Corset Dictionary


Baleine (baleen) French Whalebone of the type used for corsets.

Basque Section of bodice below waist, shaped to hips; late c20th name for corset.


Bodies, bodys, bodyes, boddice (a pair of) (c16th, 17th) Rigid covering for the upper body made in two halves laced together. The outerwear of the
whalebone-stiffened c17th bodice becomes underwear in the c18th when this garment is termed “pair of stays.”


Bones Also known as a stay or stays. Used for stiffening the seams of a corset. This generic term can be apply to “bones” made out of any material such
as whalebone (baliene), plastic, watchspring, steel, spiral steels, featherboning, etc. See Steel Boning.


Brocade Fabric, usually silk with a raised pattern, sometimes with silver and gold threads.

Busk (busc, buske, busque) A long stiff bone at the front of the corset that helps to keep it rigid. Early corsets up to 1860 used a straight rigid busk which could be made out of whalebone, ivory, metal or wood. These were sometimes ornately decorated and were inserted down the center slot of the corset. Later 19th century corsets and onwards use a “divided” busk, which although was invented during the 1830′s, did not come into general use until the 1860′s. The divided busk is made out of spring steel with loop fastenings on the right side and studs on the left side.

Busk Hook An upside down “hook” found mostly on the busks of late 19th century corsets from France or French made corsets. The hook was used to anchor the waistbands of petticoats and other underwear down to prevent it from riding up and creating bulk at the waist. Another use for the busk hook was for those who tied the excess ends of the corset lace around their waist, to anchor it underneath the hook to stop it from digging in and wearing the fabric at the waist.

Busk Point The lace which tied the busk in position.

Bust Bodice (c1890) Covering for bust, usually with straps and sometimes lightly light boned at side and/or front for “mono-bosom” effect.

Bustier (c1947) A long-line brassiere, either strapped or strapless.

Bustle (Tournoure) An artificial shape, made of wired frames or stuffed forms that were attached to the waist to enlarge the shape of the female’s posterior.

Calico An inexpensive, plain weave cotton, often printed. A toughly woven fabric, off-white in color–used for pattern making.

Camisole (Petticoat Bodice) A loose bodice worn over the corset (to protect it from soiling).

Construction Corsets are typically constructed of a flexible material (like cloth, particularly coutil, or leather) stiffened with boning (also called ribs or stays) inserted into channels in the cloth or leather. In the 19th century, steel and whalebone were favored for the boning. Featherbone was used as a less expensive substitute for whalebone and was constructed from flattened strips of goose quill woven together with yarn to form a long strip. Plastic is now the most commonly used material for lightweight corsets and the majority of poor quality corsets, whereas spring or spiral steel is preferred for stronger corsets and generally the better quality corset too. Other materials used for boning include ivory, wood, and cane. (By contrast, a girdle is usually made of elasticized fabric, without boning.)

Cording A method of stiffening a corset in which a cord made from cotton or other fibres is inserted into a corset instead of traditional bones. Each line of cording would be stitched into it’s casing. Cording provides a firm yet flexible alternative to traditional boning and was often used as a “healthy” alternative in 19th century corsets. Warner’s patented their own form of corset cording in 1873 when they invented Coraline, a cord made from the fibers of the Mexican Ixtle plant.

Corps (c16th, 17th, 18th) Body, whale-boned body, stays.

Corsage  Stiff, boned bodice, predominantly used 1875-1883.

Corselette (c1921) Occasionally a term for a diminutive waist encircling corset (corselette 1893), but generally the term for a garment combining the functions of a brassiere and girdle.

Corset (1789 Lady’s Monthly Museum):  The new term for the c18th stays or c16th pair of bodies.  The stiffened garment that supported and shaped the torso.  Principally a female fashion garment, but occasionally worn for male fashion. Generally back-lacing and front fastening. Originally, the definition of a corset was a pulled in waist i.e. a corseted waist. Corsets were typically boned with canes, card, thread, wood and whale bones and later steel bones. The modern “corset” is a much looser term and it applies to just about any tight fitting garment that resembles a corset, including the spandex plastic boned lingerie corsets and unboned heavy weight corset style tops and even belts at times. Hence the need to further specify.

