Spirella Magazines

 

The Spirella (house) Magazine was published from the inception of the company in 1910 until 1972 and forms a wonderful and illuminating history of the business of the corsetiere. In its pages new products were introduced, letters from satisfied customers praised their products, and the best saleswomen received not just their awards, but pictures of themselves along with the 'new car' that their commissions had purchased. In the early years, a strong moralistic undertone was evident. Discipline, dedication and duty were repeatedly mentioned and the consequences of slovenly behaviour were illustrated as examples unworthy of a Spirella consultant. Of course, the deeper undertone is the American hard-sell at work, after all, corsetry might be extolled as a feminine virtue, but the bottom line was profit, and it was the corsetiere in the field that made that profit.

Weddings received much attention. Any corsetiere worth her salt, and with an entree into the family facing an impending wedding, could finance her Summer holidays on the commission. It was not unusual to hear stories of a corsetiere who had sold a dozen lowers (as corsets and girdles were quaintly called) and another dozen uppers (brassieres) to the potential guests and family anticipating a wedding. 

But let the letters to the Spirella magazine speak for themselves:-

 

Letters published in the Spirella Magazine

1) From Cottingham, near Hull, comes news of a Spirella client of 101 years of age. Her consultant is Mrs. B., who has just placed a further order on behalf of the client, a Spirella 305 in Sterling. Reports Mrs. B: “She has been a Spirella wearer for more than 50 years and systematically, as her five daughters reached the age of 16, introduced them all to Spirella. She has also got many other women to buy Spirella.” Jan 1970

This letter written in 1970 means that the old lady was born in 1869 and that she started with Spirella in, say, 1918, some eight years after the company was formed in Britain.  

2) “My Best Sale” by Mrs. McD., Liverpool

“I completed my training in April 1958, and during the next month, I called at most of the houses in my little road, with the result that I got orders for one strapless bra, two bras, and three 305 corsets. The following week I called at a hospital where my friend is the Matron. Nurses and orderlies were very taken with my own 314 bra and 305 corset and I finished up with orders for nine 314 brassieres and six 305 corsets, and a promise of more orders the following month, which I received.” Feb 1960  

3) After the birth of her daughter, Jean ordered a 305 to correct and maintain her figure, and has since recommended Spirella to many other young mothers she has met at the baby clinic. During last Summer she had two 305’s, a 384, a 321 and a 325. April 1960

Many corsets were sold during and after pregnancy. The 325 was a formidable front and back-laced corset. I'm sure a persuasive saleslady could easily have talked her client into the extra lacing, not to mention stronger bones  and extra suspenders. Although Spirella did not manufacture support stockings, they were a fundamental selling element in corset suspenders and were widely worn by women in the 1960's.

4) Convincing the public that a laced foundation was necessary was of concern to Spirella in this article from April 1965.

Not every client needs a 305. But often when a client really is in need of support of this excellent laced foundation a corsetiere is faced with resistance from the client. It is generally a resistance towards the wearing of a laced foundation, which is perhaps associated in her mind with heavy garments and “grandmother” styles. How then do you overcome this problem ? When you are certain that the 305 is the correct choice, how do you set about convincing your client ? This is the question we put to a corsetiere recently.

“The most important point is to be wearing a 305 myself. I tell them that it is the only garment that will keep their tummies flat, and to prove it I show them the 305 that I am wearing. Then I sit down in it so that they can see my tummy is still flat, and I bend down to demonstrate the 305’s flexibility. If necessary I put on my girdle to show the difference."

