What did women wear in the 50's and 60's? Separating the advertisements and marketing from the truth is not easy. Spirella tried to tell us that corsets were virtually de rigeur for weddings, however, I've not yet met a lady from that era under the age of 60 who actually wore one. Girdles were very common of course, but the only way to find out what these ladies really wore was know them or to find relatives and friends that did. Of these ladies, Auntie A.M. and Auntie Vera were family friends and I know exactly what they normally wore, the others are relatives of readers who have sent in their brief descriptions. That two of these correspondents are men, leaves one wondering how their adolescent curiosity lead them to discover the nature of their auntie's underpinnings!

Auntie Edie  (Sutton 1958)

I was always amazed at how Auntie Edie advertised her underwear simply by the poor cut of her clothes. Her small bust caused a sag in the material at the front, yet the bra band and the top of her too short girdle showed clearly in the lines and ridges outlined on her dress. (I have to agree since I've seen so many women similarly attired. The dress could have been re-cut by a good seamstress and a high-waisted girdle would have worked wonders - Ivy)


In contrast to the ill-fitting clothes of Auntie Edie, we move onto ...

Auntie A.M.  (Utrecht 1957)  Auntie A.M. was a very attractive brunette even in her 50ís and was a stunner in her prime. Careful choice of clothes (for she always dressed well) disguised the fact that was, in fact, distressingly short-waisted (that is the waist is far closer to the bust than the hips) which exacerbated the fact that her hips and legs were very big. Her Mother encouraged her to wear corsets right from the 1930ís (very unusual in Holland) and with the appropriate clothes and corsets she found no shortage of male partners. (Frankly, itís unlikely that any non-made-to-measure foundation would ever have fitted her shape.) Only after the war when she moved to London, did she discard her corsets in favour of a girdle, and but latterly reverted to the strength of her corsets once again. When this photo was taken in 1958, she was in her girdle phase and chose Gossard.



Auntie Bea  (Ayr 1957)

I stayed with Auntie Bea and her her husband many times as a teenager and the weekly washing line showed exactly what foundations her unexceptional, but well-shaped figure required. Like many women in the1950's she wore a long-line bra and girdle that she ordered from the local Spencer agent. It was a rare extravagance, but in those days, the middle classes shopped for quality and durability.


Auntie Leyburn (right)   (Leyburn early '60s)

I called her that because that's where she lived. Her real name was Cecilia which she detested and preferred to be called Cissy which I thought was silly! She tried to sell corsets for Spirella over a period of 10 years. I took the photo in 1962 as she stalked her prey in York , however, this was blatant poaching of the town fitters and she fared badly. Although the Yorkshire woman of the 50's and 60's was given to a good farm diet with the consequent effect upon the figure, the reluctance of these thrifty Dales folk to part with money for expensive fripperies (and Spirella's corsets came into this category) made sales something of a challenge. True to her training in Letchworth, she always wore what she tried to sell. I have no idea what she was wearing that particular day, however, if the client wanted a corset, so she would wear one; if a girdle was the order, so be it. I do know her preference was for a girdle. When she passed away, I helped clear her effects and took a dozen girdles to the charity shop in town. Surprisingly, the worn ones were from Marks and Spencer. I don't think she ever wore Spirella's own, unless on a mission!


Auntie Vera (who was in fact a friend of my family, in Winchester 1965 and London 1967 at a wedding)


Auntie Vera is mentioned under 'weddings', and I pontificated about her wearing a girdle and 'pooh-poohing' her peers who attributed her figure to a corset. Well, I stand corrected since a closer friend than myself (and I was young at the time) states that she normally wore a girdle (left at home), but for posh dos wore a corset bought expressly for this purpose and virtually never worn otherwise. Regard her posture at the wedding two years later (right). Her stomach is as flat as a board and she has a curiously stooped forward stance often adopted by women unused to the stiffness of a corset. On the left, her tummy has the confined, but distinctly feminine bulge indicative of an elastic garment. I'm always grateful to be corrected since one learns more from such comments than by living in ignorance.

