Spirella started making their corsets in 1904. Over the years the factory built up quite a collection, as demonstrated above in September 1931. The collection was taken to America and shown to Marilyn Monroe prior to the making of the motion picture 'The Price and the Showgirl'. Although most of the cast wore Spirella made corsets recreated for the period, Miss Monroe did not, although the incorrect legend persists. On the other hand, celebrities as diverse as Mae West and Violet Carson (Ena Sharples of Coronation Street) did.

One hundred years on from 1904, the Spirella corset can still be purchased as a made-to-measure foundation, albeit re-incarnated as the Spencer 'posture corset' after the take over of Spirella (UK) in 1988. Spirella's best selling garment of all time was the 305 style corset described in

A Century of the Spirella 305 Corset

It could be constructed in the most fashionable style of the day, yet, with a few additions, it entered the complicated world of the 'surgical corset'; an ambiguous garment that bought relief to many ailments, both real and imaginary.

Surgical Corsets


Early Days

Spirella’s first corsets were produced in 1904 in America and 1910 in Britain. In those days, they were made by experienced corset seamstresses who operated the heavy-duty sewing machines necessary to tackle the heavy brocades and coutils. The production lines and specialist trades (such as corset lacer) would come later. Despite the labour intensive manufacturing process, Spirella’s corset reached the furthest corners of the Empire as the photograph from Rhodesia in 1916 shows!

The pictures below featuring women in their corsets are dated 1910, and come from the Spirella archives. Their provenance is uncertain and they may not even be Spirella’s own products, however, they are certainly typical of the corsets of that period. What is not typical is the candid, even brazen display of the lady on the right. This appears to come from the stalls of the ‘French’ postcard vendor rather than the staid corridors of Letchworth.


In the early Spirella magazines, all corset pictures featuring women were drawings, until the first real photographs appeared in 1930. The sepia pictures below come from a remarkable series of stereo photographs which were much in vogue in the 1930's. A small stereo viewer and half a dozen images were available to corsetieres to show to their clients. What these clients might have thought of the incredibly posed, and rather unnatural situations depicted, has been lost to history.  

  By 1940, the poses were more natural although frequently, the garment is largely hand-drawn over the human figure. This was more to improve the contrast and the detail of a mediocre photograph rather than any form of modesty. The picture on the right from 1941, is a good, clear photograph of a model wearing the latest Spirella foundation. The elegant, 'art deco' pose and the far away romantic look would become a feature of corsetry advertising for decades.

Spirella, like all the major manufacturers, used pictures from the uncompromisingly realistic to the romantic ideal. It has to be said at this point that the romantic ideal is a figment of the male imagination, however, women would always attempt to conform to this ideal, which is sadly not the case today. Below are some of Spirella's best models demonstrating the 305 corset in 1954. It is just possible that these women might have worn such a corset. Bear in mind that they were born around 1925 and would have been teenagers in the late 1930's. By the 1950's, however, it would only be their Mothers who would, I feel, be in the market for such a garment. The most unlikely combination of garments is shown on the left. If you need a corset, then you need a long-line brassiere to control the inevitable surplus of flesh that will appear at the top of the corset. Nevertheless, it does not detract from the elegance of the poses. Would a 70 year-old Granny really imagine that she could recapture her youth by donning one of Spirella's best corsets? I doubt it!




Corsets of this period are rare, however, below is shown a genuine Spirella from 1917 complete with label and limited guarantee.


Two things immediately strike me. Firstly, how similar the corset is to a Spirella 305 of the 1980's (seven decades later). The length and the height above the waist are the main difference in cut and fashion. The opned corset shows the internal tape at waist level.

Secondly, the major difference is the suspender length. Stockings were far shorter then, barely reaching above the knee, and so the suspender had to extend well below the bottom corset rim. This is a beautiful example of a model 902.