Letters to Ivy
We love receiving and exchanging correspondence. After all, how can one learn without contact from the outside world. For letters to be included, we have been careful that they satisfy our criteria. The writing style, dates and attitudes help us distinguish between real memories, and wish fulfilment. Not that some of the wish fulfilment letters are anything but beautifully constructed, it is simply that there are too many inconsistencies for inclusion here. The Ivy Leaf web site is very much a husband and wife affair, and we understand the attitudes of both the male (romantic and often impractical) and the female (practical but also narcissistic). These attitudes come across so clearly in most letters. Inclusion on this page also requires that the letter is not simply a memory, but that it adds to the lost understanding of corsetry, or backs up some opinion expressed elsewhere on the site.
Memoires de JACQUES
Ghost of Spirella
The Bra Buyer
Memories from Mrs. C
My Mother-in-Law's Girdle
Joanne's Camp Corsets
The Dawn of the Panty-Girdle
Memories from Holland
The GM's Wife
The Trouble with Zippers
Turn to the Left
Memories of the American Panty-Girdle
Letters from the Corsetière's Clients
I appreciate your site particularly because it reminds an old man of such fond times. I met my first wife (deceased in 1971) in 1950. She was a corsetière by trade, but worked as a saleswoman in linen - corsetery in Geneva. You can thus imagine the underclothing that I saw in our residence:- girdles, guêpières, long-line bras and even corsets.
The representatives of the firms offered all their innovations to her and, although measuring 173 cm tall (5’ 7”) and 65 cm (26”) at the waist, wore a girdle, more or less reinforced according to circumstances, both morning and in the evening. I always appreciated her shape when she wore a guêpière (French Merry-Widow) or a long-line bra without straps with the same kind of corset as the one shown at the beginning of your Dior page.
It was the sight of this model "Carles Kraffy" that gave me the idea to write to you. Although it squeezed her, she frequently wore it, generally with a long-line bra. When she was asked if it hurt to be so strongly tightened, she answered, "It is necessary to suffer to be beautiful, but I do not suffer, being accustomed since I was 16 years old.”
My Guêpière is killing me.
I hope you enjoy this anecdote that I feel captures the spirit of the times. It occurred in the autumn of 1970, when we were invited to the family of my wife for a birthday party. As usual, she was very elegant, wearing a tight, largely machine-made dress. Underneath, she wore a very long guêpière sans bretelles baleinée (what an elegant way to describe a boned, strapless corselette – Ivy) that moulded her from chest to the top of her thighs. The guêpière closed at the front by hooks and eyes under a zip fastener. I am aware of all these details having helped with the fastening, and the result was always spectacular; bosom high placed, uplifted, and with the waist cinched so tightly.
The party went well and afterwards, it was necessary for us to return home, some 85 km, by car. Hardly on the way, my wife asked me “Stop as soon as you can because I ate too much and my guêpière is killing me; it should be loosened.” A little further, I stopped at a small discreet car park. My wife left the car, opened the back of her dress and asked me to undo the zip fastener from the guêpière and to open the ten hooks and eyes. On returning to the car, she gave an “ouf” of satisfaction! It is the only time where I saw her complaining to have such a tight size. (It's worth looking at another French lady, Praline, to understand why the "ouf" was so heart-felt! - Ivy)
To speak about her bras, I will say to you that her breasts were a large concern for her, and for two reasons:- they were not very developed (A-cup) and, in spite of their small volume, they were not firm. Consequently, I never saw my wife without a padded bra. In the moments of intimacy, she wore a model supporting only the lower part of the breast and that was appropriate to me perfectly. Thereafter, her breasts became size B (She would be wearing something like a Gossard Wonderbra – Ivy). Unsupported, however, they were always falling and thus in a model without straps, she always needed a well-boned (baleiné) long-line bra. As I have mentioned previously, she never left home without attention to her underclothing. Even in the house, she almost always wore a girdle, generally open. Thereafter, she started to wear panty-girdles. If she leaned forward, according to the length of the blouse or the sweater that she wore, it happened that her girdle was visible at the back. She said then "That is good for me. Everyone knows that I wear a girdle and that makes publicity for my shop"!
I am not an expert on costume, but I am a part time researcher, and my interest lies not so much in the ‘technical content’, but in the social and human aspects. There is a lot of evidence to show that women in the 19th century (and probably before that too) saw corsets and stays not only linked to figure, but to gentility. The higher up the social scale you were, the weaker your back was, and therefore the more you needed support.
I was fascinated by the picture of flexible stays in your history of Spirella section. I suspect this is a 1920s photo? Today we think of Spirella as being tight and rigid, although, as you say, Spirella was a lot more flexible than the late 19th century corsets. My question is “ how would a middle aged woman in the 1920s see this picture?” I suspect that it would confirm her worst fears that the modern generation were not wearing proper corsets. If you can bend like that woman in the photograph, then do not have proper support! It’s my opinion that the Victorian lady would not want to bend like that and her 19th century corsets would prevent it anyway. I don’t want to criticise Spirella, but was there a ‘these are not proper corsets’ reaction at first?
How very appropriate is this question in the light of this comment from the Spirella magazine:- “To the uninitiated, the word Spirella all too often conjured up a vision of unyielding strong satin, rows of hooks and eyes, yards of lacing, and bones, bones and more bones!”
The flexible stay picture is, indeed, from the 1920’s. It’s a very interesting point you raise. Spirella gets its name from the spiral wound steel, invented by ‘Pa’ Beaman, and so their corsets always had a degree of flexibility. They could, however, and often were constructed using conventional bones. I imagine that the firmly corseted matrons of Edwardian era would have predicted dire consequences for any girl even trying to adopt such a flexible posture. In those days, Spirella could accommodate both traditional and modern figures. Sadly this marketing flexibility was lost in the 1980’s and Spirella was consequently doomed!
Further on the subject of flexibility, I saw your comments on ‘bending’ in a Spencer in your visibility section. I remember a friend in the 60’s having a corset like that, and she certainly could not bend. However, how would this garment have been marketed? Surely not as a corset to do you housework in?
Spencer, although very much in the fashion conscious market, also concentrated more on the ‘surgical’ or orthopaedic end of the market than Spirella ever did. Often, highly restrictive corsets still had the choice of pretty materials. The corset looked like a fashion garment, however, bending, as you suggest, was not an option if a poorly back was the wearer’s complaint. Women who wore a Spirella 305 with spinal steels were pretty rigidly encased, however, with the normal 305 with the spiral bones, golf, tennis and (according to Spirella) moderate gymnastics were even possible!
Lastly, did Spirella produce anything like the children’s liberty bodice? It’s interesting that the Symington liberty bodice was first produced as freedom garment in comparison to 19th century children’s corsetry. However, I have several accounts from women who were young in the 1920s, and they remember the liberty bodice as a warm, but also quite a restricting garment. I suspect that middle-class mothers who were aged 35 in 1925 (born in 1890) would have known childhood corsetry themselves at the age of 10 or so. They probably would have seen it as ‘healthy, right and proper’ to expect their own daughters to have some support from an early age? This must have been a marketing opportunity for Spirella?
Spirella did indeed market ‘bodices’ and even corsets for girls as young as seven. These were designed for support (that hangover from Victorian times that the gentle lady could barely hold herself erect without reasonable scaffolding).
In about 1960 in Croydon I had an aunt aged about 50 who worked as a secretary /PA. To work she wore a formidable corset (can’t remember if it was Spirella, sorry). When she got home in the evening, “her corset was killing her” and she would change into what I regarded as a fairly strong girdle. The idea of going about the house without any support was impossible for her.
Whether physically or psychologically uncomfortable, to go without foundations was a crime, and my mother was no exception. To a woman who has worn corsets all her life, a support is a physical necessity.
Do you have any information on what you may or may not eat when wearing a tight corset? I can remember when I was young old ladies saying “never eat xxxx in a tight corset”. I think it was radishes, but I can’t remember!
Radishes and corsets probably are related to maternity complications. Flatulence and maternity are often uncomfortably linked. Certainly, food like radishes that are notorious for exacerbating this problem should be avoided, as should tight corsets (but not properly supporting corsets of course). I suspect that this is where the radish and corset association is derived.
Another radish story goes back to Vivian Leigh in the film “Gone with the Wind.” She was required to retch when asked to eat a radish and it exceeded her acting limitations (or inclinations). Olivia de Havilland eventually provided the necessary sound-track. Miss Leigh was reputedly tightly-laced for the film, but in fact, by the standards of the period, her dressed waist is barely less than her natural waist.
Carol kindly provided a charming story about her early experiences with the formidable M&S 'firm control' girdle.
Ghost of Spirella
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sarah, and I'm a 17-year-old college student from California. I've been making corsets (usually Victorian types, very sturdy, with flat steel boning) for two years.
I've been reading your site for several months, and a couple weeks ago I was inspired to construct a corset after the spirit of the old Spirellas and Spencers your site describes. The Victorian corset, whilst an admirable garment, really looks a bit strange under a modern skirt and cardigan. Since I'm a bit on the heavy side (Spirella might have described me as a "60 figure with sway-back poise and excessive thigh flesh"), I need some kind of support. I tried a high street panty-girdle for a while (it had no legs), but, while it flattened my belly some, that stretchy piece of dubious engineering also flattened my waist.
I went back to my corset-making skills and drafted a pattern that would give a shape similar to a 1950s model 305. While my new corset is no shine on a real Spirella (it is actually a very good copy – Ivy), it does its work rather well. The photographs of the corset (below), were taken just before I'd finished the top and bottom edges.
Details of the corset show the strengthening tape sewn inside the garment around the waist.
The bulge over the top edge does not exist when I wear the corset over a thin under-vest; it's a consequence of the thickish jumper I had on in the photos.
I copied the silhouette from a few photographs on your site, but the seams are placed the best I knew how. I used a very heavy cotton duck material that wouldn't stretch if used for a game of tug-of-war. I use a similar weight for at least the strength layers of every corset I make. It works almost as well as proper corset coutil fabric and costs about half as much. I've never had any problems with splitting or warping while using cotton duck. The bones are non-spiral; I'm just too substantially built to trust modern spiral boning. I have a few pieces of antique spiral that are nearly as stiff as modern flat boning. If I have to shorten flat bones, not owning a pair of tin snips, I bend the bone over as far as I can and then give it a good whack with a hammer. Unfortunately this generates sharp edges, so I wrap the cut end of the bone with medical tape.
