Vivienne Westwood corset

The task is to form the future from the materials of the past-Vivienne Westwood1

For centuries, corsets were an essential, but unseen, part of a woman’s wardrobe. Visible only through their shaping of the body, actual corsets were typically seen only in the most intimate of situations. This remained true until the 1970s, when punk fashion demonstrated that garments associated with sexuality and/or deviancy (including corsets) could be worn as everyday streetwear. In the early 1990s, corsets became a widely accepted part of the fashionable wardrobe, thanks in large part to the Jean Paul Gaultier corset worn by Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour of 1990-91.


Vivienne Westwood

Spring/Summer 1994

Museum Purchase


Vivienne Westwood first began designing from within the punk milieu of 1970s London. You can read more about her in this earlier post. With her 1986 ‘Mini-Crini” collection, which explored a mini-version of the crinoline, Westwood began to demonstrate an increasing interest in revisiting and reconceptualizing historic styles. Though Westwood had explored punk versions of underwear as outerwear in her early years, in the late 1980s, Westwood began designing 18th century influenced corsets. Delicately colored and made of stretch fabric, these corsets were explicitly intended to be worn as outerwear.

In the Westwood corset seen above, both the shape and the printed image are borrowed directly from the 18th century. Like its ancestor, this corset features rigid internal boning, wide shoulder straps and a V-shape at the center front. While most 18th century corsets were made of plain white cotton or linen, Westwood’s version features a printed detail of the 1743 painting Daphnis and Chloe by François Boucher. You can see the entire painting here. This corset diverges from historic examples with its center back zipper–much easier to manage than historically accurate laces!

1 “The Way I See It: Vivienne Westwood, Designer.” New Statesman 21 Sept. 2009: 46.

6 responses to “Vivienne Westwood corset

  1. I have a postcard of this corset thumb-tacked to my cubicle wall from the V & A Exhibition a few years ago. Such a lovely exhibit, and a marvelous profile of the designer. Good to know FIDM Museum also has her pieces!

  2. Neil says:

    Just finished some corsets for a production of Pirates of Penzance in MA, its amazing to see the same shape, shoulders, and support from something so modern. Fashion does tend to speak about the time it was created, but I love how it can totally span centuries as well!

  3. Rachel says:

    Hi Heather!

    We do have a number of Westwood pieces, but not all are photographed yet. Will try to feature more as the images become available! The V&A website for the Westwood show is great…I love that mini-sites are always an aspect of their exhibitions.

    Neil, thanks for your comment! It is remarkable how Westwood is able to take a historic garment, maintain its fundamental characteristics but still make it look/feel very modern.

  4. Hana says:

    I got reminded of an interview with her in a Czech magazine, where she stated (I think as a comment on T-shirts with big brand names on them) that she’d rather wear a T-shirt with a Rembrandt painting on it.
    Ever since then, I’ve wanted to have a T-shirt with a Dürer painting on it.
    I have a funny two-sided attitude to Vivienne Westwood. I don’t particularly like most of her designs, but I like many of the thoughts behind them, the innovation of old fashions included.
    I like looking at historical fashions and that’s why I like coming to this blog…

  5. Rachel says:


    Westwood is definitely thought provoking. I’ve been interested in some of her recent comments which relate to not shopping. It’s interesting and contradictory for a designer to speak in these terms.

  6. Hana says:

    I found the interview saved on my computer… she made that T-shirt comment in relation to T-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara. But she mentioned brand names before that.

    She made a similar non-shopping comment in that interview, and that was in 2006. The redactor asked her whether she had any message for Czech women, and she replied – to stop shopping for clothes all the time, to think it over, then, if they finally buy something, it will be something special.
    It’s another of her thoughts on fashion I can agree with. Plus her notions of DIY.

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