I was never a big fan of history class in grade school, but something about historic art and fashion trends has always fascinated me. In second grade, I checked out the same 500-page art history book every week. There was something captivating about the portraits in this book. Each allowed me to study the lives of people who lived decades and centuries before me. They gave the younger me a remarkably early awareness of how trends and beauty standards continue to change with time.
For instance, I was rather struck by portraits of women in corsets. Their waists looked distorted and artificial, and I just couldn’t understand the reason why someone would willingly wear something so uncomfortable.
In later school years, some of my teachers talked about corsets in history classes. Women wore corsets to make their waists look smaller and to extenuate the fullness of their dresses. It was a popular fashion trend back then, but it also caused permanent damage to women’s rib structure and internal organ position.
After hearing this, I was sure my generation was immune from a corset resurgence. I have been proven horribly wrong. The corset is back and it has a grip on the Gen Z demographic.
I first noticed the resurrection of the corset one evening upon walking into a party. I was greeted with a sea of the same corset in at least ten different colors. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that this was none other than the Urban Outfitters “Out From Under Modern Love” Corset. The trend that my younger self swore would never return had my generation in a fashion chokehold. In fact, I see my own friends donning multicolor corsets on a typical Saturday night.
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In reality, the style was not reborn on this night. Corsets have been in and out of fashion since their peak popularity in the Victorian era. Various fashion designers have incorporated the corset style in a less constraining way and more for aesthetics. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, for example, worked to redesign the style in the 1980s. The Kardashians also wore corsets on the red carpets in 2019.
Corsets were initially worn as undergarments but have slowly shifted into visible statements in fashion. No longer is it hidden that we are manipulating the shapes of our bodies, as we are wearing the corset as a part of an outfit. Part of me wonders what kinds of societal implications this holds.
The corset trend comes at a time when the discourse on body types seems to be increasingly negative, especially on social media platforms like TikTok. Recently, the term “heroin chic” — a term that references the 1990s model-industry aesthetic — has been circulating on the internet. The parallel with the resurgence of the corset, paired with the discussion of a deservingly-retired body type term, is a dangerous combination. Body types should never be trendy, but both things insinuate exactly that.
Before I criticize the style any further, I must admit that I have been seen out and about in a black Urban Outfitters corset once in my life. One evening, my roommate convinced me to wear her corset with a pair of my black leather pants. On this same night, I decided that the corset was not for me. Modern corset designs may not be made to shape the body like Victorian styles, but I felt like my body was being constricted. I like to dance, talk and breathe, and my outfit did not make these things easy.
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There have been some positive changes in the return of the corset: they are now available in a wider range of sizes, so the style is more widely available for those who wish to incorporate the look into their personal style. This inclusivity of all body types is something that still needs improvement in the fashion world, but it is encouraging to see a trend that can be worn by everybody. Additionally, the corsets commonly seen in fashion no longer have the reported adverse health effects to the ribs and organs like they once did.
Regardless, the style has been overdone. With something in fashion as striking as the corset, there are only so many ways to wear it. Its popularity has taken the initial allure away, and now it just looks like something that everyone else is wearing. The corset is a trend that would’ve remained more memorable had it stayed in the past. I find trend cycles interesting, but this one may be one of my least favorites.
Perhaps the return of the corset is simply another trend cycle among the many seen in fashion. Maybe it’s just like Uggs, low-waisted jeans and bell bottoms. It will be fascinating to see how long the corset will stick around.
Until then, I will be wearing something a bit comfier.