglass, not muffin tops!

  • Anonymous

    January 20, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    I can't wait to read up on the progress. Working in living history myself as a day job during the summer, I noticed that throughout the months, my waist shrunk considerably. I was nearly down to a 22 inch and even out of the corset, shaped my figure (an annoyance for a classically trained dancer). It'll be interesting to read up on what happens in your experiment.

  • Brittany_Va-VoomVintage

    January 21, 2013 at 3:12 AM

    Oh fabulous!! I attempted waist training a while back but due to ridiculously large breasts and an under bust corset very similar to yours, I looked and felt quite silly. I really loved the back support. My posture is terrible and the corset made my neck and back feel amazing. It also cinched in the waist quite beautifully but that boobs looked like balloons under my shirt! LOL! One of my readers suggested a waspie or waist cincher instead, which I may try in the future. I am short-waisted also so perhaps the corset was a tad too long? Either way, I'd love to give it another go- good luck with yours!! x

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 7:58 PM

      I like the idea of a waspie/waist cincher too, because it nips just the waist, and doesn't constrict the rib cage or hips. That might be the way to go, plus it wouldn't be as noticeable under clothing.

  • Unknown

    January 21, 2013 at 5:43 AM

    Good luck with corset training! I would love to attempt to do this sometime, but I have a lot of extra padding that I would probably need to lose first before attempting this. I can't wait to read more about this from you as the days go on.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 8:00 PM

      I wish I had MORE padding to move around! I have read some blogs and articles about heavier women using waist training as a means of dieting – it does work, for any body type, in that you don't eat as much or as often when wearing the corset. At the same time it shifts the squish away from the waist. I bet you could get a really bodacious figure going, a la Christina Hendricks

    • Unknown

      January 28, 2013 at 5:55 AM

      I may have to look into it then. I was raised with the thought that corsets actually helped with posture. I was not put into a corset growing up but I did wearing things of a similar nature. I have been trying to find a good seamstress around where I live. Plus, I wouldn't mind looking like Christina Hendricks at all.

  • Sanna K

    January 21, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    Good luck! You've read my mind because ever since I learned the effect of the modern clothes I've been thinking about doing this, too! Maybe I should start soon as well. Because I'd love to have a little smaller waist and a little more curvaceous body.. It could be fun to compare our thoughts on the changes and how it feels to wear corset every day for a short while… You'd also get a little perspective on how the ladies in the past felt. Of course it's not the same thing since they wore corsets from childhood but still.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 8:02 PM

      Very true. I don't expect to ever achieve a truly Victorian silhouette, because I don't want to deform my rib cage. I've also read that the waist training does not produce a permanent change, but that the waist will return to its regular non-corseted measurement if you stop wearing the underpinning. That makes sense, so I suppose I will be wearing *something* at the waist from here on out. Maybe high rise jeans will come back into fashion, and they'll do the work FOR us, hahaa.

  • Paula

    January 21, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Good luck with your waist training, an interesting project 🙂
    One thing I and other corset enthusiasts have noticed that greatly affects the results you can achieve is the waist-to-hip ratio of the corset. No matter how much you train you never can reduce your hip measurement so the smaller you want to go on your waist the bigger the ratio needs to be. For that reason I would love to see the back of your corset or to know if there is any space between your hips and the corset at the moment. For example I have two commercial corsets: the first corset was bought about 3 years ago when I didn't really know much about corsets and despite the quality materials (heavy metal bones, busk and nice brocade) the shape is quite tubular. With that corset I really cant squish that much out of my 28 in waist (barely to 26).
    I recently bought What Katie Did's Morticia corset that has hip gores and a nice ratio of underbust to waist to hip. In that corset I can easily reduce down to 24 in and there is still nice space between ribs and the corset and the hips and the corset. So there the constricting measurement is my waist that I can't reduce any further without training.
    Most commercial corsets are of the more tubular variety (I do LARP and have laced quite many ladies into their corsets) and although the waist could be laced tighter the hips of the corset are too small either leading to a larger than necessary waist circumference or an uneven lacing gap (almost closed at bust and really wide at the hips).
    http://corsetmakers.livejournal.com/1924914.html <– excellent writing by Cathy Hay on the subject

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 8:03 PM

      YES! I totally agree. In fact, I need to slice some gussets into this cheapy, to flare the hip, for that exact reason. I am looking forward to sewing the pattern from my friend, because it has quite a considerable hip flare, and when I tried on her mock up before, I laced to 25" tightly, but comfortably, and couldn't believe it!

