WEAR A CORSET?
Tries to have a good time in history’s most notoriously un-feminist clothing item
Fifteen minutes into my test drive of one of fall’s hottest trends, I’m sweating, swearing and screaming loudly enough to terrify all my neighbours. Silly me: When I decided to slip into a corset to hit up a fancy cocktail party in honour of an up-and-coming designer, I was picturing Rihanna casually sporting a corset belt on top of a PJ top while on a date with Drake—I thought replicating her look would be as easy as making a Drake meme. (Note to self: Never equate yourself with a living icon.) Unlike Ri’s Chanel cincher, mine is a torso-flattening satin number that hits just below my breasts. The look doesn’t work: My butt is way bigger, and the corset creates a literal shelf in the worst way possible when layered over a vintage silk button-down. Worst of all, having only haphazardly listened to the careful dressing instructions from Northbound Leather while picking up said corset, I have become trapped inside the hard casing of one of feminism’s first wearable foes.
Before activists burned their bras in the ’60s, the corset was suffragette enemy number one. Shaping the ideal female figure since the early 1600s, the corset became downright dangerous near the end of the 19th century, when the “wasp waist” (a scary waist measurement of 14 to 17 inches) became fashionable. Deformed ribs and dislocated organs were only a few of the side effects, which led to protests and, ultimately, bondage bodices being abandoned for the looser styles of the 1920s. Since falling from grace, the corset has crept back into fashion a few times (all hail Madonna’s larger-than-life cone-bra corset in the mid ’90s, by way of designer Jean Paul Gaultier). But its reappearance on this fall’s runways at Prada, Loewe and Balmain is directly related to the Kardashians and their popularization of waist-trainers. While their shaping abilities have yet to be proven, the Kim-approved contraptions have become synonymous with the otherworldly curves so sought after today.
But back to me and my regular curves. Finally, I break free of the corset, swapping the original pairing for my favourite see-through vintage negligée (I’m now officially going for sexy witch) and, infuriatingly, I can’t get the damn thing back on. After managing to knock over several items on my dresser with the bones of the corset—which when half done up, stand stiffly out at attention—I’m finally ready. With double-layered hoops and heeled sandals, my final look is The Craft meets ’90s prom. I’m not displeased. I head out in the pouring rain and can’t enter my Uber without assistance. I remember that historically, women weren’t accorded much of a life, which totally makes sense in this awkward moment.
In a time rich in feminist dialogue, the corset’s current return seems particularly profound. Or maybe I’m too hungry to be thinking clearly. After the party, despite the fact that a corset is truly a no-sit item, I suggest grabbing a late dinner. But once settled at a no-frills pho restaurant with my friends, I find eating past full (as is my usual style) impossible. So like a Victorian lady, I leave some food on my plate.
“After managing to knock over several items on my dresser with the bones of the corset, I’m finally ready.”