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Fashion

Corsets: The Victorian Staple Gets A Gen-Z Revival

From the Victorian era to the wardrobes of today's style set, corsets have proven their longevity in an ever-transient fashion landscape. Here, we speak to some Gen-Z fans about the transformative power of the corset, major faux pas as well as how to incorporate it into your everyday wardrobe.

Corsets On The Runway

The corset might have seen its beginnings in the Middle Ages, but it has since transcended time in the realm of fashion. From the stiffened linen ‘cottes’ worn by French women in the 1400s to Jean Paul Gaultier’s famous conical one-piece as seen on Madonna during the 1990s, the corset continues to be an emblem of desirability, extremity and sexuality – although critics view it as a symbol of female oppression.

A corset from the mid-1700s constructed from linen, leather and whalebone. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the Jason and Peggy Westerfield Collection, 1969. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fast forward to today and it’s no surprise that the garment has found a place in the wardrobes of the Gen-Z style set who fetishises romantic-meets-goth elements in their dressing. It helps too that the brands championing this look come from the school of the dark chic – and not the frou frou or Moulin Rouge strain.

Seated Woman in Corset and Boots (1918), Egon Schiele, crayon on paper. Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For Spring/Summer 2020, intricate corsets and caged designs popped up at Chloe, Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler and Dion Lee. Paired with suits, shorts and cargo pants, the array underscores the garment’s versatility. For Fall/Winter 2020, the corset steps into a more Gothic territory as seen at brands like Olivier Theyskens, Alexander McQueen and Dilara Findikoglu.

Looking to give the corset a try? We speak to some Gen-Z fans of corsets who vouch for the femininity, power and versatility of this historic, revered and provocative garment.