A martyr to her varicose veins for 40 years, a girdle (or corset) was simply necessary to support the tension of her powerful elastic stockings. When she finally succumbed to the panty-girdle in the middle of her seventh decade, she still required suspenders to hold her stockings. More than once she complained about her wrinkly stockings saying that "this never used to happen with old-fashioned underwear!"

Regard also her oversized shoes. Years of wearing pointed stilettos had wreaked havoc on her feet. Determined to dress well, however, required larger shoes (as many elderly women wear) to accommodate the damage inflicted by decades of vanity.




Auntie K. (Pisa 1966) was a northerner - and proud of it. Blunt to he point of rudeness, but with a heart of gold, Auntie K. and her husband, without the anchor and input of children, they went their own way, growing slowly, but distinctly more eccentric with age. Once a slim and attractive brunette, she tended to the old-fashioned and wore a long-line bra and girdle well into the 1980's. Even in the 1990's, she used to bemoan the lack of custom-fitted suspenders on her panty-girdles that apparently the Millicent Wise assistants used to fix for her. She quite shocked my teenage son on our weekly visit, by producing such a garment to discuss its merits. I remember desperately trying to divert the conversation whilst my son looked like he wanted the floor to open up! When this picture was taken, we see a slim-hipped, well-endowed woman who, by today's standards would be considered as not needing any support at all other than a good bra, yet, in the heat of the Italian summer, she was fully attired in girdle, long bra, stockings and slip. Like C.S. Forrester's heroine in 'African Queen', she felt guilty to be attired in anything less that 'proper' underwear!

Auntie Mc. (right)  (Aberdeen 1959)  Looking a bit like an elderly Auntie Edie (above), Auntie Mc. should have been from a generation that wore corsets, and I know her mother did, but she didn't! A girdle with just enough strength to hold up her stockings and provide a little shape to her tummy was all she wanted. Had she been a 'victim' of Spirella, I'm sure she would have looked far better, certainly that bust-line sagging at half-mast would have been fully hoisted, but Auntie Mc., cared little for her appearance as her wig, somewhat askew, demonstrates!



American aunties: Faults or no faults, women in the 1960's appreciated the effect of their foundations (even if they might not have been comfortable by modern standards). The two stunning women on the left are testimony to this. Slim by any standards, one can guarantee that a tight girdle was firmly anchored beneath those 24 inch waists.

British aunties: (A fashionable London wedding in 1958). The two ladies detested each other for some reason lost in history. To speak to one whilst the other was out of earshot would be to receive a litany of disapproval. Auntie H:- "You know she wears corsets. Imagine in this day and age. Her mother used to, but they all did then. She'd got no real figure than other what Mrs. H, the Spencer lady gives her!" Even this precise lady's grammar deserted her in her vitriolic attack on her peer. The response from Auntie W. was equally predictable. "A size 16 body in size 14 dress" the other lady would sniff, "and all held together with a size 12 girdle. Her daughter's the same (this was the bride). All tummy and no chest; she must be well strapped in today, just like her mother probably." And so a decades old battle of words continued. The joke was, as the Spencer lady well knew, that both ladies wore corsets regularly. The former, much to the corsetiere's annoyance, wore a Camp 944, and had done so for years. On one of her earlier visits to this lady, she utterly failed to impress her with Spencer's products. In fact, the lady produced her favourite 944 from the pulley in the kitchen and proceeded to tell the corsetiere of its benefits! Giving up Auntie H as a bad job, she had far more success with Auntie W. and her daughter. Front-laced corsets for the mother, and a trousseau of girdles and bras for the daughter.

The pictures here come from the late 1950's. Almost certainly, British women of the period wore a girdle, and perhaps a corset as these ladies did at the wedding in question. Their sisters from the other side of the Atlantic were probably in girdles as well, but a decade before the British, they would adopt that icon of American womanhood that lasted for nearly half a century - the pantie-girdle.




