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How to Look Thinner in the 1920s, Part 1: Wear a Corset or Corselette

 

Paris designs, Delineator, January 1925. From Left: Doucet, Lanvin, Molyneux, Premet, Chanel.

Paris designs, Delineator, January 1925. From Left: Doucet, Lanvin, Molyneux, Premet, Chanel.

In the July, 1925 issue of Delineator magazine – published by the Butterick Publishing Company — columnist Evelyn Dodge gave the following advice on looking slender while wearing 1920s fashions. I will divide it into three parts — proper corsets, proper lingerie, and proper sizing and styles. I have already exerpted part of her article in Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets.  I will add illustrations from Delineator and other sources, and my own comments.

How to Reduce Your Hips Three Inches – 1925

“My subject this morning, dear friends, I know you will find delightful. My text is ‘How you can reduce your hips three inches in three minutes without diet, drugs or exercise and still eat your way through June without giving up strawberry shortcake, asparagus, and any of the other pleasures of the season. . . .’

“I can’t tell you how you can become slender, but I can show you very easily how you can look several inches slighter and thirty or forty pounds lighter than you do now. Almost any woman can reduce her actual measurements appreciably by proper corseting, proper lingerie and the proper size clothes. Old shapeless corsets with bent and bulging bones, too much lingerie cut on too wide lines and made of clumsy materials, clothes that are too large, too long and too wide for the present fashion will make a mountain out of any feminine molehill.”

[Comment: As a costume designer, I could usually create the illusion that a 145 pound actress weighed 133 pounds (or that my 160 pound self weighed 10 pounds less), but erasing forty pounds is promising a lot! As an opera designer once told me, “You can create visual illusions with costumes — up to a point, but there’s only so much that vertical lines can do for a singer who’s built like a tugboat.” ]

The 1920s Ideal Figure

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

In 1925, when Evelyn Dodge wrote this article, she said, “The boyish figure sans bust and curves and waistline is the ideal silhouette.”

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Butterick patterns, June 1925. Delineator.

Tip Number One: Wear a Corset or a Corselette.

“A Few Years Ago Women Took Off Corsets . . . and Let Their Figures Go.” — Evelyn Dodge

Dodge attributed the change in women’s figures to the relatively shapeless styles of the preceding decade.

[I know that fans of Titanic and Downton Abbey may not believe that the styles of the late 1910s could be extremely unflattering; that’s because theatrical costume designers do a great deal of period research and then select the clothing that a modern audience will find most attractive.  If a woman is supposed to look young and appealing, or sophisticated and sexy, she has to be dressed in a way that conveys those character points to an audience that has not done months of period research.] Here are some outfits for women, circa 1917:

Three outfits from the Perry, Dame Catalog, 1916.

Three outfits from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917.

If you were an actress — whose next job might depend on being shapely — which would you prefer to wear?

Even outfits designed by Gabrielle Chanel could add pounds in 1916:

1916 designs by Gabrielle Channel [sic] from Doris Langley Moore’s Fashion through Fashion Plates, cited by Quentin Bell.

1916 designs by Gabrielle Channel [sic] from Doris Langley Moore’s Fashion through Fashion Plates, republished by Quentin Bell in On Human Finery.

Under all that fabric, it would be easy to put on a few inches around the hips without even noticing. (Weighing yourself at home was not an option when scales were huge, heavy machines.)

Then came the 1920s, when the ideal figure was flat in front and flat behind.

Warner’s corset, March 1925. Delineator.

Warner’s corset, March 1925. Delineator.

Sweater Girls, World War I

Young Women Wearing Sweaters, California, 1917-1918

Young Women Wearing Fashionable Sweaters, California, 1917-1918. Note how similar their sweaters are to the ones in the catalogs, below.

Evelyn Dodge continued:

“A few years ago during the vogue of the sweater with its concealing lines, women took off corsets, drew a long breath and let their figures go.

Sweaters from the Perry, Dame Catalog, 1917. Dover Books.

Sweaters from the Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917. Dover Books.

1922 sweaters from Sears catalog. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Sweaters from Sears catalog, 1922. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

“Some of the results were good, others were bad. The large waist and the resulting lowering of the bust and straightening of the hip has a youthful air.  [!]  But the diaphragm bulge, the middle-aged spread, the very pronounced increase in weight, have proved ugly and stubborn.

Models Photographed for Ads in Delineator, 1917. These figures would be out of fashion in the nineteen twenties.

Models Photographed for Ads in Delineator, 1917. Their figures would be out of fashion in the nineteen twenties. Imagine the woman on the left in a 1920s dress.

“Many women who have tried going without corsets are now wearing them again – not to make their waists smaller, but to flatten the abdomen and lower back.”

Bon Ton Corset Ad in Delineator. April 1925.

Bon Ton Corset Ad in Delineator. April 1925.

The Modart Corset company ran a series of “X-ray vision” ads showing corsets as worn under clothes.

Young woman wearing a Modart Corset under her dress. October 1924, Delineator.

Young woman wearing a Modart Corset under her dress. October 1924, Delineator.

Corsets and Corselettes

Corsets from Sears catalog, 1925-26. From Everyday Fashions of the 1920s by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Corsets from Sears catalog, 1925-26. From Everyday Fashions of the Twenties, by Stella Blum. Please do not copy this image.

Many women wore a Brassiere or Bandeau to compress their breasts, plus a corset to control their hips and abdomen. (See the “Detachable Ceinture Step-in,” above.) This could leave an uncomfortable and unsightly ridge of flesh bulging out where the brassiere and corset met, so the Brassiere + Girdle combination — also called a corselette — became very popular:

Treo "Brassiere Girdle combination garment" ad from Delineator, May 1925.

Treo “Brassiere Girdle combination garment” ad from Delineator, May 1925. This could also be called a corselette or corsette.

Dodge explains: “Most young girls and practically all women need some sort of figure control . . . . Not all women need corsets. Women with young slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassiere and hip-confiner, is sufficient.”

Butterick corselette pattern #5691, January 1925.

Butterick corselette pattern #5691, January 1925.

The boneless corselet (spelled many ways) would have acted on a woman’s body the way that sausage casing acts on sausage, redistributing her flesh into a tube shape.  Although it had no metal boning, this corselette’s vertical flat-felled seams pass over the bust points, effectively flattening the breasts. Tension between the shoulder straps and the stocking garters would finish the job. (For more information about corsets and corselets, click here. For more information about 1920s bust flatteners, click here.)

Coming Soon: How to Look Thinner in the 1920s, Part 2: Wear the Right Lingerie

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, vintage photographs

Underpinning the Twenties: Corsets and Corselets

“To be smart this season one must be more than slim. The figure must defy nature and be as flat as the proverbial flounder, as straight as a lead pencil, and boneless and spineless as a string-bean. One must be straight like a boy and narrow like a lady in a Japanese print.” – Delineator magazine, February 1924.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator Magazine.

Two corselets from 1925. Left, Butterick corselette pattern 5691; right, ad for Bien Jolie corsette # 6099. Delineator magazine.

Corselets, Corselettes, Corsolettes, & Corsettes, 1924 to 1929

Delineator writer Evelyn Dodge explained the difference between a corset and a corselet in her “The New in New York” column dated July 1925:

“Not all women need corsets. Women with young, slender figures find that the corselet, which is a combination brassière and hip-confiner, is sufficient. It is unboned and is therefore as soft and flexible as the natural figure. It keeps the figure straight without making it rigid. It is made of soft light fabrics such as brassière material, broché coutil and fine washable satin and has elastic gores to fit in at the hip. “

“Corsets” were heavily boned and rigid. (“For the figure that is heavier… the corset becomes heavier with heavier material, more bones… and with lacings.” — Dodge) “Corselets” (or corselettes, corsolettes, corsettes, etc. — you could find many spelling variations even in the Delineator‘s articles and advertisements) were unboned, or very lightly boned, and flexible.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

Bien Jolie Corsette ad, Delineator, March 1924.

