While corsets are used in all sorts of dress, no one rocks the corset quite like goths do in my opinion. Maybe because it combines the sex appeal, vintage influences and dark decadence that inspires goth fashion all into one garment, or maybe because of the "beauty is pain" mantra that demands we pluck our eyebrows to within an inch of their lives, pierce our flesh and tattoo it to death. Kidding, of course! But it remains that corsets are a fantastic addition to goth wardrobes, no matter what style you're interested in. Still, it's not enough to wander into a costume shop and find the nearest garment advertised as a corset! Here are some things to consider before you take the corseted plunge:
Pick your usage
Why are you buying a corset in the first place? For a special occasion, for everyday wear, for underwear, for clubbing, or for something else? This is going to determine the material you pick for your corset, the shape of it, the length, the amount of decoration and the price you intend to pay. For example, if you're selecting a corset for clubbing and you know you're going to dance in it, you might not want to select a long-line corset made of silk because it will impede your movement and be difficult to wash if someone spills their drink on you. Likewise, if you want a corset for underwear, you might not want one with a lot of lace or other decorations on it, as this will show through your clothes as odd lumps.
Pick your shape
In shopping for a corset, you'll be presented with a few different shapes of corsets to pick from. Try to imagine the corset without the details, straps, etc. and just get down to the basic shape. You are most likely going to find that they boil down to two categories: underbust and overbust. Underbust corsets fall directly under the bust line. while overbust corsets rise over it. Overbust and underbust corsets can have any number of shapes, such as an underbust corset with a point between the breasts or an overbust corset with straps, but those are the two basic shapes.
Pick your length
Now that you know whether you want an overbust or an underbust, you're going to have to decide the length of corset you want. You're going to be given three options: waist cincher (blue), average (red) and long-line (green.) The waist cincher is more like a wide, boned belt than anything, and sits at the waist (imagine that!) and, thus, is not available in an overbust option. The average corset is going to end right above your hips in most cases. These two styles of corsets are great for not squashing petticoat-enhanced skirts out of shape and for increased mobility. However, long-line corsets end past the hips, which decreases mobility slightly but looks fantastic with slimmer skirts and pants. The average and long-line corsets can come in underbust and overbust shapes.
Mannequin image source: Yesgroup.com
Note: I used underbust measurements for the top line of the average and long line corsets, but overbust corsets in these two lengths can have any number of shapes.
Pick your Material
Corsets can be made of many different materials. Vinyl, PVC, leather, cotton, silk, velvet, corduroy, satin, rubber, ribbon (yes, really!), pleather, muslin, or anything else you can imagine. This is the fun part, really, because you get to match your corset to your outfit or your entire wardrobe. (Or not at all, if you're using it for underwear. Just remember that a white undergarment will show through black clothing under some lights!) But it's not all about fabrics. Consider the other materials that the corset is made of. To get good quality corsets, you're probably going to want to stay away from plastic corset parts (boning, busks, grommets, etc.) because they will not last as long. A good corset will usually have flat or spiral steel boning and busking. Also consider the lacing ribbon. If your ribbon comes with satiny ribbon, you will probably have to replace it at some point because it will wear out. Good quality corset ribbons can come from anywhere, but you should look for those that look and feel something like shoe laces: thick, cottony, sturdy. These will not wear through as easily.
Pick your sizing
Now that you've found the perfect corset, how do you go about sizing yourself for it? The rule of thumb to buying a corset is that they should not close entirely when you lace them, so take your waist measurements and subtract three or four inches. Some corset makers recommend that ladies with waists larger than 34 inches should subtract up to five or six inches since there is a little more wiggle room there, but for your first corset you don't have to do quite that much. At many conventions and Renaissance fairs there are corset sellers who are happy to take your measurements and assign you a corset size, so take advantage of that if you find them! Just remember to double check when buying online because online retailers might have alternate sizing and sizing suggestions. If you have a chance to try on the corset in person, try getting help with the sizing. The corset should not gap at the top or bottom when you move around, so watch for that.
So, what about those $30 corsets you can find in costume shops? Are they worth it? No. A cheap corset is going to skimp on materials, meaning that they will not line the corset, the fabric they use will be cheap, the construction is more apt to be shoddy, the bones of the corset are probably going to be plastic and will bend more easily than metal ones, and all the decorations on the corset are probably substandard. Of course, this is fine if you need the corset for a costume party where it could get damaged, or if you don't plan on keeping it on for very long (there is a reason that model is wearing matching panties), but a good quality corset that you plan on keeping around for a good long while is probably not going to come from a costume shop. No matter how much lace they put on it. For a more in-depth guide to spotting fake corsets, visit this guide from Fairy Goth Mother.
Where to buy:
Here are a few links to reputable corset sellers that I know of: