I do, Gentle Reader. I love the corset.
Loving the corset is not a popular sentiment among feminists. It is often held as a symbol of women’s oppression when in fact, as I argue in classes, in articles, raging at the sky, it was underwear. It performed a necessary function of support for women during a time in which there were no other options.
Options need to be invented. They cannot be relied upon unless they exist.
And yes, the corset was problematic. Tight lacing is problematic. Young girls not out of puberty wearing the corset is problematic. But those are exceptions, not the rule. In the same way that some women (and men) wear heels that are six- or seven-inches high, most women (and men) wear heels in the one- to two-inch range. But we focus on extremes, and blame them for everything when we should be focused on larger issues.
The corset did not enslave Victorian women. Nor did the crinoline or the bustle, no more than the mini-skirt or high heels or the Swatch enslave twentieth-century women. Flappers were bound to absolutely the same fashion rules as Victorian women, but because their skirts were shorter and their breasts were bare, we call them “liberated” rather than “bound.”
There is a bind of the corset. It is both mental and physical,.
But mostly, it is social, and we need to educate ourselves so that we look at the real problems of fashion: a society that would judge women (and men) based entirely on what they are wearing. Legal recourse that does not exist for women if they were dressed in a manner deemed by a (largely male) legal system to be “asking for it.” SlutWalk is probably the greatest grassroots movement of third-wave feminism, and it is often dismissed as spectacle alone.
I say this because I just saw these stunning images of a glass fashion display entitled “Shatteringly Beautiful,” and they are, Gentle Reader. Shatteringly.
Haute Couture and art are not necessarily to be worn, so outcries against the painfulness of wearing it seem redundant. The model functions as a living mannequin. But it is, then, also wearable art. Let us then learn to love the fashionable arts. Let us be educated once more. And let us love beauty.
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