If you are into, or are interested in starting re-enactments, one of the things you are going to HAVE to face eventually if you are female, is corsets and corseting.  Whether your interests lie in Renaissance, Colonial, Civil War (American or French), Edwardian, or some of the fantasy eras, most women of child bearing age are expected to wear corsets to present the 'period correct' profile and appearance.  The clothing was designed and made with corseting figured into account, and simply does not look right without a corset!!  Trying to get by without one makes you look like a hack! A slacker!  Someone who is just not serious about their re-enacting!!!  And, let's get down to brass tacks here, you look sloppy as well. 

Now.  I realize that most women today know little (if that) about corsets.  What they do know is more than likely to be erroneous.  You look around on eBay and various sites at 'corsets', and see a wide variety of items all claiming to be corsets.  Well, maybe, maybe not.  Mostly they are not.  Let's take them by the general era.  GENERAL, ladies, not specific.  We'll touch lightly on the specifics here.

Renaissance era corsets.  The 'look' during the dark ages for women was conical.  The top was a cone, and the bottom was a cone.  The waist was where the two cones met.   I do NOT mean an hourglass look as in the Betty Page look.  I mean CONE.  Think of a funnel.  No curves.  Straight sides.  All of those costume patterns with the darts, and the French seams look so sweet and nice, and they are SO WRONG!!  First of all, they didn't have darts, and they didn't shape with curved seams.  Remember the funnel.  Here is a good idea of what a corset in those days looked like:

    and the top left of this one:    

I say the top left, because they didn't think of putting an opening in the front to make it easier to get in and out for the woman.   Usually, there was a stiff, wooden 'busk' in the front to keep the front flat and straight.  The 'bones' in those days were usually split reeds.  They would use 2 reeds per channel, and they used a LOT of them.   The tabs at the waist were to keep the bones from digging into the waist area.  The idea of this corset was to force the woman's body into the ideal conical shape.  The farthingale (hoopskirt) made the lower cone under her skirts.


The look of the corset didn't change much until the 1800s.  So we will go straight to the Civil War style.  More emphasis was being given to a rounded look, as in "there are breasts and hips and so forth" under all those clothes.  There was still very much the ultra feminine ideal of tiny waist to wider shoulders and skirt bottom (hourglass) to achieve, but the corseting went about it differently.  For one thing, who wanted to re-lace the bloody thing EVERY single time you used it?  Which meant, daily.  So, someone - darling man - invented the busk front corset.  In this case, the 'busk' was a post and loop device to hold the corset closed, but allow it to open as desired without having to totally unlace the back.  The corset also extended down below the waist, to about the mid-hip area.  This made the corset much more effective and comfortable (in my opinion).  The 'boning' options were also expanded.  They went from reeds to whale bone to spring steel.

First thing here:  I 'stole' some of the following photos with NO notice or permissions of the owners.  I am not trying to do any harm to them in any way, I am using the photos in a strictly informative mode.  Please do not assume that I do or do not support, approve, like, etc. the products shown. I was looking for the best representation of the looks I was describing, and these were currently being offered on eBay or other places on the internet.  The first photos are of actual period pieces in fine condition that I wanted to show for a couple of reasons.  One is the number of grommets (eyelets) in the back and the spacing of them at the waist area.  Another is the sheer number of 'bones' used.  Please look carefully at the photos.  Please excuse the last photo, as I no longer have the original, and only have this reduction that was on eBay when I first wrote my Guide.  I think it is still usable as you can see the grommets, which is the purpose.


The reason I wanted you to take note of those items was this:  A properly fitted and laced corset is quite comfortable.  Shock you?  Parse the sentence carefully.  Properly fitted.  Properly laced.  Quite comfortable.  Yes!  One condition to that, is that the corset has to be MADE properly.  Of course it couldn't be properly fitted if it weren't properly made, I suppose.  One of the things necessary to comfort is lots of boning.  The more boning, the more comfortable.  Sound contradictory?  It's not.  When a corset isn't properly boned, the boning is spaced too far apart, and it pinches when you move.  When the grommets are spaced too far apart, especially at the waist area, you do NOT get even lacing, and you get pinched, AND the corset doesn't pull evenly or lay flat against the body.  So in the area of most strain (the waist) you need more grommets closer together to even out the strain and keep the corset from trying to bunch or pucker - all of which can cause MUCH discomfort.  And the most important thing of all:  DO NOT LACE TOO TIGHTLY!!!  You have not been inured to this for years.  Lace snugly. Not tight.  Wear around the house and do your housework, or whatever.  You will find it has loosened up.  Tighten it up a little.  Keep wearing around the house.  When you get tired of it, take it off.  Do this again tomorrow, or the day after, or next week.  And then again, and then again.  As time goes on, you will find that you can lace the corset comfortably tighter each time. And wear it longer before you 'get tired of it'.  If you are top heavy, as I am, you will find a corset much more comfortable than an underwire bra!!  And, it supports better! 

Now, some examples of what a corset is, and is NOT:

Yes, good construction.  Note the grommets at the waist area.  This next one is also a good example:   A  Victorian overbust  style.  This next one is also an over bust:     And again check out the grommetting at the waist area.



           This is very pretty, and I am sure your significant other would love it.  It is NOT a corset.        Not in the context we are using, at any rate.         Very sexy.  Again, NOT a corset.     Bustier would be a better description for all of these.  However, all are being advertised as 'corsets'.  They have boning, they might even lace up the back.  I guarantee they would not work for you.  Get them, but use them for seduction, not re-enactments.  One thing I can assure you:  if it stretches, it is not a corset!!   There are very good patterns out there, if you wish to make your own (I won't.  I tried it once.  I buy mine from a good corsetiere), and there are some good corsetieres out there.  There are a couple I can personally recommend, and a couple I would steer you away from.  But one thing I will tell you, my GOOD corsets have between 25 and 40 STEEL bones, 3 & 5 layers of fabric and LOTS of grommets down the back.  They are also comfortable enough to wear ALL day long.  Only thing is, my darling complains that pulling the lacing hurts his hands (he has arthritis). Hey, you have to suffer to look beautiful [grin].

One thing I forgot to mention is that before you lace into your corset, you need to take care of any below the waist 'chores': stockings, shoes, etc.  Contrary to popular misconception, you can bend over in a corset!  However.  One thing you cannot do is BREATHE while bent over in a corset.  Therefore, you might not want to need to do anything in that position that takes an extended period of time.

Going to the 'necessary' is not a problem while corseted, unless you were unfortunate enough to put that article of attire on before your corset.  No, no, no!  Over.  Makes it MUCH simpler.  Just watch the laces, ladies!  Tuck them out of the way somewhere, or something [grin].  You definitely do not want them trailing under you when you do what you do in the privy!!