Oma Smit (left - Utrecht 1957). Oma (Granny) dressed in her finest at one of the family weddings when I was just a girl. I know she wore rubber corsets for many years, encouraged by one of my aunts, but she gave up the practice in the early 1970's, a few years before she passed away. Almost certainly she was wearing these dreadful foundations at the wedding. Her matronly tummy is well controlled but sadly, the powerful elastic of her stockings has overcome that of her suspenders and the characteristic wrinkles around the ankles are rather obvious.

A corselette might have provided the solution (see Oma Helga - right), but I have never heard of anybody wearing a rubber one although they were available - Ivy

Oma Helga (right - DŁsseldorf 1962). Oma Helga was another doyenne of the wrinkly surgical stocking brigade. It was her stockings, and the need to contain her enormous tummy that dictated her choice of foundation. With no difference in measurement between her bust, waist and hips, any corset or girdle with the strength to hold up her abdomen would be pulled earthwards by the combination of her stockings and gravity in short order. A back-laced corselette made by Triumph of Germany was her choice of support. The laced corselette accentuated her circularlity, however, friction and the firm shoulder straps ensured that her stocking might wrinkle, but largely remain in place. For this photo she was laced a little tighter than normal to fit into her rayon twin-set that she had purchased some centimetres previously.

Aunt Gwendolyn (above centre): Poor Auntie G., as she was invariably known, was used by my mother as an example of all the ills that would befall me if I failed to heed  her advice on brushing my teeth and colouring my hair. Well into her 60ís, she had been without teeth since her 20ís and hair since her 40ís, however, this was not unusual for a woman of her years and her body simply represented six decades living in an environment harder than we know today.

It's so easy to forget that for most of Auntie's G's life, there was no central-heating, no heating in cars and no fluoride in the water. She witnessed two World Wars and the hardships of rationing that denied the frivolities of fashion. Dietary requirement were unknown to the masses and the concept of a woman exercising, positively injurious. If you wanted a good figure, you bought a good corset; if you could afford one that is!

Despite her natural physical deterioration, she was a friendly, charming lady and courtesy of Spencer, Triumph and Elbeo, her aging body could be transformed into a well-dressed, elegant woman, despite a slightly wayward and over-enthusiastic application of lipstick. Laced to an unyielding circularity, her corset supported her surgical stockings that did their best to disguise the thin old woman legs with their intricate protuberance of varicose veins. Her breasts were hoisted to impressive heights (as was her jacket), a feature that in proportion to her rigidly confined waist and hips, gave her a rather top-heavy appearance but she cut a fine figure at her nieceís wedding, and, in contrast to my mother's early warnings, could be seen more as an example of how to survive an era of hardships that would destroy a modern woman. "They broke the mold when Auntie G. was born."


When Aunties get it Wrong!

This actually could be used as a test in a corsetiere's training manual.

Aunt #1: She might just be wearing a panty-girdle or is it her slacks holding her tummy not quite in. On dear! That bosom needs a lift.

Aunt #2: Good effort with the girdle. The skirt of the dress just fits round it, but the bust is far too loose.

Aunt #3: The creases in her dress show where her girdle begins and ends, but she has excellent legs for an elderly woman. A longer girdle is required.

Aunt #4: Good foundations, but the dress is a size too small. If the zip lasts the evening, I'll be surprised.

Aunt #5: Sensibly dressed to hide any evidence of her (probably) substantial underwear, her shoes are way too small. She has the splayed in legs of the very heavy woman that will eventually splay outwards (Oma Helga - above) in later life.


















They've all tried hard, but in various ways they just haven't got it quite right!




Aunt #6: Good foundations. In fact, they are so tight (does she have a back problem?) that her natural stance is for her arms to stand clear of her body. This is a common effect of a tightly laced corselette, where the inevitable bulge of flesh under the armpit forces the arms out stance.


Aunt #7: The classic girdle just tight enough to fit the tummy into the dress with insufficient attention to the upper foundation. A better brassiere, or perhaps a well cut corselette could really improve this lady's appearance.


Aunts #8 & 9: The classic evidence

of a gap twixt bra and girdle. In the older lady's case, the ghastly outline of her tummy button adds to the eccentricity!

