I’ve often marvelled at the different body shapes which have been in fashion over the decades: from the skinny boyish figure of the 1920s and 1960s to the fabulous hourglass figures of the 1950s. It also got me wondering why people don’t look like that today.

Betty Brosmer and her tiny waist

Above: 1950s model and pinup Betty Brosmer. Image courtesy of BettyBrosmer.com

It was quite a revelation to discover the practice of waist training. Of course I’d heard about corsets but I hadn’t realized the body-modifying effects they had on models and the part they played in creating those amazing tiny waists.

It was even more of a surprise to find that this practice is still widely used by models, pin up girls and burlesque performers today.

I was determined to find out exactly what was involved, so when I met Ben Gallivan and discovered that he was an expert on corseting and waist training it was a great opportunity to get the low down on this secretive art …

Here’s what he had to say:

Training corsets can be used for different reasons but ultimately the same end product; body modification. The two main reasons that they are used are no doubt obvious to most; many are used for medical reasons for instance to correct curvature of the spine or suchlike but also they are used more and more often for cosmetic reasons. We’ll be concentrating on the latter here.

Firstly it’s important to know the jargon. Waist training can also be known as corset training, waist cinching and waist reduction; it is more than likely that you’ll hear these phrases or variations on them at some point but essentially they mean exactly the same thing. It is also important to understand that you can’t just pick up any old corset online or in-store and expect it to work wonders on your figure – some are merely fashion corsets and will have no effect at all in shrinking that waist down.

This is where we need to start talking about boning (no laughing at the back, this is serious!). The boning of a corset is what keeps everything in place, and waist training corsets generally have a steel boned structure. Even when the corset is tightly laced up, the steel boning prevents anything sticking out (so no unsightly bulges!) or anything sticking into you. If you find exactly the right corset for waist training it is more than likely that you could eventually take 4 or 5 inches off your current waist size, they really are that effective.

If the whole idea appeals to you, then there are a few things to consider before you get your credit card out and order one from the first site that you come across. Firstly, it is very important that you seek medical advice before going down the waist training road. This isn’t meant to put you off, but it is essential that you get plenty of advice and do your own research into it before taking the final step.

The phrase ‘steel boned corset’ doesn’t exactly conjure up images of beautiful, floral pieces of clothing but that’s just your mind playing tricks with you. Steel boned corsets don’t only come with a choice of gorgeous patterns and strong, sturdy fabrics, but also a choice of underbust or overbust.

Waist Training Corset

Quite self-explanatory, the underbust corset concentrates on solely that – anything under the bust. The breasts won’t be any more supported as with any other clothing, this is purely all about the waist. Therefore, you might want to wear something underneath the corset should you be venturing out in public. The overbust corset not only pulls the waist in (more comfortable than it sounds!), but also supports and accentuates the breasts and they can be worn alone – providing of course you’ve got something on below the belt.

This may all make it a little more confusing and difficult a decision than you were expecting when you first started reading, I’m sure; but if you speak to the right people and look in all the right places then you could be getting that hourglass figure that you’ve always dreamed of in next to not time, and with only the smallest expense.

Ben Gallivan is a dedicated follower of vintage fashions. He writes for Corset-Story, an online corset and accessories store which specialises in waist training corsets as well as those in the fashion and burlesque style.

You might also like: Waist training: a visual history of corsetry