Category Archives: Girdles

Prudery in Advertising Used to Confuse Me

Girdles from Sears Catalog, Fall 1958.

Costume researchers of the future, given only this image, might deduce that girdles were worn on the outside of our clothes…. And that the stocking suspenders/garters were purely decorative. There was a time when manufacturers who wanted to use the same ad in “family newspapers” and in women’s magazines had to be careful how they showed women’s underwear, lest they incite lustful thoughts and corrupt the young….

I’ve mentioned before that I was a “motherless child” — raised after her death by a loving father. We managed very well, except when it came to my clothing. Luckily my Aunt Shirley, and old (female) friends of our family, and sometimes the mothers of my school friends stepped in. Mrs. Betty P., who helped me sort through my mother’s closet when my father couldn’t bear to do it, eventually told him that it was long past time for me to start wearing a bra. (Fathers are often reluctant to admit that their little girls have grown up.) She was right. She took me to a department store (along with her own daughter) to have us fitted. My first bra (age 11) was a 34 B.
However, Betty’s daughter Janie and I used to puzzle over the lingerie ads in the backs of magazines, trying to make sense of them.

If the garters attach to your stockings, and you wear the garter belt over your bouffant petticoat…. How could that work? Sears catalog, Fall, 1958.

Full circle bouffant petticoat from Sears catalog, 1957. Janie and I knew you couldn’t bunch that up to make your garters reach your stocking tops….

This was 1957 or so — when huge crinoline petticoats were all the rage. Girls wore them in layers –preferably two bouffant petticoats at a time.
But this was also before pantyhose were available — women wore stockings held up by a garter belt, if they didn’t need “more control.”

Garter belts, 1958. Sears Fall catalog.

If you were going to wear a very fitted dress, a girdle or panty-girdle was needed so you would have a (relatively) smooth line from waist to thigh without bulges that outlined the garter belt.
But: my 11 year-old friends and I looked at ads like this one …

“How could this work?” my 11 year old self wondered.

… and asked each other how the garter belt could reach your stocking tops, if you wore it over your bouffant petticoat?

Advertising Undies Without Offending….

In the 1920s, advertising underwear was a tricky business. What did you do about that awkward top-of-thighs area at the bottom of the corset? Should the advertiser show the long bloomers (sometimes called knickers) which most women wore?

Ladies’ bloomers (also loosely called knickers or drawers), 1925. Butterick pattern 5705.

Would a family newspaper run an ad showing underpants? Or worse, a woman’s thighs or crotch? And isn’t it possible that, however they were shown in corset ads,  women sometimes wore their long underpants over their corsets, so they could be pulled down for a visit to the toilet (or outhouse, or chamberpot?)

Corsets illustrated as worn over bloomers, as shown in Sears catalogs, From Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1920s.

Well, 19th c. bloomers or drawers were often two separate legs, attached only at the waist. You could say Queen Victoria wore crotchless panties….

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing's Fashion in Underwear.

Open drawers, circa 1860, illustration from Ewing’s Fashion in Underwear. You could wear these under a corset and still answer the call of nature.

 In the 20th century, many women’s underpants/drawers/knickers were made with an open crotch, or a crotch that opened with tiny buttons, so those could be worn under the corset/girdle.  Awkward, but do-able.)

1917 underwear choice: open-crotched drawers (left) or a long “envelope” chemise with a button crotch. Delineator.

Pretty vintage lingerie with a button crotch.

Lingerie from Delineator, June 1924. Left, a “step-in;” right, a button crotch “chemise.”

Keep in mind that the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code in the U.S.A. had been written by men who said, “If it’s objectionable to a child, it’s objectionable, period.” (My 12th grade term paper was about movie censorship — so I’m quoting from memory.) Among other forbidden things (as reported): the inside of a woman’s thigh could never be shown in films. (An idea parodied here.)  For context, here’s the article accompanying that image.

Too hot for the Motion Picture Production Code? Corset illustrations from Delineator, 1929

That nervousness about female anatomy made it difficult for advertisers show exactly how corsets and stockings were worn. Often they were shown as if the garters were purely decorative, and had nothing to do with holding up your stockings.

Message: “There are suspenders attached to our corsets.” Women would know the suspenders were for holding up stockings, but the ads didn’t show how.

Some advertisements showed the corset superimposed on a clothed figure.

Corsets over clothing, in ads from 1912 and 1924.

Note to the future: Ordinary 20th century women did not wear their corsets over their dresses. (Although a few performers and young women with a desire to shock eventually did….)