Strangely enough, my expertise doesn't extend very far beyond corsetry. I think this may be due to never really sewing anything else whilst in my developing years of sewing, say 12 – 14 years-old at the time I had a strange fixation on Elizabethan peasant bodices. The first pattern I ever drafted was a peasant bodice when I was 12; the front was boned with sticks from my backyard!
The corset is definitely going to be a regular item of wear. It's quite comfortable and I need something to keep a nice line under my skirts (trousers never fit correctly so I don't wear them!) My panty-girdle never quite cut the mustard because of the bulges it would create by pushing out bits of flesh above the waist and around the leg-holes. The latter was especially uncomfortable.
I've had a strange thing about my figure for most of my life. When I was seven years old, I caught sight of my awful posture (shoulders hunched, bum out) in a shop window reflection. I straightened up in shock and kept straight. I took some ballet classes when I was ten (and am taking another at present), and ballet trains one to keep a straight back, shoulders down, belly in. I'm what an earlier age called "pleasingly plump" (though thinner than the camera would let on, so a good foundation is still necessary!
My friends have commented over the years on my posture, but they take the corsetry as a foible. My female friends are however quite willing to try on my corsets whenever I make a new pair. Unfortunately, there isn't much effect since they tend to be rather slimmer than I.
What a charming letter, and what an adventurous young lady! I really do think that she should have no fears about her figure any more - Ivy
Sarah asks some older acquaintances about corsetry
I recently had the opportunity to ask several older women (aged about 60 to 70) about their foundations. I promise that I did not just outright ask them if they wore girdles!
I conversed briefly with the first two ladies in the dressing room at a swimming pool. In response to my question "I study fashion design as a hobby, and I'm interested in corsetry. If you don't mind, could you elaborate on what kind of foundations mature ladies are wearing these days?"
Mrs A remarked that she "never wore a corset, girdle, tights, nylons" and jokingly said that she's sometimes lucky to wear knickers. On the whole, she was most candid, telling me that she had not worn a lower foundation of any sort since the 1960's. She does, however, have a friend, an elderly Asian lady, who wears a corset every day.
Her friend, Mrs B, was very similar, although her daughter apparently wears a shaper now and then (shapers being elastic garments with a bra top, reaching anywhere from the hips to mid-thigh. They're so stretchy one could shoot them across the room like rubber bands - I've tried!)
Several other ladies chimed in with stories of their old foundations, sister-in-laws who still wore girdles and so on.
I met Mrs C and Mrs D in the dressing room at my college, at which time I was getting dressed again after ballet class. Both ladies concurred that my corset was "cute" and "very flattering," and certainly did a very good job of pulling my belly in! I assured them of its comfort, and Mrs C reminisced about her graduation from high school. She remarked that she had on her tightest girdle, and was so nervous she forgot to eat, and so nearly fainted. Both ladies expressed relief at not wearing girdles anymore, but admired my figure.
I found a book entitled 'Everyday Fashions of the 1940s from the Sears Catalog' in the town library. I was mildly surprised to discover that Sears apparently sold panty-girdles, looking quite like their 1960s - 70s counterparts, all the way back in 1946. (Indeed, the panty-girdle became regularly available in the US just after the war, however, its position as the iconic American female's garment of the 1960's was over a decade away - Ivy.)
I asked Sarah if her own mother had had any influence on her choice of a corset, however, apparently not!
Mother, aged 40, has never worn a girdle. When in need of figure control, she turned to control-top tights, and still does. Grandmothers, aged
60 and 64, wore open-bottom girdles all through high school (graduating 1963 / 1960), switching to panty-girdles in the 1970s. Both ladies gave
up lower foundations in the early 1980s.
Great-grandmother, aged 93, was a world-class athlete (she made the US Olympic team for Berlin in1936, but her family could not pay for her
tickets). She later became a nurse. She has always been small and slender, and never wore more than a medium-control girdle. She still wears
a panty-girdle from time to time.
Sarah's New Corset - October 2006
I finally finished another corset! It's in the same style as the first (the "Ghost"), but with a few key changes:
1. The cotton canvas foundation fabric is covered in pink broadcloth.
2. The front panels are faced in pink satin.
3. The bones are now of a length amenable to sitting down.
4. It has stocking suspenders.
Notice the expression on the baby's face. It must be a novel experience to feel the corset's boning rather than
her mother's normal unfettered form. So many recollections from 50 years ago note the hardness of an aunt's
torso when she doled out her Christmas hug.
Another interesting point is the sewing machine in the background. Like Iris Norris, I imagine Sarah's
machine is an integral part of her life. - Ivy
My sister, Megan (20 yrs old), who is taller than I am but of roughly the same build, modelled it in the photographs
(the baby is my six-month-old niece).
I modified the earlier pattern, lengthening it over the rear and shortening it slightly in front. The boning ends about 2"
from the bottom all around for ease of sitting.
Originally, I intended for the bottom to be level, with the front arch filled in with elastic, but I couldn't quite make the
elastic behave properly, so that idea was abandoned. The corset functions very well without it, anyway.
As before, the bones are held in separate casings, stitched to the inside of the corset. There is no waist tape this time;
the corset really isn't laced tight enough to make it necessary.
I don't think poor Megan strictly enjoyed the experience. When I finished lacing her in, she said "I feel like I am going to DIE!"
She's used to just ‘hanging free.’ Nevertheless, she survived, but no new converts were won to the cause of traditional corsetry.
As far as plans for other corsets go, I'm working on a more conventional Victorian-styled one for an acquaintance in
New York State, and have also planned a reproduction of a 1911 corset in french blue satin (it's between blue and lavender in colour)
and black lace. I was at the fabric shop today and found a rather nice tea rose brocade that should make up nicely into a corset.
If the 1911 model works out (original pattern was a 19" waist and 32" hip; I had to enlarge to 26" waist and 38" hip),
I may use the brocade for another, but I am anxious to try other styles as well.
Happy Ending. Sarah gets married and wears a corset for the occasion. Doesn't she look lovely!
The Bra Buyer
In the mid-80's, I was a copywriter for the bra section of Sears Catalog. This was unfortunate because I hated bras. They never fit me. Inevitably, the trainee writers were assigned to the 'toughest' departments, automotive and ladies undergarments. It was no coincidence. Both sections were full of spec. copy and lots of charts with 6 pt. typeface.
I remember my first encounter with the bra buyer, who happened to look like Captain Kangeroo. Bras were draped over every available surface in his office including the desk lamp. After his first words of introduction, "Thirty-four B!" he said, "More engineering goes into bras than into the design of suspension bridges!" His enthusiasm was commendable. He led me to a room next to his office where a seamstress and a couple of 'fit' models (perfect size 6's, 8's, 10's, etc.) were trying on prototypes for the next season's designs. It was a surreal moment. One minute I was in an office decorated with ladies underwear. The next, I was surrounded by half-naked women trying on bras. It turns out, the only way to make a decent bra, is by designing the prototypes on women, not mannequins. To that end, the models reported what pinched, or was too loose, and the seamstress made the appropriate alterations.
At the end of the afternoon, the bra buyer sent me on my way with a pile of 34 B's, and the admonishment to 'live in' the product. Actually, those were the best fitting bras I ever owned. It turns out, I had been buying the wrong size!
Memories from Mrs. C
I've enclosed below a letter that we received recently. It is a simple thing to write, yet it expresses the interest of one of our readers in passing on the memories of themselves, their mothers, and sometimes their grannies. Without these letter, such memories would remain unrecorded. - Ivy.
Your excellent history of the surgical corset got me thinking about my grandmother (born 1899). I've checked as much of the detail through my own mum (now 80) to ensure its accuracy.
My grandmother was prescribed a surgical corset in 1936, when she was only 37. I understand it was a Spirella and they remained a company she favoured all her life. My mum says she also tried two Spencer's but found them rather heavy to wear and adjust.
I'm told that her initial Spirella's had to be worn both day and night and were really corsets within corsets as they all had a small inner front which had to be fastened and tightened before the rest of the garment. In the back there were 4 long 'steels' (2 on either side of her spine) and arched up between her shoulder blades. The front was long stretching from her groin to within 1/2 inch of her brassiere line and was tightened by a long column of slide hooks. (Both Spirella and Spencer used this method as an alternative to lacing - Ivy.) She wore similar corsets until her early 60's when she had to be fitted with a more rigid brace. An interesting aside, is that family photographs always seemed to be taken just after granny's new corsets were fitted!
Despite her unyielding undergarments, I remember a woman who managed most things; just slowing down a little with age. I suppose the pace of life generally was slower then.
My aunt Rose complained of 'back pain' continuously from about age 16. When she was 28, in the mid-50's, she was fitted with a surgical Spencer but she took it off as soon as she got home and never wore it again.
My own mum wore corsets when younger even when pregnant after the war, but I was never so enthusiastic. My corseting has been for fashion and special events rather than on a daily basis.
My Mother-in-Law's Girdle
When we went out together she always asked me to drive, and a regular trip was to Welwyn to visit the corsetiere, who from memory was a Miss. Wells. She always dressed in a black skirt and white blouse. Mum had been a widow for several years and in the 1950's was quite well built, hence the larger size Barcley. However, she went on a strict diet and trimmed down, the result of which was a drawer full of girdles and bras that were too big. When she had a clear out I saved several out of interest since they seemed far too expensive to discard.
My mother-in-law never ever wore panty-girdles and remained a girdle devotee until the day she died. She passed this fashion on to my wife who was brought up to wear a girdle from the age of 15. When we married she always wore rubber Playtex girdles until they discontinued them and manufactured a new girdle called the 'five pounds thinner girdle with the velvet touch'. This was the rubber girdle with a velvety kind of coating inside. It was sold in a long square cardboard tube, different to the round tube of the rubber garment. My wife wore these until the advent of the original mini-skirt fashion of the 1960's, when a girdle with suspenders became impossible to wear. She then converted to a Playtex panty-girdle with tights.
