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Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

So Etiquette & Espionage (my new YA book and the first in a four book series) launched into the world on Tuesday night. The organizers of the event said they woudl love it if I would wear something steampunk. I was left with a bit of a quandary. With Nova Albion around the corner, a local steampunk event thus allowing me to pack and wear ALL my favorite steampunk outfits and ALL their companion parasols (YES!!), I didn't want to wear one of those to this event. Too much repeat in too story a time. Plus I needed something I could drive in that was a little more casual. I'm rather chuffed with myself for concocting this outfit:

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
Outfit front & back

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 Outfit side shots

I started with my Fashioned By Flobért gold robe carriage dress (which might, more properly, be called a coach dress) with buttons all the way up the front.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 The dress hanging, and at World Con in Reno in 2011

The dress is stained and slightly faded, in a heavy satin. This makes it only suitable for low-light late evening events, and warm, and in ever great need of ironing. I bought it on sale for $10, it needed repairs and new buttons all up the front. I have a great source for vintage buttons in Petaluma and I sourced 32 abalone shell replacements for $10 plus narrowing every single button hole. It was quite the task. I do like the architectural details in the bodice. I'm now in possession of a nice wide belt, which I'll be wearing with it in future when it's not all steampunked. It did steampunk nicely though, didn't it?



Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

It actually has a bit of a train, so the front hem is shorter than the back, which shows off the shoes and looks ever so slightly bustle-like with the waist cinch. It's very robe like, not surprising as it turns out Fashioned By Flobért was mainly a boudoir designer.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

Similar styles:
Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli  Kerry Taylor Auctions; 1970s Halston  1stdibs.com

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 1940s Dress  Charles James for Elizabeth Arden  The Frock

I paired my Flobert with patchwork boots and long dark red vintage gloves inherited from my Grandmother.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
The boots, Kenneth Cole, from Buffalo Exchange, Berkeley some 20 years ago, $20. 
I was so poor at the time my best friend bought them for me.

I also wore this little octopus necklace. I like to have octopus on my person somewhere.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
Adorable octopus necklace, gift from a reader

The hat from my Autumn steampunk outfit, and when I'm not facing a windy San Francisco night I susually perch it far forward on my head.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
Signing with the hat and a perched spinner from VivianWestwood SS runway

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
Christian Dior Haute Couture 2010 and a very cool hat on one of the guest!

I was reminded of this recent photo shoot in Restoration Hardware.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

Along with the accessories I wore my custom stripped Dark Garden pointed waist cinch as a Swiss Waist with Ruby Blackbird Corset buttons to make it look more belt like. I was drawing on this kind of thing for inspiration.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 1910-1915 Motoring Ensemble, The FIDM Museum; 1896-1899  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoGail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
 1900 Ball Gown  The Metropolitan Museum of Art; screen cap from the Pallisers

So there you have it! Another event, another outfit.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

Before you ask, the waist cinch is 22" but I don't have it laced fully down.

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco

Something in this vein for the characters?


For Professor Briathwope in Etiquette & Espionage:

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
1850s Men’s Dressing Gown  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For Ivy:
Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
1885  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For Prudence:

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
1895 Dress  Museo del Traje

Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San Francisco
By Cake Central member CakeDiva11

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

10 facts Gail wishes others knew about Upper Class Victorian clothing.

1. Gown = Bodice + Skirt

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Ball Gown  1900-1905  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Most gowns and dresses were in two or more parts: the top (or bodice) and the bottom (or skirt/overskirt/underskirt+overskirt). The two were sewn (yes on the wearer), tied, or hooked together. (This continued into the Edwardian era.)


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Ball gown and day dress, 1865 Robe à Transformation The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This lead to transformation outfits: same skirt, different bodice dictating different occasions and allowing for double use. Very practical.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys July 1872 Fig. 12 Low muslin bodice for a white French muslin dress, trimmed with lace and colored ribbon brows. Fig. 14 Pink silk bodice far an evening dress, made with plaited bertha, edged by points bound with satin; a ruche of illusion inside of neck and sleeves. Fig. 15 Ladies drawers, made of muslin or linen, trimmed with tucks, tatting insertion, and tape trimming. Fig. 16 Piece to wear over a surprise dress of black grenadine, made of blue China crape, trimmed with white lace.

2. Lots of Layers

There is usually an article of clothing both under the corset and over the corset. 

