Monday, 13 June 2011

Corsets for brides

As I've been making quite a lot of corsets for brides to wear under their dresses I thought I'd put together a little guide for anyone thinking of doing just that. Not just brides of course, it's relevant to anyone considering an underwear corset.

So, why go for a corset for under your dress?

Two reasons. Firstly if you require more support or reduction than your average plastic boned basque can offer. Secondly if your dress doesn't have enough structure to achieve the look you want. Those two are not of course mutually exclusive.

The first reason is self-explanatory. Nothing will pull you in or hoist you up as much as a proper steel boned corset made to your measurements. And, although the silhouette achieved with corsetry as opposed to modern underwear is undoubtedly different, the shape varies a great deal with the style chosen. A gored bust can be cut to give you more of a cup shape (as above), or of course you can wear an underbust corset with a bra of your choice.

The other argument given against underwear corsets is bulk. Many outerwear corsets are made with multiple layers and can be substantial garments. However that really isn't necessary. When you study genuine antique corsets what takes you aback at first is how lightweight many are. It is entirely possible to produce a strong yet lighweight corset from a single layer of fabric (although I usually also add a fine cotton lawn lining for comfort) leading to no more bulk than many basque type garments.

The second reason is more aesthetic. For example, there has been a surge in popularity recently for vintage style gowns, particularly 1950s styles. But look at the original gowns and then look at some modern versions -  see the difference? The original gowns had either substantial built in corsetry or were worn over powerful underpinnings. Even someone as sylphe-like as Audrey Hepburn had some help to get that firm nipped waist. Many modern dresses lack that structure and that's why the proportions just never look quite so glamourous as their inspiration does. Catherine Middleton's gown, as discussed previously here, is another great example. Have you seen the copies? Do they look the same, even on a model's slender body? No they do not and that's because they lack the considerable structure of the original gown. I know that seems obvious to those of us who are familiar with corsetry and with clothing styles of the past, but if you aren't you might just see that something is not quite right but not know quite what.

So what now?
  1. Decide on your dress. There are some dresses which do have corsetry built in and are unlikely to need an additional corset. 
  2. Check the weight of the fabric, beading etc. Would the bumps of busk studs show through? If so a buskless corset would be best. Is it drapey and clingy, or bias cut? I wouldn't advise a corset for those as they will show no matter what, that's when the decidely unglamourous but smooth Spanx come into their own.
  3. Pay careful heed to the top line of the dress front and back. Is it particularly low at the back? That can be problematic for a corset, especially if your bust is on the larger side.
    Tip: before you go for a corset fitting have someone draw the top edge on your back, or at the very least measure up from your waist at several points and note them down.
  4. Order your corset in plenty of time! You will need your corset before your first dress fitting as corsets alter your shape a LOT, and not just your waist measurement.
  5. Be prepared for at least one mock-up fitting and at least one fitting in the finished corset. Renowned corsetiere to the stars and the couture houses, Mr Pearl, can require up to 12 fittings!
  6. Try to schedule your fittings for about the same time in the month as your wedding. Our figures can change dramatically throughout our cycles, with bust sizes often altering by a cup-size.
  7. Tell your corsetiere everything. What your dress is like (take pictures if you can); where you feel you need figure help; what extras you need (modesty panel, loops for suspenders etc); what image you have in your head.
  8. Remember there are possibilities beyond the sample you've seen. You could have straps, or trim, all sorts of things. Just ask your corsetiere. 
  9. Take a bridesmaid or your mum along to a fitting so they can be shown how to lace you up. Your wedding day when everyone is nervous and has had their nails done is not the time to be getting flustered trying to figure out corset lacing.
  10. Very important - eat before a corset fitting. Nothing too heavy or too soon before the fitting, but a light snack so there's no danger of you fainting. Gassy liquids aren't recommended though when you wear a corset (although don't worry, I think you can be allowed some champagne).
  11. Be realistic. We can work near miracles but we have our limits. For instance, if your lower tummy is an area you're unhappy with then we can curve the corset in to flatter and hold your tummy in but there's only so low the corset can go and leave you mobile and able to sit down! A stretchy suspender belt is a good option to smooth you below the corset line. Tell your corsetmaker, she may have suggestions.
  12. Above all enjoy it! Having a bespoke garment created for you is a very special experience and one you're paying for. And don't be shy, your corsetmaker isn't looking at 'you' when she's fitting you, she's looking at the corset on you and how it's behaving. So have fun, relish the chance to see a craftsperson at work, take the opportunity to indulge your notion for lace or your hankering for embroidery. This is a special garment for a special day so savour it.

