Victoria Beckham, Prada and Balmain are a few of the key labels championing corsets for AW16, and they have already been worn by the likes of Rihanna, Victoria Beckham and Gigi Hadid. Instead of uncomfortable hidden shapewear or overly sexualised Burlesque costumes, this new wave of corsetry is designed to be worn by women on their own terms.
But whilst the Victorian corset might be a universal symbol of female confinement, it is back for AW16 – and in a whole new form. The corset is the most loaded fashion item there is, with an uncomfortable (quite literally) history of whalebone-induced fainting and rib removal surgery all in the name of sculpting a Scarlett O’Hara ‘waist-trained’ silhouette.
This isn’t the first time that corsets have been ‘re-appropriated’ as an empowering garment, of course, as in 1990 Madonna’s iconic Jean Paul Gaultier corset with a cone bra ignited a debate about women’s image being controlled by men. “Madonna’s corsets satiricized male fantasy – they sprouted fake nipples,” writes Carol Chillington Rutter.
“I used to wear a lot and it felt very sexy and feminine,” Beckham said to The Telegraph of the corset revival backstage. “I wanted to find a way to bring that back and feel new and fresh.”At Prada corsets were minimal, rather than sexy, and worn as an accessory, layered over coats and suits, with the laces left loose and half-tied. At Balmain they were powerful and body conscious, aimed to mimic the Kardashian’s love of shapewear, while at Victoria Beckham they were sleek, classic and minimal.
Ever the perfect brand ambassador, Beckham wore a black corset with tuxedo trousers at the Cannes Film Festival, proving that it is in fact a surprisingly wearable look. Gigi Hadid and Amy Schumer have followed suit, and worn sculpted corsets with black suit trousers.
Rihanna, always the first to leap to a new trend, has been wearing corsets in the style of Prada, however, layering a lavender corset belt over a loose shirt dress and then performing at Sziget Festival this month in an Adam Selman brown corset belt cinched over an oversized T shirt. It’s a powerful styling move, which has been called by some a feminist reclaiming of a garment which traditionally was used to control – and restrict – female bodies.
Corset belts could easily be a trend that never leaves the catwalks, but it’s an AW16 styling trick that already in August appears to be resonating with some customers. Lyst has seen a 25% increase in searches for corsets over the last six weeks but only a 0.6% increase in sales. An indication, perhaps, that the public aren’t fully committed to the trend?
Not so, according to the people at Net-A-Porter. The Prada belt corsets sold out almost instantly when they hit the site earlier this month.
“Prada’s denim corset belt sold out immediately upon upload in both colours,” says Net-A-Porter’s Retail Fashion Director, Lisa Aiken. “The fabric is a slightly thinner denim so it sits very neatly over dresses and even knitwear without the fabric spilling over the sides.” And if you’re wondering how to wear the corset in a modern way? “Over the past few seasons we’ve seen ready-to-wear borrow inspiration from the lingerie category in so many variations; from bodysuits to slip dresses and now corsets, it’s empowering to see designers use these styles as a layering piece as opposed to something that was once hidden and worn under clothes as shapewear.”