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Chemise 1876 and Combination 1890s both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Slip 1900-1908 and Petticoat 1909-1911 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Under: Depending on time and class, was called a: chemise, petticoat (which, as the name "small coat"  implies had a top part like a slip as well as a bottom part), slip, combination, or camisole.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Corset Cover  1864-1868 and Camisol 1895-1905 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Corset Cover  1900  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Over: Camisole (yes called same thing as above) or a corset cover. Then the bodice of the dress, that's so long as there wasn't also a chemisette (which is a little like a Dickey) required for day (see bellow #3).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys July 1872 Ladies' corset, made of fine linen, and edged with a narrow Valenciennes lace around the neck. Ladies' chemise, made tightly gored, with puffs set in the front from the neck down, insertion and edging around the neck and sleeves.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Godeys Nov 1872 Corset cover for lady, made of fine linen, and trimmed with medallions of embroidery and lace. The sleeves are trimmed to correspond.

3. Detachable Sleeves

Sleeves could be detachable (like those worn by bakers to protect the bottom of their sleeves from flour) and were called undersleeves.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Chemisette, Undersleeves, and Handkerchief  1860s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys Oct 1872 Open habit shirt and sleeves, made of fine muslin ruffles plaited, and embroidered insertion; and Undersleeves and collarette, made of muslin, embroidered and trimmed with Valenciennes lace; Godeys Sept 1872 Collar and under sleeve, made of linen tucks and narrow ruffles; the collar is to be worn with a surplice dress.

In the 1890s there was a brief fad for cage sleeve supports as well.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Sleeve Supports  1890s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4. Colorful Stockings


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Stockings  1870 and 1880-1899 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stockings could be very colorful and were held up with garters (not a garter belts), or garter straps which were attached to the corset and went down over the drawers and bottom part of the chemise often causing them to bunch up.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Garter 1875-1825 and Waist Cincher 1908 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Stockings  1860s  The Victoria & Albert Museum

5. Drawers, to Split or Not to Split?


Split drawers appear in the late 1840s and continue through the 1910s but drawers were also sewn closed during the Victorian Era. During the Regency Era evidence suggests drawers were not split, but then, corsets were so short drawers didn't need to be split as the waistband din't tuck into the corset.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Godeys Sept 1872 Ladies drawers trimmed with rows of insertion and tucks, finished by a lace edging.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Split Drawers 1900s  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Split Underwear 1916  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A further note on drawers: In England, even during their surge in popularity in Europe, women did not wear pantalettes (ankle length drawers) only girls. Later period knickerbockers were shorter and more practical than drawers but did not entirely replace them. Bloomers is a term not really used in England until after 1910.

6. They Stuffed


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Bust Improvers  1890s  Whitaker Auctions
Bust improvers were introduced in the 1880s, so yes, the Victorians stuffed.


7. Leather Undies

In the 1860s some undergarments were made of chamois leather, for added support, and layered over cloth. I had a hard time finding a picture of this, although written evidence abounds, but here are some leather stays from the time.

8. Stays Please!


10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
1876 Corset “Queen Bess” The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1890s Summer Corset  The Victoria & Albert Museum

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Corset  1897-1899  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Speaking of which, corsets were never talked about in public. If for some reason they had to be mentioned (between ladies of the same age, or in written form), they would be referred to as stays or (better) foundation garments. The word "corset" appears to be mainly used in late period advertisements. Whether there was a recognized difference between the two terms at the time is unclear.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
8 From the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Godeys Nov 1872 Waist for child of a year old, to button skirts on, made of white muslin, trimmed with worked edging. Ladies chemise yoke and sleeves, made of insertion and tucks edged with lace.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Knitted waist for a child.

9. Maid Required

With the exception of some tea gowns and carriage dresses worn, if a lady was daring enough, without stays, it was actually impossible for an upperclass woman to dress herself (or undress, for that matter).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger

Yes, if you are flexible you can button up the back of your own bodice, or even lace your own corset, but most gowns were custom designed to go over a tight lacing and that requires a dresser or lady's maid (unless you're wicked strong and flexible). Speaking of which, corset laces are pulled tight to either side, not straight back. Images like the one above are a joke and the technique would not be effective.

Yes, I'm aware of the recreationest YouTube out there claiming this isn't true (but note her dresses button up the FRONT and she is very relax laced), and I can get into my own full Victorian, but I'm never laced tight, I'm never sewn in, and I'm never fully preiod accurate, because...

