Category Archives: Corsets & Corselettes

“Zip” — Slide Fasteners from Sears, 1930s (Part 1)

Thanks to reader kellycb for wondering about the brands of zippers sold through the Sears, Roebuck catalog. I thought I could do a quick search through the 1930’s Sears catalogs available through Ancestry.com. [All images in this post which are labeled “Sears” are copyrighted by Sears Brands LLC. Please do not copy.]

Zipper brands available from Sears in 1939 included Talon, “Standard”, and Crown. Earlier catalogs also sold Koh-i-noor slide fasteners, snaps, and  hook and eye tape.

I was quickly able to find that Sears sold Talon Hookless Slide Fasteners, and “Crown” fasteners — possibly a house brand, since Sears also sold Crown fabrics. But that’s not what soaked up two days of my browsing time. It was the constant use of the word “Zip” to indicate a slide fastener.

Zip: Slide fasteners sold through the Sears catalog, Spring 1935. Sears image via Ancestry.com

Technically, advertisers could not call a slide fastener for a garment a “zipper.” But the American public apparently did refer to them as zippers, so the word “zip” — not copyrighted — appears quite often.

The word “zipper” was owned by the B.F. Goodrich company.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/1928-dec-p-67-500-zipper-boots-ad.jpg?w=378&h=500

B.F. Goodrich Zipper Ad, December 1928, Delineator magazine

Originally the “Zipper” was a winter overshoe (rain boot) that closed with a slide fastener, made by the B.F. Goodrich rubber company. As I wrote is a previous post, “by 1922 Goodrich had launched their “Mystik Boots,” which closed with Hookless [brand] slide fasteners instead of snaps or buckles. They were such an immediate success that B.F. Goodrich Company asked Hookless for exclusive rights to use their fasteners. In 1923, the Mystik Boot was renamed, to draw attention to the ease with which they were put on and taken off.

“What we need is an action word,” said company president Bertram G. Work, “something that will dramatize the way the thing zips.” He quickly added, “Why not call it the zipper?” – from The Evolution of Useful Things, by Henry Petroski, p. 111.

The word “zip,” indicating speed or energy, was already popular slang.

These 1930 trousers for young men and boys had “zip and dash,” but they did not have what is now called a zipper. The fly closed with buttons. Sears image via Ancestry.com.

You could zip around town in your car or on a bike. “Zip” was also the name of a hair remover that had been in use since the twenties.

Zip hair remover ad from Delineator, November 1924. “Zip — It’s off because it’s out.” “You actually destroy the growth by gently lifting out the roots — painlessly and harmlessly.” [That’s what it says….]

In Akron, Ohio, where Goodrich “Zippers” were manufactured, a college football team is still called the Zips.

The speed with which the name of a trademarked product — the Zipper boot — became the standard American noun meaning “slide fastener” amazed me.

Anyone who is seriously interested in the history of the slide fastener, now usually called a zipper, should know about Robert Friedel’s book, Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty, which has been described brilliantly by The Vintage Traveler. (Click here for her “Currently Reading: Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty“. The Vintage Traveler also showed many ads for  zippers in her “Zippers, Part II.”

As Friedel explains, early slide fasteners were put into production and sold before they were perfected [rather like some software today.]  One problem with the early slide fasteners was that they worked as long as they remained perfectly straight — but sitting usually causes the fabric in a skirt placket or trouser fly to bend. Twenty years later, people who had been publicly embarrassed by a broken slide fastener were not eager to try the improved versions in their clothes.

A Hookless Fastener is featured on this man’s suede jacket (called a blouse) in the Sears catalog for Fall, 1930. “Zip it’s on — Zip it’s off! — that’s the quick modern way to dress….”

Menswear quickly adopted slide fasteners in sports jackets and work shirts, but resistance to replacing button-fly trousers with zipped flies continued till the late 1930’s.

Sears offered many clutch bag models with zippered compartments, and handbags with concealed zip interior pockets. Fall, 1930. The Hookless Fastener Company was now better known as Talon.

Slide fasteners worked well on straight openings: clutch handbags, mail bags, boots and leggings, even sleeping bags.

A boy’s jacket from Sears, Fall, 1927, closes with a Hookless slide fastener. “Zip! — just a simple jerk on the patent hooker and it’s snug around your neck. No buttons to bother with and we guarantee it to work every time.” Judging from the need to explain, this really was “Something New” in 1927.

One brilliant approach to selling slide fasteners urged their use in children’s clothing to make children more self-reliant. (See “Zippers Are Good for Your Children.” A bonus: children didn’t remember those embarrassing old zippers!)

“Put in Zips so she can dress herself — Even tiniest tots manage them.” Sears catalog, Spring, 1939.

Regardless of B.F. Goodrich, the word zipper did get used by other sources:

Here, the Sears catalog for Fall, 1929, suggests making children’s winter leggings with a “zipper  side fastener.” (Leggings with dozens of buttons must have been a nightmare for Kindergarten teachers.)

These trousers — which did have a zipper fly — were aimed at young men with waists 26 to 32 inches:  “College Styles” “for youths.”

Sears offered these trousers “featuring the FLASH Slide Fastener” in Spring of 1935. The extremely wide legs — sometimes called “Oxford bags” — were a young man’s fashion.

Slide fasteners also made an early appearance in girdles and corsets.

“Zip! It’s Open!” The woman on the right is enjoying the ease of a zippered girdle; the woman on the left wears a corselet closed with hook and eye tape. Sears catalog, Spring 1932.

Slide fasteners were used in sports clothing and work clothing before 1936, but they seem to be most often used on relatively heavy fabrics, like leather, wool, corset coutil, and sturdy cottons.

This “Pic-Pon Cord” cotton dress from Sears has a “zip closing;” Sears catalog for Spring, 1935.

Also made from corduroy is this woman’s jacket from 1933.

Zipper neckline closing on a “Sporting Life” jacket for women from Sears, Spring 1933. Its “popular, practical zipper closing” uses a “Jiffy” Fastener.

According to the catalogs, this was Sears’ most popular work dress for women, and in 1935 it was offered in the traditional button front or (“More Style! More Comfort!”) with a zip- closed front.

From the Fall, 1935 Sears catalog: a sturdy work dress. The “new, improved” version with the zipper (right) cost more; zippers were relatively expensive.

The 1935 “Zip-Closed Front” work dress cost twenty cents (20%) more — a zipper cost about 20 cents.

By 1937, the “zip close” version was featured more prominently than the buttoned one.

In Sears’ Spring catalog for 1937, the work dress with a zipper was more prominent.

The zipper made a transition from sports and house dresses to dressier women’s clothing by 1937. Several Paris designers began showing dresses with visible zippers in 1935-36; Schiaparelli put visible plastic zippers right on the front of her dresses.  However,  I found a Vionnet design from 1929 that had a prominent zipper front closing. It was copied by Butterick as pattern 2526.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/1929-march-p-27-couture-vionnet-zipper-e-skirt.jpg?w=318&h=500

A Vionnet ensemble sketched for Delineator magazine in 1929 has a prominent zipper on its front.

Butterick also offered a different dress pattern that was featured in advertisements for the Talon Hookless Fastener in 1928-29.

Here’s a closer look at Sears’ [rather limited] Slide Fastener selection from 1935:

“Zip;” slide fasteners available from the Sears catalog, Spring 1935. Customers were assured that these stayed shut (“locks in any position.”) They were also washable and rustroof — unlike early hookless fasteners which had to be removed before washing your garment.

The concealed “Kover-Zip” slide fastener from Koh-i-noor was available in separating or non-separating versions. Its zipper teeth were completely concealed by a color-fast grosgrain cover. It was a luxury item, more than twice the price of a “Standard slide fastener.” Sears’ Zipper colors were limited to black, brown, tan or white.

In 1935, the zippers were recommended for “finishing sport-wear, blouses [like the man’s suede “blouse” shown above], children’s garments” (the Kover-Zip) or in “sturdy quality for sport coats, sweaters, children’s suits, dresses.” In other words, they were for casual and practical garments, usually made of heavy fabrics.

Men’s shirts with zip fronts; Sears catalog, Fall, 1937.

After the Paris collections of 1935-36, zippers were about to undergo a rapid change for the better. (See “Zip” Part 2, coming soon.)

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Children's Vintage styles, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, handbags, Men's Sportswear, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Purses, Shirts for men, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Zippers

Modart Corset Ad, March 1928

Ad for Modart Corsets, detail, March 1928, Delineator.

Ad for Modart Corsets, detail, March 1928, Delineator.

This color advertisement for Modart corsets caught my eye. I think it’s aimed at women with a “mature” figure, because the corsets have lace-up features, and appear to be boned.

Closer view of Modart corset No. , from 1928.

Closer view of Modart corset No. 9513, from 1928. It has adjustable laces at the side, and creates the 1920’s tubular silhouette, including a flattened posterior and a flattened bust.

At the bottom of the ad, five other Modart styles were shown.

Five Modart corset styles taken from the bottom of the ad. 1928.

Five Modart corset styles taken from the bottom of the ad. 1928. Notice bandeau [bra] No. 0857, at bottom right; it wouldn’t have offered much support, but it has darts. It’s not a flattener. The bra shown with step-in No. 7012, at top left, has breast separation, described as an “uplift” style.

By 1925, many younger women were wearing less restrictive, un-boned foundation garments called corsolettes or corselets. (There were many spelling variants.) By 1928, Bandeaux and other bust-flattening garments were also on their way out. You can see two bras with bust darts worn with waist-high Modart girdles in this ad. By 1929, the new brassieres gave a more natural look.  Some women wore no bra at all; others were adopting so-called “uplift” styles which had breast separation and a “pocket” for each breast.

But most women still needed an undergarment to suppress their curves and give the fashionable, flat-in-back, narrow silhouette.

Evening dresses from Delineator, March 1928, the same issue as the Modart ad.

Evening dresses from Delineator, March 1928, the same issue as the Modart  Corset ad. From left, the fabrics are lace, moire silk, satin, and a print fabric, probably silk or Georgette.

Alternate view and pattern information for Butterick 1936 and Butterick 1946. March, 1928.

Alternate view and pattern information for Butterick 1936 and Butterick 1946. March, 1928.

Alternate view and pattern information for Butterick 1910 and Butterick 1942. March, 1928.

Alternate view and pattern information for Butterick 1910 and Butterick 1942. March, 1928.

Three of these patterns were available in bust measure 44 inches, which meant a hip of 47 1/2 inches.

Text of Modart ad, March 1928. Delineator magazine.

Text of Modart ad, March 1928. Delineator magazine.

“Thousands of women now wear with ease the difficult, simple lines of modern fashion … by wearing Modart foundations. Over the rightly proportioned, supported figure, all types of frocks have a new smartness, a new confidence in fashion.”

The horizontal hip line of 1920’s dresses was likely to make a woman’s body look wider, in spite of the ideal of a slender, youthful silhouette. In fact, some of these French designer fashions for Spring, 1928, are really the opposite of slenderizing.

Sketches of Paris designs by Premet, Philippe et Gaston, [Augusta] Bernard, and Worth. Delineator, March 1928.

Sketches of Paris designs by Premet, Philippe et Gaston, [Augusta] Bernard, and Worth. Delineator, March 1928. The designs by Philippe et Gaston and the House of Worth make even a fashion illustration look like a sack of potatoes.

Sketches of Paris designs by . Delineator, March 1928.

Sketches of Paris designs by Lenief, Bernard, and Premet. Delineator, March 1928.

I have written many posts about women’s undergarments in the nineteen twenties. I linked to some of them in this post, but, if you’re a new subscriber with an interest in the nineteen twenties, you may want to check these titles:

Not All Flappers Wanted to be Flat in the 1920s

How to Look Thinner in the 1920s, Part 1 (Advice from an article dated 1925)

Underpinning the 1920s: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners

Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets

Uplift Changes Brassieres, Part 1

Uplift Changes Brassieres, Part 2

Changing the Foundations of Fashion: 1929 to 1934

If you want to see some lovely full color illustrations of dresses from 1928, click here. If you just love twenties fashions in general, searching this blog for 1928 will turn up many Butterick pattern illustrations from that year.

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Filed under 1920s, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Jenness-Miller Rational Dress Underwear for Women

The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol II, Jan-Feb, Probably 1888. Page 181. "Rational Dress" Underwear for Women.

The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol II, Jan-Feb, probably 1888. Page 181. “Rational Dress” Underwear for Women.

The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol. II, Jan-Feb, probably 1888. "Rational Dress" Underwear for Women, p. 182.

The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol. II, Jan-Feb, probably 1888. “Rational Dress” Underwear for Women, p. 182.

Annie Jenness-Miller was a strong advocate for “Rational Dress” for women, and, with her sister, Mabel Jenness, wrote and published her own magazine, called Dress, probably beginning in 1887. [The title and dating of early issues was erratic, but I am assuming that, since Volume 4 began with January of 1890, Volume 2, January-February dates to 1888. The masthead of Volume II offered “the entire first volume of Dress, thirteen numbers” for seventy-five cents plus postage. By January 0f 1890, the dating clearly was established, and most pages were numbered.]

Several years ago, I was selling a bound volume of Jenness-Miller’s Dress for a friend. It included January-February of “Volume II,” and January through June of of Volume IV. At the time I had no idea of blogging, so I did not label my photos with year, month and page number. I just tried to photograph “selling points.”

Recently a scholar tracked me down and asked for more specific information. When I checked my photo files, I realized that, because I had photographed all the Tables of Contents, I could reconstruct Volume numbers, pages and dates for many items.

As often happens with the internet — at least to me — I find something online, and then discover, months or years later, that I can’t get the same search results a second time. I thought that this underwear article by Annie Jenness-Miller had been posted online in its entirety — but now I can’t find it, so, for the benefit of scholars, I’m reprinting it. And, since WordPress seems to lose files bigger than 500 dpi on the longest side after I post them, I have reprinted the text and pictures from those two pages shown at the top of this post, but broken them up into legible segments.

Here is the article “Underwear for Women,” from The Jenness-Miller Magazine Dress, Vol. II, Jan-Feb, (probably 1888,) pp. 181-82. [Added 8/19/16: You can also find the article, in full page photos that can be enlarged to readable scale, at witness2fashion.com. ]

500 text first para and union suit 1988 Vol II p 181

Jenness-Miller Union Suit, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine.

Jenness-Miller Union Suit, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine,, p. 181.

500 test chemilette over union suit prob 1888 Vol II p 181 underwear Img_9588

Jenness-Miller Chemilette, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine.

Jenness-Miller Chemilette, from “Underwear for Women,” Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine, p.181.

500 text legelettes only prob 1888 Vol II p 181 underwear Img_9588

 

Jenness-Miller Turkish Leglettes, or Divided Petticoat, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine.

Jenness-Miller Turkish Leglettes, or Divided Petticoat, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine, p. 182.

500 text bodice only prob 1888 Vol II p 181 underwear Img_9588

Jenness-Miller Model Bodice, from Underwear for Women, Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine.

Jenness-Miller Model Bodice, from “Underwear for Women,” Jan-Feb 1888 Dress Magazine, p. 182. A slightly different model bodice appears here.

500 text from 181 bottom to 182 top 1888 Vol II

500 text chemilette prob 1888 Vol II p 182 underwear Img_9589

500 text turkish leglettes 1888 Vol II p 182

500 w model bodice text prob 1888 Vol II p 182 underwear Img_9589

500 text all garments togetherprob 1888 Vol II p 182 underwear Img_9589

Last paragraphs of Underwear for Women article, Dress. p 182.

Last paragraphs of “Underwear for Women” article, Dress, page 182.

[I don’t know how a woman wearing a “Union Suit,” under a “Chemilette,” under “Turkish Leglettes,” manages to go to the bathroom. Journalistic standards of the day may have prevented discussing this. In a different article [March 1890, page 136] Jenness-Miller felt the need to remind her readers that many women “would be shocked to use the strong, refined, and proper term, leg” so explaining the convenience of drop flaps and buttoned crotches may have been impossible. The Jenness-Miller garments do not appear to be crotchless, as many ladies’ bloomers were.]

