Tag Archives: uplift foundation garment 1929

“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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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bras, Corselettes, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Resources for Costumers, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc

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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