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What Gen Z's love for corsets tells us about women's fashion

Once a symbol of control, controversy and sexual subjugation, the corset has been reclaimed, becoming a fashion staple for modern women  

Natasha Poonawalla in her 2022 Met Gala look wearing a custom Sabyasachi sari with a Schiaparelli corset 
Natasha Poonawalla in her 2022 Met Gala look wearing a custom Sabyasachi sari with a Schiaparelli corset  (Instagram/Natasha Poonawalla)

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It doesn't take more than an Instagram scroll to tell that Gen Z loves their corsets. To the new age fashion stalwarts, these slim fitted tops are as good as a crisp white shirt. Comfortable, chic, elevating and oh-so-versatile.  It is no more surprising to see someone don a corset as a statement-making belt or style it with casuals to amp up a street-wear look. They can easily replace vests, blouses, shirts and even dresses.

Also Read: Gentlemen, Dries Van Noten has a corset for you as well

Designer Dries Van Noten went a step ahead and featured a corset for the menswear collection at the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week. Likewise, Indian-style maven Natasha Poonawalla broke the Internet when she donned a classic Schiaparelli corset with a Sabyasachi couture sari at the Met Gala this year. 

Call it some sort of pandemic revenge dressing or our hangover from period dramas like Bridgerton, the rising trend of the corset tops makes one wonder--what drives the appeal for something so conventionally sexual? "With the opportunity to finally go out again after three years of covid, I feel there is this return to decadence. Shows like Bridgerton or even Downtown Abbey capture the zeitgeist of our times. They return to something that's old school, charming and vintage in so many ways, but at the same time, reimagine it in a far more provocative way," says celebrity stylist Divyak D'Souza. He adds that  Gen Z's audacious and skin-baring aesthetic also plays a role in the resurgence. "Women today are dressing more in tune with their sexuality; they want to own it and not be coy about it anymore," he says. 

Traditional corsets, made out of whalebone and wooden rods and intended to keep women's waists tiny, were introduced around the 16th century, though a precursor was seen worn by the Minoans who lived in Crete back in 1000 BC. Essentially the purpose was the same – a desirable hourglass figure –implying a certain commodification of female sexuality and the subjugation of women. 

It was not a fashion choice but a wardrobe decree. Women as young as 13 years of age were made to stuff their bosom in the tight clutches of a corset, often damaging their spine in the process. By the twentieth century,  it began to fall from favour as more and more women chose to wear less constricting undergarments and embrace their natural silhouettes. 

However, it also evolved into a more fetishised garment, reserved for the boudoir and bedroom. Though perhaps not as physically damaging as its older counterparts, this modern iteration did little to preserve women from sexual objectification.

Today the corsets have garnered a liking amongst the elite. Fashion influencers, including Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid among others have been spotted in these corset tops. The liberty with which corsets are worn today underlines the ways in which women have changed what it means to them. According to D'Souza, women have, "reclaimed something that used to be a symbol of oppression and made it into a symbol of sexual provocation." 

Be it an evening soiree, a day at work or even your own wedding, the versatility of the garment allows it to be worn whatever way you like. It is a great thing to pair with Indian wear too, like a lehenga or saree, the structure and rigidity of the blouse balancing out the softness of a drape, as D'Souza points out.

While it may be too soon to call it a wardrobe must-have, something tells us that the trend is far from over yet. "2022's corset isn't made to be restrictive or achieve some ideal body shape. It is closer to a bustier top and is all about feeling empowered, confident, and having a whole lot of fun," says designer Monica Shah of JADE who, along with Karisma Shah, designed the corseted bridal ensemble for the recent wedding of Shibani Dandekar. “It's safe to say that though the corset has made a return, its damaging impact on women's bodies hasn't. Corsets now embody the aesthetic but also offer ample comfort and functionality – core values of post-pandemic style,” she adds. 

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