Corset-Cover (c1840) the cotton underbodies that provided the easily laundered buffering layer between dress and corset.  Less prosaically termed a “camisole.”

Corset Dress A fetish costume composed of a dress laced as a corset. A corset dress (also known as hobble corset because it produces similar restrictive effects to a hobble skirt) is a long corset. It is like an ordinary corset, but it is long enough to cover the legs, partially or totally. It thus looks like a dress, hence the name. A person wearing a corset dress can have great difficulty in walking up and down the stairs (especially if wearing high-heeled footwear) and may be unable to sit down if the boning is too stiff. If not worn as outwear, it could be termed a “hobble-corset.”

Corset Piercing A fetish piercing using lace to mimic the back lacing of a corset. Normally a temporary piercing.

Corset Waist  American term for early long-line brassiere, and also for a type of snug fitting “liberty bodice” worn by children. Other term: Liberty Bodice

Corsetry The craft of corset construction is known as corsetry, as is the general wearing of them.

Corsetier Someone who makes corsets is a corsetier or corsetière (French terms for a man and for a woman, respectively), or sometimes simply a corsetmaker. (The word corsetry is sometimes also used as a collective plural form of corset.)


Coutil A very sturdy and crisp fabric with a marked herringbone pattern. Made from twisted yarns of cotton. A traditional and common corset fabric.

Curved busk A popular spring steel busk in the second half of the 19th century. A curve creaties an indentation in the upper stomach at waist level, then flares out and over the abdomen. A curved busk gave a place for the displaced flesh from the waist to go to.

Damask Elaborately woven linen, cotton, or rayon (originally silk in antiquity), the surface design being reversed on the backside.

Demi-corset (c19th) Corset some eight or ten inches in length, with light whalebones, worn when performing household tasks during the day.

A “Devonshire” (after the Duchess of Devonshire, who supposedly had it performed on her – anecdotal) Removal of the two lower ribs so as to make a long tiny waist more acceptable to rigid corset wearers. This left the lungs and diaphragm unprotected, and so stays had to be worn all the time.

Divorce Corset (c1816) A corset that separates the breasts, much in the same way as a modern brassiere.

Edwardian Straight front Corset (“S”-Shape) (See “straight front corset”)

Empire Corset  A kind of corselette, straight line, fitted low in the bust and well down over the hips, where the waist and hips are not very accentuated (meant only for the slenderest of figures).  At its peak from 1910 to 1914, when WWI killed it. Today, this name refers to a straight bust line shaped corset.

Extreme tight lacing Corset This is a relatively new term, it came about to replace the original meaning of tight lacing as above, meaning a corset that reduced your waist by more than 4″

Eyelet A small hole, often handworked, on early corsets up to 1860. Used for lacing up the corset. (See French Holes and Grommet)

Farthingale (c16th, 17th) A hoop formed of whalebone of other material used to extend the petticoat outward, or a skirt or petticoat covering such a hoop.

Featherbone Substitute for whalebone made from goose quills.

Fetish In BDSM, a submissive can be forced to wear a corset which would be laced very tight and give some degree of restriction to the wearer. A dominant can also wear a corset, often black, but for entirely different reasons, such as aesthetics, and to achieve a severe, armored, “unbending,” commanding appearance. A very common fetish costume for women is the dominatrix costume. Usually it consists of mostly dark or even black clothing. The woman usually wears a corset or bustier and stockings with high heeled footwear. High boots are quite common as they enhance the woman’s domination. Most women in dominatrix costumes carry an accessory such as a whip or a riding crop.

Fetishism The practice of using an inanimate object as the focus of sexual pleasure.

Figure Training Although largely anecdotal, the term refers to the practice, in the late c19th, of sending a young girl to finishing school, where part of the curriculum was the reduction of waist size by the use of (in many cases forced) corsetry.  Supposedly, the subject would also sleep corsetted. The concept of the subject many a fetishist’s fantasies, hence published stories relating to such are thought by historians to be exaggerated.

Flossing Embroidery found on the bone casings of a corset. Flossing reinforced bone casings preventing bones from fraying and working their way out, and provided decoration for a corset.

French Holes An ivory or bone reinforced eyelet hole sometimes seen on early 19th century corsets.

Galloon Lace Any finished lace with a scalloped edge on both sides; used to finish the tops and bottoms of corsets. A silk thread was embedded in the lace for a drawstring effect.

Garters (Suspenders)  Suspender device on the bottom of the corsets for the attachment of stockings. This is a relatively modern development.  Previously, a garter was a circle of ribbon or elastic that went AROUND the upper leg.

Girdle Although most associated with later 20th century figure control garments, it was also a term at the turn of the century for a short corset which controlled the waist only.

Grommets and Eyelets A metal reinforced eyelet hole used for lacing up corsets. First used in the late 1820′s on corsets and then in common use for the Victorian era. (See French Holes). The term grommet is used mostly in the USA, the term eyelet is used mostly in the UK

Guepiere A type of short boned corset, 5 to 8″ in width, that appeared in the 1940′s (similar to a “waspie.”)  Known as a “cincher” in the United States.

Heavy Duty Corset This is a fairly new term, originally used for heavy weight corsets with 3 or 4 layers, 2-3 layers of heavy weight coutil and an outer layer in the chosen fabric. Used for long lasting corsets or extreme tight lacing. In modern times they are typically 2-3 layers, either a heavy coutil with an outer or 2 layers of medium weight fabric and an outer. Used for standard tight lacing corsets (2-4inch reduction)

Hip Spring  Hip measurement minus waist measurement usually calculated at 9″ – 13″.

Hook Side  A side fastening corset or girdle.

Inner Busk (Underbusk) A second busk underlying the busk, adding extra rigidity (very demanding).

Jump (c18th) Under bodice similar in shape to stays but looser and without bones.

Lacing (Lace) Twisted or woven cord used to secure the corset, usually in the rear. Corsets are held together by lacing, usually (though not always) at the back. Tightening or loosening the lacing produces corresponding changes in the firmness of the corset. Depending on the desired effect and time period, corsets can be laced from the top down, from the bottom up, or both up from the bottom and down from the top, using two laces that meet in the middle. It is possible for a back-laced corset-wearer to do his or her own lacing. In the Victorian heyday of corsets, a well-to-do woman would be laced by her maid, and a gentleman by his valet. However, many corsets also had a buttoned or hooked front opening called a busk. Once the lacing was adjusted comfortably, it was possible to leave the lacing as adjusted and take the corset on and off using the front opening (this method can potentially damage the busk if the lacing is not significantly loosened beforehand).

Lacing Bar Horizontal bar positioned high enough above a corsettee’s head that she might grab and hang from it whilst being laced in. The technique lengthens the body and narrows the waist so that extreme tightlacing is possible.

Lacing Protector (Modesty Panel) A piece of the corset without boning, or with light boning, the same length as the corset, and about three or four inches wide, depending on the corset size, made of the same color and fabric. Very good for protecting clothing and/or skin from the lacings perhaps pinching or scoring. It also allows the lacings to move more smoothly and assists in self-lacing by holding the lacings firm.  In addition, it makes the corset look “finished” when the lacings are not totally closed.

Latex Raw material from which rubber is made; popular fetish material for corsets.

Liberty Bodice  ”Liberty” was a trade name for corsetry produced by R.& H.W. Symington and Company.  Popular from the late 19c to the 1960s.  The “Liberty Bodice” was a boneless “training corset” for young girls (produced from 1908).

Long-Line Brassiére (Bra)  A bra that extends to the waist and is often used for figure shaping and-/or smoothing.

Long line corset Originally referred to corsets that go all the way down to below the buttock. Today, the term usually applies to corsets that come down to or below the belt line, covering some of the hip.

Merry Widow (1951) A (usually) non-lacing corset made by Warner’s and named after Lehar’s operetta. It had a half-cup bust support and long stocking suspenders. The term has come to be used to denote most any corset-like strapless long-line brassiere.

Modesty (Modesty-piece, Modesty Lace) An extra strip of material attached to the top or bottom of a corset with drawstring to adhere to contour of wearer.

Neck corset A neck corset is a type of posture collar incorporating stays and it is generally not considered to be a corset.

Night Corset Since tightlace training requires consistent wear, devotees will wear a corset at night. It is usually a larger-waisted version than the daytime corset; alternatively, a wide belt is used to keep the organs in place until the next morning. Some will use a tightlacing ribbon corset for this, and for exercising as well.

Overbust corset An ‘overbust corset’ encloses the torso, extending from just under the arms to the hips.

Pannier  Outcropping to the sides of a dress or gown (narrow Farthingale)

Panty Corselette  A full body corselette with under crotch fastening, especially popular in the 1960s.

“Pregnant Stay” (c19th) A corset which completely envelopes the body from the shoulders to below the hips and is elaborately boned so as to compress and reduce to the shape desired the natural prominence of the female figure in a state of fruitfulness.


Princess (Sweetheart) Corset A corset with heart shaped topline designed to enhance cleavage.

Quilt, quilting Two layers of material, sometimes with padding in between, firmly held together by stitching–used to stiffen corsets and petticoats.

Ribbon Corset (c1904) A lightweight corset worn for sport or relaxation. Formed of horizontal elastic strips mounted on a shaped side seam, it encircles the waist and top of the hips, to give abdominal support. A short corset popular at the turn of the century . This style of corset controlled the waist only and was popular amongst slim women who did not need or want the support of a full corset. Silk ribbons were popular for negligee use while sturdier ribbons made out of twills and linens were used for sporting use. Another variation on the Ribbon corset is the Skeleton corset which still uses ribbons as the main body of the corset but has them spaced further apart.

Sateen A cheap, alternative for expensive satin made from closely woven cotton. Has a lustrous, smooth satin-like appearance. A popular fabric for corsets in the 19th and early 20th century and was sometimes used with coutil in corsets as a lovely contrast.

Shaping-Bones (c18th) Extra strips of whalebone, etc., placed inside stays to give shape.

Spoon Busk (late c19th) (See “busk” as well) Busk that is “spoon shaped” at the bottom to provide additional compression and rigidity. Such a busk molds the body in such a way as to present a much thinner side-view when wearing a corset.  Originally used for heavier-framed women.

“S”-Shape Corset (Edwardian style) (See “straight front corset”)

Stays (a pair of) C17th and c18th term for the boned underbodice previously known as a “pair of bodies.” The term persisted into the c19th but was more usually replaced by its French equivalent, the “corset.” The term was also applied to the stiff inserts of whalebone or steel which shaped this garment. Also the old fashioned name for a corset. Generally, corsets up to the mid 19th century are know as “stays” although the term was and is still used to describe corsets in general. Stays prior to 1800 were conical in shape, extremely stiff and heavily boned. Stays of the first half of the 19th century were soft and high waisted.

Steel boned corset Originally a variation of the normal corset with steel bones instead of whale bones. A decade ago it was the term use for a proper corset, typically with a 4 inch waist reduction. The modern steel boned corset is typically defined by tight fitting garments with steel boning resembling traditional corsets but may not have any waist reduction. Further specification was again required.
steel boning (Flat Steel, Spiral Steel, Sprung Steel) Flat steel boning (sometimes called sprung steel boning in the USA) is a thin flat boning made of spring steel (the same steel springs are made from but in a flat solid piece) It is usually coated in plastic to prevent rust and the edges cutting through.

