Claire Stemen
Claire Stemen
Claire Stemen likes to think and write about fashion as a vital form of communication. She loves clothing and the way we style ourselves, despite always buying the same black turtleneck over and over again. You can find her on Instagram @claire_stemen, or or at

Main Squeeze: the Dubious Return of the Corset

(Wunderkind photo via Now Fashion)

All Tied Up: the Corset’s Dubious Comeback

tibi-nyfw-corset-mainDespite shedding the laced-up cages of our ancestors, corsets have made a surprising comeback … and on runways, no less.

An unmistakeable trend this past season, the antiquated fashion piece appeared on runways at Tibi and Wunderkind — not to mention the absolute explosion of corsets in street style.

Ever since Madonna popularized the corset in the ’80s — a stint that lasted into the ’90s — the corset has enjoyed relative fame as sexy outward accessory.

The definition of a corset (according to is “a close-fitting undergarment, stiffened with whalebone or similar material, and often capable of being tightened by lacing, enclosing the trunk: worn, especially by women, to shape and support the body.”

It’s not quite an attractive-sounding garment, and has a reputation throughout history of distorting the body of its long-term wearers. A brief look at the history of the corset over the span of 16th-20th centuries exposes minute variances in design, but all were a source of consistent concern to physicians of those eras.

It has a reputation of distorting the body of its long-term wearers.

The concern was at first due to the tight-lacing methods popular in the nineteenth century, that were “rectified” in the Edwardian period with an “S-shaped” corset. However, the new version only fiddled with the musculoskeletal region in lieu of squeezing the inner organs of the abdomen.

Have I made you queasy yet? Well, if not, get ready: in the 1700s, children and babies were wrapped in corsets for fashionable reasons.

Clearly the corset’s comeback today is of a lesser degree, but it begs the question of femininity in fashion: when does it go too far? Corsets are prevalent in lingerie and, arguably, the Spanx is a modern form of physique-shaping minus the stitched-in boning.

It’s with the rebirth of waist-shapers, riddled on sponsored Instagram posts — and the increased popularity of curvaceous body shapes — that the concern arises. Are we any freer from shaping and shifting our bodies if we bring a clothing accessory like the corset back into play? And what does it say about us if we’re willing to cause ourselves physical harm (at one extreme) to achieve a “look” or chase a trend? Especially when the “thinning” effects of a corset aren’t even lasting?

What does it say about us, if we’re willing to cause ourselves harm (at one extreme)?


The distinction has to exist in the way in which it is worn. New interpretations on the “corset look” — like at Tibi — or interesting takes on lingerie, or on classic silhouettes: this is the very core of reinventing the past.

tibi-nyfw-corsetSo wear your corsets in a dress, as a belt, loosely slung on your hips, as you will, but as physicians throughout the ages have warned: avoid tight-lacing.

Everyone likes tight curves, but it’s far more important to feel comfortable in your own skin, and look great in clothes that flatter.


With love,


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