It must have started with Emma Frost. Classic X-Men was a big influence on my childhood, and the haughty White Queen burned herself into my young mind as one of my great role models for determination, confidence, and her (flawed) views on sexism. Or maybe it has something to do with Gone with the Wind, a movie that shaped me with a main character that, much like Emma Frost, refused to take no for an answer when it came to how she should dress and act in order to overcome those who tried to oppress her.
Both Scarlett O’Hara and Emma Frost are women who take control in a man’s world while sporting an element of fashion with a long contentious history of controlling the body—for better or for worse. Some relate the devices’ purpose to something akin to torture in the name of fashion, as written in Marion Sichell’s A History of Women’s Costumes (1854) which reads, “… nothing was natural or simple, shoulders, waists, stomachs, and hips were constructed, corseted and padded, wired, distorted, molded into man’s fashionable style …” But there is always more than one side to every story, especially with a garment that has been worn throughout history and in various cultures by both men and women. By design, the nature of corsets seems restrictive, binding the wearer into a particular shape, but for many, the benefits can be quite liberating, from inspiring confidence to relieving back pain and other physical issues.
Corsets have evolved significantly over time and remain a staple of fashion today, even if no longer commonly worn. My personal fascination is largely focused on the aesthetic—the confident curves and the posture they help to shape. I am drawn to characters who favour corsets and period and fantasy pieces such as Black Sails, The Shannara Chronicles, and the new Cinderella movie where I can admire the versatility of design and function. I never thought a corset could work for my body shape, but as I’ve grown more comfortable in and confident with my body, I’ve slowly begun building up a collection of my own. But what do I really know about these garments beyond the fact that I love them? Reading about their history is all well and good, but where do they fit in my closet?
For some, corsets are a way of life, with sites offering tips and videos on waist training and everyday wear, while others focus on costuming and more. Corsetiere Candy Keane turned her passion for costuming into Three Muses Inspired Clothing, which offers a variety of corsets, specializing in steel boning and traditional corsetry, personally fit to every customer’s needs in sizes XXS to 7X and in a wide range of colours and materials. Keane was kind enough to offer her expertise in response to my questions about my favourite piece of fashion.
What inspired your interest in corsets? How much does the history of corsets affect your interest?
I can’t say the history of corsets influenced me very much past the beautiful images of nipped in waists and big bustles. I guess I just always loved the exaggerated shape. I can’t even remember what got me interested in them, I’ve just always loved them. I think it has something to do with the way every well-made corset is like a custom fit garment that adjusts to your size.
Do you wear corsets on a regular basis or is it strictly for costuming purposes?
I costume on a regular basis, so I wear them a lot, but I don’t wear one every day.
Tell us and little about your creative and design process and what makes your products unique?
Because it’s just me running my business, I don’t actually have time to make the corsets myself anymore. I have a manufacturer that makes the Three Muses brand corsets. I’ve been working with them for several years to develop two different lines—one that concentrates on waist training cinchers and one that focuses on corsets for cosplay, essentially plain corsets that can easily be transformed into quality costume pieces. All my corsets are spiral steel boned and road tested for quality and wearability.
Who are your usual clientele? What are they looking for when they come to you?
My clientele is split between people looking to waist train or get back support and cosplayers looking for a good foundation piece. I also have a lot of customers who are plus sized and have a hard time getting anything to fit and look the way they want.
What should I be looking for in a corset? What do I need to consider in order to ensure the “perfect fit?”
It’s best to get a fitting done where you can try on different styles. Different cuts work better on different body shapes. It needs to be steel boned, either flat or spiral, though I usually prefer flat in front and back and spiral on the sides for flexibility. If you are looking for a good fit, steer clear of anything plastic or any of the cheap ones on eBay. Even when they say steel boned, there is a difference. Many use a lighter metal boning that might as well be plastic. Or they put metal in the front and back and plastic on the sides. You should be able to feel the weight of a good corset when you pick it up.
Can people of any body type find a comfortable corset? Can only certain body types wear corsets?
Anyone can wear a corset, just not every corset type fits everyone. How you lace it also affects the fit. For instance, the first thing I would try with you would be a half bust or even a shorter 15″ worn low and a matching pushup bra which gives it the appearance of a single garment. I find this combo works best with long torsos, which I have myself. You can see most of my costumes use this technique.
Next comes the fact of life that we are squishing you and your body needs a place to squish. That’s where the lacing comes in. If you are wearing a skirt or don’t want too much cleavage, we tighten the top first, which pushes everything down, then the bottom and then a final cinch in the middle where the strings are tied. If you need the bottom smoother or just want an extra boost at the top, then we start at the bottom so everything gets pushed up.
Does your pricing change depending on the size of your clients and how much material/how many supplies are required?
No, currently my 7X is the same price as my XS. My prices change based on the type of material used, corset style, and if any extra details are added. (i.e. zippers, steampunk style hooks, leather, or vinyl).
How should a corset feel? What degree of tightness, discomfort, and/or pain is a signal that something isn’t right with a corset’s construction or fit?
It should be snug and supportive. It can be as tight as you are comfortable with. You should always be able to breathe. Any pain at all means it doesn’t fit. It should never be painful. I hate hearing people say corsets hurt or they have to put up with the pain to wear them. If it hurts, it doesn’t fit. And it is probably plastic, which bends sharply and pokes the wearer. I do actually sell some plastic (or acrylic) corsets, also called fashion corsets, but they are just for looks not for structure or support.
What do you feel are the benefits to wearing corsets?
My back often hurts after a long day of standing at a convention. I found that if I incorporate a corset into my costumes then the back support helps tremendously. I keep one in my office that I pop on if my back starts hurting. They look a lot better than the ugly back brace I tried and work better, too.
What is corset training? Is this something you subscribe to and recommend?
Corset training is basically a body modification process where you wear a waist cincher constantly to create a defined waist. It takes years to achieve actually modifying your bone structure, but most people can see a result in as little as a couple months due to the initial weight loss and posture improvement. I don’t recommend a hardcore approach, but done in moderation waist training has some positive benefits for those looking for a more defined waistline. People usually lose pounds, because there’s no way to gorge yourself while wearing such a constrictive garment. So you get used to eating smaller portions. And the posture adjustment also helps, because people look slimmer when standing up straight, with abs tucked in. You get used to doing that while wearing a corset.
Over the last couple years, I’ve been working on making a waist trainer that is both heavy duty and easier to wear for long periods of time. It is cut up in front so you can sit in it easier and made with a really durable cotton and double steel boning for an extra tight cinch. It’s the best selling thing in the store!
WWAC readers looking to purchase corsets are in for a special treat! Candy Keane has not only taken the time to chat with me here, but is also offering a 10% discount on purchases using the code WWC10. You can find Three Muses Inspired Clothing on their website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.