Madonna’s “Blond Ambition” tour from the summer of 1990 brought the corset into the frontlines of fashion — and not in a good way. Same goes for the Kardashians and other mega-starlets who use the corset for aggressive, unnatural waist-cinching. It’s no wonder the corset has a reputation for being tacky.
The thing is, corsets happen to be trending again, and in ways that are actually quite wearable. Seriously, there’s no bare skin or patent leather required. Curious? Here are the dos and don’ts of styling this racy garment.
Dos and Don’ts of Styling a Corset
1. Do try a belt
If the mere thought of wearing a full corset makes you gag, don’t force it. If you’re uncomfortable thinking about wearing a corset, you’ll definitely be uncomfortably actually wearing one.
As an alternative, you could step outside of your comfort zone by experimenting with a corset belt. What’s so special about this piece is that it ventures into corset-style territory but isn’t quite so exaggerated as its namesake. Still, it will help you define your midsection just like a corset, and can create gorgeous definition if you’re wearing something that’s a little looser or voluminous.
For a classic-meets-edgy look, try this ASOS DESIGN version. It’s elasticized for your comfort, and features a back zipper and faux leather trim for a chic finishing touch.
2. Do wear a corset over a dress
Over a dress? Yes! That’s one of the most effective ways to pull off this tricky piece. The key to making this work is choosing the right dress silhouette. Since corsets are naturally snug, they’ll look great over both form-fitting and fit-and-flare dresses. The latter is a nice choice if you want to dress up a girlish outfit and add something a little unexpected to the look.
Wearing a corset over bodycon is a strategy reserved for bolder fashionistas. You will turn heads, though, so this is an incredible option for a party.
You could also revive an old and boring jumpsuit by adding a corset over the top. Much like the corset will do for a dress, it’ll bring more definition and contrast to your jumpsuit.
4. Do wear a corset with a button-down
You don’t necessarily have to show off every bit of your corset. You can absolutely take a more demure approach. Try it underneath a crisp button-down shirt. Leave a couple of the buttons undone so that your bustier peeks out, much like a bralette. The effect is chic, modern, and wearable.
For a bolder approach, you can also wear the top over your button-down. The top needs to be on the fitted side, so it doesn’t pucker underneath that sleek piece.
5. Do wear a corset-inspired piece
A fun thing happens when a style starts trending: Designers start incorporating that trendy design element in everything. Do a little shopping around your favorite online clothing stores and you’ll see corset detailing all over the place.
Try this t-shirt dress from Missguided as an easy way to work a lace-front into your rotation.
6. Don’t wear a corset with leggings
Leggings have their place, but that place is not with a short, snug, skin-baring top. Teaming skin-tight bottoms with a lace-up top that you’re literally stuffed is only acceptable if you’re headed to a Halloween party. Actually, scratch that. It’s even a bad look on Halloween.
A better option? Try your a tiny top with a pair of paperbag-waist pants or flowing, wide-leg pants. That creates balance and is likely to be far more flattering. Even better if you slip on a t-shirt underneath to do away with the dominatrix vibe entirely.
7. Don’t wear a corset as a top
This is reminiscent of the old “leggings aren’t pants” debate, but I’ll go on record to say that a true corset — the lace-up, strapless kind — isn’t a top. Period. It’s a layer. Wear it under something or over something, but not by itself. Keep that in mind and you’ll sidestep the tackiest of corset looks.
Tanya is a seasoned journalist based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Specializing in fashion, beauty, and travel, she loves to explore new places, read as much as possible, and scour the web for fabulous finds — all in the name of research, of course.
Thanks for stopping by! I'm Catherine, your Budget Fashionista style editor. I'm a bargain shopper at heart, as I love nice things but hate paying for them! I'm also a personal finance writer who's been featured on USA Today and MSN Money.