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Corseting the Male Form

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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

A History

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.

Monstrosities of 1818 CruikshankTowards 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." 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.

Invicorator belt, 1893 Abdominal Supporters Style E, 1912
1893   1912

 

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?

The Anatomy

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.
Male Skeleton Anatomy Female Skeleton Anatomy
   
Male Female

 

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. 

Getting Started

Steampunk Hunter vest, the busk is hidden under a buttoned placket

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.

Steampunk Hunter vest Ivory Steampunk men's corset Steampunk Orange men's corset Cabaret Tailor

 

Supplies for getting started:

  • Pencil
  • 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:

  1. Chest (taken over the nipples at the widest point around)
  2. Waist to chest
  3. Lower chest (generally about 2 inches below the nipples, the same location a woman’s underbust measurement rests)
  4. Waist to under chest
  5. Top Hip-spring (you want this measurement to be snug around the 12th floating ribs)
  6. Waist to Top Hip-spring(often between 1 and 2 inches from the waist)
  7. 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.)
  8. Bottom Hip-spring (this is approximately where his hip bones project)
  9. Waist to Bottom Hip-spring (generally between 2 and 3 inches from the belly button)
  10. Hip (fullest point)
  11. Waist to Hip
  12. Apex to Apex (from nipple to nipple)
  13. 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)
  14. Amount of reduction

Taking the measuresWhen 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.

Pattern step 1: Marking the measures

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.**

  1. On the Chest line starting at the CF mark out the chest QM to the right in Pencil.
  2. Mark the Apex measurement from CF.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Follow step 5 but using the Lower Chest measurement.
  7. Follow step 5 but using the Bottom Hip-spring measurement.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Follow step 10 but using the Hip QM.
  3. 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.

 

Pattern step 2: Drawing in the seams

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.

 

Pattern step 3: Forming the shape

 

Steampunk orange corsetYou may now choose to draft this corset out with appropriate seaming for your favorite method of construction!

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.

 

 

 


Notes

 

1.The Hermit of London. 1819
2. The Lord of manor, General Burgoyne

Gravatar
dcollington  
  Hurrah! Been longing for an article like this for ages. I remember seeing male corsets being worn in 'Deadwood', but they were no where near as pretty as yours. Thank you for this.  
 
Gravatar
araneablack  
  Now my BF can't say "No!" to me! I'm making him a male corset and I don't give a damn if I have to drug him to get him laced in :P

I do have a question... Is it absolutely necessary (for a male corset) that the bottom front part of the pattern pieces 2 & 3 is curved outward?

Personally I like a flatter front on female corsets and I'm wondering would a flatter front on a male corset be uncomfortable for the wearer?

Thank you for a great article!
 
 
Gravatar
peter  
  For a male with belly, flat front will be better. For a male with athletic figure a slight stomach dip is better as is for female as it allows more natural posture in the corset.  
 
Gravatar
thehouseofcanney  
  Hello and thanks to you both!

Araneablack:
You can make any adjustments necessary to make a better fit for your BF or clients. Piece number 2 once sewn to 1 actually end up being almost flat; the angle on the front panel just makes the second panel seem more curvy than they are once sewn.
However the flatter you make the front the more likely it will be to press against the front abdomen and front of the pelvis. With there being less space between the ribs and pelvis every panel needs to be used to it's fullest potential, so by making the front flatter you will in turn be loosing inches that you can cinch down.

Let me know when you go to try this out for yourself! I'd love to know how it works out for you.
 
 
Gravatar
corsetra  
  I have wanted to make my husband a corset vest, Mr. Canney, do you have any advise on making corset vests?  
 
Gravatar
zyurelaie  
  Sorry to bring back a really old post here but I too am very interested in this comment/question and I cant seem to find any comment here that has responded to it.

With the disney movie Tangled being so popular theres been a lot of interest in the vest worn by Flynn. It really looks like a corset vest but I am unsure of how to go about constructing the upper part of the vest and attatching it the lower corset.

This gives me different concerns from giving the corset an outer shell and essentially hiding it in the garment. If the rear yoke, shoulder and chest are seperate from the lower body of the "bodice" I am concerned the different fabric strengths and tensions would be problematic.
 
