Corsets - A Guide

JoAnn Peterson

The corset had its beginnings at the end of the fifteenth century with the “boned body” bodice. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the corset had elongated, encompassing the hips. The shape changed from the previous century’s conical shape to a more rounded shape like an hourglass. This hourglass shape remained much the same for the Victorian period of 1837 until 1900, though there were constant variations and refinements. After 1900 the “straight-fronted S-curve” corset was fashionable. Underbust corsets, also called “waist cinchers” were made after our era and do not provide the same silhouette.

The women in our interpretive era would all be wearing corsets. I have found no modern foundation that gives the same silhouette. If you want to add this piece to your costume you can either make your own, have one made for you, or purchase one ready made. Most ladies agree the most comfortable corsets are the ones especially made for them.

If you want to learn how to make your own we will be holding a corset making workshop on March 3rd and 4th, 2007. A talented teacher, Barbara Muran, will be leading the 2-day workshop. She will help you get a custom fit, teach you all the special techniques for corsetry, and will provide a kit with everything you need. Please see the flyer in the newsletter for more information.

If you want to purchase one ready-made, I would recommend shopping at Farthingales in Los Angeles or Dark Garden in San Francisco so you can try them on. If you are willing to buy one without first trying it on, Delicious Corsets in Philadelphia, Lace Embrace in British Columbia, and Period Corsets in Seattle also sell them. The price for an in stock corset can range from $200 to $475 and up. The price differs because of quality. Ask if the boning is steel instead of plastic, if the corset is made of coutil (good) or rayon (not so good if it is one layer), and if the corset has two layers or one. Make sure you check their return policy. An “off the rack” corset is usually sold by waist measure alone so a good fit at the bust and hip will be by chance.

If you want a custom-made corset, there are four companies I can recommend: Farthingales LA, Lace Embrace, Dark Garden, and also Romantasy based in San Francisco. A custom corset is made to your measurements. Our corset teacher, Barbara Muran, also makes custom corsets. Her email is The cost of a custom corset varies from about $250 to astronomical. It is best to phone or email each of the sites to understand the process because they all operate a little differently.

If you are surprised at the cost, please read the explanation at Romantasy and click on “Corset/Prices”. Then click on the corset icon “Cost of a New Corset”. If you get a good fit a corset can be very comfortable and flattering. The hourglass silhouette is correct for the entire Victorian era so you can wear it to interpret any year from 1837 to 1900. Here are some links.

Dark Garden
Delicious Corsets
Lace Embrace