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Bad Barbie — Corseting, the Patriarchy, and You

I’ve never considered myself a woman who pursues the normative ideal of beauty in my culture — which happens to be American. As an adolescent and young teen, I found the punk scene in Chicago, and felt as if I fit in someplace for the first time in my life. The music, the people, the clothes…it all just seemed right. There was no place in this world for the darling pair of pumps, designer bag, and the perfect flattering pink lipstick I saw in all the fashion magazines (with the exception of Vogue, who had Helmut Newton and his amazing, fierce, fetishised Amazonian women). In this world, girls were valued for being tough, streetwise, and not afraid to sport leather jackets, combat boots , and shaved heads (mine was half shaved, half long, until I eventually made the full buzz cut at 17).

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Seasoning a New Corset — A Crash Course

Getting a new corset is always kind of like Christmas around here — and by that I mean for me, and possibly my cats, as they get to play with the ribbons I often discard to replace with my own once it arrives.  There’s something very satisfying about getting into a brand new corset; its kind of like going on a first date. It’s new and exciting, and a little awkward, and everyone’s on their best behavior.  

It’s kind of like flirting. You put it on, and tug a string here, adjust your hips there…trying to get to know each other, trying to see how things fit. 

Because a new corset is a bit of a challenge.  She’s not used to your body, and your body is not used to her. And that’s ok, because you’re about to embark upon what is known as “seasoning” your corset. Which is kind of like a long engagement you both know will end in happily ever after.  But first, you two need to get to know each other. 

That’s what seasoning is all about. 

I know when I get a new corset, even if its one that’s been made custom for my measurements (like the one in these photos), it’s going to take a while before my body is able to fit comfortably in her, and before she’s going to fit comfortably to my body. It’s a bit of both, really.  I don’t expect to be able to close her the first day — if I can, then I probably should have gone down a size. But ideally, there’s no way that baby is going to close yet; now is the part where I cinch in a bit, trying to maintain a parallel lacing line (ideally with a corset that fits properly — but a small V or /\ gap is totally acceptable), while keeping in mind that at this early stage, the hips and underbust might not sit entirely flush with my body just yet.  Give it a few wears, just a couple hours a day that first week so as not to put too much undue strain on the corset, OR your body. By the end of that week, likely things will be sitting flush, and you’ll be able to get a nice 2 or 3 inch comfortable reduction. 

My custom longline by Crimson Lily – first day lacing up. Note the lacing gap is fairly straight/parallel. This is a 20” corset, and at the time, I was approximately 20 lbs heavier, and my natural waist was 26’“. It’s now down to 24”, and the corset closes easily with a bit of a gap, due to the measurements in the low hip being unfortunately off/too small. Not an ideal situation, because I’ll never be able to fully close it comfortably (and after doing it once, before realizing the error, I’ll never do it again. My hips went numb. This is why a properly sized corset is SO important. 

As you can see, there was a very large lacing gap with this corset when I first got it. That’s totally normal, and I was even able to pull it flush with my hips and underbust right away, which doesn’t always happen, as I mentioned. This is really all that seasoning is — a well made corset will be able to withstand the abuse tight lacers put them through, but first there’s a settling in period. A really well made corset doesn’t need  “seasoning” so much as it just needs time to adjust to your body, and vice-versa.  If it’s well made, you can wear it a full day without it hurting the bones or straining the corset in any way — it’s really more for the safety of your body. These garments take some getting used to, and if you try to force yourself into closing a brand new one too quickly before it’s had a chance to get “broken in” a bit, before your body is used to how it feels and molds you/molds to you, you’ll be very uncomfortable and possibly even in pain.  

This is why it’s important to season gradually, not force things, but simply be consistent in wearing it a couple hours every day, gradually tightening the corset, and wearing it for longer periods.  It’s not something that can or should be rushed.  

After seasoning for about a week – closing a bit more, still keeping things as parallel as possible.

Everyone is different in how they season a corset, just as they are different in how they go about their tightlacing schedule, or waist training (and yes, there is a difference which I will get into later — and yes, I do both). However, there are some basic rules that make it a lot more effective; as stated above, don’t rush things! Corseting can be a great way to get more in touch with your body, as it forces you to pay attention to how it’s feeling as you wear it.  When you are seasoning, you want things to feel challenging, but not distractingly uncomfortable, and certainly not painful. And each person has a different tolerance level as to how many hours a day they can season, or train, or tight lace. But in the beginning, the best rule of thumb is to shoot for 2-3 hours daily for the first week or so. When you feel ready, you can cinch in more, put in some more time. It may take you TWO weeks before you feel you can increase your time in the corset, or tighten it up more. And that’s ok. It can vary from corset to corset, as well. A mesh corset will season much easier than a brocade one, as an example. The stiffer/thicker the material, the more challenging it will be. Same goes for how its boned. If it has six as opposed to four rigid bones, it will be more challenging. If it has mainly spiral bones and two to no rigid bones, then it will be much easier to wear for longer periods, at a greater reduction.  You’ll get there either way; it’s the time frame that is not set in stone.  

