Get Waisted: What are Waist Training Corsets?
It’s the photo that sucked in a thousand stomachs. Kim Kardashian is well known for her tiny waisted hourglass figure but last year on Instagram she shared the secret to her Jessica Rabbit-esque curves – a corset. Not the Victorian-era overbust you’re imagining though, instead it’s a latex waist trainer that just does up at the front and is intended to be worn for as many hours of the day as you can manage – including at the gym and even as you sleep. The trend isn’t just one that Kim K has taken on, her sister Khloe, Jersey Shore ‘star’ Snooki and even Kerry Katona all looked to the 18th century for fashion advice – albeit with less lacing and more latex. But although these waist cinchers have become the latest new year health craze amongst the Instagram fitness elite and everyday weight watchers alike, is it real waist training? Sure, shedding litres of sweat by wearing a latex waist trainer during the gym or even just walking around your office could potentially help you lose inches but if you’re looking for a teeny tiny waist, you can turn to the people who have been waist training for years before Kim even ‘broke the internet‘.
what is a latex waist cincher?
“Paid advertising of latex cinchers by Kim K, Snooki and others will obviously attract attention. To many real corsetieres, the latex craze has been a bit of an annoyance because those cinchers are very different from corsets; the two garments carry out two different functions and work by different mechanisms.” Lucy, a corset reviewer and owner of the popular blog and YouTube channel ‘Lucy’s Corsetry’ has been interested in the abdomen altering powers of corsets since she was a child and despite the hundreds of interesting, in-depth reads her website contains, her post “Waist cinchers vs corsets” is now one of her most popular due to the latex cinchers overnight online popularity.
Progress photos incorporating these latex waist cinchers litter the #waisttraining hashtags of almost every major social network and their appearance may remind some of us of the unflattering and uncomfortable girdles and Spanx products that we’ve squeezed ourselves into at least once to flatten out some lumps and bumps – albeit in Instagram filter friendly colours. However, unlike the spandex prisons you might wear for a special occasion to provide a temporarily firmer figure, these latex waist trainers advertise themselves with the promise of permanent inch removal from the waist area. But despite these claims, Lucy explains throughout her comparison of latex waist cinchers to boned corsets that they can only really give “perhaps 1-2″ waist reduction” whilst a real corset waist cincher or full underbust corset can offer “6-8″+ waist reduction”. So why the new obsession with latex waist cinchers over the truly tried and tested ‘real’ corset? The honest answer is to do with price – most latex waist cinchers can start at around £10 on Ebay when shipped from China and offer a similar waist reduction effect as one bought from a dedicated online store. However, a quality off the rack corset can set you back – at the very least – £100 as Lucy explains that there is “a lengthy checklist of requirements when buying corsets” and quality waist reduction does not come cheap!
So, what does make a good waist training corset?
Autumn Adamme, owner of Dark Garden in San Francisco has made almost every stage-worn corset for legendary burlesque performer Dita Von Teese for 15 years now. The rules Adamme gave for a good corset are simple and are all down to a good fit and feel, as although most first-time corset wearers may think the ‘tighter the better’, tight should not equal discomfort: “Corsets have the potential to be uncomfortable in a number of ways. If they’re too tight all over, it’s true, it’s hard to breathe, but if they are comfortably snug throughout, with sufficient room for hips, ribs and bust, they are wonderfully supportive.” The latex waist cincher may have this ideal tightness on its side but it then quickly breaks the rest of Adamme’s rules. “If they’re only tight at the waist and don’t support ribs and hips, they’re not comfortable. Seam lines should not curve drastically around the body, but flow harmoniously. The stitching should be even and small, the boning should be steel, and the fabric should be stable and comfortable.”
As Lucy explains above in her popular video on this corset-spanx hybrid, its main aim is to make you sweat off the inches – rather than actually being ‘trained’ off by gradual lacing. So, the latex waist cincher is more suited for those that want to waist train while exercising as the thought of an expensive, tightly laced corset drenched in sweat is enough to make anyone squirm, and I doubt Dita would approve.
