If you’ve been paying attention to fashion trends or your TikTok feed, you may have noticed a recent rise in corset-inspired outfits. Corsets and bodices have become an excellent way to elevate your look, whether you’re after a soft femme vibe, bold masc drip, or something in between.
However, this wasn’t always the case.
Corsets have a long and surprising cultural history that highlights the unsavory exploitation women’s bodies have undergone to get to this point. Exploring the history of corsets—and reclaiming them in modern, inclusive style—can help you challenge patriarchal standards through your fashion choices.
So grab your notepad, because our corset history lesson is about to begin.
What Does The Corset Symbolize?
Many people have become familiar with corsets through movies and television. We may associate them with princesses locked in towers or women bound by too-tight laces and high-society standards
These archetypes may feel reductive—and that’s precisely the point. Corsets, in their historical context, have symbolized women unable to escape society's expectations because that’s one of the primary purposes the restrictive garments served.
For centuries, corsets symbolized:
- Social/class status
- Femme beauty standards
- “Proper” decorum
- Sexual restraint
While the recent corset renaissance struts away from these ideals, it’s vital to understand how they came about in the first place. When we know the (former) rules, we can properly break them—and ensure history never repeats itself.
Corset History Through The Centuries
When we glance at the evolution of corsets throughout fashion history, we find a closer look at society’s ever-changing beauty standards for women. A tactic of entrapment for so many years, this undergarment attempted to bind the power of the wearers. (Now, of course, we’re taking that power back—but more on that in a minute.)
Corsets were a popular fashion staple for over four centuries:
- The French court (the 1500s to 1600s) – The first example of corsets as we know them began in the French Court. Fashioned with whalebone, these corsets flatten the stomach while emphasizing a woman's chest and hips.
- The Romantic style (the 1830s to 1900s) – This is the period the Victorian corset emerged. When the “ideal” vision of a woman’s body shifted to desire more curvature, so too did the corset design. Instead of flattening, romantic-style corsets cinched the waist dramatically to achieve an hourglass effect. This style, known as the boned corset, often caused significant damage to women’s internal organs.
- The Edwardian era (the 1900s to 1910s) – The hourglass figure gave way to the newly popular “S” figure for women. Corsets followed suit by emphasizing the bust and forcing the hips backward.
- The 20th century (the 1910s to 1920s) – As high waistlines rose into fashion, corsets became longer to flatten and minimize the appearance of wide hips. Eventually, this style of corsets gave way to girdles and other forms of shapewear.
World War II marks the shift in fashion history for this garment. During that time, metal’s use was prioritized for ammunition production so more women started wearing bras instead of corsets.
Although the corset has an unflattering history, fashion historians like Valerie Steele have debunked some of the negative stereotypes to reshape its reputation in modern fashion. Learn more about its deep history in places like the Victoria and Albert Museum to better understand how corsetry and dress reform affected women at the time.
The Modern Corset
Corsets nearly dropped out of modern-day wear after the invention of the bra (and subsequent bra-burning in the 1970s). But fashion, ever the phoenix, has a way of resurrecting itself, and corsets found their way back to the mainstream in the 1980s thanks to Madonna’s iconic cone bra. Certain designers are also credited in innovating for re-popularizing the corset trend, such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood.
Today, the world’s collective corset embracement and empowerment became apparent at the 2022 “Gilded Glamour” Met Gala. Some of the world’s biggest celebrities sported corsets, including:
- Billie Elish
- Sydney Sweeney
- Ben Platt
- Precious Lee
- Lenny Kravitz
- Gigi Hadid
Additionally, other celebrities (such as Lil Nas X, Harry Styles, and Jacob Elordi) walk the front lines of dismantling outdated patriarchal and gendered fashion expectations by sporting corsets on magazine covers and red carpets.
How to Wear a Corset: 3 Outfit Ideas
One thing is certain: There's never been a better time to join the revolution and rock this garment. No matter how you like to dress, adding a corset can elevate your ensemble, make a statement, and inspire dozens of outfit combinations.
- The casual look – Gone are the days of wearing a corset with a bustle and skirt. Wear your corset with cool pants or slacks for a cool, casual fit. The juxtaposition between these garments provides uniquely stylish flair.
- The dressy look – Take your dress clothes up a notch by wearing a corset as a layering piece. But not in the traditional undergarment sense—as a bold top layer. Wear your corset over a dress or button-up shirt and throw a blazer coat over the top.
- The bold look – For even more eye-catching appeal, style your corset with plenty of badass textures and accessories. Pair it with leather, ripped tights, chains, or sheer tops. The options are truly endless when you claim your space and express yourself.
We’re witnessing the time when corsets transform from evolution to revolution. Break the chains of societal expectations with this bold fashion statement and look absolutely stellar in the process. (Especially if you accessorize with a few of those broken chains.)
Shop Gender-Neutral Corsets At WILDFANG
From humble beginnings to empowering, expressive outerwear, corsets have come a long way. Dive further into fashion history like the humble beginnings of the blazer’s origins and unleash your personal style.
Take yourself on a journey of your own with WILDFANG.
We love pushing the boundaries of fashion. Whether breaking down gendered dressing standards or providing sustainable apparel, we're forever passionate about transformative fashion. Browse our collection of corsets today and help set the standard for a better fashion future.
The Met. Corset. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/82434
Forbes. Here’s How Corsets Deformed The Skeletons of Victorian Women. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/11/16/how-corsets-deformed-the-skeletons-of-victorian-women/?sh=28215e4c799c
Hagan History Center. The Changing Silhouette of Victorian Women’s Fashions – The History of the Corset. https://www.eriehistory.org/blog/the-changing-silhouette-of-victorian-womens-fashions-the-history-of-the-corset
Google Arts and Culture. Corset: Fashioning the Body. https://artsandculture.google.com/story/the-corset-fashioning-the-body-the-museum-at-fit/6AXRW2u2jYt1Kw?hl=enInsider. 15 Celebrities Who Nailed the Met Gala’s Gilded Glamour Theme. https://www.insider.com/met-gala-gilded-glamour-theme-best-outfits-2022-5