Corsets are making a comeback, well over a century after their Victorian heyday, though refashioned for a very different age, says Ellie Violet Bramley. Punk was first to co-opt the garment as overtly sexual in the 1970s at the same time Vivienne Westwood “famously brought corsets to the runway.”
The coset again made a splash in 1990 when Madonna wore a Jean-Paul Gaultier conical-busted corset on her Blond Ambition tour, using it as a symbol of female sexual empowerment.
“They were a staple garment of the Victorian upper classes, and seen by some as a symbol of an oppressive desire to control and stifle the female form to suit the male gaze,” notes Bramley.
Feminist designer Miuccia Prada reclaimed the corset again last year, making it a part of her AW16 collection, and corsets are now a prominent part of street-style look this season.
Is it possible for the symbolism of the corset to be “subverted and given a more feminist-friendly narrative,” wonders Bramley, “as with the reclamation of pink by modern feminism”? Perhaps not entirely, but Valerie Steele, a fashion historian and author of The Corset: A Cultural History, had this to say: