I first experienced wearing a corset eleven years ago. I thought it was the coolest thing ever as I LOVED Victorian clothes. So much wisdom has been gained over the years of making and wearing that “body armor” that I gladly pass on my experience to you to keep you on your feet and moving.
Wearing a Victorian corset is quite different from any other garment you’ve worn. The body is formed into another silhouette with heavy fabric and metal boning – no wonder it feels different!
Although a corset can restrict movements and habits, you can adapt to the corset’s limitations and learn to move quite well. Until you are used to it though, go easy on yourself, spend some time wearing your new corset before the next event, and remember to relax. Just because you are donning a restrictive undergarment doesn’t mean your entire body becomes petrified and stiff.
Lacing & Unlacing – the most important but overlooked side of corset wearing
- First, make sure the laces at the waistline come out and back in on the same side to create the tie loops. This is the best lacing method to get that waist cinched down. Ties that tie at the very top and/or bottom are not effective. Use one long lacing string about 7 to 8 yards long for maximum comfort in getting in and out of the corset.
- To put the corset on, spread the corset halves by opening the laces wide first. Then wrap the corset around your body and fasten the busk. Tighten from the top to the waist then from the bottom up to the waist pulling the slack with the tie loops. Continue this pattern until you’re snug but not tight. WAIT several minutes (like, 5 to 30) then tighten the laces again to where you need them to be to fit your costume.
- Do not over-tighten the first few minutes you are getting into your corset. Give your body a chance to adjust, move organs around, and accommodate the shifting blood flow.
- To remove a corset, untie the knot/bow and pull the laces loose from waist to top and waist to bottom continuing in reverse the same manner as in tightening the corset. Loosen slowly until the blood has settled in the torso area and you can open the busk easily.
- Do not EVER pop open the busk to remove a corset when it is on and tightly laced. Doing so will cause the blood from the head to rush into the torso which can cause severe lightheadedness, possible fainting or other unwanted health issues. ALWAYS loosen the laces in the back first, even if only a little, before removing a corset.
- Learn to breathe to the fullest in the upper portion of your lungs. Practice deep breathing before you put on your corset so you get a feel for what a true deep breath is (using your entire lungs and diaphragm) and how you can get a large amount of air into the top part of your lungs.
- Avoid breathing too shallow. You don’t want to hyperventilate. Think of your breathing when exerting yourself with walking or dancing.
- When dancing, allow yourself to sit out every once in a while to recapture oxygen. You may get wrapped up in some occasions and forget to breathe (unconsciously). Resting will keep the light-headedness away.
- Take small bites and chew well.
- Start with half the plate size you normally would serve yourself and do not overeat.
- Avoid carbonated drinks (e.g. sodas, sparkling water, champagne) or consume very little amounts. Burping and retaining gas in a corset is not fun.
- When wearing your corset, don’t bend at the waist too much. A corset is designed to keep you in an upright posture. Bending forward or to the side can cause damage to the boning or busk by severely bending and perhaps breaking them. Metal busks and bones CAN break.
- Use your thigh muscles to bend down, reach the floor, stand up, etc. Since your legs are not restricted, they come in very handy for movement while your torso is stationary.
- Allow the corset to support your back. Although it is possible to slouch somewhat while wearing a corset, do not do so. It may put undue strain on your lower back.
- Be very careful leaning forward while standing, especially when holding a heavy object such as a full wine bottle to serve or handing a bag to a friend.
- Perch on the front end of the chair or bench.
- Keep a straight posture. Rest/relax IN the corset while keeping an upright figure; let the corset hold you up. If you must recline, do so gently and easily.
- Avoid deep or overstuffed chairs. Side chairs will keep your body aligned and prevent twisting the back (which CAN happen).
Riding in Vehicles
- Move the seat back to a more upright position. You might have to adjust the seat forward a bit too to get you closer to the steering wheel.
- Climb in, shifting any skirts to the side or gently pile them on your lap. Move the seat belt carefully over your chest. The shoulder belt should cross in the same manner as you normally wear it.
- Have a friend close the door, securing you in. Leaning over to close the door can be tricky – be careful to not strain your back.
- If you are riding in the back seat, a small pillow between the seat and your back may be more comfortable as it will put you in a more upright position.
Using the Facilities
- Wear historically accurate split-crotch drawers. Ladies knew that when a corset was snug at the waist there was no pulling down of any sort of pant-type underwear. Open drawers allow women to respond to nature easily.
- Proper drawers are the best choice, but note that it is extremely difficult to wear BOTH modern underwear and drawers at the same time. It is not recommended. Nor is wearing only modern shorts, bike shorts, PJ bottoms or a thong with a corset and full period clothing.
- Facilities Trick: Walk front first into the stall. DO NOT turn around. Lift dress/skirts/petticoats and sit on the commode backwards facing the wall.
This may feel weird at first but is amazingly quick when wearing a corset and many dress layers. Make sure you have split-crotch drawers on when attempting this. Keep hanging corset laces pulled up and/or tucked under the corset.
Walk out of the stall backwards instead of turning around while smoothing out the front of your skirts.
…Remember that a corset is simply a supportive garment that’s not unlike our modern push-up bras and body shapers. I’ve learned most of these tips from personal experience. The others from stories heard at costume gatherings. (I can’t imagine a busk snapping in two so hard it left a bruise. Ouch!) So be careful out there in your Victorian hardware!
What have you learned from wearing a corset?