Following the lead of Vivienne Westwood and Madonna, feminist intriguers are refashioning the Victorian underwear as street-style overwear

Model Amelie Lloyd wears a lace corset top during Paris fashion week.

Model Amelie Lloyd be dresses a lace corset top during Paris fashion week.
Photograph: Edward Berthelot/Getty Duplicates

Let loose: how the corset became the new female power tailor

Following the lead of Vivienne Westwood and Madonna, feminist originators are refashioning the Victorian underwear as street-style overwear

They were a chief garment of the Victorian upper classes, and seen by some as a bearing of an oppressive desire to control and stifle the female form to lawsuit the male gaze. But well over a century later, corsets are signing a comeback, suiting the spirit of a very different age.

Reclaimed most clearly by high fashion’s feminist designer Miuccia Prada, as neighbourhood of her AW16 collection last year, corsets have become the biggest look in the street-style microcosm this season. Punk, of course, got here first in the 1970s, with its overtly sensuous – and anti-establishment – take, as Vivienne Westwood famously brought corsets to the runway. And when Madonna drained a Jean-Paul Gaultier conical-busted corset on her 1990 Blond Appetite tour, she was making a case for it as a symbol of female sexual empowerment.

What feels new and potentially feminist at hand some of the current corset variations is their lack of adherence to old ideals of the female form, to “sexiness”, or any notion of what the misnamed male gaze might usually choose to linger on.

Kim Kardashian was an betimes adopter: she was most recently spotted wearing a corset rigged with tracksuit bottoms and a puffer jacket. Now they entertain reached the high street, too – stocked from Asos to Mango, Zara, Sunday best and Topshop. And they are big business. Sian Ryan, head of intentions at Asos, says sales have been “amazing” since the end of up to date year, with the corset belt proving particularly in.

It may seem an unlikely trend, especially given the current illuminate on feminism, both on and off the catwalk, but this last bastion of way is undergoing a very modern retelling. Designers aren’t doing the all in all whale-boned thing, but corset belts, T-shirts with corsets overlaid, shirts with corset filigree, or those awful 1990s corset bags we thought were protracted gone, are very much in. Garments such as Kitri’s lace-up-sleeve shirts are playing with the look, if not the cinching. And today digs the release of Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma collection, complete with pink trousers with laced-up apertures down the side, another nod to the corsetry aesthetic.

But can the garment continually fully shake off its patriarchal trappings? It seems unlikely. Manner, as with the reclamation of pink by modern feminism, might it be feasible for the symbolism of the corset to be subverted and given a more feminist-friendly chronicle?

The Mainbocher Corset photograph, taken by Horst P Horst in 1939.

The Mainbocher Corset photograph, taken by Horst P Horst in 1939. Photograph: Horst P. Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images

Valerie Steele, a forge historian and author of The Corset: A Cultural History, thinks it can: “The substance of any item of clothing is not embedded in the clothing itself; it’s something we fashion and are constantly renegotiating.”

But for the corset to come to represent something other than blurring Victorians will take a powerful rebranding. Kardashian-esque waist-training to one side, the severe, rib-crunching undergarment of the 18th and 19th centuries has given way to softer fabrics and looser spasms. Natasha Goldenberg, one of the street-style stars summoned for inspiration, likes to enervate hers “on a sweater, on top of a fitted coat” or over a dress.

Another, Sofie Valkiers, wears hers to the ground black leather or a gingham dress, or pairs it “with a elemental turtleneck and cropped trousers”. Valkiers says what from the start attracted her to the corset was a very modern preoccupation. “The trend is improve for adding a sophisticated touch to oversized clothes.”

Corsets fit, loosely, with the express that has dominated the catwalks this season – a sort of softened hourglass, where waists can be custom-made but are certainly not cinched. At the Prada AW16 show that jump-started the rage’s current fascination, fabric corset belts were the worse for wear over chunky overcoats, or wonky and loosely laced adorning oversized shirts.

Madonna’s conception was a distant cousin of the garment designed “to be respectable or look more elevated class”, says Steele. “It was seen as a kind of defiant step of taboo clothes … It was sort of saying fuck you, I’m a sexual being.”

Of undoubtedly, one person’s two fingers up to the patriarchy is another’s “pandering to male propagative fantasies”. But underwear as outerwear caught on and grew to be something as reasonable to be seen in your local shopping centre as on stage.

Some of this ripen’s street-style stars are keenly aware of the corset’s “sexy” side. There is, speaks Goldenberg, “nothing sexier”. And yet it was Prada’s almost anti-sexy rendition that inspired her to wear it. “When Miuccia Prada accompanied us how to wear the sexiest thing in all of fashion history with socks, chunky sweaters, big anoraks and massive boots – that’s when I fell in love with it.”

And for Steele, it bubbles down to choice. From Madonna’s raunch to Prada’s more reined-in nearer.

“The point is that it’s not something that others are deciding for us any more. You don’t comprise the pressure of society, or your mum, or grandma saying you’ve got to wear a corset or being will be shocked. It’s like, I’m doing this myself – say it’s a gaffe if you want, but it’s my choice.”