Constricting or liberating: the corset revival in review

By Sophie Butt |

I have always loved period dramas. The romance, the female-centred roles and let’s not forget the aesthetics. My dream is to be an extra in a Keira Knightly film just so I can see what I would look like waltzing around in a ball gown in a stunning country house with a chandelier above my head.

With the revival of the corset, this dream could become a partial reality. 

Ever since Netflix original Bridgerton aired in December, the corset has made a triumphant return and is showing no signs of slowing down. ASOS and Missguided both have catered sections on their websites just for corsets, as fast fashion grips its claws into the newest fashion trend. Ellen Mirojnick, the fashion designer for Bridgerton, created some fantastic pieces which brought together centuries of women’s fashion, from the Regency era to some fairly recent runway pieces, showcasing 19th century dress through a popularised lens. Whilst at first the corset may appear to be a fad, a short-lived novelty caused by the series, its current popularity definitely has the potential to make a significant impact on fashion in the years to come.  

It might seem impossible that such an aged contraption could squeeze its way back into our wardrobes, but corsets have been waiting for their return. Like the cyclical nature of fashion, changing body shapes become trends of the century, and corsets play directly into the 21st century desire for the hour-glass figure. Last year, boning and waist synching in t-shirts and dresses had enjoyed a resurgence, almost as if society was awaiting the revival of waist trainers. Coupled with this was increased scrutiny of waist trainers as deceitful, as an apparatus portraying unrealistic beauty standards. The corset has largely escaped such criticism; the corset is the garment itself. It is now possible to obtain this standard of beauty whilst participating in the latest trend. And I cannot deny, they look beautiful.  

Of equal significance is the renewed dialogue surrounding feminism and bodies. Corsets certainly have a history of restricting the female body, forcing women into a shape to satisfy the patriarchal standard of beauty. One particular image that sticks out to me is when Keira Knightley faints in Pirates of the Caribbean from her corset being synched too tight. Women suffered directly at this desperation for achieving the idealised body. Though, many would argue that the current revival of the corset aims to reclaim women’s bodies, allowing women to take control of their own sexuality, rather than it being imposed on them. Here, oppression turns to empowerment

But is this the case? Or is this new restriction simply a reinforcement of an age-old oppressive standard, not this time led by men, but by women themselves? Does the fact that corsets are no longer the concealed undergarment but feature as the outer-garment challenge this oppressive ideal? It is external and therefore empowering? These are very valid questions waiting to be answered.

Fashion sustainability could also take a direct hit from the rise of corsets. I can certainly imagine a future in which the standard is for waist training and boning to be implemented into everyday garments. This highlights an even more pressing issue in the industry. With more materials needed for this new desired shape, there is potential for an increase in fabric waste, adding to the endless amounts of scraps produced by the fashion industry each year. However, there is the possibility of taking a more sustainable approach, with DIY videos on TikTok demonstrating how to turn any top you own into a corset.  

Here are some speculations of how the future of fashion could look, and it is important to recognise how the revival of the corset has the potential to be extremely damaging, in more ways than one. The corset, however, does have the potential to empower, and encourage more sustainable fashion trends, in which the clothes that we own can be adapted, rather than bought new. Again, some responsibility lies at the hands of the consumer for the temptation of the newest fashions, and to carefully choose where and what they buy. All I can say, is that I am extremely interested as to see which direction the corset takes us.