I remember this date because it is my mother’s birthday. I can remember everything about the visit to Peterborough with my parents, when I met Ethel Granger and her husband.
My dad was an engineering teacher in the technical college in Kings Lynn, Norfolk from the year I was born (1960) until his retirement in 1992. My mother was a typical British housewife of the 1950s and 60s except for her hobby of photography. In particular, she took pictures of famous people whenever she could get close enough. She now has thousands of pictures of famous (and some notorious) people who you would see on TV or in the newspapers. She took her camera everywhere she went.
On a Saturday in the Autumn of 1972, my dad was invited to visit the college at Peterborough because his college teacher from the 1950s was being honoured. That was William Granger, who my dad called Bill. We drove to Peterborough for the presentation at 1.30 pm but arrived early. As we walked in the main entrance of the college, Mr Granger and his wife met us, and recognised my dad. They both came across to us and all I could see were two elderly people in winter clothes, because it was a cold day. Mr Granger was tall and fat, and did not walk very well, but Mrs Granger was about my height (at age 12), and seemed very petite in every way. She wore a fur coat and I saw that she had had very large ear-rings pierced into her lobes – about the size of a sixpence, about ½ inch across, or the new metric half-penny that was introduced a year before. Also, she wore very high heels. Much higher than my mother’s or any others I had seen.
Nothing special happened until after the ceremony. Mr Granger as presented with a plaque and Mrs Granger got some flowers. There were speeches that I do not remember and there was food afterwards. As the crowd began to break up and leave, r Granger asked my mum and dad to join them for tea at their house. We followed them in our car. I remember that the Grangers had an old Rover and ours was a Ford. When we got to their house, the Grangers disappeared to the back part, where I think there must have been bedrooms. We sat down and a girl came in a few minutes, and brought a tray with tea things. I do not know who she was and assumed at the time that she was their daughter. But, looking back, she was too young so maybe she was a maid, or their granddaughter. We started to drink our teas before the Grangers came back and wondered what to do. I noticed that there was no cake or biscuits, and that was unusual then, but we had just eaten sandwiches at the college, so maybe they thought we would not eat any more.
After about 15 minutes, the Grangers came in together, with him leading the way. My dad stood up but Mr Granger motioned him to sit down again. Then he led Mrs Granger in front of us. She was still fully dressed in her outside clothes. Mr Granger untied the fur coat and lifted it off her shoulders. She had on a white dress with dark blue flowers all over it – a flower every three inches and as big as your palm. She wore a belt at her waist and it showed a very small figure. With nothing being said by anyone, Mr Granger went behind her and put his hands on her waist. We could see that his fingers overlapped at the front so he was holding her completely in his hands. He lifted her slightly, not off the floor but high onto her toes and I could see her high heels again. Then he let her down and brought a high-back chair for her to sit down. For the rest of the afternoon, they talked to my mum and dad, and I just listened. Mr Granger talked about his work and my dad’s career. Mrs Granger talked about her family and Mr Granger’s health, which seemed to worry her. Then for about 10 minutes before we left, both the Grangers talked about her waist. She had trained her figure since 1935, which was the year my dad was born, and still wore tight laced corsets to keep her waist tiny. Mrs Granger said that it was not always comfortable but she was used to it and Mr Granger liked her figure, so she kept to the corsets. She told us that Mr Granger laced her into her day corsets after breakfast each day, and gradually tightened them until late morning. In the evening, he changed her corsets for sleeping and she got accustomed to those for some hours before going to bed. She said they were tighter in her waist but not so long. She said that had been their routine for over thirty years. Mr Granger then sent out and brought in one of her corsets, for us to see. It was pink in colour and was quite rigid even as a bundle in his hands. He laid it out on the sofa and my mum ran her hands over it. I did not touch it but I could see that it was boned and had a metal fastener at the front. My mum had her camera and took some photographs of the Grangers and one of Mrs Granger holding up the white corset. She still has them. Shortly after that, we left.
On the drive home, in the dark, my mum kept saying that she thought Mrs Granger was weak to allow her husband to do that to her. My dad did not want to criticise Mr Granger, his teacher, but I could tell that he did not like the domineering way that Mr Granger treated his wife.
Now for the curious part of my story. At the age of 20, I met an older man and he asked me to wear girdles and later corsets, so I did. Other girls were giving up on those sorts of clothes about then but I loved him very much. For the next few years, I wore a corset every night for him and all the time at weekends. I got to like them but really they were his idea and his liking. So you see, I got to know how Mrs Granger felt. My relationship broke up and I stopped wearing corsets for some years. It is a long story, but I am now 45 years old and I still wear a corset or a firm girdle every day. My husband is very happy and so am I. The Grangers experience is almost the same as mine and I understand them now very well indeed. Except that my husband is not fat and treats me very well, and we never show off my corseted figure – not like Mr Granger did with his wife.
In 1993, I gave an interview to a university person, about my figure training. I was worried that my story would get into the papers but nothing happened and I have wondered ever since if the interview was real. The Grangers seemed to go out of their way to get publicity but I want my corseting to be private for my husband and me.
