In The Beforetimes, we started on a project with Jessica to do a custom outfit to help with some pain and health issues, and what between pandemics and all that we had to keep very quiet until the video was released yesterday! Watch it here now. She originally asked for a corset but I got a bit over-excited and ended up doing a slight mission-creep.
Lou Watson created an outfit that combines the Doren Bra, a new french knicker (inevitably soon to join the range as the Jessica), a fan laced corset, and custom-dyed lace and bedjacket from Ayten Gasson - all one-offs. You can find standard versions in the links, or if the video makes you want full custom, you can book the starting point of that here. Jessica very kindly has let us use her own pictures which is good because we'd only shot them on a mannequin. Thank you, Jessica :)
Jessica is a queer, Deaf and disabled content creator, mostly on YouTube - I also follow her on Instagram - who I met approximately a billion lifetimes ago when she was modelling and I was wrangling hosiery onto models. Hosiery-wrangled is a real job. It's not as good as you think. Not even if you really like feet.
Jessica had asked about if it was possible for Lou to make a corset that would tackle her scoliosis (put simply, curvature of the spine). Everyone is a little asymmetric, but for mass manufacturing, you usually assume that people can wear things that are mirrored - and for the most part that works ok. For some of us, we're not that standardised, and that can be especially true with scoliosis.
I have to confess my main experience of it is though a Judy Bloom book, Deenie, which I have a horrible feeling is probably still relevant.
Anyway, it's very possible for Lou to put all sorts of tweaks into corsets, I like Jessica very much, and we're generally interested in disability issues of all sorts what with KMD existing because of my disabilities, so we agreed to do it on what we generally refer to as "pay for play"; Providing Stuff In The Hope Of Publicity Or Other Benefit. Also because sometimes you just want to do things because they're interesting or fun.
For the purposes of the UK's Advertising Standards Agency; everyone involved forthwith gave up their time and materials for the chance at publicity and also because we wanted to, rather than take actual cash monies, but we didn't pay for an advert as such. Hope that's clear!
The first step was a fitting, ideally filmed; but the workshop in Sheffield was at the time a bit of a kip, and too far, and my home is, er, also not ideal. Thankfully my lovely friend Sam, boss of FairyGothMother, let us go there instead. This did mean we got distracted;
But Lou somehow managed to corral All The Measurements and we talked through how a lot of things people claim about corsets are just nonsense.
Lou and I also realised during this that Jessica hadn't had the opportunity to speak to anyone about the specific combination of her issues and lingerie for a while; like many people with connective tissue problems, she likes support for the torso but can't wear underwires. This combines with some more common issues - small back size with a changeable bust size that's often in the fuller cup region - to make finding appropriate garments a bit tricky.
One tip for this is to buy a bra plus a shaper, instead of getting longline bras, as there is a lot more choice in non-wired bras these days, but this narrows if you also want a longline.
Additionally, always remember that a decent tailor can easily alter the back size on a bra - it's pretty much the only bit of a bra that is easy to change - and one of these days I will get round to show you how to do it by hand.
Lastly, we were faced with our worst horror; having to be family-friendly. In spite of having worked with families (I was a psychologist) for a decade, I am just inherently inappropriate. Not for me those delightful codes for breasts - I am explicit material, albeit with educational intent for the most part.
Lou began to develop the corset, sending a toile back and forth to get feedback (we can develop all these things without seeing you in person), while I gave some thought to the other issues.
We planned to complete after peak season - Dec-Feb in the pants biz - and then the pandemic hit, Lou was locked out of the workshop for months, logistics chains were all shot to bits, and our co-conspirator, Ayten Gasson, was trying to run her business from home whilst parenting. I'm not actually sure she's slept in the last 6 months.
But here's where we ended up.
Lou and Ayten have created a set that draws from existing silhouettes from each brand but is a one-off, with a mix and match set of bedjacket, bra, corset and tap pants.
Ayten made a cropped version of her signature bedjacket, which she cuts from one piece of fabric, seamless for sensitive skins, and if you look inside you can see that she uses a fancy edge method - she doesn't use the standard commercial cheap but sometimes unpleasant overlocking.
She usually works in silk, but we usually work in synthetic satin (fancy stuff from Italy though, by Boselli, matte and with some lycra) and after some experimenting with whether we could dye it or not, she went with tea-dying the lace trim instead
The lace is cotton, from the last remaining British Leavers Lace maker. If you enjoy Ayten's work, she does offer various customisation options and can negotiate all of it online. However, she will only stoop to using synthetic fabrics for me! The rest of you will simply have to put up with silk, cotton and bamboo.
KMD produces as standard a vertically seamed, lightly padded no wire bra that has a lot of flexibility in fit - the Doren. Lou customised an ivory satin Van Doren bra to be a small back/bigger cup than usual and added Ayten's lace trim.
Lou added an entirely new tap pant or french knicker, loose and light enough to be easy to wear and hopefully mean that very little would be on show in any video or images. They get shown under shapewear in arty product photography, but people often wear them over it in real life - makes going to the loo easier. The tap pant is also in Boselli satin with Ayten's lace trim. Versions of this knicker will be available soon!
Lou used the original measurements and feedback on the toile to create a unique corset. She used longer line shape than normal for our underbusts and changed the pattern to account for asymmetry. It's made from spiral steels, flat steels, silk, cotton coutil, and powernet, and it uses fan-lacing, developed to help people get in and out of their corsets themselves. You can read about it here on The Underpinnings Museum.
We advise wearing this over something so it doesn't have to deal with too much in the way of washing, though as and when, follow The Lingerie Addicts guide to cleaning a corset. If your house is full of brick dust, as Jessica's was, you can hoover the corset ;)
A few people have asked about pricing.
Off the rack, a bedjacket from Ayten will typically be around £95-£105 depending on the fabrics involved.
The Van Doren bra is about £36, and our knickers go from about £15 to . . . well, fancy silk french knickers are £120! Our own brand tends to be between £25-60.
At the moment, a standard Fan Lace Corset is £250, and changes will add to the cost, depending on how much time is involved.
I didn't fully cost out this custom order as it was a passion project, but realistically with the time involved to do fittings, dye fabrics, get new parts, all of that stuff, it would have ended up in the high 3 figures, especially after tax.
Obviously there is a political issue here that mass manufacturing makes clothing more accessible than ever before - but only for people with "average" bodies.
Neither medical nor social care funding seem to include much about specialist garments to meet people's needs, and it's fair to say that most people will find it very difficult to afford custom or personalised garments, even if they are not in a marginalised group whose income tends to be low.
We all do have more choice now in garments than we ever had before, but it can be hard working through the plethora and having to play trial and error to find what works when you're short on time, energy and money. But you can offset this by asking around for what works for people with similar issues - we're all unique, but none of us are ever alone. You can also find a lot of tutorials these days on how to make some of the simpler changes to garments that can help.
Let me know how many tap pants to make - and if you have any other questions? :)