But whilst these rules seem easy to stick to for the beginner waist trainer, Cora, founder and editor of The Lingerie Addict, the world’s most popular blog for everything underwear, warns that cheap imports and designs can have you fooled into believing you’re purchasing a quality product because it seems to meet all of these recommended requirements: “As the world of corsetry has grown, it’s not enough to say that “you should always look for steel bones,” because even the quality of steel can vary dramatically across retailers (some cheap corset companies have been found using rusted bones, for example, which the average consumer wouldn’t even know to be aware of).” So, Cora suggests that “rather than giving a list of rules, I’d say to focus on being an informed consumer, and on having realistic expectations. If your budget is only $50, you’re not getting $500 worth of corset,” and utilising the expert reviews and corseterie guides of both Cora and Lucy will help you to get less inch and more quality for your money – whether you’re buying a latex waist cincher or a corset.
BUT WHY ARE CORSETS POPULAR AGAIN NOW?
The age of the hourglass figure is upon us once more as burlesque and pin-up has had a mainstream revival. Also, “this past year alone there were at least 3 hit songs celebrating big bums,” Lucy rightly points out, “and in a way, corsets contribute to a more hourglass or pear-shaped silhouette”.
But, unlike the 40s where you would drop your waist size into conversation over a chat with your girlfriends, selfies are now how you flaunt your waist to hip ratio. Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose can be considered the sex symbols of this generation and every Instagram, tweet and post shows the assets they have in common that for most can be achieved through the use of a corset – to pull in the waist and accentuate the bust and hips. Fashion is a cycle of women wanting to wear what other women are wearing so they can emulate their look. it was true in the 18th and 19th centuries – which you can hear more on in our audio piece – and it’s somewhat true now as we strive to look at least a little like Nicki Minaj when we hear Anaconda.
Compare this to the 90s and early 00s when the heroin chic, waif look was the height of fashion and that generations idea of what a women should look like, so it appeared in every magazine and some people would diet, purge and don their Spanx armour to look just like Kate Moss. But, corsets were actually also popular at this time – they just weren’t mainstream. “Corsetry has never ever not been popular, it has always been to do with fashion.” Julia Bremble is a powerhouse of the corset scene, as founder of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry, ‘Headteacher’ at Oxford School of Corsetry, owner of corset making supply shop Sew Curvy and designer of her own corset brand Clessidra. “We feel more exposed to corsetry currently [especially] because of the Burlesque scene – which in itself is far from ‘new’. The fashion for corsets as outerwear were underground in the clubbing scene for decades.” These underground alternative fashions utilised corsets in burlesque, fetish (the likes of which our video interviewee, Robin Archer, founder of House of Harlot, is well known for) and goth cultures and “designers such as [John Paul] Gaultier, [Thierry] Mugler and [Alexander] McQueen (themselves veterans of said scenes), through their infamy and their famous clients, merely brought this new way of wearing corsetry into the public eye but it was around long before they thought of it.” However their couture looks were simply considered too out there for the general public – despite the Average Joe thinking it wise to copy the double denim of Britney Spears – so the corset stayed on the bodies of celebrities and alternative sub-cultures that spread by word of mouth.
Of course at this point, social media was practically non-existent – at least not in the ‘here’s what I wore today #fashion #clothes’ scale we’re used to today – and this is a huge reason why corsetry and waist training seems to have only become mainstream now, it’s always been popular – it’s just now there’s an easily accessible community full of resources, videos and experts, all a Google search away. “When I was first interested in corsetry, today’s popular social networks didn’t exist yet.” Cora started writing about lingerie and corsets in the early to mid 00s. “There was LiveJournal and MySpace at the time, and that’s about it. Now there’s more corsetry information and more corsetry groups available than ever before. There are also more people to buy from now than ever before, both in terms of budget corsetry and luxury corsetry.” So are Instagram snaps of waist trainers and the current idolisation of Dita Von Teese and burlesque performers the reason corsetry is now more accessible to mainstream fashion? “While I’m sure celebrity culture and the pinup revival has had something to do with it, I see the most substantive changes as being related to community and access.”