If you study the history of western fashion or costume for any significant length of time eventually you’re going to run headfirst into the subject of corsetry. There are so many myths and so much misinformation out there that the subject can be a really touchy one for historians and costume enthusiasts.
However, the fascination people have with corsets also has the potential to serve as a gateway. Learning about corsets can lead to explorations of fashion history, historic costuming, theatrical costuming, corset making, or lingerie.
This roundup is a collection of the resources I’ve come across while exploring my own curiosity about corsets and stays. It by no means is a list of everything available but I do intend to add to it periodically as I stumble across new things.
Note: This page may contain affiliate links. This means that, while the amount you pay will be the same, I may receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my links. See my full disclosure here.
Historic Corset and Undergarment Research
Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh and Judith Dolan
Norah Waugh is one of the OG costume historians and for a long time, her book Corsets and Crinolines was one of the best resources for costumers looking for information on historic corsets and stays. However, it was out of print. Copies were hard to find and very expensive. A recent revision by Judith Dolan has meant that the book is once more readily available. Descriptions of silhouettes and diagrams of corset patterns from the 1500s to the 1920s are the main draw of this book. You can read my full review here or buy at Bookshop.org.
Patterns of Fashion 5 by Jannet Arnold et al.
While I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of this book yet, I had to include it this roundup. Jannet Arnold was another one of the OG costume historians. This recently published book from The School of Historical Dress was developed from some of the unpublished research that Arnold left behind. It covers undergarments from the years 1595-1795. Redthreaded has a great review here. Buy through The School of Historical Dress.
Sewing Stays and Building Corsets
The Basics of Corset Building by Linda Sparks
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to catch a short class on corset making and supplies taught by Linda at the Novi Sewing and Quilt Expo. The emphasis on supplies wasn’t surprising once I learned that one of her jobs was running the excellent online shop Farthingales Corset Making Supplies. Her book on corset making is slim, but so packed with useful photos that it is very much worth a read if you’re new to corset sewing. It’s the sort of great reference resource that I love to have on hand. Buy at Abe Books.
Custom Corsets: Bones, Casings and Busks by Linda Sparks
If the above review has you thinking that you’d love to have gone to that class with me, I have good news: Linda also has an online class! With a focus on boning and busks, it’s great if you’ve already made one or two corsets and are looking to expand your techniques for making corsets and stays. Buy or subscribe at Craftsy.
Sewing Corsets Essential Techniques by Allison Smith
This course walks you through the making of a modern-style corset step by step. Allison Smith is one of my favorite instructors on the Blueprint (formerly Craftsy) platform. This class is perfect if you’re looking to make a simple corset with a fashion fabric outer layer and want someone to demonstrate all of the steps. I found myself wanting a little more information on fitting, but that may be too much to ask from a short, mass market, online course. Buy or subscribe at Craftsy.
Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington
While it may be fun to work with the patterns taken from historic garments by Waugh and Arnold, sometimes historical accuracy isn’t the most important part of a project. Barrington’s book is great if the project you’re working on is less about making a direct reproduction and more about making a corset or stays that will fit on a specific person. The book uses drafting methods that will be familiar to anyone that has studied pattern making for fashion design but is written clearly enough that it shouldn’t be impossible for a newbie to use. Buy at Bookshop.org.
The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele
If you’re looking for a nuanced and well-researched guide to the history of corsets, this is the book you want. Written by the longtime director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, it addresses many of the myths surrounding corsetry in a nuanced and critical way. Buy at Indibound.org)
The Lingerie Addict by Cora Harrington
While not 100% focused on corsetry, this long-running blog is a great resource for those looking to buy, rather than make a corset. The blog has articles reviewing online retailers, on how to care for a corset, and more. One of my favorites is How to Order a Custom Corset by guest writer Marianne Falkner. You can read the blog here.
Foundations Revealed by Kathy Hay
This members-only site is the place to go if you’re really serious about making your own corsets and stays. It contains a wealth of articles related to corset making, both historical and modern, as well as access a vibrant community of other corset enthusiasts. While I found the interface to be clunky when I was a member in the past, there really isn’t anywhere else to get this much corset specific information in once spot. Enrollment right now is on a rolling basis, so if you can’t sign up right away get yourself on the waiting list! Not sure? There are enough free articles up that you can get a feel for the site before committing. Visit here.
This small (3.6k) subreddit is a great place to start if you have corsetry questions that aren’t easily answered by a quick google. While not the most active of groups (usually only a few posts a week), the posts and replies tend to be thoughtful. It’s free to read and free to join. Visit here.
I definitely have just barely scratched the surface with this post, but I hope it can be of use to someone! Feel free to drop your favorite resources for making corsets and stays in the comments! I’d love new things to add here.