Monday 6 April 2015

Corset Myth Busting 101 With Katie Thomas of ‘What Katie Did’

Photo by Tony Nylons, Model Miss Sugar Rush
I have been keeping you all in suspense saying something big was on its way and now finally here it is! I have written the below interview for international magazine 'Pinups and Kustoms'. The magazine is out for sale on MagCloud now (April 15 edition) and all profit will be for charity for 'The Willhelm Foundation' for the benefit of children affected by undiagnosed brain diseases. 

Katie Thomas is the ‘Katie’ from British vintage inspired lingerie brand What Katie Did. What Katie Did was founded 1999 by Katie Thomas and today is the world's leading brand of faux vintage lingerie, specialising in recreating silver screen glamour of the '40s and '50s. Katie’s products are worn by celebrities all over the world and with stores in both London and LA; What Katie Did is a female owned business which inspires.

The popularity of vintage style has rocketed and the classic piece of lingerie, the corset, has become a much desired piece of both underwear and outerwear. Corset wearing has always provoked questions about if wearing them is unhealthy, what happens to your organs, can you breathe in that and so on. We have none other than Katie from ‘What Katie Did’ to help bust some of these corset myths and share her expert knowledge with you.

Photo of Katie Thomas What Katie Did
Why don’t we start with you telling us a little about What Katie Did…
Why did you decide to specialise in vintage style lingerie?

When I started What Katie Did in 1999, no one was doing vintage inspired lingerie. While it was easy enough to pick up a 1950s dress, the right lingerie was almost impossible to find. I was lucky enough to live near Portobello Road in London and used to pick up the odd vintage piece on Friday mornings in the market, and at vintage shop 295 (on Portobello Road) – and still do – but it was very hit and miss as to what I could find. Even if I found a bra in my size I was hesitant to wear it and would only keep it for best, while often the rubber on girdles and suspender belts would be perished making them unwearable.

What sparked your interest in vintage fashion?
Photo by Tony Nylons
Model Miss Sugar Rush

In the late 1980's it was the 25th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death and there were a huge amount of articles about her. They introduced me to the glamour and style of the 1950's and had a huge impact on a teenager growing up in Plymouth.

Who are your vintage style idols?

I don’t really have any vintage style icons other than the obvious silver screen sirens. I’m more inspired by the style of contemporary women who embrace the vintage style: Fleur de Guerre (, Lynsey Hand of Miss L-Fire ( and Angel Adoree (

What reasons do you commonly find people come into the store looking for a corset?

In our London store it’s a mix of burlesque artistes looking for corsets to wear as part of a costume, vintage women and vintage brides looking for a corset to reduce their waist to get a 1950's hourglass shape, or girls from the fetish scene.
In LA, where corsets are less niche, we do get a lot of women who aren’t into the vintage/fetish scene, who just want to waist train as it’s so fashionable at the moment.

There is a current craze for all things vintage and waist training has been thrust into the limelight recently supported by many celebrity followers. This trend has sparked a lot of questions amongst interested followers. Would you consider waist training safe?

Firstly, the celebs are all wearing rubber Fajas, not corsets. They’re two very different garments. A Faja compresses the torso equally, with no extra definition on the waist, and has been used historically (in South America and India amongst other places) after childbirth to coax the body back into shape. While this does work after childbirth, the whole fashion for working out in a Faja is pointless and it’s sad to see just how gullible us women are when in 2015 we’re still looking for a quick fix in weight loss.

Steel boned corsets are shaped to put pressure on the waist, making the waist smaller but leaving the hips and ribs the same.

Yes corsets are safe to wear. The human body is designed to move. An extreme example occurs during pregnancy when a woman’s ribcage expands to accommodate her organs as they’re pushed up as her baby grows. On a day to day basis our ribcage expands and contracts as we breath, and our internal organs move when we stand or lie down.