I'd need a maid!

10. Occasion Dressing

Gowns had designated times and places they could be worn: from sportswear specific to event specific to occasion specific to time of day. This changed throughout the Victorian era.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Dressing Gown early 1870s versus Tea Gown 1898-1901 both via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dressing gown intended to be seen only by a lady's maid and possibly husband, Tea gown worn informally about the house seen by staff and family but not visitors unless very intimate.

Here's a short list from Gail's memory (a lady did not need to actually have one of each!): nightgown, peignoir, wrapper, negligée, dressing gown, morning dress, tea gown, day dress, walking dress, promenade ensemble, visiting gown, afternoon dress, dinner dress, evening dress, ball gown, reception gown, court dress, wedding dress, opera dress, fancy dress, masquerade costume, ice skating ensemble, tennis wear, riding habit, bicycling ensemble, hunting outfit, shooting outfit, country dress (the tweeds), picnic ensemble, travel gown, carriage dress.

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Shocking Lady Cricters Punch 1892 (via Project Gutenberg) and Walking Ensemble 1865 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Plus outerwear. Plus many of the same in various shades of mourning (full mourning, half mourning, and mauves for extended mourning for the pious).

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger 10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
 Evening Dress and matched Shoes 1889  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The under privileged usually only had three dresses: a working dress (sometimes this could be a uniform or livery), a day dress (for home activities usually worn covered with a pinafore or apron), and Sunday Best.

Much of the same holds true for a man

Which is to say:
* He had lots of clothing in multiple parts some of which hooked together so it wouldn't shift around.
* He wore many layers.
* There were such things as chest and calf improvers (padding).
* He might have had chamois leather undergarments.
* Men undergarments were not talked about in public.
* He needed someone to dress him, which is why even bachelors kept a "man" (his valet). What Jeeves calls a "gentleman's personal gentleman."

10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger
Leather Underwear For Men

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

Instead of the Dickens Fair, Fashionable Reader, I managed a quick drop by at Borderlands in San Francisco last weekend. They very kindly came to my rescue. Since I wouldn't actually be visiting Victorian London I elected to decline the planned steampunk cover look in favor of more sensible wear. I opted for purple, cream, and black.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

Purple and I have a long and checkered history. I used to hate it. I associated it with the leggings and oversized sweaters my mother wore in the 80s. But now I've come around. I even did my nails to match.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
My preference is for short, oval shellacs. 

It was raining in the City, so boots were a must. Here's the outfit breakdown:

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

I use an app called StyleBook to create my outfits. Someday we will talk more about that if you are interested, Fashionable Reader? Anyway, you can see from above that I use it to show all the possible combinations for a given outfit (for example I have three black skirts that work with this top, several different shoes depending on the weather, and different hats to make it more or less fancy).

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
From top down: Hat, Bon Marche Thrift Store, Sonoma, $7; jewelry set Dark Garden Unique Corsetry, Dickens Fair, $25; Madman signing pen, gift from a friend; shirt, Kohls (buttons sewn shut) $10; sweater Kohls, $15; belt Haight Street, $15; skirt Valencia St. thrift store, $7 (buttons added); boots, Miz Mooz, $100; gloves, vintage shop, $10.

That cream hat is quickly becoming one of my favorites. And how excited was I to finally trot out the Kohls sweater? Can you believe something so vintage came from the junior section of a department store, and goes over the Rack, and isn't wool? It reminded me of this set:

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
1955 Sweater Set Christian Dior The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Speaking of wool:

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

I picked this skirt up super cheep intending mainly to wear it with a corset of mine (hence adding buttons to match) but I find myself really gravitating towards it this winter.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
Dark Garden Custom Corset c. $1000

Perhaps it's that the shape is very hip right now yet still pleasingly 1940s. Perhaps it's that it seems to fit me really well. It is lined, except the waistband (a fault all to common in wool garments) so I do have to wear an undershirt (or a tucked in shirt) to protect my tummy from the dreaded wool rash but otherwise I love it. Some other ways I'm thinking about wearing it . . .

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

I also have an allergy to nickle earrings. Generally this means that I always buy danglings (rather than posts) so I can replace the hooks with silver or gold. Unfortunately, these ones are posts. They must be a pretty low alloy because it took several hours before my ears began to ache, but ache they did, so these earrings are out. (The clear nail polish trick doesn't work for me.) Sad, because I really liked the set.Now the hunt is on for new earring to match! Perhaps I will modify a pair of stemapunk earring to take the pearl drop part. Hummm. DIY plotting!

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

The shirt I chose is a bold purple rose print. If you, like me, are slow to accept purple print is a good entry point. Although, with the Rack, I might be better wearing a print on my bottom half. 

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
 Second image is Giovanna Battaglia

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
 1952 Mainbocher The Museum of the City of New York; 1960s Vintageous

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
Christina Hendricks in Vintage Carolina Herrera

 The sweater over the shirt is a heather knit.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
 Heather knit sweater; Trina Turk Belted Heather Tweed Dress

Purple, like most colors, has a wide range of shades from cool to warm, and from dark to light so it will suit any complexion. So saying "I don't look good in purple" isn't really a good excuse. It is perfectly fine to say "I don't like wearing purple." This is similar to not liking Brussels sprouts ~ own it baby! I feel it is perfectly appropriate to dislike colors illogically. I, for example, don't like yellow. Blech!

That said, I have gone out and found some temptingly beautiful purple pieces for your consideration.

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
Hermes leather bracelet at hermes.com

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
Giovanna Bataglia; H&M Dark Purple Coat

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
 1914-1915  Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arketektur, og Design; 1910s Evening Dress  Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arketektur, og Design

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
 1900-1905  The Goldstein Museum of Design; 1900 Pendant  1stdibs.com

And if those last two images don't convince you to try purple, nothing will.

And now, for the characters!

For Sophronia after Etiquette & Espionage

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
1860s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For Ivy Hisselpenny in Soulless

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
1872–75 purple dress by poteidia

For Rue in Prudence
Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
1890s  Kerry Taylor Auctions

For Primrose in Prudence

Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San Francisco
1896 Ball Gown Jean-Philippe Worth

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

Gingham always seems to have a bit of a retro feel to me, no matter what you do with it. It says homey country kitchen, apple pie, picnics.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I've got a wonderful feeling,
Gingham is coming my way.

Sorry, getting a little carried away there. Where was I? Oh yes, gingham. A member of the check family, I believe. Most often seen in black and white, red and white, or blue and white.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham


But I really came around to gingham when I spotted this adorable tennis dress in a local vintage shop. It was muslin and looked very cool and light, and something that woudl pair with flats. All top concerns for my wardrobe and upcoming Comic Con.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red GinghamGail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

 It was labeled 1970s but I think it might be more late 1960s.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

It's actually meant to be tighter and shorter on someone a bit larger than me, but I liked it so much as a more 1920's loose feel (and this way it fit the Rack). I walked away from it the first time and then went back after contemplating it for a couple weeks, luckily it was still waiting for me.

Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

I wore it with cream accessories and cream flats. I made a silly little hat out of a knitted pettit four that a reader gave to me in Portland. (More on that in a separate DIY blog to come.)

As I said, gingham as been around forever. Here's a little retrospective . . .

Before the turn of the century:


Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham
 1840-1845  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Next up, silly DIY hat. I leave you with self much appreciating a lovely cup of tea at Comic Con mid day. Small pleasures make all the difference.
Gail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red Gingham

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

So my dears it is time for us to discuss one of my all time favorite items . . .

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger


Corsets!

Please allow me, Fashionable Reader, to do a quick proof of credentials. I've been wearing confining structured apparel since I was 14. I started out with a Ren Faire peasant bodice (which is NOT technically a corset) and moved on to work events as a professional corset fitter and sometime model for a well known bridal boutique and high-end custom corset maker for 10 years. I'm probably one of the fastest lacers (and tightest, if you want it) that you will ever meet. I've worked quick change runway situations ~ with corsets. I've had jobs were I spent over 18 hours a day (or night) in a corset, all of them on my feet, running around, bending down (not at the waist) and lacing others up, probubly nigh on 100 a day. So there you have it, there are others out there more qualified than me, but I do have some experience in this matter.

Before I start... 


Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

The Question?

scullerym8d0182 asked Lord Akeldama . . .

Lord Akeldama, I am a girl of considerable girth and would like to find a corset to affect the illusion of a waist, but alas sizing seems horribly confusing. Any tips?

To which the vampire replied,

My dear sudsy muffin, what would I know of ladies foundation garments? I pass you along to my creator . . .

Gail says in answer to this particular question . . .

Truthfully, my dear, you must get thyself to a professional corset maker. And not a "friend of a friend" please. Someone who has made over a 100 corsets at least.