Annie-Jenness Miller wrote frequent editorials in Dress, extolling her patterns and expounding her theories. She believed that women needed to exercise to develop graceful, healthy bodies that would not need the support of corsets, and her magazine published regular articles on “Physical Culture.”

A typical illustration from Jenness-Miller's articles on Physical Culture for women. Circa 1888-1890

A typical illustration from Jenness-Miller’s articles on Physical Culture for women. Dress, circa 1888-1890.

“By freeing and bringing into action the muscles at the waist renewed life is given to all bodily functions.”

She also realized that most women would like to wear comfortable and practical clothing, but without looking noticeably out of fashion, so many of her patterns look very similar to chic clothing of the day.  This is “the Helene” (her dress patterns were often given names, rather than numbers, like couture.)

Although part of the Rational Dress movement, "The Helene" costume even had a vestigial bustle. From Jenness-Miller's Dress magazine, Jan. 1890, p. 41.

Although part of the Rational Dress movement, “The Helene” costume even had a vestigial bustle. From Jenness-Miller’s Dress magazine, Jan. 1890, p. 41.

Miller did not want her customers to be ridiculed, as women who wore 1850’s “Bloomer” clothing had been. Jenness-Miller’s followers wore her petticoat replacement, “Turkish leglettes,” under their dress — invisibly — rather than wearing a divided dress — except for really strenuous sports, like mountain climbing. Below, Jenness-Miller “Outing Costumes” from April 1890 are — from left to right — “For Geologists and Mountain Climbing,” “Riding Habit,” “Yachting,” and “Lawn Tennis.”

Jenness-Miller costumer for Mountain climbing, riding, yachting, and lawn tennis, from Dress, April 1890.

Jenness-Miller costumer for Mountain climbing, riding, yachting, and lawn tennis, from Dress, April 1890.

I’ll publish another of her complete articles later, but for now, if you want to know more about Annie Jenness-Miller and Dress, I recommend these sites:

Annie Jenness Miller: Dress Reform, from Dress, 1888

Dress Improvement, by Mrs. Jenness Miller, in A Celebration of Women Writers

Aesthetic Dress (for an overview of 19th century dress reform movements, with a useful bibliography)

and, of course, The Vintage Traveler’s post about Mrs. Jenness-Miller, where you will see bigger images and more quotations.

Incidentally, one reason it’s hard to find articles about Jenness-Miller online is that hyphen! Search both with and without it.

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Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Costumes for the 19th century, Late Victorian fashions, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Slips and Petticoats, Sportswear, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

“Uplift” Changes Brassieres (Part 2): Late 1920’s Brassieres

This is the second installment of “Uplift” Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929.

Woman wearing an early "uplift" style bra, in a January 1929 ad for bathroom scales.

1929: Woman wearing an “uplift” style bra, in a January 1929 ad for bathroom scales.

Ad for Health-o-meter scale, Delineator, Jan. 1929. Having a small home scale was a change from the old "doctor's office" models.

Ad for Health-o-meter scale, Delineator, Jan. 1929. Having a small home scale was a change from the old “doctor’s office” models. Click to enlarge.

The Uplift Idea in Late 1920’s Brassieres

To repeat a concept I got from Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau:

For hundreds of years, women’s breasts were supported by corsets, which pushed them up from below. The innovation of the twentieth century was “uplift” — shoulder straps which supported the weight of the breasts from the shoulder instead of pushing them up from beneath.

When the brassiere as we know it began to appear, the idea of “uplift” and the idea of separation — two distinct breasts instead of one big one (click here or here)– were sometimes confused, with “uplift” referring to separation, rather than support. The word “uplift” is applied to all five of these late twenties’ bras; the “A.P. Uplift” promises to prevent the bust from sagging; two of the others show separation, and the bandeau on the lower right is a variation on the bust flattener. (This suggests that the word “uplift” was used to mean “brassiere” whether it was an uplift bra or not.)

The AP Uplift brassiere, left, was an early Uplift design. The bandeau at lower right, although described as "uplift" is really a bust flattener. From Stella Blum's Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130. Circa 1928 -1929.

The A.P. Uplift Bandeau, left, was an early Uplift design. The bandeau at lower right, although described as “uplift,” is really a bust flattener. From Stella Blum’s Fashions of the Twenties, p. 130. Circa 1928 -1929.

None of these bras indicates a concept of “cup” sizes; they use just one overall chest measurement.  The patented A.P. Uplift, one of the first true uplift bras,  “gives a natural youthful line, firm support and prevents the bust from sagging ….It has elastic at the bottom to hold it in place. An ideal uplift for comfort and support.” By 1926, patents were applied for by at least three “uplift” companies: Model, A.P. (G.M. Poix & Co.) and Maiden Form. By 1928, the old Boyshform bust flattener company was bankrupt.

Trade advertisement for an early Maiden Form brassiere, described elsewhere in the ad as "The Original Uplift Brassiere. It is the "double support pocket brassiere." From Uplift, p. 43.

Trade advertisement for an early Maiden Form brassiere, described elsewhere in the ad as “The Original Uplift Brassiere. It is the “double support pocket brassiere.” From Uplift, p. 43.

As late as 1931, this dress was described as having an”uplift” line, meaning that it has visible breast separation:

An evening gown described as "uplift;" Butterick 4175, inDelineator, Nov. 1931.

“Uplift” in this evening gown means “separation.”  Butterick 4175, in Delineator, Nov. 1931.

Who Wore the New Uplift Brassieres?

