Headquarters and the Models

 

The 1960 visit showing just under half of the corsetieres who attended.

 

 

 

Professional models and factory workers alike demonstrate the garments. The model on the left, then a Miss Topping, was one of Spirella's favourites. One suspects that she had an enviable figure with or without their products! The factory was a very happy place in which to work even if the ladies employed there struggled to afford their own products. A girdle cost around two weeks wages! The corsetieres themselves fared differently in that they were expected to wear Spirella's products that they could buy at cost, however, they were not salaried and lived on commission.

 

 

The Annual Visit to HQ

The relationship of the corsetiere to Headquarters was very strong, particularly after the Second World War, and during this period all corsetieres were given a chance to visit Letchworth each year. This gave the company a chance to say "thank you" to its sales force, and also gave the corsetieres the chance to see the latest models that they would soon be selling.

The latest styles of brassiere  and corselette are handed round in 1957 and 1960. Both are far stronger quality than the less successful garments of the 1980's.

Two corsetieres in their 60's in the late 50's meet and discuss the latest styles at Letchworth. Quite obviously, one of these 'elderly' women has adopted one of Spirella's more modern brassiere styles (1958). In the same year, another group of corsetieres discuss the merits of the latest girdle.

 

In 1957, Spirella puts on an amazing display of their wares at HQ. In 1965, two ladies regard the newest lightweight material that can be incorporated into the 515 lacing girdle. Note how the light colour of the stand shows through the material of the garments to reveal their structure. This is often used to good effect by several vendors on the Ebay auctions.

 

The Models from HQ

Spirella had a number of favourite models, and these ladies would demonstrate the latest lines to hundreds of keen corsetieres from all over the country. Sometimes, Spirella's favourite 'mature' models would demonstrate the corsets, but equally, in the catalogues, some remarkably young models are laced into their 305's. What appears quite extraordinary today is that these women would wander around the displays discussing their underpinnings with the corsetieres.

 

Shirley Green was a Spirella favourite.

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From 1938 (above right), 1948 (above left), 1950 (below) and 1957 (below right), the display of corsetry by professional models both on and off the cat-walk was a regular event.

 

Not something I could ever do in a million years! It takes courage to parade your girdle in front of 100's of critical spectators!

Some of the most professionally composed Spirella photographs, that, for Spirella, are close to being risqué.

Amateur Shows:

What is quite obvious from the house magazines of the time is that many of the ladies at the Spirella shows were not professional models, but simply corsetieres themselves. This would be good practice for them, since all forms of advertising were used by the company from adverts in the local newspapers to modelling shows where (amazingly for the 1960's) corsetieres and their friends would parade in front of prospective customers in their underwear. These shows took place away from Head Office in local halls and even corsetiere's houses. Daughters and friends were encouraged to join in. It is noticeable that the women at these shows often wore black underwear, whereas white and tea rose were the most popular colours actually sold. Perhaps wearing black was more like a show, or 'something special' rather than candidly walking around in one's everyday underwear. Notice that Spirella had stockings made with coloured tops to match the foundations being modelled. It certainly photographs better than a standard stocking. It seems that Spirella had these stockings made for the publicity photographs since they appear on the professionally modelled pictures. The long-suffering corsetieres had to pay, which explains the various styles of stocking top in the amateur photographs. 

       

Fitters from 1960 model girdles, corsets and a corselette from the Spirella range. The models are all corsetieres, friends and somebody's daughter. The levels of confidence vary considerably, but this was 1960.

 

 

Amongst the prosaic Mrs. So-and-so's from Coutil Close, lies "Prunella". What a charming way to raise yourself above your corsetière peers!

 

Even the Scottish in 1966 would parade in their intimates, including a Grandmother with 15 children standing second from the right, next to the corsetiere. The ladies are all satisfied customers and really very stylish.  In fact, they make a very good advertisement for Spirella, and put many modern women to shame.

 

 

 

There was no end to the ingenuity of the corsetieres as they transported their samples across the country to various events. From 1961, a Spirella corsetiere poses as she inserts a model for a local fashion show into her car. In 1957, a fitter uses her van as a mobile display unit.

 

 

 

 

Spirella was always keen on its wedding photographs. In so many of their magazines, daughters of corsetieres were shown at their weddings. The captions emphasised the fact that all the ladies present wore Spirella, and apart from some marketing exaggeration, the photos are all genuine. But the photo above is obviously wrong. They tried hard, but, as is patently obvious, we have a group of amateur friends of the corsetiere in wedding guise. Charming, innovative, quaintly naive, but, one has to admit, less than convincing. (Spirella 1959).

 

The bridal dresses, all handmade by devoted mothers, aunts and grannies reveal a tendency that will ultimately doom the corsetry firms. Waist and bust are apparent, although not emphasised, but the hips are hidden in layers of tulle and netting. The girdle might be worn, but in such guise it was unnecessary, and ultimately, as we see today, will virtually vanish.

 

 

As a charming footnote to this piece, we recently (2010) discovered a picture of two of the ladies that modelled professionally for Spirella in the 1960's. As you would expect they are still stylish and elegant and have done well in their lives, one even having a title!

Lady Valerie Skeet and Shirley Green