Anthony guides you through drafting out a well-fitted, comfortable masculine corset pattern ready for seam allowances and mocking up.
He was dressed in the ultra pitch of fashion, collared like the leader of a four-horse team, and pinched in the middle like an hourglass, with a neck as long as a goose, and a cravat as ample as a tablecloth.'1
I would be out of line if I were to claim that there was ever a time when a man corseted himself as tightly and often as the women of any time in history, but after a short examination of fashion plates, advertisements, writings, and paintings throughout time you'll see that I'm not just being a romantic when I say that there were men who did, indeed, choose to wear corsets.
Towards the close of the eighteenth century, we find references to the wearing of stays by "smart" (well-dressed) officers in the army. They were described as good for providing sturdy back support when horseback riding and hunting, but also to slim the waist, broadening the appearance of the shoulders as fashion dictated.
In a 1781 comedy, a gent is described with "his stays laced."2 It's said that Utopian philosopher and economist Count Claude Henride Saint-Simon wore a corset, as did his followers. Having to assist one another with the lacings symbolized the humanitarian ideals of the Saint-Simonies movement after the French Revolution of 1789. There is a corset pattern reportedly for George IV at the London Museum, given to them by Queen Mary.
As man entered the nineteenth century, the male waistline became a conspicuous post-war fascination that would last for over a generation. Illustrations assure us that the exquisite Dandies would discuss the merits of the Brummell Bodice and the Cumberland Corset; that "All people of fashion wore them in town". In an entry in The Diary of a Dandy (1818) that the likes of even Oscar Wilde would have been unable to dream up, we learn that corsets were just as unreliable for men as for women: "Sent for the tailor and stay-maker - ordered a pair of Cumberland corsets with a whalebone back. A caution to the unwary! The last pair gave way to pick up Lady B.'s glove. The Duke of C. was vulgar enough to laugh and asked me in the sea slang if I had not missed stays in tacking."
But as trends fade and terms change, the Dandy fades into a "Beau" and so fades his restrictive and decorative style for a more sober uniform that would unify man for over a century to come. Not to say that man no longer chose to wear corsets, but rather, the corset changed by the 1880's from a restrictive boned garment to a stiff band with ribs that one would attach trousers to. This sounds much like contemporary support belts for those lifting a heavy load.
In the last hundred years it has been seen as undesirable or even effeminate for a man to take any real interest in his appearance. But common sense would dictate that, whether male or female, it should be perfectly acceptable to use whatever is around to present your best side to the public eye. Sadly it's not as easy to obtain a correctly fitting men's corset as it once was. There are online retailers who offer custom cut gents' corsets for a pretty fee, but what fun is there in that when you have the skills to create one yourself?
Once you remove the obvious visual differences between the sexes you will discover that the human body, regardless of its gender, is a marvel that has the most astounding ability to be molded by our own will, whether it's by device or diet. It is generally accepted that male bones are denser than female ones; however, this is dependent upon geographical location, age, and activity. I have made plenty of corsets for ladies with a stronger physique than my own.
Common differences between the male and female mid and upper body:
- Men generally have broader, squarer shoulders, creating a more triangular physique. Women tend to have narrower, rounder shoulders.
- The lower two pairs of floating ribs (named so because they do not attach to the sternum at the front of our chest) are often larger in males than females.
- The male waist line is generally described to be placed at the belly button. The female waist line on the other hand is placed an inch above the belly button, where it is often smaller.
- The male pelvis is often thicker and smaller with a V shaped pubic arch and an acute angled sub-pubic arch. The female pelvis on the other hand is wider and lighter with a wider pubic arch and sub-pubic arch. These pelvic differences aid greatly in child bearing and the fullness of hips.
Even though these distinctions are often subtle, they greatly affect the fit and comfort of standard corsets on the male body. Often, they painfully compress the lower ribs while being far too loose at the hip, and cut down too deeply in the front making it difficult to sit comfortably. Luckily, all is not lost. With just a little knowhow you can rework your favorite corset pattern or follow my step by step guide for graphing out and building your first Gentleman's Corset with ease for your lucky (or not so lucky) husband or friend.