Interestingly, research by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1924 and 1925 discovered that younger patrons, dubbed “flappers” by buyers and the JWT staff, “were looking for uplift styles of brassiere, in contrast to older women who wanted the flattening styles.” (Uplift, p. 40) This might be because young women were embracing the more form-fitting styles of the later twenties, while their mothers clung to tubular fashions and the relative support of a flattening corselette; or because to the young, “uplift” meant separation and a natural look, not support. “Small sizes sell best — even the little girls wear brassieres now,” one shop told the JWT researchers. JWT also discovered that out of a sample of thirty-nine adolescent girls, twenty-six wore brassieres and another seven wore corselettes in the mid 1920’s. (Uplift , p. 40)

Engineering a really uplifting brassiere was complicated, not only because the size and shape of the “pockets”  — as they were called in early Maiden Form bra advertisements — had to be worked out, but because supporting the breasts from the shoulders requires a snugly fitting band around the rib cage to prevent the bra from riding up, and, before the invention of Lastex in 1931, the available elastic allowed some stretch, but was not a lightweight, shaped, completely elastic fabric band.

Carter's made rayon knit underwear, and ran many ads in which couturiers chose examples of Carter's underthings for wear under Paris gowns. This ad dates to May, 1929.

The Carter company made rayon knit underwear, and ran many ads in which couturiers chose examples of Carter’s underthings for wear under Paris gowns. This ad dates to May, 1929. It shows a “clever elastic insert in back” of the bandeau, worn with some tremendously un-sexy bloomers.

The problem of keeping the band snug enough to prevent the bra from riding up was solved in England by the “Kestos” invented by Mrs. Rosalind Klin around 1927. The elasticized shoulder straps crossed in back, wrapped around the body, and fastened in front, lifting the breasts up and holding the band down.

Kestos brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in her book Fashion in Underwear.

Kestos brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in her book Fashion in Underwear.

Elasticized shoulder straps reached all the way around from the back and buttoned to the front of the Kestos under the pockets, which were shaped by darts and seams. In England, “You didn’t buy a brassiere, you bought a Kestos.” — Elizabeth Ewing, in Fashion in Underwear, p. 95.

Caresse Crosby (real name, Mary Phelps Jacob) claimed to have invented the modern brassiere in 1913; in 1914 she patented a bandeau with a gathering string down the middle, which separated the breasts.

Caresse Crosby's 1914 brassiere drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in Fashions in Underwear

Caresse Crosby’s 1914 brassiere as drawn by Elizabeth Ewing in Fashion in Underwear

Click here for a view of her 1914 patent application illustration.

It’s clear that Crosby’s invention may have prevented nipples from showing through sheer clothing, but it was not really designed to lift sagging breasts.

This 1929 ad for Carters rayon underwear shows a bra with gathering at center front. Delineator, March 1929.

This 1929 ad for Carter’s rayon knit underwear shows a bra with side darts and  adjustable gathering at center front. Delineator, March 1929. Such gathering was an attempt to adjust for differences in breast size and shape, dating back to the Crosby bra of 1914.

The Innovative Youthform

This ad for a Youthform brassiere (although the word brassiere is not used) is the most fascinating I’ve found, and I have not found much further information about this bra  — just what the ad contains. [If it was mentioned in Uplift, it’s not in the index, nor is Youth Form.] I had to break the ad into three parts for legibility:

Top image from an Ad for the Youthform brassiere, Delineator, March, 1929, p. 112.

Top image from an ad for the Youthform brassiere, Delineator, March, 1929, p. 112. That seems to be a drawstring at center front. Notice the wide elastic band.

Text of the Youthform bra ad, March 1929.

Text of the Youthform bra ad, March 1929. “Today’s styles clearly define the bust…. Youthform’s secret is in the elastic band which goes around the body…. Not sold in stores because they are made to your individual measure.”

That part about “made to your individual measure” is explained better on the ordering form:

Order form for Youthform bra, 1929. Unlike most bras for sale, it asks for an underbust and full bust measurements.

Order form for Youthform bra, 1929. Unlike most bras for sale then, it asks for two important measurements; “size around body just under bust” and “size around body across center of bust.”

Bra Fit:  It Takes Two (Measurements)

These two measurements — “size around body just under bust” and “size around body across center of bust” — are still the key to finding a bra that fits. Understanding the difference between chest measurement and breast size was still in the future for other companies. (The Youthform company, founded by “one Dr. Alford” in 1923 — or 1925 — was still in business in 1957, as this lawsuit  over the use of the name “Youth Form” shows. In 1928, Youthform mail-0rder sales totaled $16,000, but sales did not return to that level after the Crash of 1929.)

About bra cups:  If a woman wears what is now called an “A cup” or a “B cup,” the problem of support — keeping her breasts from bouncing painfully when she runs, for example — may not be her main reason for wearing a brassiere. But those of us who have what the mammogram technician refers to as “a lot of tissue” expect support and stabilization from our bras.

How Do You Find a Bra That Fits? You Need Two Measurements

In costume fittings, I have seen too many actresses wearing the wrong size bra because they think that a 36 inch measurement over the largest point of the bust means they should buy a size 36 bra. In reality, the difference in the measurement of the band around your ribcage and the measurement over the fullest part of the bust — plus a chart — gives you two sizes: the size of the band (a number) and the size of your bra cup (a letter.) If you’ve never measured yourself this way, click here for a good size calculator that will guide you through it. Clue:  If the band of your bra keeps riding up in back, you are wearing the wrong size. You probably need a smaller number and a higher letter. (Either that, or your bra is old and the elastic is failing…. Or your body has changed: weight loss, weight gain, pregnancy?)

