Corsets have a love-hate relationship with fashion. On the one hand, these historically waist-reducing, organ-moving garments are seen as restricting and painful. On the other hand, they have enjoyed the reputation of adding that oomph to a lady’s silhouette. Regardless of whatever side of the argument you’re on, one thing is clear: the corset is back!
Corsets have been showing on runways here and there for the past few years, but 2022 is the year when fashion has fully embraced corsets. From Versace to Alexander McQueen, many designer brands showed collections with corsets either on their own or incorporated in a dress or top.
The streaming record-shattering Netflix show Bridgerton has further added fuel to the trend. Set in the regency era, the show depicts many young women wearing gowns with corsets designed for waist training.
The social shopping service Lyst has also reported an increase in the search for corsets. Then, there’s the never-ending trail of celebrities on covers and red carpets, donning waist-cinching corsets in one form or the other. Billie Eilish, Adele, Dua Lipa, and Lizzo have all worn corsets in shoots.
Corset’s Troubled History
Corsets were extremely popular in the 19th century and well into the 20th century. For the most part, women in the West wore corsets underneath their gowns and dresses to cinch in the waist and achieve that hourglass silhouette with prominent bust and hips.
These corsets were essentially undergarments with intricate lacing on the back and front to tighten the waist and reduce it. It was waist training made to gradually reduce the waist size of women as small waists were the beauty standard.
However, corsetting came at the expense of comfort and sometimes even led to internal injuries. In the early 20th century, women started bidding farewell to corsetting, adopting more breezy and, to some extent, menswear-inspired silhouettes.
In the contemporary accounts of fashion history, corsets are seen in a negative light, creating painfully unrealistic beauty standards for women at the time.
Distinguishing Fashion Corset from Waist Training
Today, corsets are seen more as an outer fashion garment than a waist-training undergarment. And this is where things have gotten a little better for the corset. Whilst it still has a similar impact on the silhouette and involves boning, these fashion corsets don’t have the same kind of impact as waist training corsets.
Waist training corsets are a different genre, which is also used today as a kind of shapewear. However, the corsets we see on the runways and on the streets are a lot more comfortable than their counterparts in the 1800s and early 1900s.
With body positivity becoming ever more important in fashion, designers have to be very careful with trends like corsets. So they are promoting them as simply curve-enhancing and not necessarily waist-cinching.
There are variations in the corset trend. The underbust corset, which starts below the bust, is the most popular right now. The other is the corset belt or cincher that’s shorter on the sides and looks like a wide belt with lacing or zipper. It can be worn over relaxed fit ensembles like a dress or pantsuit.