A Discussion on the Merits of French Corsetry

 

Whilst inspecting the recently arrived French corsetry, I was struck once again by that country's passion for the colour blue. The brassiere and girdle in question are exquisite confections of blue satin, and the strength of the elastic in the girdle is, shall we say, formidable. The French are highly Nationalistic, however, to wear the National colour beneath one's clothes seems improbable. I'm at a loss to explain this colour other than the fact that many women just look good in blue. Another mystery that we have solved is the peculiar horizontal boning that persists to this day in Belgian and French lower foundations. In British corsetry, the abdomen is shaped by vertical bones. These bones cannot be too long otherwise the lower ends will dig into the wearer's thighs when she sits down. Spirella even incorporated a moveable front bone in their measuring garments, so that the corsetiere could easily determine the correct length to what was called 'the crease'. (Incidentally, the term 'crease' is easily explained by looking at a well worn corset. It will have irremovable horizontal creases exactly where the wearer's thighs meet the abdomen). In a woman with heavy thighs therefore, the front boning stops before it has its full control on the lower abdomen. 

Various solutions are possible:-

 

Spencer tried a 'floating' lower panel that could be boned, yet would ride up when the wearer sat down. However, this was more common in maternity cases.

 

Mae West, amongst others, elected to have full length boning, accepting the disadvantage that she was unable to sit down at all!

 

It seems that the French have the best solution of all. Make the bones horizontal below the crease. That way they still keep the lower abdomen controlled yet allow the wearer to sit in comfort.

 

Itís quite an experience to observe at first hand, a garment that one assumed had vanished forever in the 1980ís. The French make blue girdles to this day (www.daxon.co.uk), however, the sheer weight and quality of this garment dates it as old stock from several decades past. It was, in its day, the equivalent of the M&S firm control girdles of the 1970ís, however, the French girdle is altogether heavier (and the M&S version is by no means a lightweight). A big difference is in the zip. Both have metal zips, which, in the 1970ís were notoriously prone to fail, and for that reason, the zips are backed by hooks-and-eyes that take the strain of the garment. The zip is purely to cover the hooks with a smooth line. In the French girdle there are no less than 12 heavy-duty hooks, whereas the British version has but three. We can only surmise that the French garment was designed to be worn much tighter than its British counterpart. Certainly, the front paneling of the French girdle would flatten the most protuberant of abdomens in a way that would normally only be achieved by a corset.  Compare these two below. On the left the French, and on the right, the British. 

The French is 14"/17" long (front/back), and the British 131/2"/15". The French weighs 16oz., and the British 13oz. Even accounting for the longer French, that's 18% heavier. The French is sized 26/36" (waist/hip - 65/90), and the British 29/39", although their width measurements are identical at 26" for the waist.

This backs up the notion that the British girdle is a lighter, less strong garment that will stretch to accommodate a waist 3" larger than the unstretched measurement. Yet, the M&S was one of the strongest girdles of the 1960's and 70's on either side of the Atlantic. It seems that the French just went that bit further.

 

It's funny sometimes, how a simple question, or the acquisition of a new and interesting piece, can stimulate so much thought. The day that I unwrapped the French girdle from its package in the post I simply exclaimed "What a beautiful girdle". My husband knows that I am fairly well inured to the trappings of the boudoir, so he immediately came to see what all the fuss was about. We've discussed this piece in so much detail that this entry in Ivy's Diary is in danger of rambling out of control. Nevertheless, we'll note our thoughts and then, perhaps, transfer an edited version onto our European corsets page, such is the luxury of operating on the internet. (It was, of course, my husband who measured and weighed the garment and then started a detailed comparison with one of our all-time favourites mentioned above, the M&S satin elastic girdle. He also raised another interesting point whilst my kitchen scales were be being used. A similar girdle, with an equally firm reputation, from that Swedish Classic, Miss Mary weighed in at a flimsy 8 oz.! Enough. This must be the subject of a future article.)

 

Bunty was amazed at the blue colour and immediately grabbed a corset that she thought would fit her, and a satin brassiere that was equally obviously not going to fit. She enjoyed the corset which held her tummy quite firmly yet in a pleasing manner. She failed to understand what the additional elastic bands were supposed to do. It seems that the stretch had gone out of them. Cramming Bunty's 48F's into a 42C receptacle was doomed to failure, however, she posed briefly for a picture before divesting herself rapidly of the brassiere. "What a shame" she said, "If the corset had been made from the satin material of the brassiere, I don't think you'd have seen it back again"!