For corset ads, a nebulous frill or draped fabric was also useful for propriety.

Sketchy lace frills or a delicate drapery avoid showing bare thighs between corset and stocking.

Some ads did show suspenders attached to stockings — but, does this mean women tucked their underwear into their stockings, as shown?

Thighs covered by long bloomers or drawers. 1926.

More voluminous undergarments tucked into stocking tops, 1922.

This company went bold — The photographer blurred out the crotch area: (Yes, photos were being altered almost as soon as they were invented.)

The area at the top of the model’s thighs has been blurred in this photo. 1926. She may have been wearing tight knit undies to start with.

Remember, in the Fifties,  TV wouldn’t allow a married couple to occupy the same bed (see The I Love Lucy Show.) (And Lucille Ball, who really was expecting a child, was “Enceinte,” not “Pregnant.”)

But the 1958 Sears catalog wasn’t censoring its pages — some photos are realistic, with bare thighs appearing between girdles and stockings, as they were worn in real life. I suspect that it was up to the manufacturer to decide whether his customers were easily upset by women’s bodies…

Sorry, boys. Nothing titillating to see here!

… or not:

Models wearing bras and girdles, Sears catalog Fall 1958.

Girdle worn over bare skin, although the photo is poor quality. Inside of thigh visible! Sears catalog, 1958.

A Sears model shows how a girdle and stockings were really worn. 1958 Sears catalog.

 

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Stocking Memories, 1958 to 1960

Stockings and a girdle from Sears catalog for Fall 1958.

When I started high school around 1958, we wore stockings for dress-up occasions. Usually, those stockings had a seam up the back.

Seamed stockings from Sears, Spring 1960.

(Pantyhose became available in 1959, or so the internet tells me. Seamless nylon or rayon stockings were available — briefly — in the 1940s, but in 1958, seams were the norm for me and the adult women I knew.)

Seamless stockings advertised in Vogue, Aug. 15, 1943.

Of course, stockings are still available and worn by many women, but pantyhose have dominated the market for about 50 years now.

So, for those who never had the dubious pleasure of buying stockings in the 1950s….

A run in her stocking; Lux soap ad from October 1937. Runs looked the same in 1960: a hole with unraveled knit stocking above and below it.

At the Stocking Counter

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about stockings circa 1958 was how many choices you had to make. Faced with the stocking counter — at a department store or even a “five and dime store” — you would see rows and rows of distinctive shallow boxes, each originally holding 6 pairs of stockings. The pairs were separated by layers of tissue; you could buy one pair, incurring the barely concealed scorn of the clerk who waited on you, or two or three pairs of matching stockings (if you could afford them.) Buying the whole box was a wonderful extravagance. Stockings were so fragile that the clerks sometimes wore gloves.

For a young teen, it was a confusing process. You needed to know your size, your “proportion,” the denier, the color, “seam or no-seam,” reinforced heel and toe or sandal foot, knit or “run stop”mesh….

1958 stocking size chart from the Sears catalog.

“What size?” Stockings came in seven sizes. Your stocking size was related to your shoe size, but it wasn’t the same as your shoe size. [Shoes used to come in many sizes and widths, from AAAA (very narrow) to EEE (very wide.)  I wore a shoe size 7 1/2, B width, with a (double) AA heel [Yes, you could buy a wide shoe size with a narrow heel, or many other variations.] As you can imagine, shoe stores had to carry almost as much stock as stocking counters.]

In 1958, your stocking size depended on your shoe size and your shoe width: shoe size 7, width B = stocking size 10.

However, stockings were usually held up by garters (aka suspenders) attached to a garter belt or girdle.

Garter belts, Sears 1958. Also (more accurately) called suspender belts in England.

Top left is a girdle; all the others are panty-girdles. Notice that your stocking top would need to come quite high on the thigh to attach to these garters.

Stockings attach high on the leg, with one garter in front and one in back on this panty-girdle. Sears, 1958.

The suspender part was somewhat adjustable in length, but you had to buy stockings that were long enough to reach the garter comfortably.

Proportioned Stockings for tall women; Sears, 1958. “The extra length reduces garter pull and strain…”

Finding the right proportioned stocking for your height and weight. Sears chart, 1958.  At Sears, your four proportion choices were “petite, shapely, classic, or tall.” (7 sizes x 4 lengths = 28 choices!)

There were so many size variations because 1950s’ stockings did not have much “stretch.” To answer the question “What size?” you needed to know your stocking size and your “pattern” or proportion. (Or you could tell the clerk your height and weight.)

