The Corset Glossary

For many people, corsets are somehow both familiar and foreign at the same time. Everyone knows what a corset is, at least in some way. However, newbies to the corset scene can suddenly find themselves amongst a plethora of terminology they’ve never heard before.

This little glossary should help!

Because corsetry so often crosses over with Lingerie, we’ve included some lingerie terminology as well.


A

ACRYLIC BONING – see: plastic boning.

AUTHENTIC – the term authentic is used for corsets which match the following criteria: curvy pattern; high quality materials; at least one strength layer of coutil or other corsetry grade fabric; a waist tape; either or both flat steel or spiral steel boning; a back lace closure. These corsets may also be called ‘true’ corsets or training corsets. 

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B

BABYDOLL – a short, loose-fitting nightdress, tight over the bust and loose and flowing from just beneath it. Popularised in the 1950s, the Babydoll is usually made of a sheer material such as chiffon, tulle or tricot. They are usually ultra-feminine with bows, frills, ruffles, and/or ribbons. They are usually worn with a small brief only, such as a G-String.

BALCONETTE – a balconette, also called a balcony bra, is an underwired bra style with a low-cut cup, creating a square neckline. The straps are placed wide on the body, further from the neck on a standard bra, often attached to the outer edge of the wire rather than mid-cup.

BANDEAU – a non-wired form of strapless bra, usually with a simple design.

BASQUE – a bustier made of bra materials – powermesh, lycra, elastic, and so on. They may have very light plastic boning. They may zip, have a hook-and-eye closure, and/or lace up. They are generally slightly stretchy, and are designed for light shaping and smoothing under clothing. Also referred to as a lingerie bustier.

BIAS – a dressmaking term referring to the diagonal of woven fabric. When cut ‘on the bias’, pattern pieces are placed at a 45 degree angle to the threads, which allows the fabric some degree of stretch. Garments made from woven fabrics such as satin, which are cut close to the body, are traditionally cut on the bias.

BODY – a close fitting garment which covers the entirety of the torso, fastening between the legs, usually with snaps. A body may resemble a swimsuit, with straps and a low cut front, or may have high necklines, sleeves, underwired cups, short leglines, and various other cuts. They are usually made of tulle, stretch lace, stretch jersey or lycra, and can be worn as underwear to smooth out the figure. Bodies are increasingly made of other stretch materials, such as stretch velvet, and worn as the top part of outerwear.

BODY STOCKING – a seamless Body with legs that reach the ankles, often worn by dancers.

BROCHE – a corset grade fabric similar to coutil, with a dense, stretch resistant weave. Broche comes in more elaborate patterns and more colours than coutil and is good for use in lighter weight corsets as it is strong enough (and attractive enough) to be used as a single layer.

BUSK – a busk is a front closure seen on many corsets. There are two types:
1) two-part, consisting of two steel bones, a busk has a series of metal ‘loops’ on one side and metal ‘pins’ on the other. The loops hook over the pins to close the garment. These emerged during the Victorian era and have remained a stable of corsetry since. There are several types, including spoon busks and tapered busks, though most consist of two straight bones.
2) a flat, wooden type seen primarily in Regency era stays.

BUSTIER – a garment visually similar to a corset, ie consisting of a panelled bodice, usually strapless. They are usually made of only a fashion fabric, with no strengthening materials like coutil, and may not even be laced or boned. They generally fasten with a zip or hook-and-eye closure, and if they are boned it will be with plastic. When they are made with stretch materials they may be referred to as basques. 

BUSTLE – a quintessential Victorian undergarment and successor of the Crinoline, the bustle was either a cushion-like pad, or a series of semi-circular metal wires worn on a waistband to support the fashionable silhouette of the late nineteenth century. The classic bustle silhouette is narrow from the front, with an exaggerated curvy behind visible from the side. Victorian dresses worn with bustles often exaggerated this shape further, with skirts festooned in draped fabric and ruffles. Today, the term ‘bustle skirt’ is sometimes given to any length of skirt with has more volume over the buttocks than anywhere else.

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C

CAMISOLE – small top, usually with fine straps, worn slightly loose-fitting under outerwear to smooth out the outline of the bra. Today, they are also common as the top part of fancy pyjamas, and even as decorative outerwear.

CHEMISE – historically, a long, loose-fitting garment worn against the skin, usually under a corset. It would add another layer of warmth, and protect the corset – which was more expensive, and not so easily washable – from the oils and sweat from the skin. In modern usage, Chemise is a primarily US term for an underwear or nightwear slip-dress.

CONICAL – one of the two classic corset shapes. The conical corset creates a very dramatic inverted cone shape to the torso. The sides are straight and shape the ribs, creating the classic ‘wasp waist’ shape, and is typical of Victorian corsetry. Many serious corset trainers consider this the ‘proper’ corseted shape.

