An A To Z Of Corsetry Terms For Beginners

Salleh Sparrow and Georgia A wearing Orchid Corsetry and Katherine Davidson

It seems that one way or another we are lucky enough to get a lot of beginners just finding their feet with corsetry at our virtual door. The world of corsets is a funny one, full of archaic terms and odd calculations.  But it’s also a really welcoming community, full of people with a shared passion and a wide variety of experiences, and I hope you find a happy little family here.

The Lingo

I hope to grow this into a little series, so to start us off what could be better than building up our vocabulary?! As beginners, nothing can make you feel excluded like people using words you don’t fully understand, so let’s call this your reference library for all things corset, or your babel fish if you like your geekery as I do.

If a word is in bold it’s because it has a description in our list should you need to reference it!

Bespoke– If you’ve spent a little while on our site you may have spotted that we have two different sorts of corset that we offer at two different prices. Bespoke and Made to order.  Bespoke is our more exclusive (and expensive) option and it essentially means that all elements of the corset are chosen by you, and that it is made from a unique pattern built from a large number of your own measurements. There will likely be fittings and toiles to ensure comfort and a flattering fit. For a beginners first corset you may not feel this is necessary, but clients who waist train or take a significant waist reduction will quickly need to move onto this option! It’s an opportunity to create a deeply personal piece with levels of comfort that simply cannot be achieved any other way!

Fetish Luxe Collection
Anita DeBauch shot by Sally Sparrow photography

Boning – We still call the corset supports and the process of inserting them “boning” even though it’s been many years since we stopped hunting whales for their precious baleen. Nowadays, if I talk about your corset boning I’m more than likely talking about flat and spiral steel, as illustrated below. Some people think that it’s boning that creates the waist reduction but you can now correct them! Boning prevents the corset from wrinkling at the waist under the tension of tightlacing. It also gives support to the compressed body, and can play a part in adjusting your posture.

Busk – The busk is the front fastening you will come across on a lot of corsets in my shop. It consists of two steel bones, one of which has hooks riveted securely on, and the other has studs to meet them. The patent for the first busk was registered in 1829 and we have not altered it much! There are many different types but this is more than likely what is inside your corset. They make it much easier to get in and out of your corset on your own and as they come in a wide variety of colours and functional styles, they play a part in the beauty and support of your finished garment!

busk description for begginers

Corsetiere– This is the proper term for the person who makes your corsets! Corsetmaker is also fine, but doesn’t corsetiere feel nicer to say? If you want more of a glimpse into my job, here’s another blog post for you.

studio life

Cinch– You may hear about waist cinchers (a type of corset, usually intended for light waist reduction) or asked how much you “cinch” down by. This is effectively another term for waist reduction, or the action of reducing your waist!

Blush silk ribbon corset from rear

Eyelets – Technically we use the higher quality “grommets” for the lacing section of our corsets, but eyelets is the better known term. These metal rings are set into the fabric to reinforce it sufficiently for us to reduce the waist and tighten the lacing time and time again. In earlier styles, hand embroidered eyelets were used until the metal eyelet was invented in 1828, meaning corsets could be laced tighter than ever before, without fear of tearing of the fabric.

Made To Order – This is where most beginners will start their corset wearing journey with us. These corsets are significantly cheaper than bespoke pieces because they are made to a standard size pattern, meaning they will fit most people pretty well! These corsets are a great way to test the waters, experiment with styling your corset and have some fun! Being made to order means these corsets are not sitting, waiting to be posted out to you – we give you lots of options for you to create your perfect “pick and mix” corset look and then make it once you’ve ordered it. This allows us flexibility if you have any special requests or need sizing on the pattern tweaked to work better for you!

Off The Rack – Also known as OTR or RTW (ready to wear) we sell made to order corsets instead as we like to offer you lots of choice, but OTR corsets are also made to a standard size pattern, typically mass produced and ready to be popped through your letterbox! Again, these are a fun way for beginners to experiment with corsetry if you don’t have any specialist fit requirements.

Corset information- A perle mesh corset
Perle in dove grey, a perfect corset for beginners

Standard Size – Fun fact – there’s really no such thing as a size 10. Every clothing store has their own special set of measurements based on market research which are used to develop their clothing patterns. For instance, their target market might be curvy and full busted, or more petite making the body lengths shorter. In our case, our patterns are based on 13 years of bespoke client information, trying to create styles and sizing that will work for our main groups. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but my experience of fitting and selling these corsets is that they are very versatile in providing a flattering and comfortable fit.

Valentines waspie with Inira lingerie
Sally Sparrow and Diego!