If you wanted long enough stockings, you might have to pay more.

Sears, 1958. The cheaper stockings came in 15 or 30 denier weight, but only one length.

College memory: A friend named Mary was standing in the doorway when my roommate said, “Mary, your stockings are all wrinkled around your ankles.” Mary said, “I’m not wearing stockings. My ankles are sagging.”

Before modern stretch knits, stockings might bag or sag. Worse, if the reinforced top wasn’t high enough, when you knelt down the pull of the suspender could put too much strain on the knee, and your stocking would run or “pop.” Cheap stockings didn’t come in a full range of lengths, so I sometimes came out of church with one or both knees bulging out of big holes in my stockings. All those sizes were necessary because stockings were not very stretchy.

Stocking runs: a tiny hole would unravel the stocking both up and down your leg. This was still true in the 1960s. Lux soap claimed to improve stockings’ elasticity. Ad from 1936.

The stocking clerk might ask, “What weight?” This meant, not your own weight, but the amount of sheerness or strength you needed in the stocking. Light weight 15 denier was very sheer. 30 denier was more durable for everyday wear, and even thicker stockings were available.

“Seams or seamless?” My first stockings had seams, but the seams on the soles of my feet sometimes gave me blisters, so once I discovered seamless stockings, I always bought those. Seamless stockings were available in 1958, but I didn’t discover them for a couple of years. (A vertical seam up the back would have been more flattering to my sturdy legs, but limping on blisters didn’t improve my looks or disposition, so I chose comfort over vanity.) Besides, it’s maddening to be down to your last two intact stockings when you’re dressing for work and find that one of them has a seam and the other doesn’t.

Seamed stockings with reinforced heel and toe (and a seam under the ball of your foot.) Sears, Spring of 1958.

“Reinforced toe and heel? Sandal heel? Sheer foot?” If you wore pumps, then you could buy longer-lasting stockings with reinforced heels and toes. (Toenails or rough heels were hard on stockings.) However, by the 1940s many women wore open-toed or strap-heeled shoes, making the less durable options necessary.

Nude heel or reinforced heel in seamless stockings, Sears, 1958.

“Run stop or regular?” Runs were always a problem. A tiny snag from a chair or a fingernail would start a run racing up and down your leg. Many women kept a bottle of clear nail polish in their purse or desk drawers, because it was the only thing that could stop a run from progressing. If you dabbed a bit on the run before it passed the hem of your skirt, then the stocking might be salvaged enough for future wear. Otherwise, sheer stockings couldn’t be mended. One reason for always buying several identical pairs at the same time: as long as you had two stockings that matched, you could wear them. Once you were down to one stocking, you would probably never find a matching color or knit again, (too many brands, too many choices) so the final stocking might as well be tossed out.

Rayon mesh stockings from Sears, 1944. “Lockstitch resists runs, snags.”

Run-proof stockings were usually a mesh knit. They did get holes, but they didn’t get runs. The holes, however,  kept getting bigger….

Mesh stockings did not run, but they did get holes. And the weave was rather coarse and noticeable. Sears’ seamless mesh stockings from 1942.

“What color?” Stocking manufacturers and fashion magazines urged women to buy stockings to match every outfit. However, the woman on a budget often stuck to one or two shades. We all had drawers full of not-qute-matching stockings (usually kept in a padded box within the drawer.) Sticking to just one color matching your skin tone (or the healthy tan color you wished your legs were) was the economical choice. However, those black or dark stockings for evening were so temptingly glamourous….

Stockings from Sears to match your skin tone or your dress. 1959 catalog.

If you bought the last pairs of stockings in the box, or the whole box (six pairs,) you would be given the box itself, and therefore you would know the brand and color when you needed to buy more stockings a few weeks later.  Otherwise, stockings were simply wrapped in tissue. It was easy to forget where you bought them, the brand, and the name of the color, so your supply of single, unmatched, surviving stockings continued to grow. (One maker’s “nude” or “taupe” was rarely the same as another’s, and “suntan” could mean anything from light golden brown (in expensive brands) to orange (cheaper brands) ….

One Christmas in the Sixties, my father gave me a nightgown set that I didn’t need, so I took it back to Macy’s and exchanged it for a dozen pairs of stockings — two whole boxes! I had several blissful months of not worrying whether I had a pair of stockings that matched. Such luxury!

Next: The Pantyhose Revolution and Supermarket Stockings.

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From Curved to Straight and Back Again: Corsets 1917 to 1929

Ad for Bien Jolie Corsette, an all-in-one bust flattener and corset. Delineator, March 1926.

Corsets, 1907 and 1926. The garment on the right is a “corsette,” very lightly boned — if boned at all.

I took a detour from corsets to brassieres before writing this post, because brassieres became necessary when corsets became so low that they couldn’t offer bust support.

The female shape as seen in corsets advertised in Delineator: 1907, 1917, and 1924.

American Lady corset ad, April 1917.

In 1918, this Kabo corset and brassiere ad pairs a corset with a brassiere. The two were often worn together. Kabo made both.

Most brassieres of this era did not have two “pockets,” or “cups” as they were later called; they did not lift the breasts, but “confined” them. Click here for bust confiners.

Ad for the Kabo “Flatter-U” brassiere and bust flattener. Delineator, November 1920. “It makes a flatter you.”

DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1920. Delineator. This mesh brassiere (some would call it a bandeau) produces a low bust with a very gentle curve.

Warner’s Rust Proof Corset ad, February 1922. These corsets are being worn without a brassiere.

These dresses from 1922 are nearly unstructured, like a tube with a belt and sleeves. Butterick patterns. Low busts, slouching posture.

[How were those busts possible? Read on.] The smooth, tubular lines of the Twenties demanded a smooth, all-in-one garment, brassiere plus girdle, and the corsette or corselette was born.

Article in Delineator, February 1924.

This Treo “brassiere girdle” — “a combination garment” appeared in May, 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, October 1924, Delineator.

Some women (especially young or slender ones) wore a girdle without a brassiere. Below, left: a “hip-confiner” of glove silk.

Left, a glove-silk hip-confiner was almost not there. Right, a corset for those who needed more control. Delineator, February 1924.

Some wore neither.

Some slim women wore a girdle or corset with a brassiere…

Brassiere patterns from Butterick’s Delineator, July 1926.

…  or a bandeau.

Bust-flattening bandeaux from Sears catalog, 1928.

However, for those larger women who wore a bust-flattening brassiere with a corset, the brassiere needed to come down over the corset to prevent an ugly bulge between them:

Long Brassiere. From fashion advice article in Delineator, February 1924.

Ad for the H & W brassiere with diaphragm control. March 1924. It won’t “Push up” the “flesh.”

Dress patterns from Butterick, April 1924; Delineator.

Those who wanted a completely smooth, no curves, flexible shape under their dresses could wear a corselette.

This corsette gives a perfectly flat silhouette in front. 1924.

(There were many spelling variations: Corsette, Corselet, Corselette, Corsolette….) Most corselettes did not use metal bones, but depended on seams and elastic to shape the body into something resembling an oblong test tube — the “boyish” shape suited to Twenties’ fashions.

Left, a corset; right, a bust flattening bandeau over a waist-high corset. April 1925. DeBevoise ad.

Article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

This corsette is trying to turn a mature figure into a boyish one…. Bien Jolie ad, February 1926.

Corselette for large figures, “boned in the modern manner.” The bottom may be boned, but the top is soft silk jersey! Warner’s ad, April 1925.

A very flat posterior was as important as a flat bosom:

Back view, Bon Ton Corset ad, April 1925.

More corsettes/corselettes from 1925:

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, April 1925.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, June 1925.

Casual dresses from Butterick patterns, June 1925; Delineator, p. 29.

Although you might not see it in these ads, (perhaps because corsette ads were probably aimed at women old enough to have “figure problems”) by 1926 a change was taking place.

Article in Delineator, February 1926. p. 24.

“The younger woman who can keep slim and firm… either wears no corset at all or a tiny girdle of satin or glove silk with an equally ephemeral bust-supporter of lace or net.” Interesting that in 1926 1) the bust is supported, not flattened; and 2) the girdle supports a curve under the bottom. (The illustration does not quite match this description.)

Illustration for article in Delineator, February 1926, p. 24.

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.)

Curves gradually returned. For me the interesting thing about these Butterick brassiere patterns from 1926 is that both the flatteners and the brassiere with breast separation are on the same page:

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/1926-july-p-38-500-undies-top-left-bras-flattener.jpg

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. [It does not offer any support, just coverage.]

Bien Jolie corset ad, July 1926, p. 80. Delineator.

Bien Jolie corsette ad, September 1926. (Quite interesting fabric!)

Gossard corset ad, February 1927.** Note the curvy hips and the division between the breasts.