Aunt #10: So near and yet so far!

The cut of the dress needs to be a smidgen lower, or the pantie-girdle a tad higher. As it is, one could almost grab the top edge and give it a snap!


Here we have some examples from the 1970's. Proper foundations were being consigned to the dustbin and, frankly, some women simply didn't bother at all. On the left, the top and bottom of her totally inadequate foundation is all too apparent. At least her upper garment does a respectable job. The dress is, no doubt, totally synthetic!

On the right, the young middle-aged woman actually smiles in a banal fashion as if she doesn't even care that her stomach is the focus of the photographer's attention. Even a light corselette would have been better than the totally inadequate bra and knickers worn by this dumpy frumpy woman!


On the left, the irritated woman seems to say "I left my girdle at home - OK!"

What a lovely example here on the right of two almost identical women. The lady on the left wears 'proper foundations', a brassiere and girdle specially made by Spirella. She wears heels to accentuate her calves. She looks splendid. On the right, her peer who would look similarly attractive but for the absence of heels, foundations or, basically any preparation whatsoever. It seems that the wedding caught her by surprise!


Here we have two women who have not fallen into the slovenly lassitude of the 1970's. On the left, the matron grimaces rather than smiles. If you had seen the effort that it took her to lace tight that unaccustomed corset, you would not be surprised at her expression. Her eyes bulge, her bosom is hoisted inches higher than even Howard Hughes intended by the hip-quenching force of her formidably over-tightened stays. Her corsets have removed her feminine hips and she tapers like a female tent-peg into the arrow-head agony of her stilettos. Nevertheless, the agony is not without effect for she looks very attractive.

On the right, the spectacularly elevated bosom must have prevented the matron from seeing her food when she sat down to eat, even if she could sit down. Unlike her sister on the left, her corsets have not been tightened to life-threatening levels. As a Mother-in-Law, I suspect the groom would have been terrified of that alarming bosom and secretly concerned about the future looks of his new bride. Note the disapproving stare. "Don't you dare comment on my bust!" those pursed lips seem to say!


Disguising it!

Amazingly, in the 1960's, the rayon twin set, although tailored, managed to conceal what almost certainly was a heavily girdled figure (left). Again, she looks very elegant and could wear the dress even if two sizes larger, as she undoubtedly would to future weddings.

On the right, the mother and granny of the bride wear sheaths that might well be armour plated and certainly disguise any shape beneath. This was the 1970's when the women could have been wearing anything from corsets to panty-girdles.*


By the 1990's women rarely cared about their foundations, but they certainly cared about not revealing to much in the way of uncontrolled or excess avoirdupois. The beautiful lady above has used thick, generously cut satin to conceal any flaws.

* The mother is, in fact, wearing one of Spirella's Coppelia girdles, as is her daughter, the bride. Granny wears the complex Spirella 325 to anchor her abdomen, support her back and to hold up her powerful surgical stockings.

This is a charming piece of 1950's Americana. Four women are wearing corsets and one is wearing a girdle.

The lady on the left sits up straight, the only comfortable posture of the corsetted figure, but sadly has saved money on a poorly fitting brassiere that is neither symmetrical nor even supportive enough to raise her right breast above the rim of her lower foundation. The barrel tummy and the posture shout corset.

The older lady next to her has fallen asleep again. Her corset, that is extended high in the back with shoulder straps, stops her from falling off the chair but her unsupported neck leans forward. The corset supports not just her weakened spine but her industrial strength surgical stockings.

The lady standing has a good figure, the tell-tale bulge of the abdomen kept well in check by her zippered and boned girdle.

The lady sitting underneath the cup is similar to the first lady, but in this case the sheer pressure of her stays has overcome decorum and her legs have sprung apart to reveal her virtuous directoires to the photographer. This is the classic pose of the over-corsetted or careless woman. Her colleague on the left keeps her knees together, however, note that her ankles are crossed and locked to overcome what will become intolerable pressure from her thighs.

On the right, this lady is similar to her corsetted peers and, yet again, dates the picture as coming from the 1950's since the American pre-occupation with the pneumatic bosom is far from evident.








