Corset class – the care and feeding of corsets

Once you have finished your corset, you’re going to want to wear it as much as possible, right?  Well, to keep it lasting, I have a few suggestions for the care (and feeding!?) of your corset.

Putting a corset on & taking it off

Hook and eye tape used in the front of a pink and black brocade couture custom-made overbust corset

Hook and eye tape used in the front of a brocade corset

Remember those tricky busks?  Well you need to give them extra love so that they don’t break. If your corset has a front-opening (either a busk, zipper, hook and eye tape, etc), make sure you always loosen your laces before undoing your busk.  I know it’s 4am and you’ve just gotten home, your feet hurt and all you want to do is crawl into bed, but taking the few extra minutes can save the huge headache of having to have your busk replaced.

Of course, you’ll need to have loose laces to get your corset on to begin with too – don’t cheat and try to put your corset on without loosening the laces.

Keep it clean(er)

Cheeky selfie in my new linen camicia. The linen is so fine, you can see the shadows of my other garments under it.

Cheeky selfie in my new linen camicia. The linen is so fine, you can see the shadows of my other garments under it.

If you’re wearing your corset for historical reenactment or costuming, there’s a pretty good chance you’re wearing a chemise  or camicia under your corset.  If you’re not (or if you have no idea what a shm-eese is) then do consider wearing your corset over another (washable) garment.

This will keep the oils from your skin (plus lotions, sunscreen, bug spray) off your corset and will make cleaning it a lot less tedious.  This can be as simple as a quick tube-top – remember, it doesn’t need to show at all!

There’s an order

Do up your boots first, corset last.  (Do you really want to do up your 40-hole boots when you can’t even bend over?) (This must by why man-servants were invented, right?)

Tie it off

Depending on how your corset is laced, you’ll want to slowly tighten up the corset.

Back-laced corset in purple hand-dyed dupioni silk

Back-laced corset in purple hand-dyed dupioni silk

If your corset is laced with “rabbit ears” at the waist, hook your fingers in the loops and pull gently, and then work from the top down to the middle and the bottom up to the middle tightening up the ‘crosses’ before giving those ‘ears’ another tug. If your corset is spiral-laced or ladder-laced, tighten it slowly following the line of your lacing.

Ties belong in the back, not around your waist.  If your laces are super-super long, try to avoid the temptation of tying them around your waist like a belt.  First of all, it totally ruins the line of your new svelte figure… (hahah) secondly, you’re not a serving wench (erm.. unless you are…) and third, it causes extra wear to your corset fabric with the laces rubbing against them over and over.  Honestly, that last reason is the main reason.. but the first two are good too!

If you have a very squishable body, and find that you need super-long laces to get into your corset, but cinch down really tight and have a lot of excess, then double-bow your corset laces at the back if needed.

Cleaning your corset

The corset cleaning bible states:

  • Thou shalt not put your corset in the washing machine.
  • Thou shalt not put your corset in the dryer.
  • Thou shalt not use bleach or harsh chemicals on your corset.

… ok… there is no corset cleaning bible, but if there were – those instructions would be on the first page….

If you made your corset – you know exactly what kind of materials have been used!  You know that you pre-washed your fabric so you don’t have to worry about shrinkage, and you know that you used good-quality materials so that you don’t have to worry about rust.  Thus… you can wash your corset!  I recommend spot-cleaning by hand (for any areas where you might have dripped marinara, or forgot the roll-on deodorant and used a white stick  instead…) and then you can rinse in the tub or sink, and hang the corset to dry.

The All Laced In blog reminded me about the vodka and water trick – to freshen your corset, you can spray a mix of water and vodka on your corset to remove scents.  I’ve never tried this trick myself, but if you do, please reply in the comments with any recommendations!

Airing: Often just airing your corset out will help to refresh it – though removing stains, chemicals, and oils is a good idea to keep your corset lasting the longest.

