Orchid Corsetry was founded by Bethan Billingsley seven years ago when she was just 19 years old and had taught herself how to create corsets through much trial and error. Her work is highly sought after by creators and collectors alike as her inspiration spans all eras from classic Gothic, familar historic Edwardian and Victorian silhouettes, silver screen starlets and burlesque showgirls. Each corset is meticulously handcrafted in the Orchid Corsetry studio in Shewsbury but each corset is admired around the globe. Get Waisted got the chance to ask Bethan a few questions about her work.
When did you first become interested in corsets and what made you interested in them?
My earliest memory of wanting the figure a corset creates was being a small child watching Disney films, and asking my mum when I would look like Belle or Aurora – I soon learned that this wasn’t a likely event, but when I became involved in gothic culture as a teenager, I rediscovered that love of a Victorian silhouette, and the poise and whimsy that accompanies it. I was 13 when my friend found a “corset” in a local store, and it was passed around us all with wonder. I was enthralled by its (in hindsight, modest) abilities to transform the body and create a new persona. You felt so different when you wore them, exotic and rare, and part of another world or another age. I suppose it all boils down to escapism in a way! Now, it’s the architecture and engineering that keeps me going, as well as finding them an endlessly varied template of creative output. I draw on my father’s technical background in engineering as well as my maternal links with sewing and craft to get a greater understanding of this beautiful garment, because there is always something new to learn.
Considering the evolution of the corset over the eras And it’s use in modern fashion, why do you think the corset has become popular again over this past year – but this time in a much more mainstream way?
I think a quest for physical perfection fuels a lot of interest in the corset as a functional garment- people have been made aware again of the very real effects it can offer as a foundation garment, and communities around Facebook and personal blogs allow newcomers to feel part of an exclusive or elite club. I see more requests for training corsets to be worn under clothing than anything else at present, though bridal and special occasion wear still forms an ongoing part of my work, and I think always will. However the most recent waves of interest seem to stem more from the “”underwear as outerwear” trend, which has seen fetish inspired lingerie take a front seat with harness bra’s and corsetry featured very visibly. I suppose we could put this down to the “50 shades” phenomenon but I feel it’s led more by celebrities, like the Katy Perry and Madonna shoot last year, as well as Dita Von Teese’s own lingerie brand, with her being a great advocate of corsetry and fetish couture.
What makes a good corset – what should a first time waist trainer/tight lacer/corset wearer be looking for?
The wonderful thing about the rise in interest over the last 10 years is that there are now a lovely cluster of independent designers working at a variety of price ranges as well as the well known budget brands such as Corsets UK. Bloggers such as Lucy’s Corsetry are great spokespeople for finding something of good quality for your budget, rather than saying that you must pay above a certain amount or it’s not a “real” corset. I think that working with an independent designer gives you greater accountability and a more personal interest in your experience as a buyer, which tends to lead to better value, but there are a few things I think are essential for any budget.
- It MUST have steel boning. Plastic simply won’t last, or hold your shape.
- It MUST have a suitable strength layer. Many cheaper corsets simply use a layer of satin or cotton drill which stretches under use and undoes all your good work. Coutil or certain types of tough canvas are classic choices for durable corsetry.
- It SHOULD have a waist tape. This is another method of ensuring that the waist does not warp under pressure and over time. Certain types of multiple layer corsetry can be made stable without a tape, but most need one.
- It MUST have two part eyelets (grommets) between two spring steel bones (not spiral steel) or set into a lacing bone. This is the only way to avoid eyelets breaking through your fabric when under pressure.
- You MUST be comfortable in it. If you are experiencing cramps, rubbing, poking or bruising then the corset is not right for you, if possible, try it for a while in store, walk around while you get used to how it feels on you. Every brand of corset is differently sized, so don’t expect the same results at different stores.
There are very few hard and fast rules as everyone works differently, and as you go up the food-chain, standards and expectations are raised, but if looking for these things in your corset, you should avoid the usual pitfalls that shorten the length of your corset or decrease your joy in it.
What would would say to someone thinking about trying waist training but is scared to try?
I suppose I tend to meet people after they’ve done their soul searching, but I still usually need to bust a few myths about not being able to breathe, or experiencing poor health as a result of long term use. The most encouraging piece of news I can offer is that every newcomer I’ve had through my studio has fallen instantly in love with the sensation, the posture, the new view of themselves. Corsets mean such different things to each of us but I hear so many people talking about how comforting it is to wear theirs; how it’s like a hug that lasts all day and how they feel armoured against the world. You have nothing to lose by trying them, and possibly, everything to gain.