FÉMINISTE MAIS FÉMININE: THE CORSET TREND

Lace-up detailing has fast gained ground as a trend, with lace-up shoes, lace-up bodysuits and even lace-up chokers wherever you turn your head. Now it seems that the trend is evolving back into its original inspiration: the corset. Every fashionista on social media is wearing a corset belt over their t-shirts, slip dresses, utilitarian jackets, blazers and even button-up blouses. Following its first reappearance in Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2017 show, the corset soon popped up on the runway, on the streets amongst fashion influencers and has already drizzled down to the mainstream with availability in high street stores like Zara, Topshop and Cotton On.

Considering today’s feminist landscape, it goes against all logic that the corset, which has been a symbol of female oppression for centuries, is back in fashion. How did this incredibly political garment reclaim the spotlight? Karl Lagerfeld’s bold slogan: “féministe, mais féminine,” (feminist but feminine) from the Spring/Summer 2015 Chanel show perhaps perfectly encapsulates a certain path of reasoning behind the corset’s return to fame.

Feminism is a major movement this year thanks, in part, to the United States’ election of President Donald Trump, a misogynist icon. This goes against the grain of every gender equality and inclusivity notion that had found a foothold in 2016, and so the election spurred numerous high-profile protests – many with a global reach thanks to the power of social media. Women’s rights are on everyone’s minds, on everyone’s Instagram feeds and on every slogan t-shirt.

This begs another question: is feminism simply a fad? Feminism is certainly this year’s buzzword. It is unarguably “cool” to be a feminist today, but how many of us truly align with the beliefs we so proudly sport in fashion and on social media? I am genuinely asking.

Considering the trendy nature of female empowerment, it would be a relatively educated assumption to say that the corset’s revival is satirical. Women are re-appropriating the lace-up accessory, mocking a society that objectifies the female figure. Miuccia Prada’s corsets are not confined to traditional notions of “sexiness”. Prada put the undergarment on display, layered over coats and blazers, with untied laces that decidedly emphasise, rather than cinch the waist. In contrast, Balmain showed more traditionally sexy corsets in their Autumn/Winter 2016 collection. However, Balmain’s style still radiated power, more reminiscent of a goddess than a housewife from the 1800s.

Femininity and feminism are widely debated terms, and I think that the rise of the corset is fashion’s way of sticking it to the man. Whether intentional or not, Prada’s corsets give women a chance to redefine femininity on their own terms. What these various resurged forms of corset seem to say, is that female ideals no longer need to be tied to your style or your shape. You can have an undefined waist and still be feminine, but you can also wear Kardashian-esque shape wear and still be a feminist.

Femininity and feminism means whatever we want it to.

Corset: Zara

Words & Layout: Yolanda Senekal

Photographs: Yolanda Senekal & Carlien Koster