Telling the Difference Between a Proper Corset and a Fake One

One of the biggest issues I have with corsets is that so many women don’t know what defines a real one that they continue to waste their money on what constitutes little more than tacky lingerie. The worst part is they never know that they’ve been had, and the problem is so common that I’m sure many of these “corset” sellers have no idea that what they’re selling isn’t actually a corset at all. Ebay is riddled with shops selling these ripoff items that actually have positive reviews because the buyers didn’t know any better (or just had really bad taste), and message boards are full of even more of these buyers who just can’t figure out what went wrong.
When it comes right down to it, nobody can really be blamed. I’m infuriated at the sellers who knowingly show pictures of quality corsets and then sell horrible knockoffs, but this is a problem that can be said for a lot of products. Overall, people are simply in the dark about this issue. I believe the root of the problem is simply that the corset as a garment has evolved over time just like any other garment, so that we kept the title even though they’re completely unrecognizable in their current incarnation. Here’s where the words “Victorian Corset” come into play. I’ve heard it asked many times what this means, and I believe it’s referring to authentic corsets as they were and are meant to be, rather than the cheap imitations we see today. So now I have to get to the point. How can you tell the difference? Here’s a list of what I look for, in order of importance.
Sizing. Truly the most important thing to look for is steel boning, but I’m listing this one first because invariably a corset sized S/M/L does not have it, so looking for this will save you a lot of time. A proper off the rack corset (made to measure and custom don’t come in sizes, they’re made individually according to your measurements) will be sized according to how many inches around the waist is. Commonly this will range from 20-40, and you should get one 4 inches smaller than your natural waist size. I’ve also noticed that “corsets” of the plastic type often come with a g-string and feature a model that looks like a porn star. This is a sure sign that what you’re looking at is crap.
Cost. Also not technically the most important, but a price too good to be true usually is, and a sure sign that this isn’t what you’re looking for. I have seen very expensive junk, but I have rarely seen a good corset for less than about 100$, and finding these is a skill best left to more knowledgeable and experienced bargain shoppers.
Steel boning. If it’s not steel, don’t even think about it. This is officially the number one rule for finding a quality piece. Plastic is not only horribly unflattering due to the way they bend and buckle, but this can also be painful, even dangerous. Plastic bones that bend too easily will jab you in the stomach, under the ribs, and in your armpits. In extreme cases they’ve been known to snap and puncture through skin. There’s nothing good I can say about plastic boning, unless it’s sturdy and strictly worn decoratively on top of a proper corset boned with steel. At the very least, I beg you to NOT attempt tightlacing a “corset” boned with plastic. Lace it just enough to be snug, but not tight. Spiral steel has the required flexibility to curve with your body while also being strong enough to properly support you with comfortable even pressure. One way to instantly tell the difference in person is by weight. A plastic bustier will feel extremely light and flimsy compared to the heavy sturdiness of a proper corset.
Multiple layers cotton coutil. No doubt about it, a corset requires strength. And all the steel in the world won’t do any good if the fabric between it tears under the pressure. This is one of the reasons it’s unsuitable to take a bustier and try making it a proper corset by replacing the boning. The thin layer of fabric just won’t hold up. A good corset is made with usually three layers of strong cotton coutil, with the decorative fabric over top.
Waist tape. I’ve heard of corsetieres claiming that their corsets were extra strong because they use waist tape in the construction. I call bullshit. EVERY proper corset should have waist tape. It’s not special, it’s the standard, and it should always be mentioned that this is part of the design. This is important for reinforcing the waist, which undergoes the most pressure. Without this the corset could quickly tear.
They specifically say the corset is for tightlacing. I don’t doubt there are some dishonest sellers out there, but those people won’t be in business for long. A good corset is suitable for tightlacing and will always say so.
Proper lacing. There are indeed some good corsets out there with improper lacing, but this is a sign that the corsetiere has not fully done their homework and so the overall quality might not be as good as it should be. Corsets should NOT be laced like a running shoe. This creates extra friction, and the laces passing in between the panels will prevent the corset from closing all the way. If this is the only problem you see, it’s simple enough to just re-lace it yourself. A worse issue is when the laces tie at the top or the bottom. Sure these can be re-laced too, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who does it this way to know what they’re doing. This is just obvious beginner stuff that any reputable retailer or corsetiere should know. If you’re trying to draw in the waist, why would you tie it anywhere else? It just doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention this makes lacing much more difficult. The seller might claim that this is so the laces can easily be hidden, but come on, that’s much less important than actually doing it properly so the corset is able to do what it’s supposed to, isn’t it?
Wrinkling in the fabric. I’ve worn many good corsets in which the fabric didn’t lie perfectly flat, but if it does, all the better. This is simply a sign of quality work and attention to detail, and makes for a more attractive and solid-looking corset, with a smoother silhouette under clothing. While not 100% necessary, it’s strongly preferred.
Now I just want to mention one last thing, and that’s grommet placement. A couple people have said to me how strange it is that the grommets or front prongs are unevenly placed, while what they’re referring to is the fact that they’re closer together at the waist and belly respectively. This is actually a very good thing, again to compensate for the increased pressure in that area. So don’t worry a thing about that if you see it, just rest assured that this is even more likely to be what you’ve been looking for!
Good luck!

5 comments on “Telling the Difference Between a Proper Corset and a Fake One

  1. aimee says:

    i would just like to also recommend their corsets are basic but durable. i have had my underbust pinstripe corset for like five years, and while you’ve inspired me to finally invest in a custom piece just a little bit smaller, this one will probably always remain a go-to item in my closet for it’s versatility. it has become my favorite accessory to wear with any outfit and i recommend it’s quality….
    also, i have adored reading your blog and in particular send you a dramatic super-hero-esque high five on the internet for this entry in particular.

  2. Ella Thomas says:

    It was a great information. The way you have made us understand is simply awesome. Thank you so much for sharing.

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