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A Dead Fashion Trend that Needs to Stay Dead

Becca Stout ’20, Guest Writer

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Over the summer, I worked at what one Dickinson professor described as, “a pragmatic job” as opposed to the internships that many of my fellow peers participated in. I spent my summer working at a higher end fashion company at my local mall.

Arguably, I learned just as much as I would have in a traditional internship. I learned quite a bit about organization, perfection, customer service, and most importantly—fashion. Yes, really.

Now, I have never been a fashionista by any standards, nor have I ever cared about trends or what is “in style.” Honestly, I never even wanted to play dress up or dress dolls as a kid. Fashion wise, all I ever cared about was if something looked good on me and if it was appropriate for certain events or everyday life. I would blissfully shop through clearance racks marked at 50% off thinking it was such a steal because who cared if it was last season’s or even last year’s style.

However, throughout the course of this summer, I gained an understanding of all the current trends and how people look and feel when they wear them. I have also learned to love going through shipment and identifying all the new trends as I hung clothing up to be displayed, which is why I was so disheartened by the end of the summer to see the emergence of the “corset top.”

Compounded with that was the fact that only a select few tiny sizes were available, making this trend only wearable for the smallest women. While I appreciate all fashion as individual expression, this new trend that I started to see in all retail stores, really struck a chord with me. How could something with such a history of endangering the health of women be brought back without thought in 2017?

Historically speaking, corsets were tight garments worn by many middle to upper class European women, designed for them to achieve an ideal body shape that would be celebrated by society. This image, known as an “hourglass shape,” is known for its large chest, extremely slender torso, and wide hips.

To achieve this body shape, the fabric was so tight that breathing and moving was nearly impossible. Because women wore these garments during maturity and throughout their adult lives, corsets worked by having the woman’s body grow to fit the tightly tied torso shackle. This resulted in the mutilations of torsos and underdeveloped rib cages, along with many other related health problems.

Even Hollywood portrays corsets as negative to women’s health in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl, in two distinct scenes. The first scene is when the maids are helping tie up Elizabeth Swan’s corset, while her father tells her it is a trend in London. She gasps in pain at each pull and responds, “Then women in London must have learned not to breathe.” In the second and more dramatic scene, she loses her breath, faints, and falls over the cliff into the water. While dramatized, fainting and problems breathing were commonplace with corsets.

To be fair, today’s corset tops are nothing like this. Many of them are looser fitting tops, some even slouchy. Even the super tight ones are nowhere near as restrictive and are made of a much stretchier material.

That being said, the idea of the reemergence of such a style that has a history of inflicting pain on women just for them to achieve a sought-after body shape to please society is disturbing. I can’t help but think that, in a world in which the President of the free world discounts his own discussion of bragging about sexual assaults he has committed as nothing more than locker room talk and rates the appearances of women, the corset top is symbolic of the severe and swift loss of centuries worth of women’s strides forward in gaining a more equal society. In today’s political climate, women cannot accept such a demeaning trend as to tell women how they need to look to be a “ten.” Women should be accepted in society regardless of body shape and not feel shameful for not having the “perfect” body.

So please, women of Dickinson, next time you go shopping for a new trend, go for the cold shoulder or the cutout or even the cropped tee. Please do not perpetuate the idea that women need to have a certain body for them to be desirable or even accepted in society. Because, in the end, regardless of what you wear or how you wear it, all that matters is that it makes you feel beautiful.

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1 Comment

One Response to “A Dead Fashion Trend that Needs to Stay Dead”

  1. Ann Grogan, President, ROMANTASY Exquisite Corsetry on September 8th, 2017 6:03 pm

    I agree with the writer that fashion should make you feel beautiful, and I agree as a feminist myself from the 60s on, that women should determine how they want to dress and appear.

    But it is sad to me to find such a young person so clearly misinformed about corsets, and so clearly lacking fact-based information to evaluate for her article. She has unwittingly fallen prey to the age-old stereotypical “Corset Question”, and I would welcome her call (415 587-3863) to find out the facts and reconsider her opinion.

    First, there’s nothing “new” about corsets. I’ve made my living full-time for over 27 years designing and purveying custom corsets to some 10,000-plus clients of ROMANTASY both in a San Francisco boutique for 8 yrs and online after that. To boot, there are now up to 400 custom corsetieres around the world offering corsets. Thus, there is nothing truly “new” about corsets.

    Second, let’s use our common sense here. Would countless numbers of women wear corsets and order them today if they were excruciating or dangerous truly to their health? What makes a corset comfortable, is when they are custom made to fit individual measurements — and when the wearer laces down moderately and seasons the new corset gently over time. The owner is in charge of how tightly she laces — not the seller! And it’s how tightly she or he laces that determines comfort — not just the “fabric” per se as the writer indicates.

    Third, there is no widespread health problem then or now. The writer presents no evidence and there is none I know of that fainting and problems breathing, “were common”. In fact, Victorian women wore shorter, steel boned cinchers while riding horses, playing tennis, and riding bicycles. Choosing the proper style is mandatory for the ways one wants to wear a corset. Everyone in only a few days or even hours of wear, readily get accustomed to breathing more in the high chest when corseted, and going about almost 100% of their daily activities including exercise (but of course one would not run a marathon in a tight corset, nor wear 5″ stilletos, right?)

    Fourth, as for Hollywood, and the general news media, we all know that they “go for” the outrageous and the unusual in order to sell papers. To boot, actresses who eschew or bad mouth corsets, as an educated guess, are wearing a difficult style (such as the very stiff ice-cream cone silhouetted 17th century corset from the Pirates movie fame). The ice cream cone corset (vs the hourglass or wasp silhouetted corset) takes a long time to properly season into comfort. Likely no one in the costume dept. educated them to wear a brand new, stiff corset for a time before filming, or there was simply “no time” for them to take this sensible step, or they laced down too rapidly and too tightly for their frame a and for the style being worn,

    Finally, most of my clients have a waist size 35 and larger, up to 60″ (including male clients both manly men and transgender MTFs). Any body of any shape, and anyone can choose to wear a well-fitting custom corset and cut a fashionable figure. We have a gallery on our website (and information page) of our thousands of full-figure corset clients over the years. Clients can actually improve their health by wearing a corset to support a scoliosis or low back problem (and other health improvements), and they can lose waistline inches in about three months — and lose pounds if they want to. Of course there are a few conditions that mitigate against tight clothing of any kind, such as high blood pressure, but then, we knew that, didn’t we? We hope the writer and others will check out our “how to” detailed book ($14.95 pdf format) on the process of sensible, moderate corset waist training at


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A Dead Fashion Trend that Needs to Stay Dead