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Loosening Our Grip: A Brief Exploration of Corsets

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By: Kara Neff

Loosening Our Grip: A Brief Exploration of Corsets

I have a philosophy on dressing, and it revolves largely, if not solely, around comfort. The idea is this: if you're not comfortable in what you're wearing, you're not your most confident self. I've approached the concept of the comeback corset matter-of-factly and not strictly sartorially. And perhaps it's to my detriment, because this trend has lasted longer than I anticipated—and it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon. My hesitation borders on pure, unapologetic reluctance, not only because I don't find corsets entirely appealing, but also because I question the point. When it comes to dressing, I don't consider myself utilitarian or minimalist by any stretch of the imagination, though I have come to embrace the simplicity of a no frills, finely-tuned ensemble. After looking at the longstanding history of this garment, I began to think that reprising it over top of clothing is, well, over the top. Hear me out.

 

Most of us became familiar with the corset somewhere within the 959 pages (or 238 minutes) of Gone with the Wind. Whether reading it or watching the 2-disc DVD set, we developed a ridiculously vivid idea of what being squeezed into the framework of a whalebone-constructed vice is like. Even a tiny little thing like Miss Scarlett (actress Vivien Leigh is said to have had a 21" waist while filming) was reduced to the old ten-pound-sausage-in-an-eight-pound-bag metaphor. So whether we've tried a corset or not, what we can deduce is that comfort is not exactly part of the equation. I wondered whether the scarring nature of this scene alone was reason enough for the corset to be left behind in the faraway and distant past.

 

The thing with the corset is that, somewhere along the line, it stopped being an undergarment. In fact, in 2016 it clocked some serious hours over clothing thanks to the Kim Ks, Gigis, and RiRis of the fashion elite. I began wondering if the ladies wearing it in this fashion were overachieving; reaching too far; or just accessorizing as they might with a bracelet, earring, or necklace. It's an add-on feature that doesn't add to the outfit itself – it's just kind of there. Yes, we see less of your waist, but is it flattering? On occasion, but not consistently. And most importantly: did it pass my comfort test? Rarely, if ever. I came to the rapid conclusion that, in most cases, this accessory was not only questionable, but entirely unnecessary. 

 

But here's where it worked. If it wasn't an add-on means of accessorizing – but an actual top – we loved it. We preferred it in a nice satin, and lace made a killing when juxtaposed with a sleek, structured blazer on top (and to finish this look, we paired with a skinny denim). This mode of styling also worked well with a well-tailored and highly structured trouser, especially in a matching tone (we opted for black-on-black, of course). When we did style it as an accessory, we leaned into it with more of a large belt mindset. In this way, it was easy to style over an oversized boyfriend blouse (which we also paired with skinny denim but a leather legging would work just as well). Lastly, and perhaps our favorite corset silhouette, was the dress. Form-fitting and entirely feminine, it accentuated all the right places and left us feeling like our best, most confident selves all night long. 

 

I've learned not to hate this new-again, waist-defining movement, but is my embracing the current track pants and sneakers trend a direct response to this tightly wound, vice-like obsession? Perhaps. Frankly, my dears – I don't really give a damn. For me, comfort wins time and time again (except on the rare occasions when I want to be my most dressed up, ultra-feminine and entirely chic self).

 

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