Drying:  Generally it’s not a good idea to store your corset by hanging it by the laces, but it can dry that way just fine.  Dry it in an area without sunlight, but lots of air circulation.  This will help it dry faster, but not sun-bleach!  (I have a rod at the very top of my shower where I hang mine, then I leave the shower and bathroom doors open.)  If you insist on laying your corset flat to dry – let it sit on an absorbent (white) towel, and replace the towel frequently.  I haven’t tried those super-fast-drying towels that advertise on late-late night tv… if you have with good success, let me know in the comments below!

Ironing the Heat n Bond Light to the red silk for the brim

Ironing

Ironing:  If you need to iron your corset (unlikely, though perhaps some of the trim might need a pressing) use a pressing cloth and a low temperature setting, and only the areas that need it.  You know that you used steel boning and not plastic, so you don’t need to worry about melting your boning – though the plastic coating on your bones could theoretically be affected by extreme heat.  You will also know if your trim is nylon or cotton or anything in between, and thus, what temperature the trim itself can handle.

Outside sources

If you are at all concerned about the safety of your corset in your own capable hands, take it to a reputable professional cleaner.  If you have used special materials (latex, leather, etc) then the care requirements for those materials should be considered as well.   If you’re interested in trying any tricks (like the above vodka-water trick, Fabreeze, ‘miracle’ cleaners, etc) remember that envelope you kept with all of your fabric swatches?  This is a great time to get them out and do a test first.  If the chemical stains your swatch – don’t use it on your corset!

Of course.. if you didn’t pre-wash your fabrics, used steel strapping for boning, or did something else…. Your Mileage May Vary, and you may need to re-think these cleaning suggestions.

For even more cleaning advice, read this post!

For ready-made/store-bought corsets

So, if you are coming to this page and you haven’t made your own corset yet (This is where I’d point you to post #1!) you might be wondering how to clean a ready-made or store-bought corset.  First off – take a look at the tag.  Here in Canada at least, all garments that are commercially made are supposed to have tags that tell you how to care for the garment.  I imagine all of your tags will say “dry clean only”, right?  If your corset doesn’t have a tag (or you removed it) then you should contact whoever did make it, and ask them.  They’ll also likely tell you “Dry-Clean only”.  It’s like the clothing manufacturer code for “eh, I don’t know!”.

Since you didn’t make the corset, you have no idea what kind of materials were used, and having the corset professionally cleaned is your best bet.

A note on dry cleaning

After working in the textile industry for a number of years, I have some strong negative feelings towards dry cleaning.  I would highly recommend spending a bit of extra money and taking your corset to a cleaner who knows how to work with boning, laces, etc.  Not all of them do.  (As I’ve seen by tear-streaked cheeks.)  Call up good bridal shops, and ask them the dry cleaners that they recommend – dry cleaners who are used to strapless beaded bodices shouldn’t have any trouble with your corset.

Storage

Since you can’t wear your corset all the time, you’ll need to find a solution for storage.

It’s advisable not to hang your corsets by their laces, as the laces will get additional wear being hung this way.  (Honestly I do this all the time, but I’ve also got rolls of lacing… and don’t use ribbons to lace my corsets.)

Spiral steel boning (top) an spring steel (white bones) at the bottom

Spiral steel boning (top) an spring steel (white bones) at the bottom

It’s advisable not to roll your corsets, since the boning is rarely put in completely vertically, and any diagonal boning may be twisted out of shape.  (Especially true of plastic boning.)

A better solution is to fold your corset in half (center front to center front, lacing to lacing) and store flat in a drawer or on a shelf.  I’d suggest the fashion fabric sides together,  if the fabric is decorated with beadwork, etc.. (to avoid snagging) and lining sides together if you’ve used contrast fabrics for the fashion fabrics to avoid any colour transfer.  If you are especially concerned about colour transfer, consider putting a piece of fabric or paper between your corsets, and if you want to get really fussy, you could even get some of that archival quality tissue… but… well, are you that fussy?

Avoid storing your corsets in plastic or anything that doesn’t “breath”, or anywhere with strong scents or chemicals. Different fabrics (natural fibers especially) just soak up smells, and your corsets might end up smelling like whatever you stored them with.

More advice on corset storage is explored in this post.

Feedback

Do you have any experience with the vodka and water trick?  Have you used those super-fast-drying towels?  Let us know what you think about these techniques below!

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