5) Support without constriction, and for no-one is this principle more apt than a professional concert singer. She needs to look attractive on stage, but any constriction over the diaphragm would be likely to affect her performance and at best be most uncomfortable. Little wonder then when a client of Mrs. O. of Leeds attended a concert at which her daughter was appearing as an amateur, and a professional singer was also on the bill, the professional singer was immediately interested in Spirella. Mrs. O. arranged to have a 305 and 31 made for her, sending special instructions for the 305 to be made “not too tight over the diaphragm.” Reports Mrs O.: “The difference was very marked and she rushed home delighted and determine to get her evening dresses altered to her new shape. I think she will be a very good advert for Spirella.” April 1969

6) While fitting a client we were discussing the radio programme Desert Island Disks, writes corsetiere Mrs. A., of Croydon. Said the client: “You know, if I were asked what luxury I would take to a desert island it would be a spare 305.” May 1965

7) The life expectancy of a corset is quite personal. If worn daily for 16 hours between rising and retiring there is still a great variation in how often the garment is washed, is it rotated with other corsets, is it worn next to the skin and how much does the client perspire? All affect the longevity of the corset; however, the following letter from June 1958 is remarkable.

Five years of constant wear in a hot climate is a stiff test for the best of foundations, but a Spirella 305 in Orchid material gave perfect satisfaction under such conditions. The garment belonged to the sister of corsetiere Mrs. L. P. of London. Mrs. P. reports: “I supplied my sister with the garment in 1953, when she was in England on holiday from Rhodesia. Soon afterwards she returned home. I heard recently that the stitching on the garment has now gone after five year's wear in a hot climate which meant that the garment was often drenched in perspiration and had to be washed almost daily.”

8) Taking a number of St. John nursing cadets to camp is very much a full time job, but Mrs. E. D., of Peterborough, nevertheless found it a profitable exercise. She writes: “We travelled to camp on a very hot day, pitched our tents and did the necessary initial chores. It was so hot that I decided, along with most of the other officers, to have a shower and wash my smalls. Being good campers, we had already erected a clothesline, and on this I pegged my newly washed black 325 in Bouquet and white 413 bra. They created such interest that I finished up with five orders for Spirella.   December 1959

Indeed, a 325 would draw attention. This formidable device with front and back lacing would be quite a novelty to the nursing cadets, even in 1959.

9) There are many letters extolling the virtues of wearing the correct foundation garment and a little bit of name dropping helps as well.

Praise for Spirella comes from last year's Mayoress of Worthing, who is a client of Mrs. H. The office makes great demands on the energy of the Mayoress, who is required to undertake a lot of work which can be very tiring, but, according to our correspondent, the Mayoress found the wearing of Spirella foundations a great help. Corselette style 709 (for evening wear), girdle 205 and bra 31 (for everyday wear) and pantie style 51 (useful to wear with shorter skirts) were all very much in favour with the Mayoress.  July 1970 

10) A client of Mrs. C of Birmingham, was recently presented to the Queen Mother. "I was wearing a 515 corset and a 384 brassiere and felt as confident and as well corsetted as the Queen Mother herself," remarked the client.  July 1960

11) Air hostess who makes heads turn for a second look in Oxford, is pretty, 20-year-old, Penny Bolton. One reason is that Penny’s uniform is quite unusual thereabouts – she being the only air hostess  in the area for Pan American Airways. The other reason is her smart and “second glance” appearance. This Penny attributes to Spirella foundations, which keep her figure trim. April 1961

 

12) A client of Mrs. H. of Liverpool, ordered her third set of foundations in three years and when placing the order remarked: “They will be ready in time for the football season won’t they?” As one of Liverpool’s keenest supporters, this client (who has trouble with her back) apparently never misses a match, home or away, and finds her 325 invaluable because of the many hours standing that her hobby entails. September 1963

 

Below are two excerpts from the Spirella magazines of 1960 that show what corsetieres had to put up with:-

  

13)  The rewards gained from wearing a good corset were quite diverse. Remember we are back in the 1960's, holidays are now affordable after the end of rationing and the war years. The great British lower-middle class flocked to Butlin's holiday camps. With a tightly-laced 305 and a pointy brassiere (right), and not a little breath-holding (!), you could even win British's Best Granny award; and doesn't she look good! August 1961.

