The Road to Reclamation: Corsets in the Modern World
Words by Isabella Andrighetto
Let’s talk about corsets. You either love them or you hate them but there is no denying that corsets have become a sought-after garment that is continuously evolving and here to stay.
During my first semester at TFI, through my Major Project, I wrote a blog piece called ‘Corsets: The Ever-Evolving Trend…’. I explored its history, how they are worn now, how they have evolved through time and how fashion designer Thierry Mugler has contributed to the change in the way we wear them today.
Now Mugler isn’t the only brand that has contributed to this evolution, let’s expand on this controversial trend, shall we?
Corsets appeared on the scene as early as 1600BC, formerly worn as an undergarment to restructure a women’s figure to a more “desirable” hourglass shape. This gave the illusion of an extremely small waist and slimmer figure. Unfortunately, women have been subjected to this unrealistic beauty standard from the very start. Corsets are a prime example of how society has made women believe that we must reshape our own bodies to conform to the idea of beauty itself. Often conformity came at the cost of their own health, as for centuries women experienced breathing issues brought on by crushing of the ribs and lungs.
The original and unbearably tight corset, while causing long term deformities of the body, often levied short term costs upon the wearer; the most infamous of which was fainting. You would think women of the modern-day era would condemn such ordeals, however, there are still high-profile women giving up their breathing for the sake of fashion and consequently setting unrealistic beauty standards.
For example, recently Kim Kardashian West, famously known for her hourglass shape and wearing corsets, underwent backlash from the reveal of the corset worn under a Mugler design for the Met Gala 2019.
Mrs. West always pushes the boundaries. At the Met Gala, she embodied the theme of ‘CAMP’ by wearing a corset that created an appearance many were shocked to see. Mugler’s piece exaggerated the scandalous shape of her silhouette and created an unrealistically small waist. I am sure we were all obsessed with the design of the garment, although the unachievable figure was seen as a negative impact on women wanting that particular body shape and promoted an unhealthy image. I believe there are no rules in fashion, and it is incredible that using certain fabric can create such a monumental look. Mugler is definitely known for its beautifully structured pieces and exquisite contouring of the body.
However, should we draw a line when it comes to reshaping our bodies for the sake of fashion? There is a lack of inclusivity and obtainable goals that comes with corsets. This may be creating more harm than we thought, as not every woman can achieve this look.
On the other side, should we see it as a liberal fashion statement? Standing by the fact that everyone should be able to do with their body what they will. Their body, their choice, exploring fashion in every way possible with no judgement.
Throughout time we have seen women, from Madonna and Beyoncé to Lady Gaga and Kylie Jenner, wear corsets in a more modern manner. With the help of these women, the corset has evolved, the modern-day women are lucky enough to have the option of wearing a corset without the fear of fainting while wearing it.
Women and designers have reclaimed the corset as their own, rather than a representation of conforming to an unrealistic beauty standard. From sexy lingerie to a fierce statement piece worn over clothing or simply as a top. Corsets have tremendously progressed and have also become high fashion pieces seen in many respected magazines and luxury brands. Perhaps most notably, corsets have been integral in stage costumes donned by performers on the world stage.
Designer brands like Mugler, Balmain, Givenchy and Dion Lee respectively have all contributed to the evolved modern corsets. As exemplified in the following images, the corset is a dynamic fashion piece. They are now seen worn over clothing instead of hidden, incorporated into blazers, dresses or worn as a statement piece on its own. The modern corset has become all about accentuating the individuals silhouette instead of completely changing the shape.
Corsets have come a long way. While there will always be controversy, that’s what makes the garment so exciting and intriguing. Corsets will have everlasting significance to women’s fashion, and I cannot wait to see how we can continue to recreate the piece. There is importance in evolving and reclaiming the corset for women, making it, in effect, a modern-day suit of armour.