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Corsets 101: Corset Types

September 25, 2012

After grinding through the Rennie posts, one of the most frequent comments I got was a request that I post my corset lacing class materials.  Please note: This was originally written for a class that I teach at conventions.  The basis for the text comes from the packet I hand out, and the pictures are totally not me.  Honest.  However, they do link to some of my favorite shops around the web (Please click them and buy from them, they are ossim).  This is written for a *very* beginning audience and some of the more complex things are glossed over a bit.

Corset Types

There are a lot of different terms for the various types of modern corsets, and often one website will refer to a particular style as one thing, and another website will call it something different.  For ease of communication, I will be using some of the generally used terms for modernly available corsets.  A lot of the terms used for modern corsets are not historically accurate.

Corseted Tops

Corseted tops are not real corsets, despite what Hot Topic might try to claim.  Most corseted tops are what I like to call “Door to Floor” corsets.  They contain only enough boning and structure for one good wear.  Usually just enough time for the wearer to strike a pose in the doorway and let their partner have a good ogle.  I’ll let you fill in what happens to it from there.  They are typically made with a slightly stretchy fabric, plastic boning, and have just enough structure to be form fitting and a little supportive.  They tend to be fasted with a long line of hooks and eyes, similar to those found on a bra.  There may even be some “laces” tacked on for decoration, but the laces aren’t intended to be functional.  The fabric is typically a single layer and the channels for the boning are sewn directly on.  Your average Sexy $Character costume probably has a corseted top and a cheaply made one at that.  Corseted tops can be an inexpensive alternative to a true corset if you’re not too buxom and just looking for a light costume piece but are not actually REAL corsets.  A busty lady trying to use a corseted top as a support garment will find that the plastic boning will bend out of shape very quickly and she’ll be left with a very pretty top with lots of unsightly bulges.  Pro tip: If your “corset” comes with a matching pair of panties, it’s probably not the real thing.

That lasso’s probably not going to do you much good, either.

Bustier (Bustiere)

A bustier is underwear.  Unlike a corseted top, bustiers are designed for long term wear, with heavy duty spandex, stronger bones (though usually still plastic) and structured panels to squeeze and shape the squishy bits into whatever silhouette is currently fashionable.  Despite what the name implies, bustiers don’t actually do much for the more top heavy wearer.  As many a Busty Girl knows, lots of bra manufacturers simply add a few inches to their smaller designs without regard to the additional structure needed to support the extra weight.  A cheap bustier is much the same.  Since your average bustier buyer is probably looking for the perfect shape wear for the one and only white strapless dress she’ll ever wear in her life, it’s pretty important to get one that fits well and will hold everything up.  There is nothing classier on a bride’s big day than having to tug your boobs up in the middle of the ceremony.  Let me just point out again, a bustier is underwear.  Most of it is designed to be worn with the support of other clothing.  Do not go prancing about in a bustier in public.  Unless you’re on your way to a Rocky Horror Picture Show.  In which case, prance away.

Damnit, Janet, put some clothes on already.


Generally, a “bodice” is a piece of clothing worn over a chemise or shirt.  There are many different types of bodices, some of which include boning but aren’t meant to be tight laced in the manner of a corset.  Bodices come in a variety of styles but most look like a fancy vest.  They may lace in the front, the back, the sides, have fancy shoulder pieces, or decorative fabric around the bottom edge.  Regardless of how they look, it’s important to note that a bodice is outer wear.  Just about everything from here on down is meant to be worn over a shirt of some kind, if only to keep you from sweating through your expensive costume piece.  Even if you’re going for the Bare Bar Wench look, slap a tube top under that sucker and you won’t have to endure the dubious glances of your dry cleaner quite as often.

A bodice. Worn by some chick. With bonus pouches by Ravenswood Leather.

Overbust corsets

Overbust corsets are just what they sound like, corsets that go over the chest, providing support and creating cleavage.  A good overbust corset has two to three layers of fabric and flat steel or spiral steel boning.  Overbust corsets are generally defined by their neckline.  The two most common types are the Sweetheart style neckline, and the Straight style neckline.

A Sweetheart or Heart style neckline forms two cups, creating a heart shape over the chest.  A sweetheart style provides all the familiar support of a bra and has less of the compression seen in straight necklines.  Sweethearts have a softer, more rounded shape.  This is one of the more common styles seen in corsetry as it provides the hourglass shape that most corset wearers are looking for.  Sweetheart style corsets can be subdivided into groups based on how the cups and hips are constructed.  Body types outside of the “average” will probably do best in a custom Sweetheart style corset.

A straight line corset forms a smooth line across the top.  This corset compresses the chest, creating a flat front and smoother overall line to the body.  This bodice is often referred to as a “Victorian” or “Elizabethan” corset because it mimics the style of the gowns from those times.  These corsets do not, however, accurately reflect the undergarments of those time periods.  And not just because whale bones have gone out of style.

A “Victorian” style corset. Note that the wearer still has on a shirt, even though it was fooking hot out that day.

Underbust Corsets

An underbust corset follows the line of the chest directly under the breasts, either in a straight line or in a point that comes up between the breasts.  Most underbust wearers are looking for compression of the waist, as opposed to compression or support of the chest.  Like an overbust, a good underbust has multiple layers of fabric and good boning.  Underbust corsets are good for women who have difficulty finding corsets to their particular proportions, as they only need to fit the area from the ribs to the hips.  Adding a good bra to an underbust gives the same look as an overbust, without the difficulty of fitting an additional dimension.  A good corset shop will have a rack of “fitting” corsets which they will use to check the size you need before trying to fit you into any of their products.  A really good shop will be able to fit you at a glance.

This corset comes from a really, really good shop.

Waist Cincher

A Waist Cincher is smaller version of an underbust that only covers the area from just beneath the ribs to just below the belly button.  Waist Cinchers will have less boning, since they aren’t required to provide as much support, only compression.  Think of them like a wide belt, only without the 1980s vibe.

Up Next: Corset Features!

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