Many garments on the market may be called corsets; however, not all are constructed in a way that actually facilitates real waist reduction and shaping. These may resemble real corsets, but be made with inferior materials such as plastic boning, zipper closures, and thin or stretchy fabrics or they may be entirely different garments altogether!
Quality materials are a key component for good corsets to have. Stretchy fabrics and plastic boning provide next to no support or real figure enhancement. Cheaply made "fashion corsets" may surprisingly cost just as much as a real corset but 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. So how can you tell if a corset is authentic, more of a fashion piece, or something else entirely?
Real corsets are specialized garments designed to reduce a person's waist measurement by several inches and create a specific shape in the waist, hip, and bust areas (the exact shape and reduction can vary based both on body type and corset style).
Real corsets require time and skill to properly fabricate. They come with specialized components and always have lacing in the back to close the gap.
Authentic, high-quality corsets are an investment, but can give you a lifetime of wear if purchased from a reputable designer and properly cared for.
Historically corsets were designed as an undergarment, the shape of which was commonly supported by baleen, often referred to as whale bone.
Corsets served to shape the figure as well as provide an excellent foundation layer to support the weight of multiple skirts, petticoats, and other garments. Like all fashion, the exact shape, silhouette, and even construction methods and materials of historical corsets varied based on what was considered fashionable at the time.
Much like brassieres for modern-day wear, almost all women wore corsets during their fashion heyday!
While modern corsets can still be worn as shapewear hidden underneath the clothes, many people find that they make stunning fashion pieces that can be shown off both as daywear and for special occasions. Corsets today also feature more modern components like steel bones (no more baleen!) as well as at least one very strong layer of fabric (two or more layers is preferred by many), and often a waist tape to further reinforce the waistline of the corset.
All Timeless Trends' corsets are built to reduce the waist and give a beautiful hourglass figure. We use a heavy duty traditional busk or swing hook closures at the front of our corsets. All of our corsets feature 3 layers of high quality fabric, two of which are strong cotton twill. We even laminate our outer layer to the middle layer for added strength and smoothness. All Timeless Trends corsets are supported with a combination of spiral and flat steel boning for a sturdy corset that comfortably conforms to your individual shape. This high quality combination is why we can actually offer a lifetime guarantee on all of our corsets.
You can find all the details about Timeless Trends corsets' construction and anatomy on our Anatomy of a Corset page.
Now that we've gone over what a real corset is and does, let's explore some other garments that resemble, and are sometimes sold as corsets.
A bodice 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 generally focus on the upper torso and bust areas and do not cover the hips or 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. If you're aiming for historical accuracy for a costume for a Renaissance fair or festival, a bodice is most likely what you're looking for!
Bustier can refer to either lingerie or lingerie inspired tops worn alone or underneath another top. Lingerie bustiers are often found alongside other easy to find forms of lingerie and while they can be worn as undergarments or for shapewear purposes, they're more commonly used as boudoir wear. Bustiers are usually strapless, have built in bust support (underwire support similar to a modern bra is very common), and come down to the waistline. These may be made from stretchy fabrics or be more structured, often include some plastic boning, and can provide some light shaping; however, they won't cinch in the waist or provide waist reduction like a real corset.
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 faja 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, but 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.
The definition of a corset dress is a bit more ambiguous. One definition of a corset dress is any gown or dress (usually formal) that has lacing in the back as the method of closing the dress or as a decorative feature. This look is especially popular for wedding and bridesmaid gowns.
Some corset manufacturers have made long corsets that cover the legs, which may have boning that runs through the entire length of the piece or which stops partway down the legs. These are also referred to as corset dresses, but given the specialized nature of the garment they tend to be custom or made to order only.
While not technically correct, the term corset dress is sometimes loosely used to refer to a corset that has a matching skirt, giving the look of a dress rather than two individual pieces.
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 its construction.
Fajas, also known as "waist trainers", have recently surged in popularity thanks to celebrity use and promotions. While these cover the torso from underbust to hip and some may contain either plastic or steel bones, that's where the similarity to corsets (which can truly be used to waist train) ends. Fajas are stretchy garments that wrap around the torso and usually fasten with a series of hooks and eyes, much like the closure for a bra. Unlike a corset, these will not reduce your waist. Fajas also provide all over compression, from the underbust to the hips, rather than focusing compression, and shaping, at the waistline as a corset would. Some people enjoy wearing these for light shaping when working out and using them in this way can promote some loss of water weight through sweating. As always: please consult a trusted physician before beginning a weight loss or exercise regimen!
Girdles are shapewear garments that focus on providing shaping along the waist, lower torso, and hips/bottom. Generally these are constructed from a stretchy, power mesh fabric base and may include more decorative details like satin panels or lace. Some girdles have plastic or steel boning in them, but even these are meant to smooth out and gently shape the figure rather than cinching in and reducing your waist. They are worn exclusively under clothing as a support and shapewear garment and almost always feature attached garter straps or suspenders for holding up stockings. Girdles come in many styles including roll-on (no closures), open bottom, and panty girdles.
Torsolettes go by many different names, including corselettes, all-in-one girdles, girdle dresses, and sometimes merry widows, but are essentially a longline bra (usually underwired) married to a girdle. They provide shaping and support from the bust down to the hips or bottom and are generally made from stretchy fabrics and power mesh. These may contain steel or plastic bones, but as with girdles, torsolettes are meant for mild shaping and smoothing of the figure underneath clothes rather than waist cinching and reduction. Torsolettes may have straps, be strapless, or have removable straps and often have attached garter straps or suspenders.