Custom corsets are nothing new in these parts. I wore one at my wedding way back in 2004, and we've consistently ogled custom bridal corsets on Offbeat Bride in the decade we've been online. Clearly, I love corsets… but bodies just keep changing, and none of the three (!?!) corsets I own fit me correctly right now.
This in mind, when Dark Garden in San Francisco offered to walk me through the process of getting measured and fit for a new corset made to my current measurements, I was all “Oh fuck yes.”
The first thing to know about getting fitted at Dark Garden is that just walking into the store is like stepping into a magically laced-up fairy land.
Seriously, if you have an excuse even to just stroll past the window of their shop in Hayes Valley, you should. It's filled with vintage furniture, signed photos from Dita von Tease, gorgeous examples of their custom work in glass boxes, little crowns and magical bibs and bobs. It's… amazing.
On my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with the owner of Dark Garden, Autumn Adamme, as well as one of her lead designers, Kalico Delafey of Dollymop, and Marianne Faulkner, an associate designer.
The three of them talked me through how each of them approaches corsetry a little differently (historical! fantastical! playful!) and I learned that there's lots of crossover between millinery (hat making) and corsetry.
I got a tour of the shop, including the amazing bolts of fabric upstairs, and the impeccably organized shelves of German steel boning and busks, the little metal clasps at the front of a corset.
Then it was time for me to get fitted…
Autumn took me into one of the heavily draped dressing rooms, pulled out a measuring tape, and got to work. She took measurements I'd never even heard of, noticing things about my body that I was barely aware of.
SKELETON FIT. That is a thing. The more Autumn measured, the more I realized that she wasn't really aiming to fit the corset to my curves (er, what's left of them. Grief does weird things!) as much as to my skeleton. When was the last time you were fitted for clothes made for your freaking skeleton?!
We talked through Dark Garden's range of corset styles, and with Autumn's help, I decided on the Dollymop Overbust. I loved the scooped neckline (so flattering for a smaller bust!) and the pointed tails in the back…
Autumn pulled a floor model of the corset into the dressing room, and laced me up. Even the un-customized model laced up like a dream, and as Autumn fussed and fiddled over the ribbons and did even more measurements, there was no denying the warm hug of not just the corset but the feeling of being tended to and fussed over.
I guess what I'm saying is that getting fitted for a corset was more than just getting fitted for a corset. It was an emotional experience, complete with someone getting to know my body in ways that I don't even really know (my pelvis is rotated in what way? Really?), and then creating a custom piece of lady-armor exactly to my size and specifications.
We talked through all the customizations — What fabric? (Black silk rayon with a diamond brocade, please.) Six detachable garters? (Yes, please.) What color ribbon? (Black, please.)
Then I waited…
A month later, a magical box appeared in the mail, and I came face to face with one of the most amazingly engineered articles of clothing I've ever seen. The first time I put it on, it felt like I'd been turned into the sexiest insect ever, all impeccable exoskeleton and impermeable armor. When I walked, my ribs and pelvis shifted in tandem, supported evenly.
“Holy shit,” I said out loud in the Seattle coworking office from which I manage the Offbeat Empire. “That's a skeleton fit!”
I tentatively tried sitting down… no problem! I now understand that the corset I got married in was too long for my body, and anyone who's read my book might remember how difficult it was for me to sit. This corset? No biggie! I started writing this post while sitting in a chair wearing it, breathing normally!
Thanks to a custom skeleton fit, Dark Garden turned me into a sexy bug with a black exoskeleton. I feel like a German-engineered sports car when I wear this thing. It is amazing. I am in love. You should peek at their bridal line, and visit them if you're anywhere near San Francisco. You might find me swooning on their vintage couch, because I kind of want to move in.