"And, dear reader, you will never, ever, know what I am wearing beneath my sensible woolens; so don't even try to guess!"





























Girdles and Corsets in the Movies


Cold Comfort Farm


"Mrs. Smiling's second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for the perfect one. She was reputed to have the finest collection of these garments in the world. It was hoped that on her death, they would be left to the nation."


Joanna Lumley plays the role of Mary Smiling in John Schlesinger's film 'Cold Comfort Farm' (1995)


Strangely, the collection as shown in the film seems more focussed on corsets and girdles than brassieres.


That Famous Custard Pie Fight from 'The Great Race' (1965)







I love the picture of Natalie Wood on the right. I had always hoped that the cast enjoyed making that scene.


Of course, there's nothing quite like a custard pie to puncture that balloon of pomposity. These pictures come from the Three Rascals' film 'Shivering Shakespeare' (1930).






Hotel Paradiso


This British made, French farce from 1966 features a few interesting scenes from the 'hotel' of the title's name:



  The film features an impressive array of international stars as well as the predictable home-grown British talent. In the top two pictures, Gina Lollobrigida watches a corpulent trapeze artist who strips down to her corsets that appear only to be tied by one piece of lacing. The French actress, Marie Bell (left) also features a corset and the American actress, the delightfully plump Eddra Gale, runs around the hotel in her black stays. At least Miss Gale's corsets are properly laced which shows off her fine figure even if the uncorsetted areas do wobble alarmingly.

Sadly, Miss Lollobrigida, who can have the most fantastic shape is somewhat shapeless in the film.




Calamity Jane's Corsets?


We love many old movies, amongst which are the Paleface series starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell. In the original Paleface (1948), Calamity Jane (Russell) is surprised in the changing room by some bad guys whom she guns down. On the left is the iconic figure of Calamity Jane in her corsets, six shooters at the ready. But is Jane wearing a corset for the back view shows no lacing!

(Incidentally, the gun belt was sometimes referred to as the 'Texas Corset'.)

In the film 'Calamity Jane' (1953), Doris Day is cast as the gun-toting woman. In the ball scene, she appears in a pink satin gown and displays a tightly corsetted waist, or does she? In the still frame (middle below) there is no corset to be seen, yet on the right she appears in a corset. The dress is very form-fitting (left) yet no evidence of the corset and the shoulder ruffles is apparent.

I suspect, that Miss Day, like Miss Russell were both naturally shapely women and didn't need a corset to fit into their costumes that in those days would have had suffient structure to act as corset..


The beautiful Miss Day has THE most expressive face.



(From left to right) The real Calamity Jane (b. Martha Jane Cannary  1852 - 1903) was a frontierswoman who, apart from a few portraits would never have worn a corset. In fact, in many later pictures she appears very rough and masculine. Annie Oakley (b. Phoebe Ann Mosey  1860 - 1926), by contrast, was a very feminine sharp-shooter and the photograph of her as well as the publicity picture show a nicely corsetted waist. Annie Oakley has been portrayed many times on the stage and in films, notably by Ethel Merman (1908 - 1984) in 1946 and Betty Hutton (1921 - 2007) in 1950. Doris Day (b. 1924) issued an album of the songs from the film including the famous "Anything you can do, I can do better." Two lines from this song go


Man: "I can jump a hurdle"

Annie O: "I can wear a girdle"


Annie Oakley might have worn a girdle, but for sure, Ethel Merman did and there are several references to this. Suzi Quatro (b. 1950) played Annie Oakley in a 1986 musical but I doubt that Miss Quatro would be familiar with either corset or girdle.


This was a period when almost every western musical felt it necessary to insert a good old corset scene. Maureen O'Hara is famously pursued (and humiliated) by John Wayne in the classic 'McClintock' (1963). But one scene that we never saw, was six brides being held up at gun-point by two ferocious Jane Russells.




All mothers should tell their daughters that if you wear a strapless gown, you wear an appropriate foundation garment and the gown should fit the garment. In the film 'Paul' (2011), Sigourney Weaver's foundations are not equal to her dramatic movements and she has to re-hoist her gown.