For this particular corset, I ran into some challenges closing it, as mentioned above. It doesn’t hurt to double check the measurements when your corset arrives, to be sure they are correct, as listed, or as agreed upon by the maker if it’s custom. It didn’t occur to me to do so, but it’s something I will do from now on, after my experience with this particular piece. As I said, it turns out it’s cut too small in the low hip, and so when I did close it, my hips went numb and I got a backache. The SECOND you feel something like this, loosen the corset immediately. Nerve damage is a real thing, and trying to wear a corset that is too tight in the hips or underbust can cause all kinds of problems.  It’s why, as I have and will keep harping on, SO important to get a corset with proper measurements for YOUR body. 

Here you can see the corset closed as much as it is possible to do so — leaving about a 2’ parallel lacing gap so as not to cut into my hips – even having lost about 10 lbs since this photo was taken; the hip bones will never change. The underbust is a bit loose, but I don’t mind that so much as my ribs are quite large, and I have asthma, so the bit of extra space doesn’t bother me. This corset was made to close with a 1” inch gap. 

After about a month and a half to two months, I was able to close this with a two inch gap, as noted. This is fairly fast, but I was also actively losing weight at the time. That can certainly make the process move along more quickly. The more you wear a new corset, the more easily it will season and adjust to your body (as your body adjusts to it). Keep at it, because some of these babies can be real beasts to “break in”. For instance, my Mystic City MCC-94 cotton mesh corset was a bear at first, despite the mesh, simply because they are made so damn well. But now, it’s one of my most comfortable corsets, and people have told me more than once that it looks as though it was made for my body specifically. This is ultimately what you want in a corset, after all!  

I’ll be getting my new 18” Mystic City MCC-94 on Monday, and I will take you all through the seasoning process (they really don’t need to be seasoned with the way they are constructed (like a tank), so it’s really more for ME and my body, rather than any worry about putting strain on the corset). That will be the best way to really get an idea of what the process looks and feels like, on a day to day basis.  I expect the process to take a bit longer, as I’m not actively losing weight, but rather just maintaining. 

June, 2021 vs December, 2021; 26” vs  20”, both fully closed

If your goal is to waist train, i.e. semi-permanently shrink down your waist measurements, keeping a log is helpful.  I have kept one for the past 8 months, and it helps me to keep some perspective, and also to see how far along I’ve come.  My goal is to have a 22” or so natural waist, and I am hovering between 24 – 24.5 at the moment. This is down from a 33” waist when I re-started training after a long illness and not corseting for several months. I gained a LOT of weight — 50 lbs — in that time, and so I began waist training, putting the tightlacing on the back burner for the time being. This is because my goal was not to have a corseted waist of a certain circumference, but to actually lose inches off my uncorseted waist (this is the main difference, in a nutshell). 

When you are waist training OR tightlacing, the goal is of course to eventually be able to size down to a smaller waisted corset until you reach your ideal silhouette/reduction  — this means you’ll eventually size out of the one you are currently in. And of course, this can get expensive. However, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of all your larger corsets; though I’m sizing down to an 18” for my tightlacing, I won’t be getting rid of my 20” ones. They still offer me a 4” reduction, so even though I can close them easily now, they still give a lovely silhouette, and I like to wear them on days when I’m not actively training. I keep a 22’“ around just for my period days, as it’s more for the compression and pain relief than for waist training or tightlacing. 

But you can also sell your corsets that you’ve sized out of. There are Facebook groups, there’s EBay, there’s Etsy, Poshmark; all places you can successfully sell off the old in order to make room for the new.  I’ve sold about four corsets in this way, rather quickly, as the corseting community is pretty tightly knit, and if you have a quality piece and know how to advertise it properly (with ALL the measurements, whether you wore it with a liner/bodysuit etc — always do this, btw — the condition it’s in, how long you wore it, etc), you’ll be able to sell. It helps if you join some corseting groups, as well. In fact I recommend joining some anyway, as you can learn a lot from veterans and corset makers who are sprinkled throughout the community.  

That’s all for this post, but please stay tuned for Monday’s post, when I’ll share my seasoning process of the new 18” corset from Mystic City.  I’ll post daily, so you can get a real feel for what to expect, the time involved, and how to do it safely. 

Have a great weekend! 

X, Alice in Waistland