CORSELETTE – also spelled corselet, this is a foundation garment combining shaping elements with bra cups. A corselette will cover the torso from the bust to the thighs, and is made of firm but  stretchy control materials and may include light boning. Not to be confused with a merry widow.

CORSET – a rigid, structured garment that was historically worn as an undergarment during the Victorian era, but modern versions are designed to be worn as outerwear. Corsets may have a closed front, or may open with a busk, swing hooks, grommets and lacing, or a strong zipHowever, a true corset will always lace shut at the back, allowing for adjustability. An authentic corset will have a curvy shape to cinch the waist, will be boned with either (or both) flat steels or spiral steels, and will generally have a waist tape. 

CORSET COVER – an historical undergarment worn over a corset during the Victorian and Edwardian eras to protective expensive outerwear from the metal parts of the corset. It also smoothed out the lines of the corset under thinner clothing.

CORSET DIET – the corset diet is a weight loss movement. In essence, the idea is to encourage weight loss by the wearing of a corset or faja. The thinking goes that reduction of the waist in turn leads to the reduction of the internal volume of the stomach. This is turn can lead to loss of weight, due to a smaller amount of food being needed in order to feel full. While this is technically a sound concept (and many corset wearers and specifically those who tight lace have found that they do indeed lose weight from the long-term wear of corsets, even if this was not their goal) the movement has co-opted the term waist training from the tight lacing community, blurring the lines between authentic corsetry and cheaper varieties, and making it much harder to find real corsets online.

CORSET DRESS – a corset with attached skirt, which may be of any style. Some corset dresses are essentially very longline corsets, which reach to the mid thigh.

CORSETIERE – a corsetiere (sometimes spelt corsetier) is simply someone who specialises in the construction of high quality corsets.

CORSET TRAINING – a term used primarily by corset enthusiasts and tight lacers to replace the term waist training due to how the term is now used by the diet and fitness industries. The process is the same as it has always been: the wearing of steel boned training corsets over many hours per day in order to reshape the waist. See also: waist training.

COSTUME CORSET – see: fashion corset.

COUTIL – a fabric traditionally used in corset-making as it is very strong and resistant to stretching. It is usually 100% cotton, though poly-cotton varieties are now available, and has a visible herringbone weave. It usually comes in plain colours such as black and white, though there are patterned coutils and natural or ‘loomstate’ coutil is raw, uncoloured cotton that takes dye well.

CRINOLINE – circular cage-like underskirt of metal wire that developed from the mid-nineteenth century to support wide, bell-shaped skirts. The precursor to these relatively lightweight garments were stiff layers of horsehair material called ‘crin’, hence the name ‘crinoline’. By the end of the nineteenth century, fashion had altered drastically, and the huge circular crinoline had given way to the Bustle, which was only at the back of the body.

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E

ELLIPTICAL BONING – a narrow plastic boning that is tubular in shape (hence the name ‘elliptical’) which is very flexible and quite soft. It is typically used for supporting the tops of the cups in historical bra styles but can also be used to support the sides of longline bras and other similar things. It is occasionally used in some cheaper fashion corsets, corselettes, and so on.

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F

FAJA – a latex or elastic tubular garment with very little or no boning, fastening with a hook and eye closure up the front. Designed as a light shaping garments and often used in weight loss regimes such as the corset diet, popularised by celebrities like Kim Kardashian.

FAN LACING – style of lacing popularised in mid 20th century shapewear but often used on corsets, where the back lacing is threaded through ‘lacing slides’ usually on the side of the garment, creating an attractive fanned pattern when it is fully laced.

FASHION CORSET – a fashion corset is a corset which is made in a similar way to authentic garments, but with cheaper materials and often with less specialist knowledge. They are usually mass produced, and most are boned with plastic, though they may have a steel busk. Some are steel boned, however they will never shape the torso as much as a higher quality garment as the garments themselves are generally cut to a fashion size and offer only light shaping.

FLAT STEELS – highly tensile, strong boning for corsets made of narrow, flat strips of steel. Flat steels are generally used in the fronts and backs of corsets, while spiral steels are often used in the curvier areas (though not always). Steel boning is much stronger than plastic boning.

FRENCH KNICKER – classic loose-fitting brief, developed in the 20s and 30s, often in luxurious woven fabrics like satin. They are usually cut on the bias, which allows the fabric to flow beautifully.

FULL SLIP – a lightweight sleeveless lingerie piece with thin straps, worn under a dress or skirt to either smooth out the lines of the body or to preserve modesty in a garment that is somewhat see-through.

FULLY FASHIONED STOCKINGS – name given to classic hold-up stockings which have a seam up the back, running from the band at the thigh to the shaped heel. They are made on traditional machinery that knits the stocking as a flat item, which is then sewn up the back to create a back seam.

