The fashion conscious have used corsets to reshape their figures for centuries, from the tight silhouettes Catherine de’ Medici introduced to the French court in the 1500s to the whaleboned foundation garments popularized by Victorians, to the celebrity-approved waist trainers of today. Once confined to being worn under clothing, corsets are now just as commonly worn as outerwear. Celebrity trend setters including Bella Hadid, Lizzo and every Kardashian have been photographed wearing tight-fitting body shapers.
While corsets historically have a reputation for being restrictive of breathing and activity, today’s corsetry movement aims for a blend of comfort, beauty, and figure support. “Well made corsets support the entire body including the bust, back, and hips, rather than simply cinching the waist,” says Autumn Adamme, whose Magazine Street shop, Dark Garden, offers custom-made and ready-to-wear corsets and bespoke gowns.
“Well made corsets support the entire body including the bust, back, and hips, rather than simply cinching the waist,” says Autumn Adamme, whose Magazine Street shop, Dark Garden, offers custom-made and ready-to-wear corsets and bespoke gowns.
“A corset that fits well lifts, smooths, and supports you better than any strapless bra or back brace,” says Adamme, who began designing and making corsets over 30 years ago. “Putting on a well-fitted corset brings instant confidence. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people get teary and say, ‘I never knew I could feel like this.’”
About the featured image (above): Annabelle is wearing Dark Garden’s Couture Robe in 4 Ply Crepe-Back Silk Satin ($4000), Couture Charmeuse Tap Pant ($1500), Bespoke Thigh Garter Set ($175), Risqué Valentine Corset in Buff Mini-Floral ($1295), Sweet Romance Bronze Pearl Earrings ($40) and Sweet Romance Rhinestone & Pearl Bow Necklace ($45)
(ABOVE) Gwen is wearing the Bespoke Lace Overlay Grable Corset (from $2950), Zoa Chimerum Bracelet, worn as Ear Cuff ($78) and the Elvira Collection Snake Necklace ($50) all available at Dark Garden Corsetry. Her ensemble is completed with a Marquise Floating Diamond necklace, the “Isolde” 14k white gold vintage opal ring, the “Florence” vintage 14k white gold ring with 0.15ct Marquise Shape Diamond Stone and 0.88cts side stones and a 2.50cts total carat weight classic diamond tennis bracelet from Brilliance in Diamonds. (JEWELRY DETAIL) Diamond engagement ring and classic diamond pavé band, 2.50cts total weight classic diamond tennis bracelet and Art Deco Gatsby Shield ring in 14k white gold with transitional and single cut diamonds from Brilliance in Diamonds.
While Adamme has always created custom bridal wear and ensembles, she recently expanded the company’s offerings to include a ready-to-wear bridal separates line. That’s right on trend; the 2020 bridal fashion shows by designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera featured corsets overlaid with other fabrics to create a look Harper’s Bazaar called “sophisticated sexiness.”
“Exposed corsets are still trending, but some designers are starting to take a more modest approach by using layers of organza, lace or chiffon to partially cover the bodice for a semi-sheer effect,” WeddingWire Associate Editor Samantha Lacia says. “Corsets have a romantic, fairytale appeal, and they’re a popular choice for dress-wearing to-be-weds who dream of wearing princess-inspired wedding fashion. Additionally, costumes from period dramas like Game of Thrones, Outlander, The Crown, and most recently, Little Women, are also responsible for the renewed interest in wedding dresses with corsets.”
Celebrities who have embraced dresses with visible corsets for their own nuptials include actress Zoe Kravitz, who wore an Alexander Wang white, strapless corset with a low-slung, slinky maxi skirt at her June 2019 wedding reception. Model Ashley Graham recently partnered with Pronovias and unveiled a ready-to-wear bridal fashion line in sizes 0 to 34. The partnership was inspired by Graham’s frustration that she couldn’t find a corset dress larger than a size 10 when she got married.
Meeting the unserved needs of plus-sized women and others left out by mainstream fashion is one reason Adamme began making custom clothing. In the late 1980s, she worked at a clothing store that specialized in larger sizes – yet she saw many women disappointed with their options.
“We go shopping because we’re looking not just to clothe ourselves but to play with and express our sense of identity,” she says. “To see women leave feeling worse was heartbreaking to me.” With Dark Garden, Adamme translated her first decade of custom work into a ready-to-wear corset line. Now, a dozen styles are offered in sizes from 16” to 42” which fit waists from 22” to 48”+, and custom sizing is always available.
Adamme began offering her corsets in 1989. They are “historically inspired,” she says, but don’t use historic patterns “because modern bodies and lifestyles are so different.” She opened her first brick and mortar store in San Francisco in 1993 and soon built a loyal client base that includes celebrities such as burlesque dancer Dita von Teese, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Pamela Anderson and more.
“There’s always been a demand for corsetry in New Orleans,” says Adamme, whose relationship with the city goes back at least as far as her own wedding day. One of the designs in Dark Garden’s style library was inspired by a series of fittings with the Sirens of New Orleans, whose original look she designed in 2010. It’s called the “Valentine” and is best for women “whose hourglass is more than half full.”
“I would fit 15 to 25 women in a weekend, and when you see so many people in such a short time you start to notice patterns,” she says. “I realized I kept needing to make the same pattern alteration so we added a new style.”
Adamme’s preferred fabrics include silk satins, silk brocades, and French broché. But even with such delicate-looking materials, corset-wearing can be “fierce and feminine at the same time. You can accentuate your curves while retaining your strength,” Adamme says, adding that warriors in Ancient Greece wore waist reducing support garments into battle as did officers in the 19th Century.
The key to a good corset, either one that’s off the rack or made to order, is the correct fit, says Rena Sweeney, owner/designer at Alchemy Events and the creative director of New Orleans Weddings Magazine.
“Going to see professionals such as Dark Garden means you’ll be measured and fit to the correct corset for your body type as well as the length of your torso. They will also teach you the correct way to lace it,” Sweeney says. “If you have a particularly low back or other unique detail to your dress, you may want to consider having a corset custom made to work with the shape of your gown and your body. Also take into consideration the type of material your dress is made out of, as some materials will show boning. so you may opt to just use a body smoother instead.” Dark Garden has pioneered an array of construction styles, including some options designed to be particularly discreet under clingy, fitted fabrics.
WeddingWire’s Lacia says a custom corset “becomes an investment piece you’ll have forever and is a chance to wear something that you’ve always dreamed of.” At Dark Garden, corsets in the ready-to-wear line start at $395 while bespoke styles start at $1,750. Adamme’s team likes to have at least three months of lead time to fit and construct a bespoke corset. That may seem steep to some but realize the right corset requires multiple fittings. These can be done in person or remotely through video consultation. Corsets from the ready-to-wear line are available to try on and purchase in-store, or can be made-to-order within 6 weeks.
“As with shoes, if they hurt, you won’t wear them. Compare the price of two pairs of uncomfortable shoes to one pair of good shoes,” Adamme says. “Most people have some asymmetry, like one hip higher than the other, and the corset might dig into the armpit or not support one breast. [Custom fitting means] we can draft a pattern for each half of the body which makes for a much more comfortable and flattering fit.”
A well-fitting corset, Adamme says, never goes out of style. It can be put on display on your wedding day and then styled with other clothing for multiple wears.
“One of the things I love best about corsets is you can wear them as part of many ensembles,” she says. “You’re not limited to a one-day wear.”
To learn more about Dark Garden Corsetry, visit darkgarden.com