French Corsetry, Colour 

and the Use of Satin

In Britain we are used to the 'traditional' colours of corsetry; white, tea rose and black. Latterly beige or flesh colours have predominated, however, despite Marks and Spencer's strange flirtation with flower patterned underwear in the 1970's, the traditional colours are those that sell and are still sold. Not so the French, who for years ran a line of royal blue coloured underwear.

Below and left are some examples from the French high street. The use of satin is not just evident, it is a fundamental part of many of the brassieres, corsets and girdles on display. 


The brassiere (left) apart from its color is an otherwise unremarkable long-line brassiere. The girdle hooks, and two rows of hooks-and-eyes were standard wear for many women throughout the world. The colour, however, marks that lady as distinctly French.


Dark blue satin-faced girdles (right - Calais 1975) were popular in the 70ís and early 80ís and were a common sight in the shop windows of the French corsetieres. Itís an odd colour for a foundation garment. These girdles were often laced at the back, once again hinting at a transition period, since the lacing served only to stretch the elastic rather than compress the wearer and in my mind at least, qualifies the garment as a laced girdle, and not a corset.


Another very French feature is the suspenders that button on for ease of removal. The hotter climates endured by the French women suggest that from time to time, our girdled maitresse would dispense with her stockings.


Even when satin was not incorporated, such as in the corsets below, the material is very, very sturdy, yet pleasingly patterned.


One feature above all in French corsetry is that they are fairly 'bullet-proof', and used a denier of elastic far heavier than the British and Americans.! The girdle on the right can hold in the tummy almost as well as a corset.


The combination of horizontal and vertical boning on the girdle is a very common feature of French and Belgian garments and is rarely seen on garments from other countries.


Once the satin panels at the front have been admired, there is little else of obvious femininity since the back panels were usually unadorned, heavy elastic. Perhaps the satin was simply for the view that the wearer saw in the mirror.



If our French matron required the assistance of a laced foundation, there were plenty of styles and colours from which to chose.

French beige is dealt with in part 1, however, pink, both in a muted tone and in a rather violent hue is evident in these brassieres. The laced back of the shocking pink version is not for frivolity, since this is a maternity brassiere, the laces accommodating the variable size of the breasts.

I remember in the 1980's, seeing a young mother and baby in Westbroek Park in Den Haag, Holland. The outline of the laced brassiere through her thin blouse was unusually obvious.

I've concentrated mainly on the French passion for strong colours. This was by no means the rule, and beige was probably the most popular. The beautiful white girdle on the right with the heavy satin and elastic panels is classic French. The weight, the buttoned attachments of the suspenders and the incredibly effective moulding of the figure are Gallic without a doubt.

One feature peculiar to both French and Belgian girdles, is the beautiful, sumptuous satin front and the rather plain functional back (right). Is this because of Gallic narcissism? Were girdles constructed purely for their front view in the mirror?






Of course, black features strongly in all corsetry cultures representing the two extremes of bereavement and sexuality. The brassieres on display below are extremely elegant. Indeed, all satin foundations allow the material of the overlying clothes to hang and to slide without impediment, and, to connoisseurs of  this fine material, a faint but distinct susurration of fabric contact is discernible.



The corset on the left (1968), shows a typical European feature of the late 60's. Rather than take the major step from corset to girdle, the offset lacing was a temporary compromise, for this corset laces on the right, with the hook and eye fastening on the left. It is a feature of many Spanish corsets of the same period. 

We finish these memories of the French passion for substantial corsetry made uniquely chic by attention to material, colour, with the picture on the right.

It's a well-known picture that appears in many places, and close scrutiny will reveal that it's actually a composite of two photographs. The expense of hiring a model means that hundreds of similar, but subtly different photographs will be taken. A few will make it to publication and the rest will be lost forever. The full girdle is only shown with the model's face in shadow. The model's face is only seen with the girdle cropped. We took the liberty of combining both photographs since this IS French corsetry.


The girdle that graces the top of the page was made by the French manufacturer 'JIP'. This firms seems to have enjoyed quite some success in France; witness the advertisements and even a key-ring!