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Hey, I love your costume! Did you make that? (spoiler--only parts)

advice clothing corsets costuming renaissance faires

Working at renaissance faires, I get a lot of questions about my outfits.  I'm fond of gaudy, but the outlines of what I typically wear are based on 16th century upperclass merchant garb:  bodice, chemise, skirt.    Now, I can sew, but I'm not patient enough to mess with corset-making; chemises are easy, as are tunics and drawstring skirts (which are two of the components of what I wear to faire--google, you'll find a million designs) but when it comes to corsets, I buy cheap ones from the purveyors of naughty underwear on Ebay and I've had remarkably good luck.  A friend asked recently if I had specific advice about them, and I figured it was worth repeating/preserving, so here it is.

  • Never never never buy a cheapie with a zip anywhere on it. No zippers. Nada.
  • Stick with fabrics that are brocade or a thin denim--they're usually pretty tough and don't stretch much.
  • I also have the best luck with a front closure--lacing both front and back looks pretty but is a bitch to get out of when you want OUT.  I prefer the kind of closure that is a sort of triangle of steel that fits over a little bumpy thing (as seen below) because plain hook-and-eye gets so very battered over time that they get ferociously annoying.corset with recommended front closure
  • No straps. No halternecks. They can fit funny or hurt like hell, depending. I get plain overbust corsets.
  • Pay attention to sizing on each and every one: different companies, different sizing. I have M to XXL and they all fit me.
  • When you get it, relace with long bootlaces or shoelaces--top to bottom and bottom to top, meeting in the middle of your back. Lets you loosen/tighten either the top or the bottom much more easily, and shifts less during a day of wear.  I have relaced mine with everything from ribbon to macrame cord to paracord over time, and ribbon tends to be too slippy (unless it's grosgrain) and macrame and paracord a whisker too stiff.  Shoelaces really are best.
  • Spring steel boning is best, but hey, if you like it and it fits the above criteria? Go for it.  I rarely pay over $20 for any of mine, and a lot of them tend to be imported from Hong Kong, but considering the wear I get out of them and the battering they take, I'm ok with that. 

A GOOD corset may or may not let you bend or sit comfortably.  The cheap ones tend to let me move, and since I'm merchanting in them (ie, playing stevedore) they do tend to get rather battered over time;  since they're cheap, once you've beaten the snot out of them they are perfect candidates for adding funky trim, patches, appliques, and whatevers.   Note the one in this picture-- all the ruffles are because this particular corset has been beaten to within an inch of its life. 

You don't have to be wealthy to have a pretty faire costume!


woman in corset, chemise and skirt with ruffles around top and bottom of corset.  Lilac color.


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  • Kate on

    Bobbie, look very closely at the front and you can see it.

  • Bobbie Montague on

    pic of the steel over bumpy thing?

  • Oisian on

    Thank you for this information. I bought one a couple of years ago that I like, but the ribbon kept slipping. The shoelaces tip is fantastic, thank you.

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