I just thought that I'd share two interesting things about the CAMP corsets that I recently acquired.
Almost all of the older ones have an area with an independent set of laces, either above or below the fan-lacing that gets tightened the old-fashioned way without pulley straps. An extra feature (albeit inconvenient) that targets either the buttocks or the waist depending on the corset. I've included two photos of the 113 and the 577 to illustrate.
Model 113 with curve refining laces (left)
Model 577 with five hole pulleys and waist cinching laces (right)
The other thing that's interesting (and perhaps unusual) in the lot that I acquired is that there were 10 extra corsets (that I had picked up for their parts if needed) in various stages of being adjusted by the corsetiere. They're all un-worn with tags and have the client's names on them with measurements, pins, notes etc. Garters were being moved, extra boning was being added, hips were being made smaller and elastic wedges were being added. It makes one wonder why they were never picked-up by the clients.
Ivy's response: Very interesting observations. I've often wondered why the beautifully simple fan-lacing was complicated by the conventional back-lacing. Jenyns did exactly the same! After some thought, I believe that we are still imagining the corset as a tight-
lacing rather than a supporting device. The conventional lacing was probably tightened once and then left at that. The corset could be released and put on simply by adjusting the fan-lacing.
The mystery of the 10 corsets tells the tale of a corsetiere past her prime and perhaps slow to complete orders. Imagine a shop contracting out a number of alterations and going out of business whilst awaiting the returned products. Pure supposition!
The Dawn of the Panty-Girdle
My sister spent a year in America as a student in the mid 1950's and returned there, married and settled down in 1959. I didn't see her again, although we corresponded until 1964, when she sailed back on the Queen Elizabeth to attend our brother's wedding. In the hectic days of reunion, fittings, stress and hairdo's before the big day, my sister expressed amazement that I still wore a girdle. What else would I wear I thought, I'd worn a girdle since I was 15. She showed me her panty-girdle and at first I was not impressed. "Aren't they hot?" I asked. Mother added that they might be rather unhygienic. Like me, or rather me being like her, she had worn a girdle since the Flapper era. Gran of course wore a corset like all Grans! We examined sister's smalls with disapproval although I though they might go well with slacks. Two years later I bought my first panty-girdle, loved it and have never worn anything else since. Mother converted the next year to a sturdier version of my own "I need decent support, you know", but within a few years was a fan of Markie's latest models. We were both upset when, for some years, Markie's stopped selling them. Gran retained her corsets until she died 1972. I doubt that she would ever have changed. She wore her first corset in the last century (sorry - two centuries ago) and couldn't really live without them.
Memories from Holland
When I stayed with my grandmother in Hilversum, I was sometimes asked to help lace her into her corsets. Putting on the garment was quite an undertaking and I could not help but gaze in amazement and not a little embarrassment. The corset was a strong flesh-colour (Tea Rose ? – Ivy) and fastened in front by means of hooks-and-eyes with laces up the back. After the corset was hooked around her torso, the laces were tightened to the required degree to mould her form. Finally, nylon stockings were attached to the suspenders that hung from the corset. Above the corset a camisole confined the bust and protected her body from the bones and laces. Knickers were not worn. My Grandmother weighed around 100 kg (220 pounds I think) and when she moved she always creaked a bit due to the tightness of her corsets.
In the Ferdinand Bolstraat in Amsterdam I saw above a shop a sign that proclaimed ‘CAMP corsets-gaines’. The proprietress of the shop told me that still, from time to time, such old-fashioned corsets were ordered. She placed these orders at the Basko factory in Slotermeer, Amsterdam. These days, they make mainly orthopaedic appliances, but she could show me some corsets and one that could be provided from stock. It seems that the Camp corsets were also imported from the United States where they had been fabricated since World War II under licence. Other makes at that time were Wala, Pastunette and Maxi.
In the previous century, the corset was mainly worn by the higher echelons of society but in this century (1900’s – Ivy) they were worn by all classes with the peak years from 1955 up to 1965. In those days, a factory such as Basko produced over 50,000 corsets per year. Since then, ladies have moved towards the corselet and step-in.
An important sales argument in this period was the health aspect. The corset would help retain a natural attitude, as a result of which the organs would function more healthily and the woman become fitter and would feel more at one with their body. The corsets were fitted by graduate corsetières. The examinations yielded a diploma and gave Camp corsetières the right to carrying a badge with a yellow cross and the text ‘Camp registered fitter’. All over the country, informative meetings were organised by the Camp fitters in their white uniforms. Of course, correcting poor posture and flattening unwanted bulges was also a strong argument. Thus I saw an advertisement from that time with a drawing of a man who looks at a woman with an improbably slim waist and exclaims, “I bet, she wears a CAMP corset.”
