New-Millennium Corsets Squeeze Into Fashion Scene

Good news for Scarlett O'Hara wannabes: Corsets as outerwear are going mainstream this fall.

The figure-squeezing items are made in materials as diverse as cotton, denim, leather, silk, and satin. And though some come with Victorian-era boning and lace-up backs, others cater to comfort with buckle or zipper closures and even a little lycra stretch.

Cosmopolitan associate fashion editor Alexandra Douglass said that though the trend has been on the fringe for a few years, "now everyone's caught on."

"They're everywhere," she said. "They're beautiful and sexy, so why not?"

High-end designers such as Dolce & Gabbana have been making corsets for two or three years, and some, like punk diva Vivian Westwood, for even longer. But Douglass said that now, other less haute shops such as Bebe, XOXO, Rampage, and Fredericks of Hollywood are carrying the body-shaping tops. Victoria's Secret has even opened corset boutiques in New York and Colorado.

"Everything that is Victorian is in right now lace, high necks, ruffles," Douglass said. "And women are becoming a lot more bold in their choice of garments. Now we can wear lingerie on the outside and it's acceptable, elegant, feminine, and glamorous."

Douglass said corsets which are sold strapless or with adjustable bra-like straps can be worn over another shirt or under a suit jacket, but also go well with a skirt, slacks or even a pair of jeans.

"They can be worn anywhere now," she said, and are fashionable for day or evening, casual or more formal events.

But another industry guru, editor Gina Pia Cooper, said she doesn't think the corset fad will catch on beyond the club scene.

"They're hard to wear for everyday they're pretty dressy," Cooper said. "[The trend] is getting much bigger this year, but my guess is it's not going to be huge."

Cooper said that's because corsets even those made by mainstream clothing shops aren't the cheapest or most versatile garments. They can range in price from $50 to a few thousand dollars, with many in the $200-300 range.

"It's not going to catch on like wildfire," she predicted. "One, it's not comfortable. Two, it's got limitations of where you can wear it. And three, there are price issues."

In Elizabethan times, she said, corsets were so restrictive that some broke or damaged ribs and bones in the process.

"It is really confining you're wearing something that's binding you," she said. "It pushes up your breasts and gives you a waist. It's a very interesting object of fashion because it gives you an hourglass figure, which has natural eye appeal."

Douglass theorizes that corsets are back in vogue because of an ongoing societal obsession with the female figure.

"We're fascinated with bosoms and cleavage," she said, pointing to the skin-tight tops that are in style, the advent of push-up and water bras and the growing number of breast implants. "Maybe it's because we haven't been able to express our sexuality. The next obvious progression is to go back to the corset, where it all began."