I hope that's helped some of you. Personally I love working with brides, I love getting a little share of their excitement, and seeing someone's figure worries vanish because of something I've made is truly the best reward there is.

    If only....

    The new Riverside Museum  will be open next week, on the 21st to be exact. I'm looking forward to seeing it as I always enjoyed visits to the old Transport Museum. To be honest I'm old enough to remember the previous one where the Tramway now is! As my grandfather was a railwayman I was shown the trains with particular enthusiasm.

    My favourite part of the Kelvin Hall incarnation of the museum was the 1930s street, with reputed ghost and all! The lighting, underground station, cinema all gave a convincing back in time feel. The only flaw was that you couldn't enter the shops, which they got round by setting the street in early evening just after closing time. I believe the new museum has an improved and enlarged streetscape which I'm looking forward to seeing. Better I hope than the Museum of London's 'street' which could've been marvelllous but suffered from being too indoors with too many cutaway shopfronts giving a rather dolls house feel to it. The Glasgow one on the other hand felt like a real street. So fingers crossed it lives up to expectations.

    Now what I really, REALLY wish they'd have on the street is something like this...

    George Eastman House Collection

    So if anyone from Glasgow Life is reading this....give me a shout. I'd be more than happy to keep shop!

    All the dolls I had...

    So what got me interested in costume and the fashions of the past? Well the answer is more or less below! As a child I was taken around many castles, historic monuments and stately homes and loved it. Family holidays always involved trips like that and with my vivid childhood imagination I could picture those castles as they had been no matter how ruined they were. And, as my dad has always been keen on history I could pour over the pictures in his books when I got home and feed my imagination even more.

    Of course those trips always end up in the gift shop if there is one and my holiday pocket money purchase of choice would be a costume doll. Add that to the gifts I then inevitably received, most notably from an Irish friend of the family who never visited home without bringing me back a doll, and I built up quite the collection.

    See what and who you can spot here! Some may not be as obvious as they appear and a couple of them I inherited so I'm not sure myself where they come from. But there's a Madame Pompadour, Anne Hathaway, Queen Margaret and an assortment from Jersey, Ireland and wee kilties from here of course. Comments and suggestions welcome, especially for the middle-eastern looking lady in the dark blue who has always been a bit of a puzzle. Also the back left doll with the blonde plaits and lace headress.

    I also had a Jean Plaidy book on the young Mary Queen of Scots, which teamed with the relative proximity of Linlithgow Palace and family links with Falkland, where her favourite home and hunting lodge was, gave me a fascination for her which persists today. She's in that box too, along with one of her ladies in waiting, Mary Seton.

    The only doll missing from here, as she was still out until recently is a very nice Lillie Langtry doll. Does anyone recall a fabulous doll shop on the Royal Mile, near to John Knox's house? It's gone now but it was a fantastic shop for a kid like me!

    Wednesday, 8 June 2011

    One girl, two centuries

    A little bit of eyecandy for you.... although people on my Facebook page will have seen these already.

    A few weeks ago I got the chance to have a few of my corsets photographed by Towzie Tyke on the upcoming model Christina Chalk. Strange coincidence as Christina's first steps into modelling were through a model search competition organised by the newspaper I used to work for, and I was responsible for the artwork for the whole campaign!

    But here are the photographs;

    First a grey spot broche corset with blackberry silk bust gussets and binding. A style that work brilliantly for all shapes and sizes. It's particularly good for larger busts (obviously not illustrated here) and as an underwear corset. Lots of options too, the bust gores can be decorated and the colour contrasts played with.

    Almost a 1940s feel with the hair and make-up (the artist's name will be edited in later as I don't have it to hand at the moment, and my memory is so bad!).

    Next raspberry pink toile de jouy stays. These were made to a 1785 pattern with some modifications. Trimmed with suede and with added hand embroidery. I'm thrilled with how these look on. This style works particularly well on smaller busts as it pushes you straight up and overall the shape is less reliant on curves than Victorian styles.

    Almost like a portrait of the times! You can see the ribbon attachments of the straps. A very pretty style from the back as well as from the front.

    Photographs copyright Jade Starmore 2011