Putri Adif, 22, fashion designer
Why do you personally love corsets? “I love corsets for how they make me feel – I feel strong in them and they’re almost like a weapon. It amplifies my confidence and empowers me.” How do you implement it into your style? “When I design my corsets, I use traditional batik print to juxtapose an 18th century corset stay. I implement recent trends and also vintage archival pieces when styling my corsets. Weirdly enough they compliment each other.” What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Just like any other styles of clothing, corsets represent a slice of history. Wearing one allows me to have a taste and embody the life of women from that era.” What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Corsets are all about the right fit. They are meant to contour the body and it would not work if the fit does not suit your body type.” What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Never be afraid to wear different styles of corsets. Not only are there corset stays, but also bustiers in different types of silhouettes and fabrics. Corsets nowadays are mostly soft corsets to help with comfort and not much to train your waist and cinch it.” Putri Adif, 22, fashion designer
Why do you personally love corsets? “I love corsets for how they make me feel – I feel strong in them and they’re almost like a weapon. It amplifies my confidence and empowers me.” How do you implement it into your style? “When I design my corsets, I use traditional batik print to juxtapose an 18th century corset stay. I implement recent trends and also vintage archival pieces when styling my corsets. Weirdly enough they compliment each other.” What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Just like any other styles of clothing, corsets represent a slice of history. Wearing one allows me to have a taste and embody the life of women from that era.” What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Corsets are all about the right fit. They are meant to contour the body and it would not work if the fit does not suit your body type.” What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Never be afraid to wear different styles of corsets. Not only are there corset stays, but also bustiers in different types of silhouettes and fabrics. Corsets nowadays are mostly soft corsets to help with comfort and not much to train your waist and cinch it.” Putri Adif, 22, fashion designer
Why do you personally love corsets? “I love corsets for how they make me feel – I feel strong in them and they’re almost like a weapon. It amplifies my confidence and empowers me.” How do you implement it into your style? “When I design my corsets, I use traditional batik print to juxtapose an 18th century corset stay. I implement recent trends and also vintage archival pieces when styling my corsets. Weirdly enough they compliment each other.” What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Just like any other styles of clothing, corsets represent a slice of history. Wearing one allows me to have a taste and embody the life of women from that era.” What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Corsets are all about the right fit. They are meant to contour the body and it would not work if the fit does not suit your body type.” What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Never be afraid to wear different styles of corsets. Not only are there corset stays, but also bustiers in different types of silhouettes and fabrics. Corsets nowadays are mostly soft corsets to help with comfort and not much to train your waist and cinch it.” Evonne Saw, 23, law student and freelance stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “In 1998, Alexander McQueen collaborated with Shaun Leane to create a metal spine corset for his Spring/Summer collection. I was about 18 when I first fell in love with corsetry but that corset in particular was what sparked my love affair. It also showed me that corsets could come in any shape and style. I love how they can change your silhouette to the extreme and add dimension to whatever you choose to pair it with it.”  How do you implement it into your style? “I wear corsets with anything and everything. It can be extremely casual or super dressed up. I tend to wear more decorative corsets compared to functional ones because I prioritise the aesthetics of it over its functionality.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Corsets are nothing new. In every era of fashion history corsets have had prevalence. My personal favourite era is probably the 16th and 17th centuries when they were meant to elongate and narrow the waist. To me, wearing a corset makes me feel like I have ties to a different time.”   What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Always make sure you start a little looser just to be safe and as you get used to it, you can slowly tighten it. If you can’t breathe, take it off. They should not pinch or bruise your skin. Don’t wear it for a prolonged period of time – no more than six hours at a time – the first few times you wear it.”   What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Corsets aren’t one style fit all. Do make sure your body type works with what you’re picking. For example, I have a shorter torso and wider hips, so I would pick a corset that is shorter and has hip gores to make allowances for my hips. Always check your measurements when you’re choosing one.” Evonne Saw, 23, law student and freelance stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “In 1998, Alexander McQueen collaborated with Shaun Leane to create a metal spine corset for his Spring/Summer collection. I was about 18 when I first fell in love with corsetry but that corset in particular was what sparked my love affair. It also showed me that corsets could come in any shape and style. I love how they can change your silhouette to the extreme and add dimension to whatever you choose to pair it with it.” How do you implement it into your style? “I wear corsets with anything and everything. It can be extremely casual or super dressed up. I tend to wear more decorative corsets compared to functional ones because I prioritise the aesthetics of it over its functionality.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Corsets are nothing new. In every era of fashion history corsets have had prevalence. My personal favourite era is probably the 16th and 17th centuries when they were meant to elongate and narrow the waist. To me, wearing a corset makes me feel like I have ties to a different time.”   What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Always make sure you start a little looser just to be safe and as you get used to it, you can slowly tighten it. If you can’t breathe, take it off. They should not pinch or bruise your skin. Don’t wear it for a prolonged period of time – no more than six hours at a time – the first few times you wear it.”   What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Corsets aren’t one style fit all. Do make sure your body type works with what you’re picking. For example, I have a shorter torso and wider hips, so I would pick a corset that is shorter and has hip gores to make allowances for my hips. Always check your measurements when you’re choosing one.” Evonne Saw, 23, law student and freelance stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “In 1998, Alexander McQueen collaborated with Shaun Leane to create a metal spine corset for his Spring/Summer collection. I was about 18 when I first fell in love with corsetry but that corset in particular was what sparked my love affair. It also showed me that corsets could come in any shape and style. I love how they can change your silhouette to the extreme and add dimension to whatever you choose to pair it with it.” How do you implement it into your style? “I wear corsets with anything and everything. It can be extremely casual or super dressed up. I tend to wear more decorative corsets compared to functional ones because I prioritise the aesthetics of it over its functionality.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Corsets are nothing new. In every era of fashion history corsets have had prevalence. My personal favourite era is probably the 16th and 17th centuries when they were meant to elongate and narrow the waist. To me, wearing a corset makes me feel like I have ties to a different time.”   What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Always make sure you start a little looser just to be safe and as you get used to it, you can slowly tighten it. If you can’t breathe, take it off. They should not pinch or bruise your skin. Don’t wear it for a prolonged period of time – no more than six hours at a time – the first few times you wear it.”   What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Corsets aren’t one style fit all. Do make sure your body type works with what you’re picking. For example, I have a shorter torso and wider hips, so I would pick a corset that is shorter and has hip gores to make allowances for my hips. Always check your measurements when you’re choosing one.” Evonne Saw, 23, law student and freelance stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “In 1998, Alexander McQueen collaborated with Shaun Leane to create a metal spine corset for his Spring/Summer collection. I was about 18 when I first fell in love with corsetry but that corset in particular was what sparked my love affair. It also showed me that corsets could come in any shape and style. I love how they can change your silhouette to the extreme and add dimension to whatever you choose to pair it with it.” How do you implement it into your style? “I wear corsets with anything and everything. It can be extremely casual or super dressed up. I tend to wear more decorative corsets compared to functional ones because I prioritise the aesthetics of it over its functionality.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “Corsets are nothing new. In every era of fashion history corsets have had prevalence. My personal favourite era is probably the 16th and 17th centuries when they were meant to elongate and narrow the waist. To me, wearing a corset makes me feel like I have ties to a different time.”   What are some of the “don’ts” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Don’t wear the wrong size. Always make sure you start a little looser just to be safe and as you get used to it, you can slowly tighten it. If you can’t breathe, take it off. They should not pinch or bruise your skin. Don’t wear it for a prolonged period of time – no more than six hours at a time – the first few times you wear it.”   What are some of the “do’s” when it comes to wearing a corset? “Corsets aren’t one style fit all. Do make sure your body type works with what you’re picking. For example, I have a shorter torso and wider hips, so I would pick a corset that is shorter and has hip gores to make allowances for my hips. Always check your measurements when you’re choosing one.” Skye Lai, 20, stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “I love how corsets can be so powerfully feminine.”   How do you implement it into your style? “I like mixing genres of styles besides my usual ’90s to 2000s daily wear. So instead of wearing a corset for a vintage look, pairing it with other types of genres of clothing helps to make the outfit unique.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “A corset just makes me feel like a powerful, well-dressed woman.”   What are some “don’ts” when it comes to wearing corsets? “I personally can’t think of any don’ts with corsets. I think the more you experiment with pairing it, the more interesting it becomes.”   What are some “do’s” when it comes to wearing corsets? “Do layer underneath it or play with pairing it with different silhouettes.” Skye Lai, 20, stylist
Why do you personally love corsets? “I love how corsets can be so powerfully feminine.”   How do you implement it into your style? “I like mixing genres of styles besides my usual ’90s to 2000s daily wear. So instead of wearing a corset for a vintage look, pairing it with other types of genres of clothing helps to make the outfit unique.”   What does wearing a corset mean for you today? “A corset just makes me feel like a powerful, well-dressed woman.”   What are some “don’ts” when it comes to wearing corsets? “I personally can’t think of any don’ts with corsets. I think the more you experiment with pairing it, the more interesting it becomes.”   What are some “do’s” when it comes to wearing corsets? “Do layer underneath it or play with pairing it with different silhouettes.”