Waist training compresses the waist and, depending on the design, might compress the lower ribs. There is no evidence that this causes damage to the body, although there are a lot of scare stories about, particularly from the Victorian times when corsets were blamed for just about everything! For example, ladies in the Victorian era were famed for having fainting fits, which were put down to their corset being too tight. In reality, it was very fashionable to faint at that time and had little to do with wearing a corset.

Today Cathie Jung has the world’s smallest waist at 15”. Cathie has been tight lacing for 40 years and is now 77 and perfectly healthy. Her husband, an orthopaedic surgeon, has examined her x-rays and says that everything is perfectly in order.

Photo by Tony Nylons
Model Miss Bonnie Fleur
Is it bad for your body to wear a corset? 

According to Dr Eckhart, a German Doctor who performed an MRI scan on a corseted* Eden Berlin in October 2014 wearing a corset might slightly slow digestion. Eden says she was given very little time to lace down and was scanned immediately after, given more time her intestines might have shifted to a more suitable position.

*the corset was specially made without the use of metal for the scan.

So if the possibility of slow digestion is the only bad side of wearing a corset, wearing one is certainly safer than smoking, drinking, and crossing the road!

Can you breathe properly wearing a corset? 

Yes, definitely! Underbust corsets are worn for waist training and so most of the lungs aren’t affected. During most daily activities we only use up to 50% of our lung capacity, so even when wearing an overbust corset, which does constrict the lungs a little more, breathing is totally normal.

How do you feel a corset can restrict the wearer?
Depending on how flexible you are, you might have problems tying your shoelaces while tightly laced.

Do you think wearing a corset can help improve posture?

Wearing a corset does make you sit up straight, slumping on the sofa is just not possible! A considerable amount of women do wear a corset to  help with back pain as an alternative to a medical back brace – although this should be discussed with a Doctor to ensure it is a suitable course of action.

Do you need someone to help you get dressed/undressed when wearing a corset?

Definitely not! You do need to be taught how to put a corset on and take it off properly, and new corsets take longer to lace the first few times. Once you’re up to speed it only takes a couple of minutes to put on and take off.

People wear corsets for many reasons, why do you wear a corset? 

Primarily I wear a corset because I like the shape. From a business point of view I wear one so I have first-hand knowledge of what someone can expect from waist training, and also how comfortable our corsets are and how well they wear. It also helps me develop new styles as wearing a corset for 8-10 hours a day makes me realise what could be improved.

What advice would you give someone wanting to start wearing corsets?

Photo by Tony Nylons Model Lucy Fur
1. Do your research. There is a wealth of knowledge available online but a good starting point is which is the most definitive guide to corsets out there.
2. Know your measurements. It’s not just about the waist measurement, you also need to know your underbust and hip.
3. Don’t expect overnight results. While it is possible to get a great shape immediately for a photoshoot, or performance, visible results take 2-3 months (and are still temporary).

Do you have any advice when it comes to taking care of your vintage style underwear?
Vintage lingerie is no different to any other lingerie. If you want your lingerie to look its’ best and last longer, you need to hand wash and never, ever tumble dry. I know it’s boring and tedious but if you want your lingerie to stay pristine it’s the only way.

You have built an incredibly successful international business over the years. What advice would you give to women looking to start their own business?

There is never a better time to start than today. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Lack of money is never an excuse (I started with £100). We’re so luck today to live in an age where it’s possible to network with people all over the world and it’s never been easier to set up a business. You can get an Etsy shop up and running within a couple of hours – and sell globally.
I know it sounds obvious, but be prepared to work hard. Make sure your other half is supportive, and if you are single be prepared to remain single for a while. To make a business work you really need to devote yourself 100% to it.

What do you hope the future will hold for What Katie Did? 

I hope What Katie Did will continue to grow slowly and steadily as it has done over the last 15 years. After concentrating on our LA shop and technology over the last couple of years (a new website is imminent) 2015 is all about our products and already I’ve done more design work this year than I did in the whole of 2014.

Photo of Katie Thomas What Katie Did
Thank you to Katie for her time with this interview. Stay tuned for more!


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