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G

GARTER – ribbon or strip of elastic worn around the thigh to hold up stockings. 

GARTER BELT – a shaped lingerie ‘belt’ worn around the hips, with garter clips suspended from it to hold up stockings. Usually decorative, these pieces may come as part of a set with a bra and briefs, or may come separately in a matching style.

GARTER CLIPS – elasticated clips that may hang from the lower hem of a corset or garter belt for the purpose of holding up stockings.

GIRDLE – stretchy but strong shapewear garment that generally reaches from the waist to mid thigh to shape and smooth that area of the body. Worn only as an undergarment, they were in primary use from the 1920s to the 1960s, though they still exist today.

GROMMETS – strong two-part eyelets consisting of an outer eyelet and a washer that fits over the back. This means that, when the eyelet is set, it has something to ‘grab’ other than fabric. This sandwiches the fabric between two layers of strong metal. Lacing is then threaded through, allowing the corset to be tightened.

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H

HALFBUST – a halfbust corset is one that rises part of the way up the breasts. Typically, a halfbust corset would be worn with a garment, such as a chemise, underneath to contain the breasts. Victorian and Edwardian corsets and typically halfbust styles.

 

HOLD-UP STOCKINGS – see stockings. 

HOURGLASS – one of the two classic corset shapes. This shape is, as the name suggests, reminiscent of the sand-filled hourglass, with rounded shaped above and below a nipped-in waist. Hourglass corsets cup the ribs rather than compressing them.

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L

LACING – the term given to a thin ribbon or bootlace-style string passed through loops or eyelets to close a garment such as a corset. Most corsets are laced at the back, allowing the garment to be tightened.

LINGERIE BUSTIER – see: basque.

LONGLINE BRA – a longline bra is simply a bra in which the band covers more of the ribs. These can add to the light shaping over the underbust area, and are often associated with corsets as they are a vintage item and are generally appreciated by the same people.

LONGLINE CORSET – a longline corset is any style of corset where the bottom hem reach down over the hips and buttocks, and may even reach the top of the thigh.

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M

MERRY WIDOW – a merry widow or torsolette is essentially somewhere between a corset and a corselette. Merry Widows are generally not as stretchy, but like a corselette have bra cups at the bust. They may have lacing, but generally fasten with a zip.

MESH CORSET – lightweight summer corsets made of strong nylon mesh or sportmesh. The boning is usually encased in channels made of coutil or other similar corset-grade fabric.

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O

OVERBUST – a corset or fashion corset that covers the torso from above the bust to the pelvis.

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P

PAIR OF BODIES – see: stays. 

PETTICOAT – underwear skirt with a fitted waist. A form of petticoat has been worn by women in most periods of history, particularly from the Tudor era onwards, and for most of history the petticoat has supported the outerwear skirt in some way. They fell out of fashion from the 1910s, but were revived in the 1950s to support the voluminous A-line skirts that were fashionable. Today’s petticoats most resemble those of the 50s, consisting of ruffled tiers of stiff material such as nylon, tulle, taffeta, and so on. Petticoat is also used as a term for a full slip or half slip.

PIPE STEM – a variant on the classic hourglass corset, the pipe stem silhouette has a distinctive flat waist, nipping in sharply under the ribs. The flat cinched part of the waist is much wider than in classic hourglass corsets, creating a very distinctive shape. This shape is sometimes called the extreme hourglass.

PLASTIC BONING – there are many kinds of plastic boning which are used in many different garments, including fashion corsets and basques. Plastic boning is usually acrylic or polyester and has many applications in fashion including in fashion corsets, hooped petticoats, structured dress bodices, and so on. Specialist types of plastic boning include elliptical boning, rigilene, and synthetic whalebone. 

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R

RIGILINE – a type of plastic boning typically used to support the shape of dress bodices and other similar garments. It does not really shape the body at all, and is more appropriate for use where a garment needs to hold its shape. It consists of a fabric tape stiffened with thin strips of nylon. It is soft, and can be stitched.

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S

S-BEND – the S-Bend corset is typical of the Edwardian era, which creates a very distinctive silhouette from the side, with the chest and bottom pushed out. S-Bend corsets tend to extend down over the hips and may even reach mid-thigh. These have largely fallen out of fashion, but they still exist, and many corset wearers who have a very curved back find them very comfortable.

SHAPEWEAR – term given to any lingerie pieces that offer extra support or shaping, such as control underwear designed to flatten the stomach.

SPIRAL STEELS – a special kind of boning used in corsets and fashion corsets consisting of strong, highly tensile steel wires twisted together and flattened. The curviest authentic corsets will be boned throughout with this as it is strong but incredibly flexible. Steel boning is vastly superior to plastic boning. 