The bust was being worn in a more natural position:

Couture evening dresses by Boulanger and Paquin, illlustrated for Delineator, February 1927. p. 18. Note the high bust.

Modart’s combination, March 1928. Notice her curved bust silhouette. (Not helped by that garment!)

Modart ad, March 1928. Bandeau and girdle, bottom of same ad as above.

This brassiere isn’t even mentioned, but it has separation and a supportive band. Modart ad, March 1928.

Transition: two “foundation garments” featured in the same corset advice article; Delineator, March 1929.

The return of the curve, 1929:

Fashions that show off the female shape: (Butterick patterns) September, 1929. Delineator.

Light, non-restrictive foundation garments, October, 1929. Delineator.

Soft, flexible undergarments from Nemo-flex. Illustration from Delineator, October 1929.

Improvements in elastic, made possible by new Lastex fabrics, came just in time for the change to 1930s fashion.

** Gossard corsets had an ad campaign praising the curve (Hogarth’s “line of beauty”) as early as 1924.

Ad for Gossard “Line of Beauty” corsets, praising the curved figure, Delineator, February 1924.

If you’ve read all the way to here:  sorry this post was so long, but there was a lot I needed to get off my chest…!

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 3, 1912 to 1914

The corset of 1914 is well below the bust, and is not intended to make the waist look smaller.

There were two big changes in 1914. The corset is no longer expected to support the bust, and the days of the wasp waist are over.

American Lady corset ads from 1912 and 1914. Right: No tiny waist here.

The 1912 corset was higher and longer, and it made the waist smaller; the corset of 1914 is below the bust, and does not constrict the waist. These are both advertisements from the same corset company, less than 3 years apart.

Delineator ran an article about the corsets of 1914, and it may surprise you (as it did me) to see these early references to the natural, girlish figure.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914, p. 38.

“The corset of former years gave a woman a mature, well-developed, matronly figure. The corset of to-day makes her look like a very young girl.” [I find the 1914-1918 figure very un-girlish, but….”fashion writing.”]

“This is the day of the …drooping, boneless pose,” the body “as straight and yielding as a very young girl’s.” That sounds like the 1920s, but it was written before World War I. “The silhouette … for 1914 … is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust.”

One big change is that the tiny waists of the Edwardian era are no longer fashionable.

These corsets “compress the hips as much as possible,” “leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its normal size….” “Practically unboned, …The softness of the material follows the natural curve of the abdomen, …and in many cases there is even a slight curve in the front bone.”

American Lady corset ad, July 1914.

“Among smart women the size of the waistline has increased three  inches in the past three or four years. Large women still cling to their waistlines, but the corset should only measure two inches less than the waist — a twenty-four inch corset for a twenty-six inch waist.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Back lacing of a 1914 corset. Delineator, April 1914. “If necessary you can wear a brassiere with it.”

As seen in the corset back illustration above, a gap between the sides of the corset was customary, so this corset did not decrease the waist measurement at all.

Since the 1914 corset started below the bust, some women felt the need to wear a brassiere. However, the brassiere of 1914 “confined” the bust, rather than supporting it.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. There is nothing natural about this silhouette. [“Breasts? What breasts?”]

The back waist of the brassiere was much higher than the front, reflecting the posture of the period, which was changing, but not yet completely natural. (The long center front tab attaches to the corset to keep the brassiere anchored down in front.)

Back view of the DeBevoise brassiere, May 1914. You can see the vertical bones or darts in the front, the front closing, and the tab.

Less constrictive brassieres were available, offering no support, just nipple coverage..

This DeBevoise low-backed brassiere was recommended under evening dresses, which were usually made of thin fabrics. June 1914, Delineator.

Not all women wore brassieres. These fashions suggest the “absolutely free,” natural bust of 1914:

These women are showing a natural bust, probably not wearing brassieres with their low corsets. Butterick pattern illustration, June 1914.

“The uncorseted effect is produced by leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its natural size and in the hip-confining sections of the corset using a very soft, pliable, practically unboned material that leaves the figure almost as soft and supple as if no corset were worn.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Butterick illustration from April 1914. The natural, uncorseted bust line.

However, stout women were advised to wear a brassiere with the low-waisted 1914 corset:

Stout women were advised to wear a brassiere to avoid looking “slovenly.” DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1914.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. This ad is not necessarily aimed at stout women. That bust shape is an early version of the 1920s’ flattened chest.

