A Guide to Corsets, from What Katie Did

21st Century Burlesque

Katie Halford

Katie Halford, the superwoman behind What Katie Did, has written a wonderful article on corsetry for beginners and enthusiasts alike…

There is a lot of intrigue concerning steel boned corsets and how they will effect your body. I have fifteen years experience in working with corsets and whether you’re thinking about trying one, or would like to learn a little more about them, you’re in the right place!

The fashion corset wearer…

At What Katie Did we class a ‘fashion corset wearer’ as someone who wears a corset for an evening out once a month, right up to someone who wears one nearly every day. This kind of wear is what our corsets are designed for.

The ‘Dita Von Teese’ shape…

If you are looking at trying a corset for the first time, please remember that your current figure will effect the outcome. Whilst you might think that Dita Von Teese has the most famous trained waist in the world today – it isn’t really trained at all, and Dita is the first to admit it!

Dita is in the enviable position of having a classic hourglass figure with an unnaturally small waist. She also has access to the finest bespoke corsetiers in the world and if you look closely you’ll see that the majority of the waist reduction is confined to a small section around her waist. This allows her waist to be clearly defined without undue pressure on her ribs enabling her to wear a corset with dramatic results, whilst not waist training.

To achieve similar results to Dita you will need to have, what we call, a Vintage Figure: one where the waist is a good 10 inches (or more) smaller than the hips. Figures like this do exist but they are becoming less common. I have a friend who is lucky enough to have an extreme vintage figure: 19″ waist, 35″ hips. She wears a 17″ corset daily which, although looks extreme, really isn’t much of a reduction. If you have a more modern figure (with a waist less than 10 inches smaller than the hips) then it will be hard for you to gain such dramatic results, especially if you only want to wear a corset on the odd occasion. Harsh words I know.

That’s my personal opinion anyway. Women in our boutique always seem thrilled at their corseted shape! Talking of which, always allow at least half an hour for a corset fitting as although you might have decided which corset you’d like in advance, a different style might be more suitable (and we can make our corsets in any of the fabrics we carry so you don’t have to worry about missing out on a certain fabric or colour).

Morticia is our most popular underbust style...
Morticia is our most popular underbust style…

The right What Katie Did corset for you…

(Information on sizing and putting on can be found here…)
If you have a Vintage Figure, try one of our styles with gored hips – Laurie, Mae, Morticia, Antoinette or Baby.

If you have a Modern Figure, try a style without gored hips – Gina, Sophia or Dolly.

Our corset shapes with gored hips are specifically designed for hourglass figures and will not fit a very Modern Figure (with the exception of Baby). Our corsets without gores are suitable for both Modern and Vintage figures.

By the way, we have found a lot of companies using our pictures illegally: if a corset doesn’t say it’s What Katie Did, even if it uses our picture (and especially if it’s cheap!) it will be counterfeit.

Sophia is our most popular overbust style, ideal for modern figures...
Sophia is our most popular overbust style, ideal for modern figures…

An evening out

If you decide to wear a steel boned corset for an evening out it’s really not going to have any effect on your torso, apart from giving you a delicious waistline of course! With anything new it’s always best to have a trial run and this is especially important when wearing a corset for the first time. Please ‘practice’ wearing it for a few hours before your big event. Whilst it might have felt comfortable for the few minutes you initially tried it on for, it might start to become uncomfortable after a couple of hours. By having a trial run or two, your body will have time to get used to the feel of being corseted and you’ll know how tightly you can comfortably lace making amendments if necessary (for example, if you think you will become uncomfortable then don’t lace your corset tightly until you arrive at the event – and remember you can always loosen the laces later in the evening as long as your dress allows it!)

A little light training

If you would like to define your waistline a little then this is possible by wearing a corset on a regular daily basis. Your body will soon get used to the feel of being tightly hugged and you will be gradually be able to pull your corset in tighter. If you are looking to wear a corset on a regular basis we recommend you select an underbust style as this is less restrictive on torso movement. We also highly recommend our Baby corset which cinches the waist but, due to it’s small size, doesn’t restrict the rib cage and is ideal for modern lifestyles. If you do wear a corset daily then your waistline will gradually reduce although it will return to ‘normal’ disappointingly quickly when you stop wearing.

Your rib cage

All corsets will put some pressure on the rib cage and there are some rather extreme diagrams from the 19th century showing how the rib cage can be distorted. Whilst this is not a myth (modern day tight lacer Cathie Jung has been x-rayed in her corset and yes, her ribs are distorted) you have to tight lace seriously and over time for your ribs to be effected. It is also worth remembering that the skeletal system is very adaptable. The rib cage expands during pregnancy, with some of the internal organs being pushed upwards to allow room for the baby. After pregnancy, over a period of months, the skeleton returns to normal.

Your muscles

If you have a bad back then a corset can be great as it supports the back bone meaning that your muscles are under less stress: but this also has it’s disadvantages. If you are intending to wear a corset on a daily or near daily basis then you do need to consider your back muscles which will require extra exercise to keep them strong. Ask your gym/yoga/pilates instructor to recommend some exercises to work on your back muscles. If you do not have a gym/yoga/pilates instructor and are considering light body modification (which is what regular corset wearing is) then maybe you should think seriously about finding one.

Cathie Jung, with a waist of 15 inches!
Cathie Jung, with a waist of 15 inches!

Serious Corset Training

To achieve the most dramatic result takes time and discipline. We’re talking wearing a corset 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the dedication required to attain a waistline like that of Mr Pearl and Cathie Jung (both current day tight lacers). Serious corset training is not to be taken lightly and What Katie Did corsets are most definitely not suitable for serious corset training.

If you are even considering serious waist training you need to seek out others who have tight laced (Google Spook and Cathie Jung who tight laced for a few years with dramatic results, unfortunately there’s not much about Mr Pearl who is a very private person) and read about their experiences. A made to measure corset is a must for waist training. Do not even consider using an ‘off the peg’ corset to waist train as you need one tailored to your exact measurements. I am happy to recommend a bespoke corsetier on request (katie@whatkatiedid.com)

Further Reading…

Find out more about Dita Von Teese and her love of corsets in her book: Burlesque and the Art of the Teese / Fetish and the Art of the Teese which is packed with fabulous pictures and advice.

For more serious reading check out The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele. There might not be as many pretty pictures as in Dita’s book, but you’ll find out everything you ever wanted to know about corsets.

Our thanks to Katie for allowing us to re-publish this article. All images (c) WKD.


View Comments (4)
  • Oh wow! That is a little scary…especially the last picture. I have one corset and it’s just for special occasions not for everyday use or going out. 😉
    Thanks for the article!

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