As it happens, the concept of cup size was slow to develop and become an industry standard. In 1929, “cups were not yet sized, and straps could not be easily adjusted in length.” (Uplift, p. 56.)

An uplift bra from the Sears catalog, Fall 1929, looks very much like a modern brassiere.

An uplift bandeau from the Sears catalog, Fall 1929, looks very much like a modern brassiere, but it was sold by only one measurement.

One bright idea from the late twenties was the use of molded knit rayon in bras. Just as “fully fashioned” stockings could be knit into a shape resembling a human leg, rayon knit bra “pockets” could be shaped in the knitting process without needing darts or seams.

Also from 1929, this Delineator article about the latest undergarments shows a foundation that looks surprisingly modern — although today it would be made from elasticized fabric:

1929: The garment in the center is unboned, flexible, and suited to the clinging bias cut dresses coming into fashion. Delineator, March, 1929, p. 50.

1929: The garment in the center, with “uplift brassiere,” is unboned, flexible, and suited to the clinging, bias cut dresses coming into fashion. Delineator, March, 1929, p. 50. Notice how narrow the elastic panels had to be.

“In the semi-circle of figures above, the top model [right] of lace, elastic and silk shows the new deep U decollete worn with evening frocks. Next, a silk faille boneless garment which can be crumpled up in the hand like a glove, used under molded-line afternoon frocks. The uplift brassiere is an important note in this garment.  Third [left], an elastic step-in [girdle] and slight brassiere for sportswear.” Delineator, March 1929.

Of course, fashions rarely change overnight. If you didn’t need a really supportive brassiere, this rayon knit set from Munsingwear — dated 1931 — still looks pretty attractive:

Rayon knit "uplift bandeau" and matching "sketchies" from a Munsingwear ad, 1931.

Munsingwear rayon knit “twin-style uplift bandeau” and matching “Sketchie” set in “two-tone colors of the birds” from a Munsingwear ad, 1931.

Coming (eventually): Ads for Uplifting Brassieres from the 1930’s

 

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“Uplift” Changes Brassieres: 1917 to 1929 (Part 1)

Ad for Maidenform's "Over-ture" brassiere "for firmer uplift." Womans' Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

Ad for Maidenform’s “Over-ture” brassiere “for firmer uplift.” Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

I’ve often mentioned the book Uplift: The Bra in America, by Jane Farrell-Beck and Colleen Gau. It’s scholarly but also very readable, and packed with related information on women’s lives. It feeds my interest in old advertisements, too — I’ll be sharing a small selection of underwear ads and patterns from the 1920’s and 1930’s in several posts.

Note: This post is not an authoritative history of the brassiere; for that, please consult both Uplift and Fashion in Underwear by Elizabeth Ewing. The topic is so complicated that the Wikipedia entry warns of contradictions.

I’m indebted to the authors of Uplift for this concept:

For hundreds of years, women’s breasts were supported by corsets, which pushed them up from below. The innovation of the twentieth century was “uplift” — shoulder straps which supported the weight of the breasts from the shoulder instead of pushing them up from beneath.

First, a brief visual tour of early 20th century brassieres:

Two ads for "model" brassieres, Woman's Home Companion, 1917.

Two ads for “Model” brassieres, Woman’s Home Companion, 1917.

At the beginning of the 20th century, fashion was still in the “monobosom” or “unibosom” era.

Brassieres with rust-proof boning from the Sears Spring catalog, 1917.

Brassieres with rust-proof boning from the Sears Spring catalog, 1917.

Corset boning probably ran up the center of these brassieres and also over the breasts to create a smooth bulge without any breast separation. “By 1917 brassieres [like those above] had moved from a minority fashion to the mainstream of womenswear.” Uplift, p. 33.

The tubular, boyish ideal of the early 1920’s led to a brief fashion for flattening the breasts. See Underpinning the 1920s: Brassieres, Bandeaux, and Bust Flatteners. There was even a brassiere company called “Boyshform,” (boyish form) and another called “Flatter-U.”

New corsets and brassieres, Delineator, February 1924, p. 23.

New corsets and brassieres, Delineator, February 1924, p. 23. On the right, a very long flattening brassiere.

When young women stopped wearing restrictive underwear in the 1920’s and allowed two separate breasts to be discerned, those with youthful figures might wear an unstructured brassiere primarily to prevent their nipples from showing through the lightweight dress fabrics that were popular.

September, 1924: a brassiere and step-in pattern, Butterick No. 7080.

1924: a brassiere and step-in pattern, Butterick No. 7080. Delineator, September issue.

Butterick pattern 6472 for a bandeau bra and step-in panties. Delineator, Dec 1925, p. 37.

1925:  Butterick pattern 6472 for a bandeau bra and step-in panties. Delineator, Dec 1925, p. 37.

Butterick pattern 1534 for a bra and matching step-in panties. July 1927, Delineator, 1927.

1927: (right) Butterick pattern 1534 for a bra and matching step-in panties. July 1927, Delineator, 1927.

Butterick pattern 6961 for a bandeau brassiere and frilled bloomers; Delineator, 1926

1926: Butterick pattern 6961 for a bandeau brassiere and frilled bloomers; Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

For me, there are two interesting things about this pattern. 1) This 1926 brassiere is definitely divided into two separate pockets (The phrase “bra cup” had not yet been invented.) It is not meant to flatten the bust. 2) It appeared on the same page as this pattern — No. 6964 — for two bust-flattening brassieres:

July 1926 brassiere patterns from Butterick. At top, two bust flatteners, pattern . At bottom right a pattern for a brassiere that divides the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

1926 brassiere patterns from Butterick. At top, two bust flatteners, pattern 6964. At bottom right, pattern 6961 for a brassiere that separates and does not flatten the breasts. Delineator, July 1926, p. 38.