A good corset is even harder to fit than a bra, especially if you are uncomfortable with finding the right size. Dark Garden in San Francisco is my preferred vendor. They make corsets up to a 38" (and even larger custom). I can often fit up to a 48" measured waist into a 38" corset waist (explanation of sizing to come).

What to look for?


If not local to the Bay Area, you must seek out a maker who specializes in fully-lined spring-steel multi-boned corsets
  • no plastic boning (not strong enough)
  • no satin (not for your first)
  • no lace (too delicate)

Here are some other things to look for:

A steel busk up the front, preferably made in Germany.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  1883  The Victoria & Albert Museum, note the thickness of the busk near the bottom?

Ribbon laces up the back. 

NOT SHOE LACES or anything tubular, flat and not stretchy is important it will effect how tight you can lace and how much the corset shifts around.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  1880  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, note front lacing over tummy to assist with pulling that area in.
This post, I should say, is not about tight lacing or waist training. Not my thing.

Cross lacing. 

This means the laces should loop at the center, and thus the center of back at waist is where you pull to tighten completely. The act of pulling the top part of the loop tightens the bottom part of the corset, and visa versa.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.


Correct lacing gap.

A corset that fits properly has from 1.5 ~ 3 inches "lacing space" at the back (see above image), so that you have room to tighten or to loosen. The two sides should never meet perfectly, unless it is being used as, for example, the bodice of a wedding gown (see below image). Nor should they stretch over too much space, a too small corset is ugly and uncomfortable because it puts the side boning (the curviest) too far forward (over your floating ribs).

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Look for lining.

Check the inside of any corset: it should be lined completely with strong durable poplin (cotton) and have the internal waist tape present.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
 Image courtesy of Dark Garden.
On this special corset you can see through to the waist tapes.

Price point.

Anything under $300 and you should be wary, not excited, about a bargain. 

Sizing?

 
scullerym8d0182's sizing confusion is due to the measurement system for corsets.  

Most (but not all) corsets are sized to the natural waist and then deducted. Run a measuring tape around your actual natural waist (below the ribs and above the hips). Then deduct anything from 4 to 8 inches depending on the maker and style of corset and your "squish factor." This will depend on your body and how tight you can go and whole host of other traits. 

For example, I have a 29 inch waist and wear an (off the rack) 22 waist cinch but a 26 overbust (and a 23 custom). I am not very squishy. 

Squish factor is not dependent upon your size as a person, but is an indefinable judgement call made by the corset fitter. This is the number one reason I never recommend buying a corset online. 
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
My small waist cinch corset.
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Another kind of waist cinch, sometimes called the ribbon corset. 1900s  Redfern,  The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
The extremes of corsetry: My tiny little Swiss waist under-bust comfortable at 22" called "The Circus," shown with a steampunk outfit and tight laced for modeling. Versus Jessica in a lovely full body corset (hobble hobble) image courtesy of Dark Garden.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  1890  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“This corset fully covers the bust. Because of this, it is most likely a design for a young woman, perhaps a teenager making her first steps into womanhood. The corset itself is minimally boned, allowing ease of movement, and the straps provide additional support.” via OMg That Dress

If you are hurting to find a place where you can go in and try a corset, there are corset makers at most SF/F conventions. Some dealer rooms are open to the public, so you may not even need buy a day pass. I'm a little snobbish about their wears, off the rack for a corset is just like off the rack for a bathing suit (who fits that perfectly?) but they can work as a first corset. 

Don't allow the vendor to argue you into buying anything that doesn't fit right

Or you can try a leather corset from a BDSM seller. Leather has a nice stretch and breath-ability to it that I love for a corset. Both of these venues should carry larger sizes.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  1890  The Philadelphia Museum of Art

More advice?

Have the corset seller train whoever will be putting you into and out of your corset, or identify this person in your friendship group. Most men are often terrible lacers! They think you should grab and simply pull as hard and fast as you can from the waist, as if lacing a shoe!

Gone With The Wind got it WRONG, you work gently from the top down, then bottom up, and then pull through the middle. You tighten by pulling the laces out to either side, never straight back! Here's an excellent video on how to do it.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Bad bad bad girls!