The GM's Wife
years ago now, but in the early 1970’s, I worked as a secretary to the
GM of a shipping company in London. One September I was asked to travel to
Newcastle to attend the GM at a ship launching. We travelled by train in
those days and only being allowed 2nd class, I had to share a
sleeping compartment (only 1st class slept alone on British
Rail). I never liked sharing rooms, however, such a rare trip was not to
be sneezed at. Imagine my amazement when I found that my cabin mate was
the MD’s wife. Was she ever put out. 1st class was full –
there was a DREADFUL mistake – some idiot had made the wrong booking. I
took this rather badly since she inferred that the MD’s secretary (me)
was at fault, and she knew exactly who I was. She bitterly resented
sharing with the ‘hired help’. She ranted at the conductor, but to no
avail, the train was full. She had to share with me; and me with her which
I didn’t look forward to at all. Inevitably I got the upper bunk and the
gymnastics that went with it. The night was disagreeable, she snored and
the noises of the train kept me awake. At about 2.30 in the morning the
train ground to a halt at some station or other. There was quite a bang as
some other carriages were coupled on accompanied by a violent shuddering.
Something fell over in the cabin but it was too dark to see. After a while
we moved off jerkily and at last I fell into a disturbed sleep. In the
morning, I awoke to a spectacle I’ll never forget. The MD’s wife was
crawling on the floor looking for her dentures that had fallen out of
their glass in the night. What was hilarious was that I had this overhead
view of her ample bottom straining against a pair of pink corsets, the
lacing visible through her taut knickers. I thought it was only my
granny that wore such things. If she was angry before, she was furious
when I offered to help. Our relationship, which had been cool previously,
became utterly frigid. It’s funny about people; if she’d have laughed
and passed it off as a joke we might have become, not friends, but at
least not mortal enemies. From then on I called her the “Cow in
The Spirella magazine ran some amazingly candid articles on what various women would wear! November 1963
expression has appeared more than once in our correspondences. The GM’s wife
certainly qualifies. Even Spirella advertised the sort of women (above)
that would be wearing corsets and extolled their virtues. A Hampshire paper
reported in 1967, the case where a convicted shop-lifter called the magistrate
“A corseted old cow!” She earned an extra three months for contempt of court!
“Cow in curtains” has also been used on some rather famous women over the
last decade, and could well apply to the
lady who infrequently visits the old corset shop on the Frederik-Hendriklaan
in the Hague.
The Trouble with Zippers
I wrote the following account in my diary:- "One little bonus of the collection was the re-discovery of a rather severe Jenyns panty-girdle. Slightly yellowed with age (it would date from the late 1960's), the interesting point about this garment is the broken top of the zipper pull tag, where the original satin flash has broken off the end of the tag. This could have been a manufacturing defect. The old corsetiere in Upper Street, Croydon refused to sell any zippered foundation in the 1970's due to the unreliability of the zippers. There is however, other evidence in the distorted lower hooks and eyes that reside beneath the zip. Indeed, this garment was far too tight for its wearer. Whether this was simply sheer vanity or 'figure tragedy' (described above), we cannot say. What is evident is that closing the hooks and eyes must have required heroic effort. Pulling the zipper taut against the elastic forces of the over-stretched garment must, at some point have overcome the zipper tag. Was the wretched women trapped in her underwear, the zipper at half-mast I wonder? Oh, the perils of vanity. A word of warning to any lady that tries to wear too tight a lower garment. You may think it's tight when you don the article standing, but when you sit down, the nether regions will expand and place a huge force on any fastenings around the hip area. The forces involved can become intolerable to wearer and can, in short order, part the zipper and pull the hooks and eyes from their industrially anchored mounts. It is a miss-conception that tight lacing (or tight underwear) puts a strain on the waist. It may do, but the strain is constant. It is the strain over the hips that can increase dramatically as one attempts to sit. On the same theme, I remember a lady recounting how, in exactly the manner described above, she pulled the end of the tag off her zipper. The zipper was finally hoisted by the use of a pair of pliers (not the first time these articles have been usefully employed in dressing or undressing)."
The young woman pictured on the right in 2009, had no prior experience of girdles, let alone the heavy duty metal zipper of the classic 1970's Marks and Spencer model 911B/1909. Not that the girdle was often referred to by its formal title. One lady recounted that as a teenager, she wore such a girdle and simply called it "The Beast!" She admitted, however, that she would not have gone out without it. It certainly did its job.
This account elicited the following response:-
"I was reading your latest
Diary entry about the perils of zips, especially on too-tight girdles, and about
the effect on tightness of sitting down in a girdle. My fiancée, later wife,
never wore a zipped girdle: with a slim (under 24" waist) she had no need of a
high-waisted girdle (the ones that most often came with a zip) and although she
wore firm control open girdles to deal with what she regarded as a
disproportionately large rear, none of those had a zip. Because she bought the
small size (23/24" waist) her girdles were quite tight as she pulled them up
over her hips. When I questioned whether perhaps her girdle was too tight and
therefore uncomfortable, she said it needed to be tight to do its job and, in
any case, she was quite used to it. Then she added that it was even tighter
when she sat down but it "stops my bottom from spreading out". I can confirm
that those M&S girdles with their downstretch back panels certainly did that!
Earlier, while I was still at school, I overheard a conversation in which the mother of a slightly plump girl about my own age (15 or 16) commented that her daughter had "spread out". She put this down to sitting for long periods on hard, wooden school seats. "She ought to have worn a girdle sooner", she said.
