The 205 Girdle

In the same way that the 305 corset was the mainstay of the laced lower foundation, the 205 girdle was a success story that spanned three decades and was a favourite of housewife, diplomat's wife and lady politicians alike. Born out of the Second World War, the design had to change in the late 1950's in response to the better fed and pampered women of a new generation. Rather than change the nomenclature that was associated with a successful product, Spirella moved the elastic gores at the front of the garment and kept the rest, including the name, unchanged.

On the left is the original style (pre-1956) and on the right (post-1956). The difference is the placement of the elastic gores in the front panel. Everything else is the same, even the option of soft back lacing. Only differences in elastic, as lycra replaced the older rubber-based varieties, suspender design and plastic rather than metal zippers indicate the passage of time.

One of the reasons for the incredible success of this girdle was its firm, yet compliant construction. The two elastic panels at the back allowed for more freedom of movement that a convention corset yet the 205 could be ordered with 'soft' back-lacing that Spirella was at pains to emphasise was for 'figure fluctuations' rather than serious control. The 205 turned up in all the countries that produced Spirella and in an amazing variety of materials and shapes.

The older 205 girdles with hooks and eyes (left) and the later style (right). These girdle on the left is over half a century old and is still wearable today!

 

It might look like a suspender belt, and that was almost certainly its purpose, but this is none other than a 205 girdle with the soft back lacing! It was a popular choice amongst those whose weight tends to fluctuate.

 

The last two examples comes from the Spirella factory in Malmö, Sweden. The charming details of an embroidered rose above the suspenders is a touch rarely seen on British garments (other than those made specifically for weddings), but was common on Swedish models. The left girdle is made from a filmy nylon  fabric; that on the right from a sturdy satin brocade. One for summer, one for winter one presumes!

 

 

This page took many years to put together simply because it took us a while to identify the mystery girdle as we called it. We have documented our confusion below!

 

The Unidentified Girdle

 

Here are two Spirella girdles from an estate, and, I'm ashamed to admit, we couldn't identify the model number of one of them (right). I checked through old brochures to find it, but I can’t. I have several of this style and have seen photographs of them at auction, but never with a model number. It's very much a British Spirella 1960's girdle but it simply doesn't feature in my records. The other girdle from the same estate is clearly a 234 and both appear to be of the same age and condition. At first I thought that it might be an older style that was copied by Spirella at a customer’s request, however, with so many examples around I doubt it. It may be that the girdle is a derivative of the 206 where two elastic centrally placed gores was an option over the normal one piece (Spirella had many options). My brochures certainly cover the period of the girdle but it is not displayed.

 

A standard 234 girdle is shown above with the 'mystery' girdle below. They came from the same owner; note how the shorter 234 has longer suspenders so that the wearer could use the same length of stocking. The materials are the same, a satin finish brocade and the ages are the same (metal zip and identical suspenders). The construction is very similar, that is unyielding fabric with two vertical elastic sections at the back.

 

We've been searching our archives to identify this Spirella girdle and we simply can find no photographic reference, however, the 1961 Spirella brochure shows a drawing of women in various girdle styles and the mystery girdle is featured in a cartoon (right), but not in the following pages. How frustrating! Spirella often re-used its artists' work (to save money), so the girdle may be a late 1950's style.

 

An American Spirella girdle of the 1950's from our collection had washing instructions attached referring to models 205, 206, 210, 215, 216 and 220, the latter four designations being unknown to us. American and British designations did differ latterly, so is the mystery girdle one of those four. To confuse matters further, we unearthed one of these girdles from our collection (we have two), and it has a nylon zip that Spirella introduced in May 1958 (and then only on corselettes).  Now for a real conundrum, we have a few girdles with the corsetiere's tags and date of manufacture and we found an immaculate 206 dated from 1977. The fabric, the elastic on both gussets and suspenders, the zip and the suspenders' metal-work are identical to our mystery garment. The mystery girdle looks like it was made in the 1970's! Spirella often did copy client's favourite garments, so is this girdle style a late 1950's model copied much later?

 

Finally, another confusing piece of evidence. We found the mystery girdle at auction and inside is the American Spencer label "Spirella by Spencer." These companies were partners long before the British firms merged in the late 1980's.

On the left, a 1977 vintage 206 girdle constructed from identical materials to the mystery garment on the far right. In the centre is a

Spirella by Spencer!

 

The mystery girdle