SPOON BUSK – a two-part busk made of rigid steel that curves along its length and widens at the bottom into a ‘spoon’ shape, giving it its name. This spoon shape was intended to hold it and support the lower stomach, whilst creating the fashionable curvy shape of  the time; the spoon busk was used extensively in the Victorian era.

STAYS – the historical precursor to what we know as the corset. Stays or stayes first emerged in the Tudor era and were boned with reed, called bents. Their primary function was flattening the bust and created a smooth, flat look to the torso. Stays evolved throughout the following centuries, becoming curvier in the Rococo era, and pushing the breasts up to create a high waist in the Regency period. Regency stays were kept flat at the front with a wooden busk. Stays were sometimes called a pair of bodies.

STOCKINGS – lightweight, usually semi-transparent footwear that covers the leg from toe to thigh. They are typically worn with a garter belt or just garters, though many modern styles hold themselves up with a strip of silicone around the top edge. Traditionally they were made by hand in cotton or silk, but today are often machine knitted. There are also stockings of unusual materials such as latex.

SUSPENDER BELT – US term for garter belt. 

SWING HOOKS – a type of front closure common in steampunk corsets, swing hooks are exactly what they sound like.

SYNTHETIC WHALEBONE – a smooth, lightweight plastic boning that is designed to be used in place of whalebone in historical garments. It is suitable for other lighter shapewear as well, as it is supportive and light, but tougher and more kink-resistant than other plastic boning. Most synthetic whalebones are acid-free and therefore suitable to be used in museum pieces.

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T

TAPERED BUSK – a type of flat, two-part busk which is very narrow at the top end and wider at the bottom. Seen primarily in overbust corsets, the tapered busk is designed to sit between the breasts at its narrow top end (such as in a corset with bra cups) and hold in the stomach at its wider, lower end. They are made of more rigid metal that standard straight busks.

TIGHT LACING – the practice of reducing the waist measurement by a significant amount whilst wearing a corset. Many people who tight lace do so only temporarily, wearing their corset for its own sake and for its aesthetics without any intention to reduce their waist permanently with waist trainingcorset training. 

TRAINING CORSET – a training corset is a high quality, curvy corset specifically designed for the traditional practice of waist trainingcorset training. Many inferior products are now labelled as training corsets when they are not truly strong nor curvy enough. A good training corset will be boned with lots of steel bones (preferably one bone per one inch of waist measurement in the best garments) and have a curvy pattern. It should also be made with a strong material such as coutil for at least one of its layers. A beginner training corset should reduce the waist by around 2-4 inches, and distribute pressure evenly so as to avoid pinching or chafing.

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U

UNDERBUST – a corset or fashion corset that covers the torso from the pelvis to just beneath the breasts. Includes waist cinchers, waspies, and waistcoat corsets. Underbust corsets may be longline corsets, and they are also more appropriate for corset training as they do not restrict the chest as much as overbusts, and can be more easily hidden under clothing.

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W

WAIST CINCHER – 1) a shorter underbust corset, generally around 8 inches high at the centre front. These are good for shorter wearers as their own shorter length means they will more accurately and comfortably fit the length of the torso.
2) name given to some corset diet products that bare more relation to a faja.

WAISTCOAT CORSET – a corset that resembles a waistcoat. The majority of waistcoat corsets are essentially an underbust corset at the front, with straps that come up and over the shoulders to meet a neck-high back. Popular in Steampunk fashion, and usually fashion styles rather than training corsets.

WAIST TAPE – tape running horizontally around the waist of a corset. Since the waist is the area of most stress on a corset, as this is the part that is compressing the most, a waist tape is used to strengthen and protect this area. Most high quality corsets have a waist tape, and all training corsets should have.

WAIST TRAINING – 1) a body modification whereby a person wears a corset for many hours a day, with the goal of reducing the size of the waist in and/or out of a corset. Waist training this way will not necessarily create weight loss, since a corset is needed to create the dramatic small waist attained by people who undergo this practice. Often, the goal is not actually to have a smaller waist when not wearing a corset – the goal is to reach a certain reduction whilst wearing them. This practice is related to tight lacing. 
2) The term waist training has now been co-opted by the diet industry as part of the ‘corset diet’, popularised by many celebrities. This process involves wearing a tight, latex or elastic waist cincher which is specifically intended to cause shaping of the waist by reducing weight. These garments are not corsets, however some people do use steel boned corsets.
See also: corset training.

WASPIE – a waspie is a very narrow waist cincher, generally no more than 6 inches wide. Given their tiny size, they are not suitable for drastic reductions of the waist, but can be a good substitute for a basic underbust for the wearer who wants to be able to move a little more freely.

 

 

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