How Fashion Reclaimed the Corset
By Liana Satenstein
A Giorgio Armani Privé couture bodice from 2007. Photographed by David Sims/Art Partner, Vogue, October 2007.
But while yesteryear’s corsets have long been emblematic of women’s oppression when hidden underneath dresses, when worn with confidence out in the open now, they feel like a provocative expression of whatever wave of feminism we’re currently living through. And while the corset is, historically, the most feminine of pieces, made to accentuate and exaggerate a woman’s curves, it has lately become—at a time when the landscape of gender and sexuality and personal freedom is being policed like never before—the most democratic of garments, donned by any and all. Dario Princiotta, a corset maker based in Palermo, Italy, made his first corset at the age of 11 and often models his creations on Instagram. “I love to wear them because of the way they make me feel—they give me an attitude, a stronger and more dramatic appearance.”
Celebs love to be harnessed into them, too—Dua Lipa will slip into a strapless one, Bella Hadid a denim one; Kourtney Kardashian even married Travis Barker (at the third of their three ceremonies) in a corset minidress. But no one loves a corset more than Lizzo, who collects them and steps out in them and performs in them. At the 2022 Met Gala, she dazzled on the red carpet in a black Thom Browne corset dress with an exaggerated peplum. (She also owns a corset with the image of the Mona Lisa on it—though with the famous face replaced with Lizzo’s.)
Thom Browne alum Jackson Wiederhoeft, who launched his Wiederhoeft label three years ago, transformed the old-time pieces into new-era creations including a clubby strap dress with a built-in waist-pinching corset. Wiederhoeft even created corsets for two grooms for their wedding ceremony, to “give that feeling of sculpture,” he says, like “when you look at a marble statue.”
The corset works its magic not only by its shape—and its shaping—but by the process of actually putting it on. Somewhere out in the ether, there exists a hilarious video of me helping Vogue editor Lilah Ramzi get herself into one for some megawatt gala: My knee is pushing into her back to create more space, and I’m summoning Mike Tyson–level strength to lace her into the piece.
A look from Dior’s fall 2022 runway. Photo: Go Runway RTW F/W 22 Dior.
As anyone who’s been in a corset can attest, the immersive experience is real. “Obviously a shoe can shape your foot,” as Wiederhoeft notes, “but it mostly changes the position of your foot, whereas a corset can really change your body—it changes your posture, how you breathe, how you walk.”
And while that might not be the most comfortable situation, the frock-and-frill messiah Batsheva Hay of Batsheva, who has been using corsets throughout her racy-Little House on the Prairie collections, says maybe a bit of discomfort isn’t such a bad thing. We’ve been used to it forever with punishing shoes, so why not with a corset? Only this time the option is open to everyone, on our own terms.
“It’s such a gendered move to chisel the waist, because the waist-hip ratio is the epitome of classical femininity,” Hay tells me over drinks in the East Village, “and a corset creates an artificial femininity—so whoever wants to feel feminine can just put it on.” And what’s more liberating than that?