It is possible to lace yourself in. I do it all the time. Contrary to popular belief, I do not travel to Steampunk conventions with a lady's maid. So every time you see me away from home and in a corset, I probubly did it myself. You will never be able to get yourself as tight as someone else can and it takes practice and flexibility. You need to be able to tie a bow behind your back. Many of my friends have "corset companions," fellow devotees who also wear corsets so they lace each other up at conventions or other events.
 

Why lace from the top down first?


So that the corset rests down onto your hips and does not ride up. You may need to lean forward (not bend) from the hips to settle your rack into the top of the corset. If a corset is laced too high you will get the "kidney feeling" which manifests differently in different people (and may not have anything to do with the kidneys, but that's what we've always called it). I feel it as a slight sick queesyness, others start to cold sweet, some just get an ache on their side. You should stop and unlace immediately. Wait for a bit, then re-lace, tugging the corset downwards to "settle" it.
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
My custom "Fancy" corset.

Please never never never tie your laces around the waist of your corset! Unless you want to shorten the corset's life. The laces cut into the fabric at the boning and will cause it to fray.

Don't bend in a corset. Get used to using your thighs to crouch down, it's good exercise anyway.

Always wear something under your corset, even if it is only a light slip (you can tuck the straps and such down so they don't show. This is to protect the corset from your sweat. Here are some things the ladies of old would wear under a corset . . .

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Bust Improver  1900  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
 Three versions of a long undergarment: Chemise 1876  The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Slip  1900-1908  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Combination  1890s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
 In the old days, incidentally, one also wore something over the corset to protect it from rubbing and from any chance of being seen.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset Cover  1900-1905  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is very hard to find anyone who knows how to clean a corset properly. If you do need to get it cleaned, hunt down a bridal gown specialist and keep your fingers crossed. 

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  1890-1895  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Make sure, if you have an underbust, that you are putting it on the right way up. Dark Garden puts a tag in the back next to the laces, the tag should be up.  

If there is no tag 99% of corsets have the pips (male) of the bust on the left side and the loops (hooks, female) on the right.

Choosing a Style?



Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
 The waistcoat style under-bust I need to wear a bra with it, and Autumn in the original, Image courtesy of Dark Garden.

An underbust corset is not recommended if you have a massive rack. But the full back support is lovely.


Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  Royal Worcester Corset Company, 1876  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
There are all sorts of other things to consider, not just the style of corset, but where the boning lies and how it is angled, like the balcony bra versus the full coverage versus the push-up versus the demi they all do different things to your rack and your choice should reflect how you want the girls to look.


Here is a small idea of the difference with my Rack as the model . . .

Sweetheart Overbust Victorian



Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

My spoon corset is an off-the-rack 26 Victorian overbust. The boobs are not fully seated into the cups which are too small for me. (This was the fist corset I ever owned, made-over.) Next to it is the same corset in white made as a custom to my shape so it has about a 23 waist and much more room in the cups. This is a full coverage corset, which means breasts are meant to sit down inside the cups and be fully supported, not necessarily lifted up to the "butt cleavage" arena.

Historically most like?

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Corset  Dr. Warner’s, 1889-1891  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Scoop Neck Overbust Victorian


Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

A modern cut scoop neck corset. This one is more like a demi-bra, my boobs sit down and inside the cup but are also pressed in and up with angled stays from the side, to give me a slight butt look.

Historically most like:

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger  
1891 Corset Gold Leaf

Straight Across Classic Victorian


Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

Like the balcony bra, this Classic (straight across) corset has straight stays up-and-down all the way around, which provides mostly uplift. It's also laced very tight in this image giving me the uber butt look. Only in a corset or costume situation do I feel this look is appropriate. 

Historically most like:

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
1879-1881  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Sport Corset  1885  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Summer Corset  1871  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Nursing Corset  1890  Augusta Auctions

I hope that is enough on corsets for now. However, you don't have to take my word for it. And here's a blog post from Before the Automobile on her 1880s corset and chemise.

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger
Then & Now ~ Cream Bust SupportSteampunk  on Retro Rack with Gail Carriger Gail Carriger Gold Steampunk in San FranciscoThen & Now ~ Baby Blue Foundation Garments10 Tips on Writing Victorian Garb by Gail Carriger Gail Carriger Purple & Black In San FranciscoGail Carriger at Comic Con 2012 Outfits ~ Day Four Red GinghamThen & Now ~ Corseted DressThen & Now ~ UndergarmentsProper Foundation Garments, Part 3: Corsets! (Everything you need to know and were afraid to ask) by Gail Carriger

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