Obviously, 1926 was a year of transition. Next, Part 2: The Uplift Idea in 1920’s Brassieres.

 

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Queen Maud’s Tiny Waist

Maud, Queen of Denmark, in her Coronation regalian, 1906. Photo from National Library of Norway, via Wikipedia.

Maud, Queen of Denmark, in her coronation regalia, 1906. Photo from National Library of Norway, via Wikipedia.

Was anyone’s waist really that tiny? When I see photographs of Victorian-era celebrities with “impossibly” tiny corseted waists, I usually assume — and can sometimes tell — that the photos have been doctored. (Yes, vintage movie studio glamour photos are often visibly altered, too, if you know where to look. Instead of using a computer, photographers used paint.)

But one night this week I happened on two YouTube videos which showed many, many photographs of the English Princess Maud of Wales, later Queen Maud of Norway. She was the daughter of King Edward VII and his beautiful wife, Queen Alexandra, whom she resembles. The videos show many photos of Maud’s exceptionally tiny waist.
Here is Princess Maud with her husband Carl, later King Haakon.

Queen Maud and King Haakon of Norway. She is dressed for cycling.

Queen Maud and King Haakon of Norway. They are dressed for a day in the country. 1890’s.

It’s tempting to think the photograph has been altered, but . . . .

This video shows them riding bicycles; she seems to be wearing the same jacket. (If the video goes too fast for you to see the outfit, you can pause it and back it up.)

Here, they are riding horseback.

The link will continue to the end of the video, but I recommend starting at the beginning of the five minute video photo compilation by Lost Splendour , which is my favorite, showing a wonderful range of fashions; Princess Maude was born in 1869, so she was a teen in the 1880’s, married in the 1890’s, became a mother in 1903, and remained chic and up-to-date in middle age. And there are too many images to deny that her corseted waist really was that small.

Maude lived till 1938; I wonder whether she felt annoyance or relief at the fashions of the 1920’s? Here she is in the 1920’s. (There is a second picture of her, a few seconds later, in a striped twenties dress, with her dog on her lap.)

A second video compilation about Princess Maud, with some different images (but not such a clear look at her fashions,)  by adena539, can be found here.

 

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Changing the Foundations of Fashion: 1929 to 1934

"Make us look like this!" Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles.

“Make us look like this!” Sears catalog, Spring 1934, featuring Lastex two-way stretch girdles: “Boneless! Bulgeless!”

Many changes in fashion were taking place between 1929 and 1934, in addition to the fall of the hemline and the rise of the waistline.

For the first time in centuries, fashions followed the natural shape of a woman’s body. Bias-cut dresses, which clung to every curve, were already chic in 1929.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. Delineator sketches by Soulie.

November, 1929. Form fitting gowns from French designers Louiseboulanger and Jean Patou. The Delineator.

Makers of bosom-flattening brassieres — such as the “Flatter-U” and “Boyshform” bandeaux — were losing younger customers to companies like “Maiden Form” and G.M. Poix’s “A-P Uplift.” The word “uplift” was applied rather freely.

"Uplift bandeau" and Foundation with "Uplift rayon jersey top. Seaers catalog, Fall, 1929. Page 218.

“Uplift bandeau” (left) and Foundation (right) with “Uplift style bust.” Sears catalog, Fall, 1929.

Farrell-Beck and Gau, authors of the book Uplift:  The Bra in America, point out that in previous centuries, corsets pushed the breasts up from below; now, brassieres with shoulder straps lifted the breasts up.

After the mono-bosom years earlier in the 20th century, the word “uplift” seems to include the idea of separation. Women were finally acknowledged to have two breasts, one on either side of the sternum.

"Empire Gown" with "uplift line of the bodice." Butterick pattern # , Nov. 1931.

“Empire Gown” with “uplift line of the bodice.” Butterick pattern #4175 , Nov. 1931.

The garment that had been called a “corset” (or “corselette,” if it was unboned) became a “foundation.”

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

This illustration of the latest foundation garments appeared in The Delineator as early as March, 1929.

“Out went the whalebone. In went elastic. . . . The ‘foundation garment’ or ‘costume foundation’ . . . has definitely supplanted the word ‘corset’ and earned universal approval.”  — Editorial in The Delineator, March 1929.

Several months later, this article appeared, with illustrations more typical of 1929 undergarments:

"Facts and Figures About the strikingly feminine new silhouette." Article by Lucile Babcock in Delineator, October 1929.

“Facts and Figures about the strikingly feminine new silhouette.” Article in The Delineator, October 1929.

“Gone are the days of the straight-line, belted-about-the-hips frock which concealed many of our figure deficiencies. Snug fitting hips, slightly raised and occasionally nipped-in waists, a frank recognition of the bust line, are characteristic of autumn styles.” — Lucile Babcock, in The Delineator, Oct. 1929.

Two mid-twenties' corsets: La Camille ad, 1924, and Bien Jolie ad, 1925. Both Delineator.

Before the change: two mid-twenties’ corsets. Left, a La Camille corset ad, 1924, and right, a Bien Jolie corset ad, 1925. Both from The Delineator.

The corset went through other changes after 1929.

