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The corset: from the runway to the high-street

By Léana Esch

18 Aug 2021

Fashion

Alaïa SS22 (left), Sankuanz (middle), Wooyoungmi SS22 (right)

The corset is far from being new in wardrobes, yet its 21st century democratisation is particularly interesting to dig into. It’s taken by storm runways and high streets alike over the past few months and has evolved into a sartorial mainstay that’ll surely stick around.

Worn hidden under layers of garments for centuries, both corsets and bustiers are now sported on top of shirts and T-shirts, making them items of clothing that stand out on their own. Jean Paul Gaultier’s take on the trend has been a forever favourite of the fashion industry - it was worn and largely popularised by Madonna on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. Vivienne Westwood played with the corset for some of her dresses back in 1994, when Naomi Campbell slunk down the runway with a printed strapless gown constructed off of corsetry.

Despite a year mostly spent in loungewear and activewear, the fashion industry has seen a rise in the search for corsetry, whether it’s traditional styles or modern iterations. Lingerie brand La Perla said the term ‘bustier’ was up 57 percent in its search tool compared to last year. A large array of trends inspired by lingerie has made its way to our daily wardrobes, chief among them the slip dress. But the corset is here to take the lead - it’s actually part of the top ten search words on La Perla’s website. Its fame has largely risen thanks to TV series Bridgerton as well as celebrities donning styles that blur the lines between red carpet and off-duty attire. It’s been worn tirelessly by Dita Von Teese over the years, but many other public figures have adopted corset-inspired tops and total-looks. From Rihanna to Billie Eilish and from Bella Hadid to Beyoncé, the variations are endless.

Balenciaga SS22 (left), Isabel Marant SS21 (middle), Christian Dior Resort 22 (right)

Even if it’s now been around for a few seasons, the corset is still part of many collections. Isabel Marant showcased a ruched black cropped version as well as a leather bustier in her spring/summer 2021 collection while Fleur du Mal has released a grey ribbed-knit design that feels closer to loungewear than lingerie. The corset has also influenced many designers to create other playful alternatives: Lisa Marie Fernandez did a bikini, Balenciaga opted for heels, Alaïa designed bags and Loewe worked on leather corsets-cum-belts.

Atlein presented a black and burgundy corset layered over a classic tank top

Looking at next year’s collections, we’ve seen many iterations on the runway - a resounding approval that it’s here to stay. For the Resort 2022 collections, Atlein presented a black and burgundy corset layered over a classic tank top and paired with large trousers and Dior showed its printed version with matching sweatpants. Stella McCartney, on the other hand, let it make the entire look: it was worn as a top with utility-inspired trousers and pointed-toe heels. Thom Browne mixed traditional tailoring with feminine corsetry with outfits made of sharp blazers and ties featuring printed corsets underneath. It also made an appearance in the men’s collections and was spotted at Wooyoungmi’s spring/summer 2022 presentation.

High-street and online retailers have adopted the trend as well, transforming the corset into an everyday item everyone can adopt and accessorise to match their personal style. Asos offers an ivory corset design, Urban Outfitters a lightweight lace version, Abercrombie & Fitch proposes a timeless black number while H&M has a zipped denim version in stores. While it used to be an item of clothing that wasn’t particularly favoured, it’s now reinterpreted in a fashion-forward manner that’s undoubtedly democratised.

All images: Catwalk Pictures