What’s “fem­i­nist” about the body-re­strict­ing bustier? Caitlin Agnew in­ves­ti­gates.

Once rel­e­gated to lin­gerie draw­ers, the bustier is tak­ing cen­tre stage as a sar­to­rial sym­bol of fe­male em­pow­er­ment.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Caitlin Agnew

O

ne of my ear­li­est fash­ion me­mories is of a Blond Am­bi­tion-era Madonna in her cone bra corset. Cre­ated by French provo­ca­teur Jean Paul Gaultier, the con­tro­ver­sial un­der­wear-as-out­er­wear piece gar­nered a re­cep­tion that sur­prised even the shock queen Madge her­self. “Play­ing with the idea of gen­der, of what is mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine, and giv­ing it a the­atri­cal, hu­mor­ous twist—it was kind of a po­lit­i­cal state­ment,” she said in an in­ter­view for the cat­a­logue ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Mon­treal Mu­seum of Fine Arts’ 2011 ex­hi­bi­tion The Fash­ion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Side­walk

to the Cat­walk. “I think that in­ver­sion of the con­cept of the corset is what turns it into a sym­bol of fem­i­nine power and sex­ual free­dom,” she added.

Nearly three decades later, at a time when Gal Gadot’s Won­der Woman is one of Hol­ly­wood’s most prom­i­nent char­ac­ters and ev­ery­day women are sound­ing bat­tle cries against gen­der in­equal­ity and vi­o­lence, de­sign­ers are tap­ping into the power of the bustier to high­light the in­her­ent strength of fem­i­nin­ity. At Prada, Mi­uc­cia lay­ered a cropped gold bro­cade bustier over a graphic tee, while at Er­dem, the Cana­dian de­signer paired bustier tops with vo­lu­mi­nous ball gowns. Mu­gler’s body-con pieces are nearly as iconic as Gaultier’s. (See Bey­oncé in his fa­mous mo­tor­cy­cle corset on her 2009 I Am… tour.) For its Spring 2018 col­lec­tion, Mu­gler’s then-artis­tic di­rec­tor David Koma pre­sented a ca­sual take on the bustier: denim ver­sions worn with jeans and skirts.

Orig­i­nally cre­ated as a re­stric­tive un­der­gar­ment to shift women’s bod­ies into a “more de­sir­able” shape, the bustier is now be­ing worn as a sup­port­ive and lib­er­at­ing top, thus shift­ing per­cep­tions of fem­i­nin­ity. “It’s that func­tional fash­ion fu­sion that is kind of a mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion: It’s fem­i­nine and it’s as­sertive,” says Christina Re­menyi, founder of made-in-Toronto com­pany Fort­night Lin­gerie. Since start­ing her brand in 2010, Re­menyi has wit­nessed an in­crease in women em­brac­ing their sense of fem­i­nin­ity and show­ing pride in their un­der­things, of­ten craft­ing out­fits that high­light—rather than hide—their choice of lin­gerie. “One of the mag­i­cal things about lin­gerie in gen­eral is how drawn women are to it,” she says. “There’s this bond and al­lure to it that sep­a­rates it from a lot of other gar­ments.”

It’s an al­lure Natasha Raey knows well. The founder of Ca­dence Health Cen­tre in Toronto, Raey has an em­bel­lished bustier-style dress by U.K. brand Wyldr, and put­ting it on gives her an im­me­di­ate sense of power and grace. “The bustier says that we’re beautiful be­ings, but we’re also as strong as hell, and we’re go­ing to use this strength to en­sure that our gen­er­a­tion and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of women are af­forded the re­spect, safety and love they de­serve,” she says, adding that there’s no time like the present to tap into our unique beauty, in­tel­li­gence and strength. “These are our su­per­pow­ers, so use them!” In the words of Madonna: Ex­press your­self.

The bustier says that we’re beautiful be­ings, but we’re also as strong as hell.

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