  • Scene in the Past

    January 21, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    I'm glad you mentioned the difference in 1950s' proportions and current ones. The effects of wearing corsets and even just girdles is really clear when you watch 1960s TV. I first noticed it in an episode of "I Spy," set on a beach in Italy. By the mid-1960s bathing suits were just as skimpy as they are today; the difference is that the gorgeous models wearing them in the show had beautifully-defined waists. They only got that look from wearing girdles since they became teens.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 8:06 PM

      You are absolutely correct. About a year ago I was wondering why women even back in the 80s (and of course prior) seemed to have smaller waists in proportion to their busts and hips, and it really does come down to the clothes we wear, or don't, and wear we wear them. When the popular waist comes back to the natural waist, some day, women will be amazed at how slim they are. It makes me want to get into making pants and jeans.

  • Olympe de la Tour D'Auvergne

    January 21, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    I was toying with the idea of living a year in a corset myself, just to find out the effects. As I am already a small woman with a 25" natural waist it's really more about posture and comfort for me. I'm waiting for the public at large to realize that no body will naturally look like our ancestors without some sort of regular attempt at waist-constriction; it's not just about diet and exercise.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 21, 2013 at 8:07 PM

      I've made your stays, and you are TINY as is!!

      I agree, it will be an amazing realization in society when everyone finally realizes that part of the reason our waistlines are increasing is because we don't constrict them in any way. If ladies went back to wearing high-waisted jean, their waists would slim down SO fast!

  • Lisen

    January 21, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    Ooh, interesting project. I will follow it! My first thought though was, is it even possible to get any shape in a corset that doesn´t have much shape? Will be interested to see what results a cheep corset will have for (corset) scientific reasons as well.

    • Lauren Stowell

      January 23, 2013 at 9:34 PM

      Lisen – well, it's a good starter, but on day 2 I added a hip gusset on each side, to take the pressure off the hips. It has made a BIG difference, and already, now on day 4, the back is nearly closed at the waist. I guess I had better get the replacement made right away!

  • Anonymous

    January 24, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    I wear a corset daily because of back pain. I do not lace to the point of faintness or not being able to breathe. Even so, my lower ribs have shifted inwards. I don't mind this as I found they stuck out a lot…probably from spending my life slouched. I think my corset put them back where they belong! I think (though I have not tried this) that if you want more waist definition without a lot of bone shifting, you need to make a corset where the curve in the panels is much deeper at the waist level than the commercially made ones are. Does that make sense?

    • Anonymous

      January 24, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      Now I've read everyones comments and I see that others have mentioned the hip/rib problem. Also, I need only look at my wedding ring hand to see how continual pressure on a spot will encourage the fat to go somewhere else. I have a dent in my finger that is really quite deep! I need to look at making my own corset as the one I have will not go any tighter and I'd like my waist to go in more (both for costuming and because that is where my back issues are) but don't want my ribs to go in any more and my hips "ain't gonin' no where".

  • M'lady

    January 25, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Interesting as someone who…blossomed early I've spent most of my life having a problem with being too hourglass. Most people look at me and think I'm smaller than I am because I wear 'natural' waisted clothing. I envy those that are stright up n down and can buy trousers without having to take in several inches at the waistline. I've had a corset custom made for me twice and both times had the same reaction from the corsetier which is that they are surprised that my waist is so small in them.
    The thing you say about modern clothing intreiges me. I don't wear jeans and (apart from a small spate of wearing them when they became nearer the natural waist and wide legged) I never have. I have always worn long waisted vests though and my skirts up high (I but a size or two smaller so a hipster becomes a high waister).

  • Unknown

    September 1, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    Fascinating blog and wonderful comments – thank you so much.

    My own view is that it is very difficult for us to recreate today the "total picture" of a lady's look in the 18 or 19 centuries. Yes, we can wear corsets and stays, as tight or as loose as we wish. However, most of the time we are "dressing up" and these garments are not our everyday wear since we were very young.

    In particular, I feel that we lack a number of important aspects that were common in the past, but not common today :

    1. We have not been corseted from an early age. People tend to freak out today about children in corsets, but in the past the caring mother insisted on corsets for her young daughters.

    2. We don't move in the same way today. Children in the past were taught deportment, whacked if they stooped, and had to sit straight. Being upright came naturally to them, it doesn't come naturally today. If your shoulders have been pulled back by years of corset wearing then not only are you a different shape, but you will move, walk, sit and dance in a different way.

    3. Humility. In the past there were strict rules. Your elders were always right, and men were superior to men, and therefore new more and were always right. It was considered rude to look a "superior person" in the eyes, so women lowered their eyes naturally as a sign of humility. As corporal punishment was considered proper for both boys and girls they quickly learnt to have real fear of people in superior position (men and older women!).

    There we are …a few ideas for you.


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