Real corsets are designed as an undergarment or shapewear garment (that can be worn over clothing) that reduces a person’s waist measurement by several inches and creates a specific desired shape or figure in the waist, hip and bust areas. Historically, this was achieved using baleen, often referred to as whale bone, but in modern corsets it is achieved with steel boning, at least two to three layers of fabric, a waist tape and a heavy duty busk closure. Real corsets tend to be a bit more expensive since they take time and skill to properly fabricate and always have lacing in the back to close the piece. You will not find any plastic boning in a corset and a zipper closure is simply not strong enough to use in a real corset. An authentic high-quality corset is an investment, as it will give you a lifetime of wear if properly cared for.
There are many garments that are called corsets on the market, but are not constructed in a way to actually facilitate real waist reduction or shaping. They merely look like corsets and are made with inferior materials such as plastic boning, zipper closures and one thin layer of stretchy fabric. These materials provide almost no support or real figure enhancement. These “fashion corsets" may be fairly inexpensive since they require little expertise to construct and are not expected to last a great amount of time. That being said, real corsets and fashion corsets cannot simply be differentiated based on price alone. Some stores sell fashion corsets at prices comparable to real corsets, so it is crucial to always check the constructin of the piece and ask questions.
Most corset tops do not actually have steel boning in them and just have the look of a corset incorporated in to the look of a blouse or piece of clothing. In many corset tops you will see lacing details either on the front or back like a corset, but these features are generally decorative. These will not provide much in the way of shaping or waist reduction.
For some companies and manufactures, a corset top refers to a corset (either real or fashion) that covers the bust. On our site you will see these referred to as Overbust Corsets. Whether the corset top will provide shaping or waist reduction really depends on the construction of the corset top.
The definition of a corset dress is a bit more ambiguous. Generally a corset dress refers either to a formal gown or dress that has corset lacing in the back as the method of closing the dress. This is found as a common feature on many of today’s wedding dresses and bridesmaid attire.
Corset dress is sometimes loosely used to refer to a corset that has a matching skirt, giving the look of a dress or complete outfit but is actually made of two individual pieces.
Lastly, there are also some corset manufacturers that have made long corsets that cover the legs that do have boning that run through the entire length of the piece and these are also referred to as corset dresses.
Bustiers can be configured as an undergarment piece that you would generally find sold along with other forms of lingerie, that are intended to be worn under clothing as shapewear. They are usually strapless, have underwire support similar to a bra, and come down to the waistline.
Bustier can also refer to more of a top or clothing item that you would wear alone or under another top. They will usually include some boning, but generally plastic boning is used in the construction of both the shapewear and clothing versions of bustiers. The clothing versions tend to have built in bust support (like a shelf bra) so that the top can be worn without a bra and are usually strapless as well. They can provide some shaping if they are snug enough, but will not cinch in the waist like a corset and do not provide waist reduction. They are sometimes made from more stretchy fabrics for a snug fit or can be more structured, just depending on the style of the piece.
Girdles are a shapewear or lingerie item that focus on providing shaping along the waist and lower torso. Generally these are constructed from a stretchy, lycra-type of fabric. Some have plastic boning in them, but most are just meant to smooth out and shape the figure. Again, a girdle cannot be used for waist reduction and will not actually cinch in your waist. They are worn exclusively under clothing as a support and shapewear garment.
A bodice is a clothing item that is worn exclusively as a top and is not intended to be worn as shapewear under clothing. They can include boning, either steel or plastic to provide some shaping, but generaly focus on the upper torso and bust areas. They generally do not cover the hips and will not cinch in the waist. While bodices almost always have lacing similar to a corset, they are intended to be used as fashion pieces to accent an outfit.
This is a general term that can be used for under garments of many different configurations. They can focus on the waist similar to a girdle or can act more as stockings and focus on the legs. They are made to target many different areas of the body depending on the requirements of the wearer. They are used quite frequently after surgery, after a pregnancy or as a treatment for an injury or chronic condition to prevent swelling and infection. They do smooth out and compress the target area, however are not intended to be used for waist reduction, or really even shapewear. They tend to be used specifically for medical purposes, so be sure to consult with a physician prior to use for a medical issue.