Corset Styling Advice from Wilde Hunt Corsetry

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

While at Ohio State, Larissa Boiwka studied anthropology, exploring the cultural traditions, customs and, naturally, fashions of people throughout time. So it's fitting that she's now made a name for herself by reimaging a retro-and somewhat mysterious-item of clothing: the corset.

The self-educated owner of Wilde Hunt Corsetry-she also teaches, on occasion, at the Columbus College of Art & Design-works out of a home studio on the East Side. From local history buffs hoping to create the perfect ensemble to rappers (Chamillionaire ... seriously) looking for a hot dress for a music video, Boiwka's become one of the nation's most sought-after corsetieres. She shared with Capital Style the ins and outs of corset styling-and was happy to debunk a few myths about the Victorian staple.

Why corsets?

I had been studying beading, fabric art and pattern-making-I found that cultural costume and dress [from her anthropology studies] found its way into my work-and I found the structural qualities of corsets just so interesting. The first corset I ever made was for an elaborate Halloween costume. That movie "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" had just come out, and I decided to make a battle costume that had a leather corset. As I was making it, I realized it was a really good vehicle for other design elements, like beading and embroidering. (The corset) is such a strong piece; it will carry a lot. As my work got better, people started asking me to make stuff for them. And then I realized it could be something bigger.

What's the biggest misconception about the corset?

What Kim Kardashian wears ... those are actually Fajas. It's basically a girdle … a piece of rubber you're tying around your waist. It's not a corset at all. Foundation garments have their place, obviously, but it's just not the same thing. Corsets must have boning in them-preferably, steel boning.

The corsets for sale at the mall don't seem to fit all shapes and sizes …

An off-the-rack corset is not the same thing as a bespoke, made-to-measure corset. If you're trying it on and it's not comfortable … it's not your size. I take about 15 measurements to create a bespoke corset. Most important are bust, waist and hip. And then, there's a whole series of vertical measurements, like measuring your waist to your bust. If the corset sits too low or too high, it won't be comfortable.

So, ultimately, your corset should be comfortable.

It should feel like a hug, not a vice. People who have never worn them, they might think it's a torture device. But it shouldn't be more uncomfortable than wearing a pair of heels; though it's not the most natural state, it won't be excruciating.

What about shrinking your waist? Is there any truth to that?

Tight lacing is becoming popular … it's daily wear for waist reduction.

Is it healthy?

When done correctly, there's no medical risk. It's a slow, gradual process that should be done very gently and very slowly.

How long does it take you to create a bespoke corset?

If it's something simple, the construction might not take very long. One of my most elaborate pieces involved about 250 hours of labor. I like to have 3 months from start to finish to ensure we have time for fittings. I have clients across the globe and a large base of customers on the West Coast; I do a remote-fitting process, so it's easy for me to work with people regardless of their location.

OK, so when should one rock a corset?

I think there are a lot of great wears to wear a corset. I wear them out for special occasions. You can pair one with a simple black pencil skirt or skinny jeans. A waist cincture, which doesn't cover the bust, is more versatile.

And they're not just for slender people?

I've had clients of all shapes order them. A lot of people will try on an off-the-rack and think, "This just isn't for me." But, when you pick the right shape, you can get it tailored and they really will flatter anyone.

Not that busty? Go for an under-bust or mid-bust/demi shape. Worried about your hips? Select a corset with a long-line shape that comes down a little lower.

Do you have a typical customer?

A lot of people who are really into retro clothing and that pinup look wear them under their clothing to get Dior's "The New Look" silhouette [a cinched-waist look made popular in the late 1940s]. Some of my clients have been getting more and more into historic period dressing, so they come to me to make Victorian corsets to go under ball gowns and the like. It's getting more popular in our area. I'm actually part of a historic costuming group that's going to host a Victorian ball soon.

Very cool!

Yes. And, along the same lines, I just completed a corset for the new PBS show "Mercy Street," which will air, starting in December, right around when "Downton Abbey" does.

Photos courtesy Wilde Hunt Corsetry