The evolution of the corset has a fascinating story, beginning in Renaissance Europe and appearing in popular culture in various guises, from the runway to today's streetwear. The return of the corset invites us to consider how the corset evolved in its use and implications - from a garment that symbolized oppression to a chic, sexy fashion statement - and how we style the corset today.
A Little History
The corset gained popularity in the 1500s and 1600s in the courts of France, where women idealized the look of a small waist. The idea for the corset was simple: slim the stomach and waist while accentuating the bust. Corsets were worn as both under and outer garments. In the 1700s, corsets were designed to improve posture, as an upright posture and high chest were desirable at the time. Corsets also became more intricate and some featured artistic designs, gold trim, and silk brocades. By the 1830s, the structure of corsets had changed to emphasize a more natural hourglass shape. They also became easier to put on and take off with the use of hook and eye clasps. At the turn of the 20th century, the shape of corsets changed again, this time to accommodate the spine's natural "S" shape. The corsets of the 1900s Edwardian Era were a much healthier form of shapewear, since the shape of corsets for centuries prior had caused women significant pain and actually harmed their internal organs. After World War I, the corset declined in popularity due to shortages in materials after the war and a burgeoning feminist movement. Styles became looser and simpler and shapewear evolved into separate girdles and brassieres instead of full corsets.
21st Century Revival
In the 70s, Vivienne Westwood began using corsets as part of her historically inspired punk aesthetic. Her vision was a colorful, fresh take on the corset. Although Westwood got the ball rolling in revisiting corsets, her experimentation with corsets was soon followed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler in the 80s. Since then, other designer like Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent have used corsets or created corset-inspired looks, while figures like Madonna have brought the corset back into the public eye. Today, period dramas like Bridgerton have reintroduced the corset into our every day consciousness.
Styling the Corset Today
Today, the corset is a versatile garment that doesn't denote high fashion as it did in the olden days. It can be seen in various contexts and styles. One popular way to style a corset is with high waisted pants, as shown in the photo above. Another popular option is the corset dress or corset shirts. And if you don't own a full corset, you can easily create a corset look by pairing a corset-inspired belt or an ubderbust corset with a long shirt or dress.
First and last photos courtesy of Corset Story Italiano; middle image courtesy of Getty Images.