Bustiers and corsets are common historical undergarments that pair well with Victorian and Edwardian dresses. While the terms are sometimes used synonymously, in reality, they are two completely different undergarments used for different reasons.

Dressing for a historic event? Check out our complete guide: Preparing for an Edwardian-themed event.


The bustier and the corset share similar characteristics. They are closely fitted to the body and are usually boned. Both corsets and bustiers usually fasten at the front with hooks and eyes or a busk, and they lace up the back. However, the real difference between a bustier and a corset lies in the intent of the garment. Corsets, which were worn in Victorian times, were usually intended to give a smooth line from the cinched-in waist to the bust. There was usually no accommodation for the bust, and the garment was all one piece from bottom to top.

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Bustiers, on the other hand, are intended to emphasize a lady’s curves and tend to push the breasts up and together to create cleavage. Often the bustier has cup-shapes built into the top part of the garment to facilitate the definition of the bust, and the curved lines were more desirable than the smooth lines of a corset. The cups resembled the modern day bra, which also is meant to “boost” cleavage.


While bustiers and corsets are the most popular and known historical undergarments, there is a third garment known as a “cincher”. The cincher does exactly what the name implies, and cinches in the waist. Unlike either the corset or the bustier, the cincher stops below the bust line. So, you can imagine a cincher as just the bottom part of a corset or bustier.

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Learn more about underthings from the past:

The rise and fall of the bustle: a short history

From corsets to the modern-day bra

Crimes of Fashion: How Women Used Their Skirts to Smuggle Goods in the Victorian Era

Crimes of Fashion: The Civil War Hoop Skirt Smugglers

Victorian Dress Reform: Who, What, When, and Why