fashion

"Yes, you can wear the 'modern corset' without endorsing the oppression of women."

According to Aussie retailer Witchery, there is one piece missing from your current wardrobe.

No, it’s not a pair of shoes you can actually walk in without getting blisters or a pair of black work pants that don’t give you a wedgie when you sit down.

It’s the “reinvented corset belt”.

The latest issue of their online magazine Witchery Report includes a feature entitled “It’s a cinch” which demonstrates why the accessory is a key styling piece for the cooler months.

The difference? The modern ‘corset’ is no longer hidden under your clothes. Instead, it’s a piece of outerwear.

It can apparently add shape to an oversized jumper, take your basic white t-shirt and jeans combo to “high-fashion level” and cinch in a bulky coat, adding an interesting detail.

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As with most trends, they’re not for everybody.

A look at the brand’s Instagram shows that while there are plenty making inquiries about stock, there are just as many others who are firmly against it.

“Looks like something my physio would recommend,” wrote one commenter.

Witchery is also certainly not the first to market them to the mainstream as a wearable, everyday piece.

Making a slow resurgence over the last two years, Vogue Australia even dedicated an entire spread – and cover – to Kim Kardashian wearing 10 bespoke corset-style tops and belts specially created by Australian designers in June last year.

Zachary the Label, an online label extremely popular on Instagram, has repeatedly sold out and restocked its in-demand ‘Campbell’ corset, available in nude and black.

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There’s just one glaring problem with this fashionable “new” accessory: its history.

With variations worn as early as the fifth century, the corset was a restrictive item for women in more ways than one. An item women were required to wear for dress standards, the rigid whalebone structures also caused intense pressure on internal organs and other serious health issues, including infertility.

In an opinion piece for News.com.au, Melissa Hoyer argues the reclamation of the corset by fashion high-street stores should set off alarm bells for that very reason — framing it as a “fashion sin”.

“The whole reason women ditched the corset and the history that went with it — think of Gone With Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara being tugged and strapped into hers as she held onto a bed post so she could attain a perfect silhouette — was that they were just bloody painful,” she writes.

Listen: Can you wear jeans past the age of 47? Not according to this study no-one asked for. Post continues after audio.

“So, with this corset revival, do we really want to/need to/intend to inflict any more pain on our bodies?”

In this, she’s also addressing the revival of the corset-style ‘waist trainers’ which have far more in common with the traditional versions designed to reshape the body. You’ll see them all over social media, usually promoted by influencers and celebrities like the Kardashians.

On this, I completely agree with Hoyer. While there might be some who swear waist trainers have benefitted them, countless health professionals I have spoken to have warned off their ill-impact on your body.

“Corsets only allow shallow breathing, which can lead to hyperventilation, dizziness and fainting. They compress the stomach and intestines, which could cause gastro-oesophageal reflux and constipation,” Australian GP Dr Joo-Inn Chew previously told Mamamia.

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“If worn longer term they could weaken core muscles, leading to back pain and pelvic floor weakness. If laced too tight they could even crack ribs or bruise skin or internal organs.”

But Hoyer also argues the whole trend of corset-style anything is akin to “fashion’s biggest sin”.

“It’s funny to think that the decades it has taken to rid ourselves from the structures of what was an unseen fashion item our great-great-great grandmothers used to wear has now done a turnaround, the corset now being worn on the outside,” she says.

“It is as if the celebs, models and normal peeps who ARE wearing them as outerwear are giving the oppressive history of the corset the finger.”

So can you jump on the trend without endorsing the item’s problematic and oppressive history? I think so. In fact, giving the traditional corset “the finger” is a step to redefining and ‘claiming’ it back.

@laurenjaw rocking our Campbell Corset with an oversized white shirt! ???????????? We are almost sold out ladies, get in fast!

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The styles reappearing in the shopping centres are far softer and less restrictive than the organ-squeezing versions of old, appearing in silk and wool. They’re also not designed to be laced up super tight, with the corset-style lace ups more a feature than function.

They’re essentially a wider, high-waisted belt – designed to cinch and add shape to an outfit, not your body and its bones.

Take a closer look at your wardrobe and you’ll find most of your items have equally questionable history or associations. Bomber jackets were a military standard issue uniform item, while crew neck t-shirts were first undergarments worn by US navy marines in the 1898 Spanish-American civil war.

Jumpsuits are favoured prison wear, white wedding dresses are associated with purity and virginity, and high heels — although originally worn by men in 17th century France — have long been marketed to woman as a necessity to be attractive to men.

There’s no dismissing where the corset has come from, but we have control over where it’s going.

Ultimately it comes down to choice.

Women tore off their corsets, burned their bras and wore bikinis because they’d previously had no option whether to wear them or not. They fought for freedom of choice, an entitlement that is exercised whether you wear them or you don’t, providing whatever you choose is exactly that – your choice, made by you for you.

Likewise, by choosing to wear a midi skirt rather than a mini on a particular day, am I harking back to the days when women were not allowed to show skin? No, I am wearing it because that’s what I feel like on any particular day – and probably because my mini is still in the wash.

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