The Adele effect: the corset pulls in a new crowd

Bad news for those who like their clothes on the loose and languid side: a winter of discomfort lies ahead. Indeed, a winter of constricted waistlines and incommodious hook-and-eye fastenings could be on the cards as the corset gathers interest.

Those bemoaning this comeback have Adele to blame. The multiplatinum-selling superstar has incited a spike in searches – and sales – of corsets since the November issue of British Vogue when the singer appeared on the cover sporting Vivienne Westwood.

Adele was dressed by the editor-in-chief of British Vogue Edward Enninful for the cover shoot, her first major piece of publicity for six years. She wears, among other elements, a custom-made corset by the rebellious Kings Road designer who began making daywear out of corsetry in the early days of her career. This follows an appearance in September of Adele wearing a corseted gown by Schiaparelli.

In the seven days since the first look at the cover was unveiled, the fashion platform Lyst reports that searches for Vivienne Westwood corsets increased by 73% week-on-week. Retailers, including, have also acknowledged a jump in sales.

The corset plays a starring role in the Netflix drama Bridgerton.
The corset plays a starring role in the Netflix drama Bridgerton. Photograph: Liam Daniel/AP

As a modern ambassador for the corset – an archaic fashion item that doubles as a longstanding piece of feminist symbolism – Adele follows Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Bella Hadid. They have made a vintage Westwood corset a status symbol for gen Zers with money to burn – Pechuga Vintage in Los Angeles currently has the portrait corset from Westwood’s autumn/winter 1990 collection for $24,000 (£17,458).

Adele’s ringing endorsement also follows the news that Bridgerton – Netflix’s steamy take on London society circa the regency period – will return. In September, fans of the US producer Shonda Rhimes’s riotous alternative to Downton Abbey watched with interest as teasers for the second series were posted online, complete with ample bustles and busts.

The return of cleavage as a style aesthetic – and with it, the underwired bras that were shoved to the back of underwear drawers last year – undoubtedly plays a part in the recent success of the corset. A scooped-in silhouette prevailed on the catwalk in Milan last month – most notably in the debut collaboration between Milanese houses Versace and Fendi, which served as the perfect WFH-wardrobe antidote with rib-hugging bandage dresses and leather corsets. Certainly, after 18 months of elasticated waists, sales of track pants are on the wane. That fact is crystallised with the closure of the US direct-to-consumer brand Entireworld – known for its “stay home”-friendly sweatpants and a New York Times magazine cover featuring its designs and the headline “Sweatpants Forever”.

Cleavage returns … Naomi Campbell in the recent Versace X Fendi show in Milan.
Cleavage returns … Naomi Campbell in the recent Versace X Fendi show in Milan. Photograph: Reuters

A feminist narrative underpins this boom-and-bust movement too, of course. For years, fashion historians have wrestled with the idea of the corset as an emblem of patriarchal control versus the notion of it as an emblem of rebellion and, indeed, ownership.

In the case of Adele, whose body has long been a source of public debate (more than 12 million liked an Instagram snap posted last May, showing the singer having lost weight, while a quarter of a million users commented), it’s the latter argument that perhaps finds most relevance here. For her, the corset is a symbol of agency. “It’s my body,” says Adele in the accompanying interview. “I did it for myself. No one else.”


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