One of my sisters wore a firm girdle, with a zip, in her mid-teens. When she sat down on a firm chair, the point where the bottom of her girdle ended was quite apparent because her thighs bulged out a little. She had been recommended to wear a longer-skirted girdle to help deal with that problem and, when standing and walking, she had a very neat smooth line, even in her straight school skirts. It was only sitting down when the thigh bulge reappeared and I suppose that too demonstrates the point you made about how much a girdle tightens around the hips when the wearer sits down."
Turn to the Left
As a child, I used to listen in to my mother's conversations with her local friends, and eventually I became old enough to play a minor role in these gossipy mornings and coffee sessions. One expression that my mother used (although nobody else did) was "Oh, she turns to the left you know!" Judging by the tone of the remark and my mothers' friends re-actions, I took this to indicate an undesirable political leaning since we lived in staunchly middle-class Tunbridge Wells. I think blue was mummy's favourite colour (blue is the Conservative party's colour). She possessed blue hats, cardies, blouses, suits and even some light blue underwear. At first I thought this was from incautious combinations of colours in the weekly wash but apparently not. Even her hair took on a blue tint from time to time but this met with strong disapproval from myself (whose opinion mattered not) and daddy (whose opinion did).
As an early teenager, my mother decided that it was time for me to visit the remoter ladies section of the local department store. I had visited this Victorian relic many times with mummy and both of us had been fitted for dresses and and skirts also by Victorian relics, fearsome old ladies who could fit you by eye from a dozen paces and even before you spoke, would tell (not recommend, but tell) you what you wanted and what styles were suitable. I discovered that any questions and answers were irrelevant to the final product but were simply an interview to determine your position on the social ladder. Up to that time mother would then vanish upwards in the lift to the coh-setry section and I would be asked to remain quietly seated between twin set and pearls. The day that my development had decided mummy to take me to this hallowed region was one of some anticipation for me. The lift was thankfully empty as we ascended to this hitherto un-penetrated bastion of the ladies department. I exited with mummy and headed towards a sign that proclaimed Corsetry in frightening gothic script. There might have been a skull & crossbones as well; I can't remember. Mummy stopped me and cautioned "You are far too young to turn to the left my girl, this is the way" and she dragged me off to the right of the lift exit where a more welcoming sign proclaimed Foundation Garments. In fact, there were plenty of corsets in the right-hand section as mummy knew well but not "sur-gical corsets!" Mummy explained that the corsetry section was for those poor souls whose wanton life-styles had left them in such a saggy and shapeless mess that only complex engineering could return some semblance of the female form to their ravaged torsos. I shuddered at the thought but brightened up on spying some gorgeous creations in satins and patterned lace. Slightly to my disappointment we left with two rather functional white girdles and four deeper bras than I would have preferred, but what did I know about such things. At least I now knew what "turning to the left" meant. Far from a political indicator it simply meant that the lady in question required somewhat stronger corsetry than did my mother who naturally would therefore assume the moral high-ground. I always wondered why.
Memories of the American Panty-Girdle
I was wandering through older Emails and found this
exchange we had a year and a half ago. So I decided to take another look to
find the un-cropped photo and this time I lucked out. I do have to make one
correction though, these actually were ROTC cadets, not the Angel Flight
auxiliary. It turns out that in 1958 Ohio State University was the first
college to permit women to be full-fledged ROTC cadets. Attached is the
whole photo as it appears on an Ohio State University (in Columbus, Ohio)
website and is as I remember it. As the photo is in Black and White, I can't
tell if these are Army or Air Force Cadets though the name tags seem closer
to standard Army issue.
She wore girdles, exclusively panty girdles, mostly LLPG's starting at age 15 every day to school (I suspect at the instigation of her parents who I suspect didn't totally trust me at that stage - I am a year older.) We were dating at ages 16 and 15. And yes, the chastity belt concept was operative, we never went on a date without her wearing one. To this day we laugh about this. Her next sister, about three years younger was thin as a rail and didn't wear a girdle until she was 18, unlike most of her age peers, but her next sister two years younger still, and she had a cute figure, was wearing a girdle for dress up at 11 and daily at 12 to school.
Interestingly enough, when on weekends in the mid 60's we went to less upscale shopping areas (this is all in the Washington, DC area) most girls and women appeared to be un-girdled. So it definitely was an economic thing. Most girls (and guys) were pretty neatly dressed until the counter culture
of the late 60's/ early 70's in the USA rose in large part as a political statement against our involvement in the Vietnam War and there was a concomitant rise in feminism which for most women involved equality and opportunity, but for some simply meant dressing like slobs. The slobs, of course, got most of the publicity and gave rise to the myth of 'bra-burning.' Few actually burned their bras (and girdles) or if they did it was one they were going to throw out anyway. Only the most radical eschewed their bras in any meaningful way.
In the 50's and 60's girls could not usually wear slacks to school, only skirts and dresses. By the late 60's most schools permitted girls to wear slacks in large part because of fashion changes when pants suits became popular and also in reaction to the extreme elevation of mini-skirts wherein some girls were not as careful as they ought to have been. Over the years this evolved mostly to blue jeans which are almost the universal uniform now. Curiously the girls now can't have jeans tight enough, and in some communities, the girls' jeans are girdles in all but name and some look like they were spray painted on.