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Corsets, Waspies, Bustiers & Basques: What the hell is the difference?

In this article, I demystify some classic lingerie pieces – or at least explain the nuances. The keys to what makes each piece different.

They are each special in their own way and are made for a completely different function. We use the terms interchangeably because of a lack of understanding. That’s how we end up frustrated that we can’t find what we want when we shop. More often than not, we are getting exactly what we are buying. We’re just buying the wrong thing we are looking for.


How could we not? There is a bunch of misinformation and confusing advertising out there. The site you ordered it from said it was a corset, didn’t it? So it must be. Nope, sorry love. It doesn’t have to be.


As with any industry, the lingerie or intimate apparel industry has its own lingo. A bunch of special terms derived from old customs and foreign languages. It can get quite confusing. When you get down to it, it’s like anything else, it helps to describe the nuances of each garment with a specific term for clarity of communication.


Well, it’s supposed to anyway. I think older generations just wanted to sound formal, fancy, and sometimes exclusionary. In modern times, if you don’t know what a specific piece is called it can get frustrating and actually break communication down.

Have no fear, we are here to help! One of the most requested pieces of lingerie we get in the shop, next to great fitting bras, of course, is corsets. Upon further conversation, the showing of Pinterest pins and hand gesturing, we can usually determine that’s not what most clients truly want at all.

“I want a corset. I’m wearing it under my wedding dress.” “I want a corset. I want to surprise my honey with a certain look.” “I need a corset. I have $60 and want to cover my tummy for my first time with this guy.” No matter the motivation behind it, 9 times out of 10, ladies that walk in are REALLY looking for a Bustier or a Basque.

So, what’s the difference?



Overbust Corset Red Lingerie Pin Up Model

Overbust Corset via What Katie Did

Made of significantly stiff and non-stretchy materials, in addition to rigid steel boning, and a lace up back. Sometimes they have a completely enclosed front panel, sometimes they have a metal busk (heavy duty hook & eye closure with significant metal reinforcement within the piece)

They are made to be very restrictive. This is how you achieve the coveted and exaggerated hourglass figure or waist train. This does not mean you can’t breathe, but your range of motion adjusts to the way the garment can move on your body. Most women are used to lots of lycra, elastane, and looser fitting garments. Wearing a corset is a huge adjustment that does take time to get used to.


Red Underbust Corset Lingerie Pin Up Model

Morticia Nouveau Underbust Corset via What Katie Did


Corset styles can vary by maker or purpose. Corsets can be overbust or underbust. This means covering the breasts or sitting beneath them, respectively. Length typically extends at the hip or over the hip. The rear laces combined with the steel boning define the waist, and coverage over the hips accentuates the drastic difference between the chiseled waist and rounded hips creating the coveted hourglass figure.

The garment provides a smooth sleek silhouette with an emphasis on waist size reduction. Again, it’s all about the hourglass. Overbust corsets are not meant to define and contour breasts like bras or other garments. The breasts are pushed up and in, though not necessarily flattened. Again, attributing to the accentuated curves and the deficit of the waist.

Corsets cost. A true and good corset made to cinch your waist can start in the $250 range with some bespoke creations well into the $800 – $2000 range. Making this piece takes a lot of experience, engineering, and artistry. It is usually sewn and crafted by an experienced corsetiere. If you are truly interested, pop by the shop and we can refer you to some amazing artisans!



Red Waspie Lingerie Retro Pin Up Model

Luna Waspie via What Katie Did


A garment that has corset details (like a busk, boning, and/ or lace-up back) but fastens only around the waist, is called a waspie. It cinches the waist like a corset and is good for some waist definition or to enhance breasts. As with an underbust corset, waspies can be worn with either a bra, bare-chested, with burlesque tassels or over clothing. Don’t get the waspie confused with a waist cincher. Waist cinchers typically are stretchier shapewear.



Black Basque Suspender Straps

Modern Basque

Historically speaking a basque was used during certain eras in history to elongate and smooth the figure with gentle enhancement and typically gave the breasts a lifted, but somewhat flattened appearance. It was stiff and had boning, some with laces, but was not meant to completely shape like a corset.

I have found that there are 2 variations of the modern Basque. One appears to be very similar to a corset in style but functions like the historic model. Its stiff and holds you in, but doesn’t give the body an exaggerated shape. They are much less expensive and easy to find. We have a couple in the shop like this. They are great for spicing up your outfit or changing it up in the bedroom.

The other version of a modern Basque’s is far more forgiving. It sits close on your figure enhancing your curves, while gently shaping the natural curvature of your body. This version can lift and shape the breasts, as there is typically an underwire bra built into the garment. It has a longer length kissing the top of your hips to just a little over the top of the hip.

While it may have flexible boning to achieve the gentle shaping, the fabric and overall construction is meant to skim and hug but is not as restrictive or compressive as a traditional corset or basque. They tend to be decorative and may have attached or removable suspenders for hosiery. They may also be referred to as a “merry widow”.

What a romantically kinky name!? Don’t you think? This is what the majority of you who walk in the shop are looking for. These are the pictures you show me how you want to look for date night. We absolutely have selections available in store! (full bust and plus size styles & sizes available depending on store availability at time of your visit)



Bridal Bustier White

White Bridal Bustier by Va Bien (Front View)


White Bridal Bustier

White Bridal Bustier by Va Bien(Rear View)

A more modern style. This may be what you are really looking for under special occasion dresses or bridal wear. Think fancy bra meets fancy shapewear. It’s more flexible in the construction and may have stretch panels, lace inserts, soft plastic boning and/or elastic. They tend to be shorter in length than the corset or basque; usually at/or above the hip or at the waist.

This piece forms the body into a smooth shaped silhouette. It lifts, separates, and shapes the breasts. Bustiers fasten with traditional hook-and-eye closures as you see on standard bras. These are much more affordable than corsets, but no less special given their purpose.

They are mass produced and much more affordable. Some people may refer to them as a long line bra. We are seeing more of a trend towards long line fashion bras instead of styles that include true shaping in the torso. I keep the two terms separate. Yes, we absolutely have selections in stock! (availability depends on store inventory at the time of your visit)

Whether you know what you are looking for or only have an idea of what you want to feel like, pop in for a visit. We can get you there! We take the stress out of bra & lingerie shopping, and we make it fun!

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