A Corset or a Bustier - What's the Difference?

The steel-boned corset by What Katie Did, on the left, takes inches off your waist. The bustier by Va Bien, on the right, is shorter and not as rigid. Photos courtesy of What Katie Did and Va Bien.

Corsets and bustiers may look similar, so what's the difference? Here's the short answer: a corset will "cinch," and a bustier will "boost."

The Benefits

It may seem old-fashioned, but many women enjoy wearing a corset. They love how small their waist looks and the sleek silhouette provided.

On the other hand, a bustier is a more modern style. It's helpful to think of it as a fancy-bra-meets-shapewear. It'll make your chest look more "uplifted," while it smooths and flattens your midriff.

Corset Styles

Corsets are traditionally made in 2 styles:

  • An underbust corset starts just below the bust and can be worn with a bra.
  • An overbust corset begins higher and is worn in place of a bra.

Corsets usually end below the waist, either at the hips or lower. Since creating that hourglass curve involves the hips, shorter styles aren't typical.

Some brands make corsets that are really just waist cinchers. They might resemble an extra-wide belt, with a few corset features. The corset shown above on the left, the Sophia corset by What Katie Did, is an example of a traditional steel boned corset. This corset ends much lower on the hips than the bustier on the right. That's one style difference.

Bustier Styles

Bustiers feature a built-in bra. They're typically shorter than a corset, ending just above—or right at—the waistline. Typically, they are not designed to cover the hips.

There are also some bustiers that are much shorter. Some brands will call a bustier a long-line bra, and vice-versa. You'll see the names used interchangeably. The bustier shown in the photo on the right, Va Bien's Low Back Lacey Bustier, has a built-in underwire bra, low V back, and a lace bodice.

Rigid vs. Flexible

Corsets are traditionally made with a fabric like cotton coutil, stiffened with rigid boning.

The best corsets are made with steel boning, which is strong enough to take inches off your waistline, drastically reshaping your figure. The more drastic the design, the curvier your hourglass shape will look.

In the example above, the model on the left achieves a more "cinched in" look in the corset than in the model in the bustier.

Bustiers usually feel less confining to wear, since they're made from flexible fabrics. They usually contain stretch panels, elastic, and soft plastic boning. Bustiers are common for brides to wear under their wedding gown. 

Laces vs. Hook-And-Eye Closures

Corsets are traditionally held closed with laces. When the laces are at the back and tie at the waistline, they provide optimal support. As you pull the laces tighter, your waist becomes smaller and more defined. In addition, traditional corsets also feature a metal  busk closure in the front.

Bustiers usually do not have functional laces. They have hook-and-eye closures, like those you'd see on a bra, either in the front or the back.

How Expensive Are They?

Corsets are much more expensive than bustiers. The average price for a made-to-order corset that will cinch your waist properly is between $250 to $350. A corset that is made to your exact measurements, for a perfect fit, can cost $800 to $1,000 or more.

Bustiers are mass-produced and available in all price ranges. You'll even be able to find deep discounts during sales. 

Hybrid Styles

New innovations have made combining corsets and bustiers a popular option. Many types of shapewear are a combination of both styles. Some brands even have styles they call a "corset bustier."

A hybrid style, or 'fashion corset,' often looks like a lace-up corset, but the way it's made is more like a bustier. It won't deliver the waist-cinching ability of a "true" corset, but it's still stylish. These are typically less expensive than traditional corsets since they're mass-produced.

The Bottom Line

Bustiers are much more common than corsets—you'll find many style options, in all price ranges.

Fashion corsets and hybrid styles are also common. These styles are easier to wear than a "true" corset because they're more flexible. Look for one of these styles if you want the fashionable look of a lace-up corset, without the rigid confining fit, at a budget price.

Some women are true corset aficionados and won't settle for anything less than a traditional type and the true hourglass shape a corset creates. Wear what suits you!

Updated 12/31/15 by Kim "Kimmay" Caldwell