“…Appear ‘uncorseted’ without looking slovenly…. Your corset will not make a ‘ridge’ in your gown.” Bulging flesh at the top of the corset (in front or in back) must have been a problem for many women.

La Camille “Ventilo” front-lacing corset ad, April 1917.

Three years after 1914, corsets were still higher in the back than in the front. A ridge of flesh above the corset was often a problem, except for the very slender. A brassiere helped control the back bulge, as well as a possible overflow in front.

The waistline is high and not especially small on these patterns from April 1914. “Slouch” pose at right.

Again, it’s hard to see why the corset of 1914 had to compress the hips during the “tunic” era. But the corset did affect posture. And some women chose a sleeker silhouette, without the tunic:

Butterick patterns in Delineator, January 1914.

Quick comparison 1907 to 1914:

Corset ads 1907, 1910, 1912, 1914. All from ads in Delineator.

Styles to come: The low, natural-waist-size corset of 1914 was still fashionable in 1917, but it was getting shorter and less rigid.

Corsets 1914 and 1917. The woman in the ad on the right has an almost “natural” figure.

For a previous post about the change in fashionable figures from 1914 to 1924, click here.

For corset change between 1907 and 1910, click here.

For corset change between 1910 and 1912, click here.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 2, 1910 to 1912

Left, corset ad from 1910; right, corset ad from 1912.

1912: Longer and Lower Corsets

Cover image from Delineator magazine, November 1912.

The ideal woman seemed to be elongated in 1912, and the waist of her dress was rising, while her corset extended far down her thighs.

Ad for American Lady corsets, March 1912. Delineator.

This corset starts below the bust and is so long that there is a cut-out in the center front to permit walking.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers, Delineator magazine, April 1912.

Two Justrite brand corsets, one from 1907 and one from 1912, show a drastic change in the ideal figure.

This change in the fashionable figure (and corset) is extreme, and happened in just five years. (Imagine being 17 years old in 1907, and 22 years old in 1912. Your body wouldn’t have changed, but whether you had a “perfect figure” certainly would have.)

The C/B a la Spirite corset ad from Delineator, August 1912. An unrealistic fashion figure and no real bust support.

Once again, the perfect figure is an impossible ideal.

Ad for Spirella corsets, April 1912. [A flexible spiral corset bone surrounds the illustration.]

“The Corset of Style, Health, and Comfort…. The doctor and the dressmaker both endorse it. 2,000,000 Satisfied Women Wear It.” [And none of them looked like this!]

Detail of Spirella Corset ad, April 1912. [No pesky hipbones here!]

Looking at some of the fashions of 1912, one wonders why the hips needed to be so narrow:

Skirts often had hip-concealing draperies, a trend that continued in 1914.

These 1912 blouse/waist and skirt outfits do show a long-looking, high-waisted figure, but the hips are not especially slim:

Skirt and blouse (waist) combinations from Butterick patterns; Delineator, September 1912.

The waistline of dresses and suits was rising:

The suit on the left suggests a rising waistline with a seam just under the bust; a relatively natural waistline is shown at center; the fashionably high waistline can be seen in the purple ensemble at the right.

An April 1912 article on the new corsets (Delineator, page 341) showed one on a real human being:

Left: “The new corset, medium low in the bust, large in the waist, and small in the hips.” April 1912.

Notice the difference between the real (above) and the ideal (below:)

Ad for a C/B corset, October 1912. Delineator.

As corset tops got lower, the need for bust support led to the wide-spread use of the brassiere.

A “Brassier” advertisement in the Siegel-Cooper catalog ad, Delineator, September 1912.

“Brassiers for full figures, corset cover and bust supporter combined.” But I’ll save brassieres and “bust confiners” for another post.

The corsets of 1912 still straightened the front of the body while tilting the pelvis toward the back, which made clothes short-waisted at the back. Anyone familiar with so-called “Armistice blouses” knows they are shorter in back than in front, and will pop out of the skirt if you aren’t wearing a correct period corset.

The 1912 corset still tilted the pelvis up in back, as these pattern illustrations show.

The characteristic body tilt of 1912 (and several years after…) made the back waist higher than the front waist.

To review early Twentieth century corsets so far…

Corset ads from Delineator magazine, 1907, 1910 and 1912.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 1, 1907 to 1910

Two W .B. Corsets: Left, 1907; right 1910. Both are “Reduso” corsets for stout women, pictured just three years apart.

I have quite a collection of corset ads from the backs of Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal — but it’s just a sampling. Nevertheless, there seems to be a continuing message from advertisers to women, and that message is, “There is something wrong with your body.” In addition to being re-shaped, it needs to be “improved” and “confined.”

