It’s worth bearing in mind before I start talking about corsets and waist training that you’ll find lots of conflicting advice and claims about what corsets and waist trainers can do, how they can affect your health and more. As long as you’re wearing them sensibly, for example, breaking in corsets and only tightening them as much as is comfortable for you, there should be no health concerns, but it’s always worth checking with your own doctor if you have concerns about wearing either garment. I’d recommend reading a beginner’s guide to corsets, like this one from Glamorous Corset, which will help you know how to get started with waist training.
For the purposes of this article, when we talk about corsets, we mean the garment on the left below; a waist trainer, sometimes known as a waist cincher, is the garment on the right:
(Images via Orchard Corset)
1. Steel boning
A corset is designed using a combination of flat or rigid steel boning and spiral steel boning.
A waist trainer may have no boning at all, some acrylic or plastic boning, or may have some steel boning to help provide shape. This is usually less than a corset though with 4 steel bones rather than the 8+ a corset has.
You may also come across cheaper versions of corsets that have plastic boning rather than steel bones. These are generally better worn as fashion garments than for waist compression – they’re definitely not suitable for waist training (see below for more of an explanation of what waist training is). This is because the spiral steel bones are designed to be flexible yet strong, whereas plastic boning buckles under the pressure needed for waist training.
2. Hook and eye vs. lacing
Corsets fasten with lacing at the back of the garment. This is how they can be tightened or loosened to be removed or to fit the wearer properly.
Waist trainers fasten with a row of hooks and eyes at the front.
A corset will usually also have a busk at the front. This is a fastening made out of steel with loops on one side and pins on the other. This is to allow the wearer to get in and out of the corset more easily than putting it over their head or hips.
3. Construction material
A corset is usually made out of natural, non-stretch material such as cotton or leather. You can also find them made out or covered with silk, satin or mesh fabrics, always non-stretch. The base for a corset is usually a thick and sturdy strong fabric called coutil.
A waist trainer on the other hand is made from materials with some stretch such as latex, nylon or spandex. These materials are often synthetic.
The purpose of the corset’s strong fabric is to help the garment keep its very structured shape, whereas a waist trainer is designed to stretch and compress the wearer’s body.
4. Cinch vs compression
A corset is designed to compress only one, very specific, area of the body: the waist. Thanks to its construction, it’s possible for a corset to fit tightly around the waist while being snug everywhere else.
A waist trainer, on the other hand, is a compression garment that puts pressure across the whole torso.
Corsets can much more easily be designed to fit a range of body types. For example, this CS426 corset with hip ties from Orchard Corset is designed for a very curvy hourglass shape that dips in more at the waist; their CS305 corset, on the other hand, is for more athletic body types. I personally need a very curvy corset (like the one I reviewed here) – when I wear ones that aren’t designed to fit my hip shelf that’s comparatively much larger than my waist, I get a larger amount of compression on my hips, meaning it’s uncomfortable. Thanks to the multiple panels, steel boning and strong fabrics, the construction of a corset makes these differences in design possible.
On the other hand, a waist trainer or waist cincher doesn’t have the flexibility in construction to be able to fit the garment to a more specific body type due to the fewer panels it’s made out of and the stretchy fabric. I’d personally struggle to find a waist trainer that fits my underbust, waist and hips due to this, meaning that if I fit it to my waist, I’d get way too much compression on my hips; if I fit it to my hips, it would have absolutely no effect on my waist.
5. Purpose & function
Both are functional garments, but are designed with a different purpose in mind. A corset is designed more for style, often as an undergarment, sometimes as a piece of lingerie, whereas a waist trainer is chosen for the purpose of shrinking your waist (read more about this in the next heading).
Thanks to its cinching factor, a corset is worn to give a specific shape and style, usually for those who like vintage and retro styles so that their body shapes fits the clothing from a certain era better. They can also sometimes be worn for health and comfort purposes.
6. Corset “waist training” vs. “waist trainers”
There are claims that corsets and waist trainers can permanently change your shape. I’m not going to say either way whether I believe this is true or not, but these claims definitely need to be taken with a pinch of salt. While wearing either garment, your shape will be different to the way you look without it. A permanent body shape change, however, is something very different, so having this as your ultimate goal when wearing a corset or a waist trainer might not be the best course of action.
You might hear corset wearers talking about “waist training”, but this is something a little bit different to what a waist trainer does. When a corset wearer says “waist training”, they’re talking more about getting their waist used to wearing corsets so that they can move into progressively smaller waist and curvier corsets. When the corset is removed, their waist will generally return to very close to its original size and shape, but it’s “trained” to fit back into that smaller corset. Sometimes weight loss is a secondary effect of corset wearing.
The goal for people wearing waist trainers is slightly different: it’s often as part of a workout plan, with an aim of losing weight around the waist and changing their waist shape using compression.
PS: If you’re interested in trying out a corset, check out the banner in our sidebar- Glamorous Corset are offering 15% off to our readers with the code BIGCUP.