Bias-cut satin dresses like these would have revealed every bump, boning channel, and lacing of an old-fashioned corset.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1921. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

Bias-cut gowns from August and October, 1931. Butterick patterns 4039, 4093, and 4097. Delineator.

In 1929, the Sears catalog shows “boyish”/bust-suppressing corsets on the same page as corsets with soft, non-flattening tops. 1929 sears Fall p 218 page 500

 

The foundation on the left  is a typical 1920's corselet, turning the body into a tube shape.

The foundation on the left is a typical 1920’s corset;  bust-flattening boned seams and no waist indentation turn the body into a tube shape.

Significantly, the 1929 corset on the left below has rayon jersey (knit) in the bust area. Although not truly cup shaped, the soft fabric was not designed to flatten the breasts,  unlike the boned garment on the right.

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (Look at that deco fabric!)

Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 223. (I love that art deco fabric on the right!)

Several of Sears’ 1929 corsets/foundations use soft rayon jersey over the bust.

Foundation with "uplift" rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog p. 218

Foundation with “uplift style” rayon bust; Fall 1929 Sears catalog, p. 218. It’s hard to believe that this did much “lifting.”

But the chief problem of late 1920’s corsets (or foundations, as they were now being called)  was that their stretch panels had to be made from something like surgical elastic (similar to the Ace bandages used for sprained wrists and ankles.) At the time, elasticized fabrics were limited in size, so the fronts and backs of corsets had to be made of traditional, non-stretch corset materials, like coutil or thick satin; they needed hook-and-eye or  zipper closings, and the seams (and fastenings) were never smooth enough for wearing under thin, bias-cut gowns like this one:

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Bias-cut satin gown in a Kotex ad, July 1931. Delineator.

Lastex Changes Corsetry

The revolution came in the early 1930’s, when a new method for processing rubber was invented. According to Elizabeth Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear, before 1930 the sap of rubber trees (latex) was dried and compressed into bricks for shipping. When it reached England, the bricks were liquified, and long sheets of rubber were made. These sheets would then be cut into strips and incorporated into fabrics, but the strips were never long enough to be effectively woven into material suitable for the mass production of corsets.

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly. (However, the bust is back!)

Fall 1930 Sears catalog. Before the invention of Lastex, elastic panels had to be used sparingly or pieced together. (However, by 1930 the bust is definitely back in style.)

“About 1930,” a new chemical process allowed latex to be shipped in its liquid form. The liquid latex could then be extruded into fine threads — called Lastex —  which were as long as threads of traditional materials, which meant that elasticized yardage could finally be made in lengths and widths suitable for mass produced garments. As soon as weaving and knitting machines had been adapted to use Lastex, a new kind of undergarment became possible.

Munsingwear's 'Foundettes' two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman's Home Companion.

Munsingwear’s ‘Foundettes’ two-way stretch girdle ad, March 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

My question was, “How much time did it take for undergarments made with Lastex to become available — and affordable — to working class women?”

The answer: Hardly any time at all! The Sears, Roebuck catalog for Spring 1932 proudly introduces Lastex and “Clingtex” garments made of “new, cloth-like elastic (Lastex.)”

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing "Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex ."

Sears catalog for Spring 1932, introducing “Sensational new garments of marvelous Lastex .”

Early Lastex foundations combined the new stretch fabric with traditional corset materials —  for extra control over the abdomen, for example.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

Clingtex foundation, Spring 1933, Sears Catalog.

By Fall of 1933, however, Sears was offering “Two-Way Stretch Softies” made entirely of stretch fabric.  The “roll-on” girdle, which required no fastenings,  “dates from 1932 in England and probably a year earlier in the U.S.A.” [Ewing]

"New Two-Way Stretch Softies." Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

“New Two-Way Stretch Softies.” Seamless girdles and foundations from Sears Catalog, Fall 1933.

These “step-in” stretch foundations, which pull on, were made on a circular knitting machine; not only did they have no zippers , they had no seams. 

A foundation garment that made a woman look firmer, smoother, and younger — which improved her natural figure without distortion — was perfect under the bias gowns of the 1930s. This 1933 “Softie” All-in One from Sears (on the left) )looks very much like the Spandex “smoothers” available in stores in 2015.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the "roll-on" girdle cost just $1.98.

A seamless, Lastex knit foundation garment, Sears, Fall 1933. This foundation cost $3.69; the “roll-on” girdle (right) cost just $1.98.

Literally for the first time in hundreds of years, the purpose of a corset was not to distort a woman’s body.

The purpose of the nineteen-thirties’ foundation garment was to create the impression of a perfect, nude body under the clothes. It firmed the hips, flattened the belly, and supported the breasts, but all in imitation of nature, giving its wearer the firm, flexible figure of a healthy young woman.

Softies, Fall 1934. Sears catalog. "Not a bone! Not a bulge!" Seamless, circular-knitted two-way stretch foundation.

“Softies,” Fall 1934. Sears catalog. “Not a bone! Not a bulge!” Seamless, circular-knitted, two-way stretch girdle or foundation.

The End of the Boyish Figure

One more (less encouraging) thing about changes in fashion after 1929:

By Fall of 1932 women were already made to feel self-conscious about having small breasts.

1932 fall sears 500 help for flat chested pushup

"Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our 'Form Bust' and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy." Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

“Are you boyishly flat-chested? . . . Wear our ‘Form Bust’ and be neat, smart, up-to-the minute, and so be happy.” Sears catalog, Fall 1932.

That didn’t take long, did it?

 

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