The overall "building" of a man's corset is no different than that of a woman's. You want it to be durable and to hold its shape.
You are probably going to want a busk for easy removal, or maybe you want to give it a little character with a zipper, buckles, or no clasp at all. This is all up to you as the corset artisan!
You want a strong structural fabric whether it's of drill, twill, or a coutil, keeping in mind that if he is planning to lace tightly, twill and drill can twist over multiple wearings and nothing is more depressing than putting money into a good piece only to have it twist and look off.
I also recommend using ½ inch (13mm) boning as the standard boning. Not only does this add strength; it gives a simpler, less fussy appearance. I try to stick with spirals for all channels and two side by side along the side seam, except at the straight of the back and front. This helps because the angles on a man's corset are often more acute than on a woman’s, which can cause problems with flat steels; however, rules are meant to be broken. I myself have used flat at the first side seam for decorative uses as well as to help define and increase the effect of a V shaped torso.
Supplies for getting started:
- Pen (having two colors is helpful)
- Ruled pattern for writing
- Ruler (My clear quilter's ruler is never more than 4 ft from me at all times)
- Graph paper (white rolled pattern with a square inched mark cutting board OR pattern paper if you want to go straight to a full scale pattern)
- Calculator (If you are like me and despise math)
I use fourteen specific measurements for male corsets, as follows:
- Chest (taken over the nipples at the widest point around)
- Waist to chest
- Lower chest (generally about 2 inches below the nipples, the same location a woman’s underbust measurement rests)
- Waist to under chest
- Top Hip-spring (you want this measurement to be snug around the 12th floating ribs)
- Waist to Top Hip-spring(often between 1 and 2 inches from the waist)
- Natural waist (at the belly button if being worn as a male. If this is for a transgendered person or a female impersonator you will want to take this measurement 1 inch above the navel.)
- Bottom Hip-spring (this is approximately where his hip bones project)
- Waist to Bottom Hip-spring (generally between 2 and 3 inches from the belly button)
- Hip (fullest point)
- Waist to Hip
- Apex to Apex (from nipple to nipple)
- Across back at arm pits (this measurement falls at the same area as the chest measurement but only measures across the back to the crease of the arm pits with arms down)
- Amount of reduction
When taking these measurements down it is helpful to write them from top to bottom, I write my length measurements to the bottom left of each circumference measurement and a leave a space between before the Apex and remaining numbers. Doing this helps me to distinguish one set from the other and will come in handy later.
Looking at the measurements you will see that there is not a lot of room between the floating ribs and the male hip bones. It's more than likely that there won't be a great difference between the waist and hip measurements either. Though the hip-spring is narrow compared to a lady's, when put together it will be just as dramatic. These will be the main measurements you are going to need to focus on to ensure a comfortable and clean fit.
From Numbers to Pattern
(If you prefer you can take the first set of measurements and easily adapt them to a stock pattern of your liking. My first male corset was based on Past Pattern's 703. As a simple Civil War era corset it was very easy to adapt to male measurements. I have also used McCall's 4109 but with less success.)
We now have two sets of numbers, so let's start with the first set, the bulk of the measurements. We are going to want to subtract the back opening for lacing up the corset as well as include the reduction amount at the waist. For the purposes of this guide I'm going with 3 inches for the back opening and 7 inches at the waist, a 4 inch reduction. Subtract these amounts from each of the circumference measurements and write them down to the right of each of the original measurements.
Now we want to divide these new measurements by four. Write these new numbers to the right. I choose to box these digits in and circle the waist measurement for easy reference. I will refer to these as the Quarter Measurements (QM).
Divide the Apex measurement by two and write it to the right. Subtract the back opening from the Across back measurement and divide that by two. Write it to the right.
These will be the measurements we will be working with from here on out.
