All Tied Up: the Dubious Return of the Corset
By Claire Stemen
Despite shedding the laced-up cages of our ancestors, corsets have made a surprising comeback … and on runways, no less.
An unmistakeable trend this past season, the antiquated fashion piece appeared on runways at Tibi and Wunderkind — not to mention the absolute explosion of corsets in street style.
Ever since Madonna popularized the corset in the ’80s — a stint that lasted into the ’90s — the corset has enjoyed relative fame as sexy outward accessory.
The definition of a corset (according to dictionary.com) is “a close-fitting undergarment, stiffened with whalebone or similar material, and often capable of being tightened by lacing, enclosing the trunk: worn, especially by women, to shape and support the body.”
It’s not quite an attractive-sounding garment, and has a reputation throughout history of distorting the body of its long-term wearers. A brief look at the history of the corset over the span of 16th-20th centuries exposes minute variances in design, but all were a source of consistent concern to physicians of those eras.
It has a reputation of distorting the body of its long-term wearers.
The concern was at first due to the tight-lacing methods popular in the nineteenth century, that were “rectified” in the Edwardian period with an “S-shaped” corset. However, the new version only fiddled with the musculoskeletal region in lieu of squeezing the inner organs of the abdomen.
Have I made you queasy yet? Well, if not, get ready: in the 1700s, children and babies were wrapped in corsets for fashionable reasons.
Clearly the corset’s comeback today is of a lesser degree, but it begs the question of femininity in fashion: when does it go too far? Corsets are prevalent in lingerie and, arguably, the Spanx is a modern form of physique-shaping minus the stitched-in boning.
It’s with the rebirth of waist-shapers, riddled on sponsored Instagram posts — and the increased popularity of curvaceous body shapes — that the concern arises. Are we any freer from shaping and shifting our bodies if we bring a clothing accessory like the corset back into play? And what does it say about us if we’re willing to cause ourselves physical harm (at one extreme) to achieve a “look” or chase a trend? Especially when the “thinning” effects of a corset aren’t even lasting?
The distinction has to exist in the way in which it is worn. New interpretations on the “corset look” — like at Tibi — or interesting takes on lingerie, or on classic silhouettes: this is the very core of reinventing the past.
So wear your corsets in a dress, as a belt, loosely slung on your hips, as you will, but as physicians throughout the ages have warned: avoid tight-lacing.
Everyone likes tight curves, but it’s far more important to feel comfortable in your own skin, and look great in clothes that flatter.