Trends in Corsetry
As contemporary corsetry becomes more and more popular, we are beginning to see little trends beyond the "classics" which trickle throughout the industry and pop up here and there in new forms, new colours, new styles. It's very interesting! We especially noticed it at last year's Oxford Conference of Corsetry, as there was a plethora of sheer corsets, all made with different materials, constructions and approaches. One of our facilitators (lovely corsetmaker Marianne of PopAntique) wrote a little blog about it at the time, and I felt I would add to the conversation by outlining a few more sub-trends that we have seen recently, and some that I think are just beginning to flourish.
Hip arches can be approached in a number of ways, whether dramatic outerwear projections or padded/structured foundation-wear forms to provide shape. They can be used to enhance an hourglass silhouette beneath tailored clothing (think Dior's New Look) or made in unusual fabrics and textures for a more attention-grabbing effect. For my part, I don't do them often at all, but when I have it was with a view to creating something that enhanced the silhouette an in unusual way. Obvious, but not obstructive.
Other manners of enhancement can be far more subtle, such as padding out one side of a client's hip or bust to create greater symmetry. It really is a question of working with the client's body and requirements, as ever.
Sheers, the topic of Marianne's post, had a huge resurgence recently. There had long been a couple of bigger brands creating sheer corsets (and one genius making them for the haute couture, Mr Pearl), but on the whole the sheer corsetry available was rather basic. Early 2012, a few of us started pushing further, researching history's offerings of "summer corsetry", testing modern materials, exploring technique and design... My key offering was my signature Sweetheart Sheer Cincher (shown above), which has since been adopted by a few designers as a pretty shape to work with. Since then, we've seen a lot of innovation around sheer corsetry, proving once and for all that corsets do not need 9 layers of stiff fabric (truly, some places still teach this!), they simply need good fabrics, good construction and good cut.
Plunge corsets have been around a fair while, but they are another style that has recently been seen more widely. A plunge can be very striking whether small or full busted, and so long as they are properly supported through the cut and steel they work fine for all manner of shapes and sizes. A plunge generally goes best with a slightly flattened bust though. Rounding out the bust (ie: for a more cupped shape) can end up undermining the support of a plunging line, especially with fuller chests. The effect can be delicious though, echoing the "V" of a tapered waist and elongating the decolletage.
Texture has become more prevalent over the past couple of years too... There was perhaps an assumption by many designers that corsets must remain smooth and close to the body in every sense (perhaps something internalised from looking at antique corsetry, which was of course required to give a low profile beneath clothing), but now surface texture such as spikes, beads, pearls, and degradé fabrics are all making an appearance. I personally like to think of all embellishment in terms of proportion, and the same is true both visually and in a tactile sense... Imagine treasuring a beautiful couture corset for years. Sometimes wearing it, sometimes lightly stroking it in its box and simply appreciating its beauty... Surely the way to enhance that beauty is to carry beautiful proportion through to even how the surface texture changes beneath your fingertips?
There are other trends too, that are starting to become more and more visible. Here are a couple that I think we may see with greater frequency, as more people begin wearing, commissioning and creating couture corsets.
Corset-bodies are, essentially, a corset with crotch (ie: like a corseted swimming costume). They are predominantly show-pieces, being more restrictive and less practical than regular corsetry. I believe we will begin to see some designers incorporate the idea into their work in a practical sense (perhaps with stretch-fit panties or other details which give the full-tummy support of a corset-body with greater practicality for regular use as shapewear), along with more designers pursuing "art corsetry" and turning to the corset-body for their collection show-pieces.
Multi-panel corsetry, as I've discussed elsewhere, isn't something I had really seen until unveiling my own efforts at reinterpreting the antique Birds Wing corset. There were some historical patents that incorporated many panels per side, but generally by way of gores, gussets or diagonals... Multiple vertical panels just weren't seen. None-the-less, I now see many designers playing with more panels than the usual 5 or 6 (pitching generally for around 10 or 11), exploring construction and shaping, seeing what happens... I think we are only at the beginning of this and I hope that as I continue to innovate around my Birds Wing corsets, so too will others innovate to discover their own findings on multi-panel corsetry. As an aside, I also think that minimal corsetry may become a challenge adopted be a few makers... It certainly makes sense to me having done corsets with as many as 44 panels that the next challenge would be a streamlined, well-shaped, beautifully fitted corset making use of as few panels as possible... Since 4 is a common number, this would have to be 3 or less. I have seen antique patents and replicas that touch on this idea, though not quite in a way I like, so who knows... Perhaps it is doable, perhaps not. But minimal corsetry (not just in number of panels, but also in construction and design) seems to me to be something just around the corner...
Lingerie corsetry is common enough, but generally either as raunchy boudoir wear or stark and plain foundation wear. Having made a few lingerie corsets to a more couture specification (little fancies of silk and lace), I do believe this may be a flourishing facet of corsetry design. After all, when brides invest so much into their gowns and weddings, it makes sense to provide an underpinning to match. It is a more couture or antique approach, to create a gown tailored around a corset, and it ties into this whole enjoyment of a wedding trousseau that many contemporary brides are missing out on. The feeling I would hope to engender is one of preciousness and history. To create a trousseau so beautiful and personal that it would be kept in the family for generations and one day found carefully wrapped and boxed away in the attic. That wonder that we have when we see a beautifully hand-embroidered Edwardian bridal piece, the way we intuit that each stitch carried something magical, that is what much contemporary bridal wear (and especially the corsetry/lingerie) is missing. As conspicuous consumption of disposable goods becomes ever less popular, I do feel (and hope) that people will cease spending frequent small amounts of money with little thought in order to spend larger amounts of money with greater care. I remember seeing Vivienne Westwood discuss it once in an interview, this notion that her high-end fashion should be paired with hand-me-downs and charity shop garments, should be worn and used and treasured and kept. I quite agree.