Pull out your paper for graphing. For this guide I will be graphing to ¼ inch scale. I can go back later and draft this out to full size with seam allowances included. You are going to want to mark out a long line as a guide for the waist line. I did this in black the full length of the paper. Then draw out the remaining vertical measurements, I did these in red. I then draw a vertical line on either side which will mark the Center Front (CF) and Back seams. I've also chosen to mark out the front drop at 5 inches. This is probably the maximum amount for this measurement since you do not want it to cut into his pelvis when sitting. This 5 inch mark will also be helpful when we go to draft out the back curve.
From here on I will be guiding you through drafting out the new circumference measurements onto the vertical measurement lines. Creating a well fitted, comfortable, and dare I say masculine corset pattern ready for seam allowances and mocking up. Please note that the numbers on the diagram above refer to each step in the drafting process listed below.
**When dividing I find it easier to round to a quarter of an inch to keep from having to try to grade odd percentages. I have not tried this in Standard English.**
- On the Chest line starting at the CF mark out the chest QM to the right in Pencil.
- Mark the Apex measurement from CF.
- From CF at the hip mark 1" out. With a ruler, connect this dot to mark 2. This is the Front Side Seam (FSS) and creates the first panel of the corset.
- From the Top Hip-spring draft a line to ½" in at the waist line and down to where the FSS intersects the Pelvis line. Then subtract the waist line measurement of the first panel from the waist QM. Subtract this measurement by two and can graph out these two seams using the line we just drew as a starting point and the chest marks as a general guide.
- Subtract the Top Hip-spring measurement of the first panel from the TH quarter measurement. You subtract this measurement by two and can graph out these two seams using the waist marks and chest marks as a guide. Dividing by two is a general guide. Starting at the FSS mark out the two measurements. You may need to make the side panel larger than the middle panel as I did, but be sure that the total of the sum is still equal to the GM.
- Follow step 5 but using the Lower Chest measurement.
- Follow step 5 but using the Bottom Hip-spring measurement.
- Move to the right side of your graph to the Back seam line. Draw a line one inch to the right of the back seam, parallel to it. This gives us space for the lacing and bones.
- At the Chest line mark the Back measurement starting from the Back at right. Starting where Back seam meets the pelvis line draft a line to the Back Measurement creating half a V and thus Creating the Upper back panel. Subtract this back measure from the Chest QM. Divide this by two and mark them out side to side.
- Subtract the back panel at the LC from the Lower Chest QM. Divide this roughly by two and mark them out as a starting points.
- Follow step 10 but using the Top Hip-spring GM.
Using the V created in step 9, start at the TH line and draw a line, tapering in a quarter inch, to the waist line. Continue tapering back out to 2¼" at the BH and follow this down. This creates the back panel and leaves us space for boning and grommets. Now subtract this back waist measure from the GM and divide by three. Multiply this by two for the middle back seam, to compensate for the heavy angle. Back these two measurements using the Chest marks as a general guide.
- Subtract the Back LH measure from the corresponding GM. As in step 12, divide this by three, multiplying by two for the middle panel. Mark these out.
- Follow step 10 but using the Hip QM.
- Before connecting the dots you may want to adjust the the size and shape of the side panels. Always be sure to back and to ensure that when you add the three panels up they equal a quarter of the final corset measurement.
We can now connect the dots and see the shape of the side seams. I prefer to keep the top of the corset fairly low to emphasize the chest and shoulders. I've gone with a 9" busk and drafted out a soft curve that stops about an inch above the Lower chest at the side. A soft curve at the bottom allows for sitting on this long line model. But you may choose to bring the bottom of the front higher and square off the bottom creating a stronger shape.
For the back I choose to keep it high towards the shoulders, and low to create additional back support.
Be sure to measure the length of each seam to ensure that they line up. The angled back panel is longer than it would be if it were parallel. So be sure to extend the corresponding seam.
I hope I have shed a bit of light on such an undocumented topic and that my ten years of lacing has helped to remind you all that we all have the tools to look our best.
As you build your first gentleman's corset you will realize there are even fewer differences between each of us, and that it's our proportions that make each and every one of us unique.
Regardless of our sex, it's the measurements that are the key to unlocking a perfect fit.
1.The Hermit of London. 1819
2. The Lord of manor, General Burgoyne