 

14)  My husband loves to recounts the hoary old story of the four brassiere cup sizes:- "Egg cup, coffee cup, tea cup and challenge cup." Spirella beat my husband to the story by decades (in January 1959) when a shop assistant described three brassiere sizes:- "The Totalitarian - designed for suppression of the masses; the Salvation Army - to uplift the fallen; and the Political Agitator - to make mountains out of molehills." My husband agreed that Spirella's story was better!

 

 

15)  One of our favourites that we recently re-discovered in the 1938 Spirella fitters' manual is the story of the American lady  who jumped from the blazing wreck of the liner 'Morro Castle'. It prompted us to include a few related articles.

Spirella set great store by their corsets' life-saving properties, although I doubt if any withstood the test that my aunt tried. In a London Hotel (and thank Goodness it was the foyer), she entered the open doors of the lift, and fell into the machinery below, since the lift had stuck one floor above. She was recovered unharmed, although completely filthy and covered in grease. The hotel staff were most solicitous (as well they might be), and provided a room and a doctor in short order. "It's amazing" he said, "she could have been killed." Ever after my aunt claimed that her sturdy corsets were her salvation, although we suspected that the cushioning effect of numerous gin & tonics had something to do with it!

 

 

 

 

 

16)  Spirella always encouraged their clients to purchase three garments. This expense could be justified (at least by a persuasive corsetiere) to extend the life of the garments. One in the wash, one on the body and one in the drawer was the catchphrase. Imagine our local corsetiere's dismay when trying to push this technique on an elderly lady who resolutely refused to have more than one corset. "Old Mrs. Smith across the road is the same size as me. I borrow one of hers when mine is in the wash!" came the thrifty explanation.

The cartoon on the right goes on to show a similar economy and I know of numerous examples of girdle sharing amongst the impecunious. A friend of mine complained throughout her adolescence that all she ever got to wear were her sister's 'hand-me-downs' and this included her girdles that often, by the time they reached the unfortunate girl, were past their elastic prime. One of her first purchases from her first salary was a brand new girdle, all of her own!

The article on the right goes right for the jugular and pushes the bounds of credulity, however, that's modern thinking. The article was written for the May 1940 US Spirella Magazine and would not have been untypical of the era.

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18)  The sketch here was taken from the Spencer Magazine of 1963. Although Spencer was a rival to Spirella, they would merge in 1989 (in Britain) as an act of self-preservation. Spirella had similar corsets in 1963 but the emphasis was more on fashion, whereas Spencer had a thriving 'surgical' branch.

 

It is interesting to note that such formidable corsets were being worn in the early 1960s. This would not last much longer as the medical profession turned from being impressed by these intricate confections of satin, brocade and steel to encouraging exercise and the wearing of drab velcro-fastened abominations, but only if you must.

Going back to some of the Spencer medical brochures of the 1920s reveals some fairly dramatic remedies:

From 1924 comes the sad tale of Mrs T. from Dayton, Ohio. After giving birth to her third child, Mrs. T. started to suffer from chronic back and neck pain. Her doctor suggested that the weight of her grossly enlarged breasts during pregnancy had exacerbated an already weak spine and he suggested that she visit her local Spencer consultant. The consultant had already provided her with two back-laced brassieres to accommodate her burgeoning size and now fitted her with a firm spinal corset with underbelt (similar to that on the left). The corset was furnished with shoulder straps to hold her back into the four rigid spinal steels

 

 

Cartoons

 

These cartoons were published in the Spirella magazines of the 1960's and simply and elegantly reinforce the story of the sales technique.

                         

Spirella played on the exaggerated shape that one might achieve. Not one of Spirella's own (right), but a modification of a card that even my husband remembers from 1969! "As one of your loyal supporters, I just want to say .." The image reappears in numerous cards of that period on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

    

The cartoon of the corsetiere in the church analysing a potential client's defects was taken from a true story in 1957, nevertheless, the editor made apologies to the church beside the cartoon.

    

The style changes over the years. The last three cartoons are older than the others coming from that period between the Wars. The magazines from this period paid far more attention to the morality of hard work and diligence than the frippery of the later years.