Mothers should also tell their daughters not to adjust their clothes whilst carrying a revolver.


Eiko Ishioka designed the magnificent costumes from the 2012 film 'Mirror, Mirror' that fall into the category of 'curious' although outlandish might also be an apt description. Below we see Julia Roberts sporting her corset made from bamboo. Consider however, the 1895 corset from an English museum that has ventilation at the waist and 22 bone casing filled, in this instance with bamboo cane! I wonder if this is where the designer got her idea?




Strange Goings-on Backstage



 Guy de Maupassant's scandalous tale 'Bel Ami' (1885) of an opportunistic young man corrupted by the allure of power has been made (loosely) into film in 1939 (Germany), 1955 (USA) and lastly in 2012. It is a period piece and, of course, corsets feature, especially in the 1955 version.



The actresses went on strike to complain about wearing such tight corsets, however, this was widely regarded as a blatant publicity stunt.




The Corset, the Fat Lady and the Vacuum Cleaner



In the Jerry Lewis film 'Who's Minding the Store?' (1963) a lady has her corset sucked clean off her body by a wayward vacuum cleaner! This remarkable machine divests the poor lady of "My hat, my shoes .. no,  ..  no, no, no, no, no .. Oh my corset!" Her dress remains intact for, I fear the film would never have passed the censors otherwise. Nature might abhor a vacuum and I guess this lady was not too keen on it either! The poor lady was played by Muriel Landers. Oddly enough, she was referred to in the credits as the 'girdle lady'.


Towards the end of this surreal sequence of the voracious vacuum cleaner, it floats up to the ceiling of the store where the hapless Mr. Lewis punctures the bloated bag of the vacuum cleaner and it explodes, hurling all the accumulated debris plus Miss Lander's corsets into the face of Ray Walston. Imagine the stage directions: "Exit backwards staggering with a pair of corsets wrapped around the face!"





 Roger Vadim's 'And God Created Woman' (1956)


Michel Boisrond's 'Une Parisienne' (1957)


Brigitte Bardot does seem to enjoy wearing the basque above in Roger Vadim's 'And God Created Woman' (1956) and in Michel Boisrond's 'Une Parisienne' (1957).




Even in 1965, Miss Bardot wears a corset in 'Viva Maria'











The Millionairess (1960)




The sultry pose of Miss Loren (left) is well-known to millions, however, the back view is less well regarded. If one does, it is apparent that the corset was never Miss Loren's own, her shoulders that aided her hour-glass figure are too broad for the corset as the diverging eyelets reveal. The corset is so small that even with the lacing fully extended across the top, Miss Loren's flesh is squeezed into two bulges that no corsetiŤre would ever condone. Presumably Miss Loren wished to breathe during the scene! Nevertheless, when this film was made, many Italian women wore corsets like this, and the diplomatic gatherings and social weddings were populated by typically immaculate Italian women, all beautifully attired and perhaps all breathing with just a little difficulty.





Another film, 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' (2004) also uses the effect of an inflated object rising up into the air (despite the laws of physics), but in this case it is not a vacuum cleaner but Aunt Marge played by Pam Ferris.


As in 'Who's minding the store', the large lady's underwear appears from beneath her skirt as Aunt Marge begins to inflate and her skirt rides up revealing two suspenders. They are actually, quite old fashioned in style having adjustable clips. Later in the sequence when poor Marge floats away and inverts you can see that the crew have constructed a giant panty-girdle for her off which the suspenders hang. Interestingly, the picture is set in the 1990's when most women has abandoned all lower foundations, but not Aunt Marge, of that you can be sure.


The screenplay drawing on the right shows excellent attention to the detail of the girdle.


