How To Put On A Corset.... By Yourself
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Tidbits : How To Put On A Corset.... By Yourself

Every woman who has taken part in Victorian era reenacting events or has worn items from their period costume collection, has come accross that complex item of underwear, the corset. Judging my the amount of emails I get and the questions I get asked at costume events, it occurred to me that most 21th century woman do not know how to put on a corset by themselves!
People just generally assume that Victorian women all had servants or some sort of help to get into them but that's not true. If a lower middle class woman had very small children or no children at all and her husband was busy getting ready to go to work, she would have to lace herself into her corset. For most women, putting a corset on by yourself in the 19th and first half of the 20th century was second nature. The skill seems to have disapeared when elastic girdles and simple bras and panties took over.
Remember how hard it was to put on your first bra the first time you wore it? Well lacing yourself up into your Victorian corset is no harder and with practice, you will get better and quicker at doing it. To help all those Victorian and Edwardian reenactors out there, period costume wearers and those who want to begin corset training, I've put together a simple pictorial step by step guide to help you with putting on your corset.

Before you put on your corset, loosen the laces so that you can put it on comfortably. Do not loosen the laces excessively as they will tangle and make it more difficult to tighten. A good rule of thumb is to loosen the corset to your natural waist size, i.e. my waist is 34", so I will loosen my corset to 34". The middle loops are called "pull loops"

Wrap the corset around you making sure it's fitting in the right places and fasten the front busk starting from top to bottom.

Once the busk is fastened, just make sure the corset isn't pinching anywhere and that it's resting comfortably on your figure. You might have to shift it around slightly to adjust it.

Now, position yourself in front of a mirror semi sideways so that you can see your back and what your doing relatively easily. Hook your thumb onto the top set of criss crossed laces, pull slowly and evenly until you reach your desired tightness. Do not let go until you start to pull the next set of laces...

With your other thumb, hook it onto the second set of laces from the top and pull.
See how I've taken the slack out of the first set of laces? Now continue doing this with each set of laces working your way down to your waist where the "pull loops" are.

Now that you've reached the "pull loops", to get out any remaning slack in the top rows of laces, pull the TOP part of the pull loops evenly and slowly

When you have gotten out the as much slack as you could, pull both ENTIRE "pull loops" out to nip in the waist and to remove any remaining looseness in the upper rows of lacing.

Now it's time to lace the bottom half of the corset. To do this, hook your thumb onto the bottom set of lacing, pull slowly and evenly to your desired tightness. Do not let go until you start pulling the next row of lacing.

Next hook your other thumb onto the next row of lacing and pull slowly and evenly until your desired size. Notice how I've pulled the slack from the bottom row of lacing. Keep this up with each row of lacing, working your way up to the waist, each time alternating with each arm.

When you reach the waist, to remove any excess slack from the bottom rows of lacing, pull the BOTTOM half of the "pull loops" and the pull both loops together all the way to nip in the waist and to remove any remaning looseness in the lacing.

Then cross the "pull loops" over each other while at the same time pulling them. This will give you strong leverage to really bring in your waist.

Bring the crossed laces around to the front and give one final pull to nip in the waist. Tie the ends of the "pull loops" in a secure bow. If you have very long laces, you may wrap the loops around your waist several times before tying them.

The final product! The corset is securely tied at the front and the corset placed properly on the body. The back of the corset have even lacing, with no slack.

To remove your corset, untie the loops from around your waist and then reach around to your back and loosen each row of lacing starting from the middle working your way up and then from your waist working your way down. If your laces are loose enough, unhooking your busk will be easy.
If not, loosen the laces a little more. Never unhook your busk without loosening your laces first. You might break your busk in doing so!

I hope this little guide has helped, I never realized how difficult it would be to clearly write down something that becomes so automatic. It does get easier, now I don't really have to look in the mirror when I put on my corset! Discover what makes it easier for you to do up a corset, if you have short arms, an antique button hook might make it easier to reach around your back. Special thanks to my c.1899 summer corset for allowing me to wear "her". Although I do not recommend wearing antique corsets, I felt it would be a nice treat to see one being worn this time.
I did not put any stress on my corset nor did I lace it too tight and my poses in the photos were exageratted for demonstrative purposes. So please don't write me angry emails adomishing me for wearing my lovely antique corset!

All photos are from the collection of L. Hidic