Tag Archives: corselette 1920s

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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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Zippers

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