The woman in this 1924 Bien Jolie Corsette is doing something you couldn’t possibly do in a heavily boned corset: she is bending at the waist. (If you do bend too far in a metal-boned corset, the bones develop a permanent crimp, a dent or a bulge.) The ad says, “The freedom of the uncorseted figure and the long, slim lines demanded by the modes of today are both attained by the Bien Jolie Corsette. . . .”

A Delineator article called this boneless garment a “brassiere corset” early in 1924:

A Brassiere Corset for slender women, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

A Brassiere Corset for slight figures, Feb. 1924. Delineator.

Butterick Corselette Pattern No. 5691, 1924-1925

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924.

Butterick corselette pattern # 5961, Delineator, Dec. 1924. The corselet is shown worn over bloomers.

In her July 1925 article, Evelyn Dodge went on to say:

“You can either buy or make your corselet. It is very easily made, and if the figure is large or small at one point or another the corselet can easily be fitted when it is being made.”

You can see that there are no boning channels in the corselette, but coutil is a non-stretch corset fabric vith very little ‘give.’ Elastic in yardage wide enough for mass-produced girdles was not available before 1930, according to Ewing (Fashion in Underwear, pp. 102-107), so some corselets of the 1920s show wide bands of overlapped elastic. You can see this in the illustration on the right, below.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator. 1925.

Butterick pattern 5961 was featured again in January and March issues of Delineator, 1925.

1924 p 36 corselette 5691 descriptionThe pattern description doesn’t say whether this corselette opens with hooks and eyes under the left arm . . .

Does it open along a side seam?

Does it open along a side seam?

. . . or along the side front seam, like this commercially made corselet.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Bien Jolie Step-in Corsette ad, Delineator, April 1925.

Dodge continues, “These corselets have been enormously successful for several reasons — their excellent lines, their inexpensiveness, and the fact that they can be washed as easily and as often as any other piece of lingerie. They are supple enough for sports and dancing and their unbroken lines are perfect under the light fabrics of evening gowns.”

Commercially Manufactured Corselets, 1924 to 1929

Although the spellings differed, the popularity of the corselet is apparent by the number that were advertised.

The Treo company, a line available through Sears, Roebuck’s catalog, as well as in stores, called this model a “Brassiere Girdle” combination garment:

Treo "Brassiere Girdle combination garment" ad from Delineator, May 1925.

Treo “Brassiere Girdle combination garment” ad from Delineator, May 1925.

The DeBevoise company suggested that this Step-in Corsette belonged in a bride’s trousseau:

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

DeBevoise Ad, June 1925. Delineator.

This Warner’s corselette for large figures is “boned in the modern manner,” although the “silk jersey top” can’t have had much impact on a large bust.

Warner's Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

Warner’s Corselette Ad, April 1925. Delineator.

This Bien Jolie satin brocade corselette dates from 1924:

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6076, April 1924. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Ad for Corsette # 6078, April 1924. Delineator.

By 1926, flattened busts were going out of fashion and a more natural silhouette was beginning to replace the “unbroken straight line” of Butterick #5691.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator.

Bien Jolie Corsette Ad, July 1926. Delineator. Note the elastic curving in toward the waist and the model’s curved silhouette.

By March, 1929, Delineator showed these “foundation” garments [note the name change; they are no longer ‘corselettes’] in an article about the latest underwear styles:

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

Foundation garment with darted and separated bust. Delineator, March 1929.

By 1931, you could buy this Smart Model “co-ed” foundation with “new bustline, no boning” from a Sears catalog for $1.98.

From Stella Blum's Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

From Stella Blum’s Everyday Fashions of the 1930s. Please do not copy this image.

This is part 4 of a series about undergarments in the 1920s: to read “Brassieres, Bandeaux and Bust Flatteners” (click here), “Underpinning Twenties Fashion: Girdles and Corsets” (click here), “Garters, Flappers & Rolled Stockings” (click here.)

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Accessory Patterns, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes