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Madonna started it by turning underwear into outerwear and giving fetish fashion a pop-culture gloss. Later came Dita von Teese and the burlesque revival. And that's not even mentioning goths, fetish fashionistas, steampunks and other subcultural trendsetters. By now, corsets are the curvilicious foundation, so to speak, of many a chic outfit. High-fashion corsets can be worn just about anywhere except the office these days and take well to either pants or skirts. But what to wear on top is a thornier question.
Under A Corset
Some corsets are "underbust" style, which means they leave your breasts exposed and act mostly as waist-cinchers. You could wear a fancy bra on top of this style of corset, but that probably only works at certain risque clubs and burlesque nights. For a more formal and versatile look, wear your waist cincher over just about any form-fitting top -- think stretch knits, from turtlenecks to cap sleeves. Scoopneck shirts look particularly striking and allow you to show off a bit of cleavage. No need for much embellishment here -- your corset is the eye-catcher.
Over a Corset
If you have an overbust corset style, you can wear a close-fitting shirt underneath it, but you'll be wasting all that lift-and-support action your corset is giving your bustline. Opt for an open jacket instead. It can be cropped or full-length and the style depends on your fashion angle. Try a leather biker jacket or a velvet coat for two very different but winning styles. For a softer take, a cardigan -- velvet-lined, suggests the "Telegraph"'s Hilary Alexander -- can work, too. For a really sharp look, try a tuxedo-style jacket and pants with your corset and watch heads turn.
If you're wearing your corset for a long period of time or you just want to take extra care of it, wear something between your corset and your skin. A camisole, chemise or tank top will do. If the straps are thin, slip them off your shoulder and tuck them under your corset. Choose a knit fabric, preferably thin cotton or silk. Make sure it's as form-fitting as possible to prevent bunching. Pick a neutral color or match the color of your corset. Some corset makers sell special tube-top style garments to wear under their wares.
Instead of a jacket, wear a scarf or shawl draped over your shoulders. Choose something with a lot of drape and flow, and nothing too stiff. If you still have a pashmina hanging in your closet, now's the time to give it a second life. Drop it down to hang off your elbows and behind your shoulders as the evening wears on -- and warms up.