Tightlacing – Here’s a useful term. Tightlacing is the insider word for wearing your corset, for me it tends to infer that you wear your corsets regularly but you do not waist train. However the practice of waist training is really tightlacing daily with the intention of greater figure alteration!

Miss Deadly Red wears the Rosette pink Seirian Luxe
Miss Deadly Red wears the Seirian Luxe in Rosette Pink shot by Sally Sparrow

Toile – Pronounced “twarrrl“! If you’re having a bespoke corset you will likely come across these! Essentially a toile is your intended corset pattern made up in a basic fabric in order to test the fit, comfort and style in real life. A good friend of mine says that “measurements are a 2D version of a 3D reality” and she’s absolutely right! A toile lets us see where we need to develop and improve from what the tape measure told us. A toile will likely be very rough and simple to look at, but it is the key to unlocking a corset that feels like a second skin.

Training Corset – Generally speaking, a corset intended for waist training tends to be bespoke as it needs to fit the wearer really well to be comfortable for long hours of daily wear. We will put a lot of thought into engineering it to be durable, suitable for the environment of the wearer (it may need to be used in a hot climate or worn discreetly to work) and ensuring it offers the right type of support for the amount of reduction being taken and any other requirements the wearer has. Training corsets can look very simple but there’s a lot of knowledge and skill in bringing the right corset to the right wearer!

Male Corsetry

Waist Reduction – When you’re asked to calculate your waist reduction we’re talking about what the corset is built to cinch you down by. For beginners buying their first corset this is more than likely to be 2-4″ or 5-10cm but a lot of factors can alter this. Confused? We have a sneaky tip to help you find your ideal starter reduction – take your tape measure and note your natural waist measurement.  Then slowly cinch down until it’s no longer comfortable for you (remember that your corset will distribute the pressure more evenly) this second measurement will indicate your potential corseted waist size!

Pink silk Edwardian underbust

Waist Training – You may have heard people talk about their waist training plans. The goal is to create semi-permanent figure modifications through wearing your corset consistently over time (see Tightlacing) Waist training means that you can slowly build up the hours you spend in your corset and subsequently wear a smaller waist size of corset. It is about patience, dedication and persistence. It’s not for overnight results or quick wins! But if you want to achieve a dramatic silhouette, this is the route to it. We sell starter waist training kits which are a great way to care for yourself while you embark on this process. Some beginners do go straight onto waist training but for most it’s a more gradual approach!

Back view of chantilly lace overbust

 

Did we miss out a term you’re curious about? Let us know! We’ll be happy to add it. What would you like our next beginners article to focus on?

All Change At The Studio

New fitting room

It’s been longer than I realised since I sat down to share our news, but in my defence it’s been a busy couple of months! In addition to the usual commissions and photoshoot plans, I’ve been moving the studio and changing the Shrewsbury address into a dedicated client space and fitting area.

I know some of our readers will have visited us at Charlton House for their consultations, and we get lovely feedback from clients about how much they love our town and the funny little attic space we call home. For those who haven’t climbed our stone steps, Orchid HQ for the last 6 years has been up in the eaves of a converted medieval manor house, which still has the stunning exposed stonework of the original building as you enter! My sunny little garret looks out over the rooftops and chimney stacks of Shrewsbury town centre, and is a wonderful little creative hub. We also have a friendly ghost called Lady Sarah, according to the local paranormal tours.

However it has always been the dream to separate studio life into a fitting space and workroom, so more space can be dedicated to display and scene setting with clients, and I can be free to make creative muddles and spread out as the commissions fill the work table. A recent home move back over the border to Wales has increased this desire, as it’s a long daily commute! But I’ve found a perfect temporary workspace back home, which has enabled me to do long awaited things, like setting up a proper height pattern cutting table so that I can work standing up at long last! It’s been fantastic to have a driving force behind all the things I’ve been waiting to do for the business, and the resulting studio is a pleasure to work from. After nearly 11 years in business it was high time that some updates were installed!

New studio work room
Hard at work at the new desk.

 

But the real investments have gone into the fitting area. It’s still a work in progress with a long way to go but the additional space in the Shrewsbury address instantly created opportunities. There is now a huge three part mirror so clients can view themselves from all angles during a fitting, with a sumptuous rug and racks full of samples to be explored. The mannequins gather around, dressed in their own finery to intrigue our visitors, and of course, tea is waiting to be served! The antique changing screen, embroidered with peacocks by my great grandmother still graces the corner, waiting for you to try on something precious and fall in love.

New fitting room
Spring sunshine filling the new fitting room

There are many more jobs awaiting me in the fitting space but for now, it’s a lovely work in progress, and I will be delighted to welcome you to the studio area for your own bespoke commission! Our waiting list is already filling up through the summer but there are spaces for special projects and made to order corsets from our online store.

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