This is a selection of corset and padding advertisements from just one source, Delineator magazine.

1907: S-Bend and Padding

Ad for Set Snug Underwear, Delineator, October 1907.

Although that ad didn’t sell padding, it shows the nearly-impossible ideal figure of 1907.

This W.B. Nuform corset was designed to give the “chicness and charm of figure” of the Gibson Girl. September, 1907.

A chic figure might well require some padding, as well as distortion and an unnatural posture:

H & H Pneumatic Bust Forms were inflatable [and recommended as a flotation device.]  In a range of shapes, including “Round… Oblong, convex and concave….” July 1907.

[Note: The H & H “before” image shows a normal, youthful figure…. There is nothing “wrong” with it.]

“Are You Thin?” December 1907. Parisian Perfect Form padding for the “back” and hips. You can see it under the corset, especially in the back view.)

“When Nature Slips a Link, Art Steps In. Don’t be Ungracefully Slender a Day Longer….”

The Hip Form Health [!] Skirt will create a bulging bottom [below an unnaturally tiny waist.] November 1907. The text describes it an a petticoat.

And although these figures were presented as ideal…

American Lady Corset ad, September 1907. Delineator.

“Any woman can find a G.D. Justrite that will bring out the lines of her figure.” G.D. Corset ad, October 1907. Delineator.

… it was always possible to have too much of a good thing:

A Nemo Self-Reducing Corset ad. November 1907.

This ad for a Sahlin Perfect Form corset for slender women seemed to offer a less restrictive garment than those which depended on tight-lacing…

Ad for the Sahlin Perfect Form and Corset Combined, October 1907.

… but on closer inspection, what it really offers the slender woman is a curved, boned bodice which produces the effect of a larger, “stylish high bust” without padding.

It’s a bust improver that improves posture as well as creating a bulging bosom by the use of curved boning.

1910 Corsets: Straightening Out Some of Those Curves

In 1910, swaybacks were out, vertical was in. Two dress illustrations from Delineator, June 1910.

Two W. B. Corsets from March 1910. A mercifully straighter spine than 1907 is combined with a full bust and tiny waist.

Another ad for an inflatable bust improver. Ad for the Nature’s Rival Air Form corset waist, March 1910.

In contrast to an artificially tiny waist, a full bust was encouraged.

Ad for National Corsets, February 1910.

The disappearance of the 1907 sway-back style left some manufacturers off balance:

American Beauty corset ad, March 1910. Apparently a transitional style.

Ad for American Lady corsets, April 1910.

If your breasts were in danger of overflowing your corset top, a “confiner” could be stitched to the corset:

Gossard “bust confiner” made to be sewn to the top of the corset, as shown here.

This J.C.C. corset from 1910 starts low on the bust, and extends far down the thighs. Notice the extension which supports the stocking garters.

These corsets are very long.

Two corsets from an ad for J.C.C. Corsets, March 1910.

Above: The corset was moving down, over the thighs, but in 1910 it still offered some bust support.

The front and back views of a Kabo Corset, March 1910. Delineator.

“The most stylish and serviceable corset made.” Kabo corset ad, March 1910.

To emphasize the change in corset shapes from 1907 to 1910:

Left, 1907 Gibson Girl shape and posture; right, a longer, more vertical corset from 1910.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. All of these illustrations come from Delineator magazines.

Coming soon: Corsets continue to change from 1910 to 1914.

 

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Poiret and Tunic Dresses, 1914

Paul Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown. Illustrated by Georges Lepape, September 1913. Image from Irene Lewisohn Collection, Metropolitan Museum.

I saw Poiret’s famous “Sorbet” gown at the V & A years ago.  It’s sometimes referred to as “the lampshade dress,” because of the rigid bottom of the tunic.

I expected to laugh; instead, I haven’t found a picture that does it justice. It’s ridiculous. It’s impractical. And it’s couture: what doesn’t show in the photos I’ve found is that the stylized roses are made from thousands of subtly glittering beads. The silk has the soft gleam of quality. It is lovely.

Perhaps because this is clearly a “wear it once” dress (except for the version without a boned tunic,) it has survived in at least three public collections (V & A, Chicago History Museum,  & FIT. ) And, being couture — custom made for every client —  each rendition is slightly different. Sometimes only the skirt is different (one version has harem pants;) in one, the tunic falls softly instead of being rigid; in the collection at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the dark parts are not black, but mauve (or raspberry sorbet?)

Randy Bigham has written a fascinating essay comparing the three versions.

I called “Sorbet” a “wear it once” dress because it would make a grand entrance, be highly memorable, and also be highly impractical. How would the wearer sit at a dinner table, or travel to a party in a carriage or car? How would she dance in it, since the hoop would pop up in the back as soon as her partner embraced her? [Imagine it flipping around during a tango!]

Butterick pattern 6639 seems to be influenced by Poiret’s “Sorbet” gown, which has black fur at the rigid hem of the tunic in the V&A version. Delineator, January 1914.

The New Flaring Tunics, Delineator, March 1914. In 1914, a “tunic” was an overskirt.

But …. Poiret caught the spirit of the times, even if he didn’t create the tunic fad; by 1914 his dress was influencing Butterick patterns and being imitated elsewhere. I found it in advertisements, too — usually a sign that a style has penetrated the common culture.

Ad for McCallum Hosiery, Delineator, March 1914.

A suit with a flaring tunic and wide sash is seen in an ad for American Woolen, March 1914, Delineator.

This ad for Suesine silk fabric uses Butterick 6639, with the hoop-like tunic.

A flaring tunic dress goes dancing in this ad for Kleinert’s Dress Shields. April 1914; Delineator.

Tunic Dress Patterns from 1914

An outfit with the tunic look might be a dress, or a skirt and “waist” combination.  [A “waist” was a blouse or separate bodice.] The flared part of the tunic might be part of the blouse/waist) …

Waist 6639. Butterick pattern from January 1914. Delineator.

… Or it might be part of the skirt:

Butterick skirt pattern 6719, March 1914. Delineator.

Butterick waist 6718 with skirt 6719. The flared tunic is part of the skirt. Note the fur or velvet border at right, which makes the hem stand out more.

Wearing the tunic over an elaborately draped skirt increased bulk over the hips — and narrowing at the ankles exaggerated it.

Tunic dress; Butterick pattern 6779 from April 1914 has optional ruffles to help the tunic’s hem stand out a bit. Delineator.

Alternate and back views of Butterick tunic dress 6779; 1914.

There are many one-piece tunic dresses, rather than waist and skirt combinations:

Tunic dresses for women to size 44 bust; Delineator, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6820, April 1914.

Alternate views of tunic dress 6832, April 1914. Seeing it without the tunic tells us more about how it was made.

A group of hip-widening fashions from April, 1914. Delineator. The one in color is a waist & skirt combination. [Fun hat!]

Butterick waist 6791 with skirt 6733. The tunic is part of the skirt; waist 6791 is not long at all.

Other views of Butterick waist 6791. From 1914.

However, tunic outfit 6797 is a dress:

Butterick dress 6797, April 1914. In the illustration at left, the diagonal closing is barely noticeable.

To my eyes, accustomed to slender, athletic bodies, the fashions of the World War I period are hard to understand, since they add the appearance of many pounds around the hips. [Poiret also took credit for the 1908 “hobble skirt,” still affecting fashion in 1914.]

“What Your Girl Will Want for Easter” 1914: Wide hips and narrow hems. These are styles for teens age 14 to 19. Did teen girls really want to look like they had big, low-slung bottoms? Well…”fashion.”

With dresses like those, you’d hardly need this corset….

Nubone corset ad, March 1914, Delineator.

The tunic styles were for recommended for women (including larger sizes) and for teens:

Butterick 6684 was for teens aged 14 to 19. February, 1914.

Butterick 6651 for teens 14 to 19 and small women. This one has fur trim.

That headdress deserves a closer look:

Lace, fur, chiffon, flowers, and a rather exotic jeweled headdress. January 1914.

For large women, this modified tunic with more vertical lines was recommended.

Left, Butterick 6809 “For Matronly Figures; New styles that are becoming to them.” Delineator, June 1914.

Buttrick 6809 was not a true tunic; this back view is much more slenderizing. “Matronly figures” went up to size 46 bust. Note the ( ) shaped silhouette.

The tunics and draped skirts that increased hip width were apparently popular, but women did have other choices:

Left, a tunic-style outfit made from waist 6627 and skirt 6613; right, distinctly un-fussy shirtwaist 6619 with slim, tailored skirt 6620. Both of these skirts were described as “peg-top.” January 1914.

(I’m still not clear on what “peg-top” actually meant — but now I know where to look….)

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with this long post!

The tunic look from Delineator, May 1914.

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