Spiral steel boning (sometimes called spring steel boning in the UK) resembles a spring that has been crushed flat, it is also made from spring steel but actually looks like a spring rather than being a solid piece. These two types of boning are used predominantly throughout steel boned corsets, the spiral boning offers a little more flexibility. Occasionally Rigid steel bones are used in fetish/torture corsets.

Stomacher (c16th) Garment consisting of a V-shaped panel of stiff material worn over the chest and stomach.

Straight Busk A perfectly straight busk which became popular around 1900. It was thought to be healthier than a curved busk as it did not press on any internal organs. (See Straight Front corsets).

Straight-front Corset (Edwardian or “S”-Shape)  Also know as the S-bend corset. A style of corset which became popular about 1900. The straightfront front corset used a perfectly straight busk and diagonal seams to mold the figure into an “S” shape by thrusting the bust out forward and pushing the hips backward. Introduced in the first decade of the twentieth century as a “cure” for stylish tightlacing abuse, it soon was abused itself by women attempting to use it for tightlacing and, because of its odd configuration (and thus rigorous demands), it soon proved to be more deleterious to the abuser than the standard corset! (Peak years 1904-5)

Summer Corset A corset made out of a lacey lightweight cotton or linen mesh. Popular with Victorian and Edwardian ladies, the mesh provided some ventilation during the hot weather.


Suspenders (Garters) Elastic device to hold stockings onto the corset.

Swan-bill corset Worn under the cuirrasse bodice of 1876 and subsequent years, it featured long, front fastening busk, terminating below in a powerful curved end.

Tabs Tongue-shaped pieces of material obtained by slitting round the edge of a corset to give extra width; or separate pieces of similar shape attached to form a basque.

Tango Corset (c1914) Short, lightweight corset for dancing in, forerunner of the girdle.

Tightlacing The practice of applying corsetry to its extreme. Safe when done properly, but caution must be practiced. By wearing a tightly-laced corset for extended periods, men and women can learn to tolerate extreme waist constriction and eventually reduce their natural waist size. Tightlacers dream of 40 to 43 centimeters (16 to 17 inches) waists, but most are satisfied with anything under 50 centimeters (20 inches). Until 1998, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Ethel Granger as having the smallest waist on record at 32.5 centimeters (13 inches). After 1998, the category changed to “smallest waist on a living person” and Cathie Jung took the title with a 37.5 centimeters (15 inches) waist. Other women, such as Polaire, also have achieved such reductions (14 inches in her case). Corsets were and are still usually designed for support, with freedom of body movement an important consideration in their design. Present day corset-wearers usually tighten the corset just enough to reduce their waists by 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches); it is very difficult for a slender woman to achieve as much as 15 centimeters (6 inches), although larger women can do so more easily.

Trapunto Work A method of quilting in which a pattern is outlined with a single line of sewing, then filled in with cotton or wool to give it a raised effect. Trapunto work is often seen in late Georgian and Regency corsets, and was a popular way to decorate a pair of stays, giving it a corded affect. Trapunto work also stiffened the corset slightly and gave some degree of figure support. (See Cording)

Torsolette  See “corselette.”

To Truss To tighten upwards, e.g. shoulder straps on a corset.

Underbust corset An underbust corset begins just under the breasts and extends down to the hips. Some corsets extend over the hips and, in very rare instances, reach the knees.

Waist Tape Also known as a Stay Tape. A horizontal tape sometimes made from a twill often found at waist level inside a corset. This is used to take some of the strain of the corset and prevent it from stretching out of shape.

Waist Cincher  A shorter kind of corset, which covers the waist area (from low on the ribs to just above the hips), is called a ‘waist cincher’. A short corset, 1860, of one part.

Waspie Term applied to the belt-like corsets of the late 1940s and 1950s. A waspie  or waist cincher (UK or USA respectively) in the sense of corsets is a small corset only controlling and pulling in the waist. This term is often applied to underbust corsets and wide belts.

Wasp Waist Small waist created by tightlacing. Term used by Mrs. Delaney in 1775, reappearing in the late 1820s and the 1890s, as well as the 1950s.