 
Cathy Hay  
  What a good idea! That sounds like an article in itself. We will consult the writers and see who bites!  
 
sparklewren  
  Really interesting and inspiring. And the fabric on that Hunter Vest is gorgeous!  
 
Gravatar
high_button_boots  
  This is very interesting, Mr Canney! As a transgender woman, I wonder how this could be adapted to those of us who have masculine ribcages yet strive for a more feminine silhouette.

I made my first female corset from a standard pattern, but after one convention weekend of wearing it, it began pinching a nerve in my left pelvic/thigh region and became unbearably painful to wear, forcing me to consult with a corsetiere for my next one. It'd be nice to figure out what went wrong; I don't trust myself to make another properly.
 
 
jerwin  
  I think the article could be clearer. I've attempted to reproduce the draft, using the measurements cleverly hidden in one of the accompanying photos, and it took me some time to properly locate all the points. I'm looking forward to drafting it to my measurements.  
 
Gravatar
volcanoeyesold  
  Could someone explain step 4 through the end of the tutorial in English? With the way this tutorial is written, I can't understand what's being asked. The photos offer no help either. I've honestly never been so confused when trying to draft a corset pattern.  
 
Gravatar
bloodbound  
  I had quite a bit of trouble with step 4 as well. I think what he possibly means to say is that you mark out a half an inch from the waist line and them mark a curved line starting from the top hip spring and then ending at the hip line.
Then you are subtracting the waist measurement of your first panel from your waist measurement. You made your first panel without accommodating for your waist measurement so you need to know how many cm/inches you have left to work with. I think....this is helpful but very challenging on account of the style it has been written in. It must be very hard to try and simplify these steps in language every one will understand.
 
 
Gravatar
bloodbound  
  Oh an I am dividing instead of subtracting the measurements on step four and five and using them as a general guide for where to plot my pattern from instead of subtracting by two which I think must have been a possible typo....I am plotting these measurements out and leaving two cm between each panel. I have started with the hip measurement and am working my way back up as this makes much more sense to me also.  
 
Gravatar
juliab  
  Tyler Klene said :
Could someone explain step 4 through the end of the tutorial in English? With the way this tutorial is written, I can't understand what's being asked. The photos offer no help either. I've honestly never been so confused when trying to draft a corset pattern.


Tyler - One cant plough a field by turning it over in ones mind. I would suggest that you get a piece of paper, and a pencil, and go through this tutorial step by step in practice. Like many things, you will soon find that by doing it, the mud will clear :)
 
 
Gravatar
volcanoeyesold  
  Julia Bremble said :
Tyler Klene said :
Could someone explain step 4 through the end of the tutorial in English? With the way this tutorial is written, I can't understand what's being asked. The photos offer no help either. I've honestly never been so confused when trying to draft a corset pattern.


Tyler - One cant plough a field by turning it over in ones mind. I would suggest that you get a piece of paper, and a pencil, and go through this tutorial step by step in practice. Like many things, you will soon find that by doing it, the mud will clear :)


I was drawing it while I went through it, and still really couldn't get it. I emailed the author for more help.
 
 
Gravatar
eternity  
  Hi There,
I've been trying to draft a corset vest for my BF but am having problems at the top of the center back, because there is nothing for it to pull on around the armholes, the gap left in the lacing is just being pulled together at the top, which destroys the cut around the shoulders and neckline, do you have any suggestions on how to solve this?
Thanks =]
 
 
Gravatar
lederwerk  
  volcanoeyesold said :
Could someone explain step 4 through the end of the tutorial in English? With the way this tutorial is written, I can't understand what's being asked. The photos offer no help either. I've honestly never been so confused when trying to draft a corset pattern.

Iam just trying to draw this pattern and am lost at step 4, too. It would be much clearer if the Points had letters, I can't figure out which point is to go where
 
 
Gravatar
peter  
  araneablack said :
I do have a question... Is it absolutely necessary (for a male corset) that the bottom front part of the pattern pieces 2 & 3 is curved outward?

Personally I like a flatter front on female corsets and I'm wondering would a flatter front on a male corset be uncomfortable for the wearer?


For a male with belly, flat front will be better. For a male with athletic figure a slight stomach dip is better as is for female as it allows more natural posture in the corset.
 
 
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