After two years of ditching bras and languishing in leggings, many are welcoming structure back into their lives — and, for some, that extends to their clothing choices.
“Going-out clothes have made a powerful comeback,” Morgane Le Caer, the content lead at Lyst, the shopping platform, said in an email.
Ms. Le Caer added that this trend is led by the corset, and said that “the newfound fascination for all things relating to royal fashion and the resurgence of Y2K fashion” have driven a 306 percent increase in search on Lyst for corsets in the past year.
While corsetry never really went away, it keeps coming back a little different than before. “There’s no question that whenever films or TV shows show corsets, it seems to trigger a new interest in corsetry in some sense,” said Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
A few factors have contributed to the resurgence of the controversial undergarment this past year. The release of the period drama “Bridgerton” on Netflix last Christmas led to the replacement of the pastoral nap dresses and cardigans of #Cottagecore with what TikTok fashionistas coined #Regencycore: the rise of 18th- and 19th-century-inspired regalia, including corseted silhouettes.
But the corsets of late aren’t necessarily the dated, binding products of the past. Now they’re more malleable and come in a range of shapes, sizes and fabrics without being torturous to wear. This time around, there’s a lot more room to breathe.
The corset has a divisive past of toeing the line between sexuality and oppression. Worn until the early 20th century, it was eventually replaced by girdles, and then more or less by diet, exercise and plastic surgery. During the punk movement, the garments re-emerged “as part of an appropriation of scandalous aspects of clothing history,” Dr. Steele said.
“It was sort of taken out of pornographic imagery and brought back onto the street,” she said. “So girls started wearing corsets, girdles and brassieres over their clothes, and this then led to the trend for underwear as outerwear.”
Part of the top’s recent appeal may also have to do with the current trend in pants. Kristen Classi-Zummo, a fashion apparel industry analyst for The NPD Group, believes the combination of growth in “higher rises and looser fits” in women’s pants is responsible for bringing corsets back to the closet.
“This baggy-bottom trend has a halo effect on the kind of tops she’s wearing, opening up the opportunity for cropped tops and corsets,” Ms. Classi-Zummo said over email, adding that corsets “add a polished look” to sweats or straight leg jeans.
The trend has also been magnified thanks to celebrities and the welcome return of the red carpet. Among the corset’s fans is the singer Olivia Rodrigo, whose style around the release of her breakout debut “Sour” reflected its ’90s-era grunge aesthetic; she has been seen in quite a few lace bustiers and tartan corsets with Dr. Martens boots.
Chloe and Chenelle Delgadillo, stylists who have worked with Ms. Rodrigo, said over email that they chose “a purple plaid Vivienne Westwood corset and matching pants for the ‘good 4 u’ performance on ‘SNL,’ which was perfect for the occasion ’cause it was both feminine and punk.”
Billie Eilish, who has long worn oversized clothing to avoid body shaming, drew a lot of attention for donning a satin Alexander McQueen corset dress on the cover of British Vogue earlier this year.
The rapper Saweetie also frequently wears bustier bodysuits and vintage underpinnings — even starting a collaboration with PrettyLittleThing, a retailer in Britain, with corsets as its focal point. And the corset has also been a recent mainstay of Lizzo’s wardrobe, including a meta one she wore with her face superimposed on the Mona Lisa.
Miaou, a “retro-romantic” ready-to-wear brand that debuted in 2016, pays homage to ’90s glamour and a midcentury French bombshell aesthetic. Its corsets — like the popular, fully boned Leia, which comes in a range of colorways including cow print and vegan leather — have become the best-selling category, generating 60 percent of the label’s revenue this year, according to the brand. Celebrities like Megan Fox and Kacey Musgraves have worn them.
Alexia Elkaim, the founder and designer of Miaou, believes that the corset is appealing to the masses because it’s less costume-y and has more wearability than it did in the past. The corset gives every body “a shape that is meant to be this curvy hourglass,” she said. “It’s flattering on all body types.”
Athleisure-inspired corsets are also now in high demand. Mia Vesper’s namesake brand, which produces playful, ready-to-wear pieces, has taken a “sporty” approach to corsets with “tiny tops” — non-stretch pieces that are reminiscent of a sports bra and come in styles like faux crocodile and neon shimmer. Since their debut in April, the label has sold over 1,500 of these tops, according to the company, making them one of its best sellers.
Ms. Vesper believes that “overt anti-utilitarianism” is appealing right now and people are looking to bend the rules of fashion more with these types of pieces. “It’s low-stakes cosplay for people,” Ms. Vesper said of corsets. “It gives a little taste of theater and romanticism at a time when life feels almost oppressively real.”