This is a sample of a corset made of heavy cotton with stiff supports. When laced properly, it is comfortable.
At many reenactments I hear ladies complaining about their corsets bothering them for this or that reason. I have heard complaints it is too tight, doesn’t fit well, I have to adjust it before I eat, etc. It may not be the fault of the corset. It may not be laced up correctly, too tight or too loose, or maybe it wasn’t fitted properly when it was made. For a good fitting corset, the laces should be about 2″ – 3″ apart in the back with no more than 4″ apart. Any further than that, then it may be time for a larger size corset. At reenactments, I have heard many spectators asking if it is uncomfortable to wear a corset. Personally, I do not mind wearing one. At first it felt a little odd and maybe slightly uncomfortable, but event after event, it becomes second nature to wear one and really doesn’t bother me. I feel like I am missing something and not completely dressed if I don’t wear one with my outfits. Plus it gives the proper shape of the time era. If it is made from good quality breathable material, it should be comfortable. Civil War corsets are made from heavy-duty cotton material, like a heavy-duty muslin.
Here is one trick I use and I have also read this is some other blogs. I tie my corset in the back and hook the front. I make sure it is fitting properly and make any adjustments with the back ties, if necessary. Since I sometimes have to get dressed without my other half there, I have to learn to do this myself! I try it on several times and keep adjusting the strings until it fits properly. After I like the fit, I just unhook the front and don’t untie the back, that way I can keep it to the fit I need and use it this way for several events. I have had people argue with me about this practice and they tell me that this is inappropriate and it should be unlaced each time. If you read some of the websites that customize corsets, they state to unlace it each time. I have had my corset for several years and have never had an issue with the laces breaking or the front hooks tearing out by keeping the laces tied when removing the corset. If you wear the corset properly in the first place, there should be no reason why you can’t keep the laces tied and just hook the front when you are getting dressed. Occasionally I do have to adjust the ties, but only once in a while.
At a recent event a lady in our group had an interesting way of tighting the laces in her corset by herself. She sometimes goes to events by herself and I found this clever and interesting. She hooks her corset in front. She has two sets of laces. One lace starts at the top of her corset and goes to the middle, allowing her to tighten the top part by herself. She then has another lace that goes from the bottom to the middle, allowing her to tighten the bottom laces. Since these laces are long and she doesn’t use the entire lace in the back, she then ties the remainder of the lace around her and ties it in front. This way she can put the corset on herself and doesn’t need any help from anyone.
If you need to adjust your corset when you are ready to eat, then you either have an improperly made corset or you just don’t know how to properly adjust it to fit yourself comfortably. You should never have to “loosen” your corset when eating a meal. When you get dressed in the morning for a reenactment event, make sure it fits you properly then so you are comfortable throughout the entire day. Even in the hot summer months, corsets can be somewhat comfortable. Yes, I do sweat when wearing one in the hot July August months, but after a while, somehow I really don’t let that bother me. Yes, at the end of the day I am ready to change into something more comfortable when sitting around the campfire, but overall, I really don’t mind.
Another positive note for wearing a corset is that it also helps to support your back. After walking all day at a reenactment or working with school children at a living history event, it is good to have proper back support. Corsets also provided the ladies in Civil War times with the same effect. When their husbands and sons were away at war, some ladies had to work the farms, etc. and having the good back support of a corset may have helped.