AKA: corset top (although this is technically incorrect, a corset is a different garment)

How to say it: boos-tyey

Traditional Features: 


  • tight-fitting
  • zip or hook-and-eye closure at the centre back or front, but can be laced
  • often has a sweetheart neckline, but can be any shape, with or without straps
  • light boning
  • finishes on, or just below the waist


…of the style: The history of the bustier begins in the 1500s with its predecessor, the corset. And while the terms corset and bustier are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing.

The corset was the first of the two garments to come into being and was used, as an undergarment, to shape the female figure into the various ideals of beauty over the centuries. To see a history of the corset and the ‘ideal’ female shape, click here.

The corset was utilised fairly constantly from the 16th century until the first World War when women entered the work force, corset materials were redirected and the style fell out of favour. Once freed of the confines of the corset women weren’t in a rush to go back to the restrictive styles of the past. They still wanted to define their figure, but no longer wanted to change it.

Enter the bustier. The main differences between a corset and a bustier is that while corsets are stiffly reinforced with metal, whale bone or horn in order to visibly change the shape of the body, the bustier is meant only to lift the bust and accentuate the natural shape of the wearer. If reinforced at all, the bustier utilises flexible plastic boning as a means to smooth and  support the garment. This style of garment was much more flexible than its boned sister and had zip or hook-and-eye closures rather than laces, allowing the wearer to dress themselves without help.

The bustier quickly became popular among women, but remained an undergarment until the 1980s. In 1983 designer Jean Paul Gaultier presented his Dada collection, featuring corseted garments with the now infamous conical busts. This look was followed up by Dame Vivienne Westwood in 1987 when she presented her version of the corset. These high fashion presentations removed the stigma of oppression from the corset and turned it into a symbol of female empowerment, transporting bustiers and corsets from the bedroom to the catwalk. Both styles soon began to appear as outerwear in their own right.

In the 21st century corsets and bustiers are still widely sold as lingerie pieces, but they have also maintained a presence in RTW market and the smooth, formfitting style is an acceptable piece of clothing for all areas of the modern woman’s wardrobe.

…of the name: The name bustier comes from the word buste, which is French for bust

For more info on Bustiers (and corsets) try here, here, here or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • in 1917 the US War Industries Board asked women to stop wearing corsets to free up metal that could be used in war production. As a result 28,000 tons of metal was redirected from the fashion industry to the war effort. That’s enough to build 2 whole battleships.
  • a bustier that reaches to the hips is called a basque

21st Century Bustiers

In the 21st century the bustier is alive and well in the fashion marketplace. They come in all sorts of styles and colours and range from casual wear to workwear, all the way to the most formal of formalwear.

sass and bide jmendel

Sass & Bide, J.Mendel

alice and Olivia alexander mcqueen

Alice & Olivia, Alexander McQueen


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