Corsets vs Basques

Corsets vs Basques

Suspender Belts for Stockings

1950s merry widow basque by What Katie Did. Shop 1950s inspired lingerie, corsets and shapewear by vintage lingerie by vintage lingerie experts What Katie Did

What is the Difference Between a Corset and a Basque?

At What Katie Did we often get asked, "how overbust corsets look under clothing?" and for larger cup sizes, "are they comfortable enough to replace a bra?"

Let’s take a look at the word ‘corset’ for a start. Today, this word is used to describe all kinds of lingerie, tops and belts. When traditional corsetieres talk about corsets, they mean a completely non stretch garment with lacing at the back which you use to tighten the corset to (eventually) your desired shape.

Modern lingerie and fashion companies frequently use the term ‘corset’ for anything that fits closely to your torso. Pictured here is our 1950s inspired Merry Widow Basque, which would probably be called a ‘corset’ by any brand that doesn’t actually make ‘proper’ corsets!

Retro merry widow basque with detachable suspenders and shoulder straps, designed to cinch your waist and support your bust

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It does sound like we’re throwing a little shade here, so let us backtrack just a little. Words and their meanings change over the years. In the late 19th and early 20th century the word corset meant a traditional non-stretch corset. As lingerie evolved in the 20th century, the word changed to corsetry to describe all kinds of shapewear from basques to corselettes to girdles, before moving onto the word shapewear that we used today. People who grew up wearing traditional corsets would continue to use the word ‘corset’ to describe their corsetry/shapewear.

As What Katie Did and other traditional corsetieres haven’t moved with the times in our language, maybe we’re in the wrong, hence using the words ‘traditional corset’ to describe the non stretch corsets in this feature.

Vintage style Merry Widow basque inspired my Warner's merry widow basques of the 1950s. Buy online or visit our london shop
Find the best 1950s inspired lingerie, corsets and shapewear at What Katie Did. Shop our collections online or visit our London boutique.

While it’s easy to wear an underbust corset under clothing (known as ‘stealthing'), today overbust corsets tend to be worn as outerwear, or as a top to be seen under a sheer blouse. Overbust corsets were worn on a daily basis up until the first part of the 20th century. This look was before bras were commonly worn and the fashions at that time were designed to be worn with overbust corsets.

It is very rare for overbust corsets to have bra cups, so they don’t give a modern defined bust shape under clothing tending to flatten the underbust and push the top of the bust up. This can look amazing under a balconette, square neckline, but not so much with modern-stretch designs like tops, sweaters and knits.

Corsets can be very effective in supporting larger cup sizes. It would just mean commissioning a bespoke corset with cups, costing several hundred pounds. Not something that should be undertaken lightly especially now there are so many companies offering well fitting larger cup bras in just about every size.

If you are looking for a ‘corset’ to wear under clothing let us introduce you to the 1950s Merry Widow Basque. The original Merry Widow Basque was launched in 1953 by Warner’s and named after the 1952 movie, ‘The Merry Widow’ featuring Lana Turner (but intriguingly not featuring a Merry Widow Basque!). Also called the ‘Cinch-Bra’, it combined the cinching of a waist cincher with a strapless bra. Perfect for wearing beneath the strapless evening dresses of that era.

Find the best tight lacing corsets at What Katie Did with expert fitting advice both online and in our London shop.
Shop the best vintage inspired lingerie at What Katie Did either on our retro lingerie website or visit our London shop

Shop authentic 1950s inspired Merry Widow basques, corsets and lingerie by vintage fashion and lingerie brand what katie did
Shop the best overbust corsets at What Katie Did, designed to accentuate your hourglass curves. Steel boned corsets designed for waist training.

Our Glamour Merry Widow Basque is a modern take on the 1950s original. Made from corsetry powermesh, it features an internal elastic waist tape plus additional powermesh waist shaping band. The original Merry Widow incorporated a non-stretch, grosgrain ribbon, waist tape, which we found can pinch in after time. We made the bra straps detachable so you can wear with or without, as are the 6 suspender straps. Finally we added a front opening to our Merry Widow Basque so it’s easy to put on alone.

Can Shapewear Cinch Like a Corset?

While a Merry Widow Basque is easier to wear under clothing than an Overbust Corset it will not give the dramatic curves a traditional corset does. As a corset is made from non stretch fabric your body will be cinched into the shape of the corset whereas a stretch piece of shapewear will stretch to fit your body.

Merry Widow Basque Sizing

Our Glamour Merry Widow Basque is inspired by vintage 1950s designs when the choice of bra cup sizes were limited and the fit they gave was not as good as today. Making a great fitting strapless bra in an authentic vintage style is, quite frankly, beyond our abilities at the moment which is why our Merry Widow is only made in a limited size range. If we don’t currently have your cup size in this style we recommend wearing our Glamour Nouveau Waist Cincher or Waspie with a strapless bra made by specialist full cup brand.

Shop expertly designed waist training corsets by What Katie Did. Shop online or visit our London boutique to be professionally fitted for your corset.

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Model: Mia Carucci

1970s Classic Cadillac owned by Mia Carucci

Edited and Styled by


Hair & Makeup by Jocelyn Gomez

Shot at Topanga Canyon, California.

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