At one point or another, we were all corset beginners. A corset is quite different from any other sort of clothing; it may contain different parts that you're not familiar with, and different terminology is used to describe them. Here we'll cover the basic components, construction, and anatomy of a corset.
Here is a standard length underbust corset by Timeless Trends. The pink satin and floral design you see is called the fashion fabric, fashion layer, or shell. All Timeless Trends corsets are constructed in the same way with the same materials, and only differ by this fashion fabric. Let’s open it up and see the inside.
All Timeless Trends corsets have three layers, two of which are strong cotton twill. The fashion fabric is fused to the cotton twill interlining for strength and a super smooth finish, and then the third and last layer is the twill lining on the inside.
A close-up shot of the twill shows that it's strong, it's not designed to stretch or tear under strain, and the 100% cotton fiber content means that it can breathe and wick away moisture. That's why this is called the strength fabric, or strength layer. Every genuine corset must have at least one strength layer.
All Timeless Trends corsets have a tag on the inside, and they show fiber content and care instructions on the reverse side. The size will also be clearly labelled, and the country of manufacture is present as well.
You will also see a faint outline of a waist tape running through the corset. In Timeless Trends corsets it will be sandwiched between the layers of fabric, so you cannot remove it. The waist tape is a twill tape or ribbon and functions like a thin belt that helps support the corset so it won't tear at the seams where the tension is highest - at the waist!
At the back, you will see grommets (the metal rings). Good quality grommets have two parts to them and they grip the fabric tightly. The laces are threaded through the grommets, and you use these as leverage to tighten your corset. All genuine corsets have laces; if it doesn’t have laces, it’s not a corset! The grommets are there to protect the laces from ripping right through the fabric under tension. Before the metal grommet was invented, corsets were not laced tightly at all.
To help you get in and out of the corset quickly and efficiently, all Timeless Trends corsets contain a front closure. The most common type of front closure is a traditional busk, a specialized corset component comprised of heavy duty steel loops and knobs that fit perfectly together, like clasping several tiny buckles. They always come anchored onto steel bones, which help to support the tension in the corset and control any roundness in the tummy of the wearer.
Speaking of bones, Timeless Trends corsets have a total of 26 steel 'bones'. You will see these held in vertical channels at regular intervals throughout the corset. The bones help to keep the corset wrinkle-free on the body and prevent it from collapsing under tension, like a scaffold. 20 of these bones on the sides are called spiral bones, which look like tiny flattened coils. These spirals give the wearer slightly more mobility compared to flat steel bones. The spirals in this corset are shiny and rust-free which is a positive sign. They are properly tipped with metal end caps, or U-tips, which prevent the sharp ends from creating a hole in the fabric or poking into your skin.
In the front and back of the corset there are flat bones which are sturdier. These steels more often than not are covered in a smooth white coating, and the ends are rounded and dipped in a specialized tipping fluid. This once again helps protect the corset against any sharp ends ripping through the fabric, and also also gives a waterproof coating to the bone, protecting against rusting if the corset is laundered improperly or stored in a humid environment. Both the spiral steel bones and the flat steel bones will be attracted to a strong magnet, which makes steel content easy to test without having to take a corset apart.
There is also a binding sewn over the raw edges at the top and bottom of the corset. The binding helps keep the bones in place, and can also add visual interest if done in a contrasting color. At the bottom of the corset on the inside, the binding will also secure on some garter tabs (shown by the blue arrow). These tabs are inconspicuous when not used, but you can use these to attach to garters/ suspenders to keep your stockings up.
Finally, our hourglass silhouette corsets have an additional feature: a modesty placket or front modesty panel. This thin strip of fabric lies underneath the busk and serves a dual purpose. A modesty placket helps prevent the wearer's skin or shirt from getting caught in or showing through the tiny sliver of space between the corset halves when first fastening the busk and wearing the corset, providing a more uniform look and an easier wearing experience.
While not included with all Timeless Trends corsets, a modesty panel in its most basic incarnation is a piece of fabric that can be placed under the laces of the corset at the back in order to hide the venus fold, also called "back cleavage", and present a more uniform appearance all the way around. Timeless Trends modesty panels are a floating, fully removable design that can be suspended on the laces via either the Velcro tabs (for quickly adding or removing the panel) or grommets. These panels are also stiffened with spiral steel bones to prevent the modesty panel from crumpling up while the laces are being tightened. Modesty panels in lengths suitable for the regular underbust and long cut corsets are currently available separately.
On the surface, a corset can look rather complicated and intimidating. Now that you're familiar with the structure and terminology of a corset, you can go forward and look and feel fabulous in a corset of your very own.