Here is an account of the incredible stoicism displayed by Pam Ferris on the set of the film: "There were inflatable gloves for her hands and separate inflatable legs,' explains Dudman, 'all set off by a computer-controlled pneumatic pressure device. The hands could inflate any given joint in any order." Pam Ferris spent up to five hours in the makeup chair having small prosthetic pieces and expandable rubber bladders applied to her face and neck before getting into an inflatable suit, which weighed fifty pounds. "At the later stages I was so spherical that I couldnít sit down; I could barely walk! At my biggest, Iím about four-foot-six across." Inside each suit was a flying harness suspended on two wire rigs. One would lift or flip her, the other rig spun her around. Ferris received high praise from the cast and crew for her patience and good nature. "It was like she was in a straightjacket," says producer David Heyman. "Then hung up by wires and suspended, and she never complained once. Not once."




The three pictures below have been taken from that excellent comedy film 'Carry On Abroad' (1972). The inimitable June Whitfield appears clad in a long-line bra and waist slip. Her look of horror is due to discovering a man (Kenneth Hawtrey) in her bath. In 1972, Miss Whitfield was 47 years old and wearing a long-line bra that, although unfashionable, was by no means uncommon. Her look of horror is partly due to her staid character in the film, but perhaps also due to being seen in such old-fashioned underwear. June Whitfield is currently 91 years old and still acting!







Girdle Repair in Operation Petticoat


I will badly plagiarise Mark Twain's famous statement here:- "Whenever my husband feels the need to perform DIY, he should instantly lie down until the urge passes!" Occasionally, he does actually perform a useful task and I did mention some years ago, his effective repair of a car exhaust using a steel bone from a corset. I feel that may have been a pinnacle in his achievements! It did, however, bring to mind the effective use of a girdle in repairing a machine on board a submarine in the old film "Operation Petticoat" (left - 1959).


And just what is this strange surgical appliance on the right? In fact, it is nothing of the sort, it is simply the corset that Peter Pan would wear on stage (I hasten to add that Peter Pan, in the strange tradition of the English pantomime, is always played by a woman.) The solidity and straps allow wires to be attached to the performer so that she can fly through the air with (possibly something less than) the greatest of ease; and quite a small waist as well!


Not a surgical corset



Tom & Jerry


Flying Cat (1952)



On the left, Tom is desperate to get hold of Jerry and the small bird who have taken refuge in a 'bird house' on top of a tall pole. Accidentally, Tom discovers a pair of corsets that save his fall from an upstairs window and realises that they make a fine pair of wings.

Grabbing Jerry in full flight, the 'Achilles Heel' of corsetted flight is recognised by the bird and he pulls the knot that releases the two halves of the corsets and the luckless Tom, once again, crashes to earth and Jerry escapes.

On the right, Jerry befriends a poor ugly duckling* who is trying to 'end it all'. Jerry consults a book on beauty and attends to his friend in the form of curlers, corsets, a face-mask and chin strap. Jerry captures the duckling but is horrified by its appearance and he retreats screaming. This does nothing for the poor duckling's confidence.


I wonder where the cartoonist got his inspiration?


It is interesting, as in all cartoons, just how well the cartoonist might have understood the principles of the corset. In both cases, they are not too badly portrayed (it is a cartoon after all), however, the face-mask and curlers were probably quite a familiar sight and many woman still wore corsets in the 1950's!

Ugly Duckling (1953)

The girl above is nothing to do with Tom & Jerry, however, even without the bat, this girl is a fearsome spectacle. Imagine 40 years on, toothless and wearing her corsets underneath that all enveloping satin housecoat!


* A duck and a corset appear in the 1959 film 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' in which James Mason, playing the part of a mysoginistic Victorian professor, asks Arlene Dahl to remove her stays. "You're wearing stays are you not? I can hear them creaking as you walk along!" Miss Dahl retreats to remove the offending article that a pet duck then drags across the film set. I think it was meant to be an attempt at humour. As is often the case with Hollywood, Miss Dahl's spectacular figure appears unchanged after the duck runs off with her corsets; not that she ever needed corsets anyway.






The Simpsons



A marginal improvement of Selma and Patty Bouvier


Blue Peter


On the 28th September 1981, Blue Peter, the famous British children's show decided to educate their young viewers about the underpinning of yesteryear. The garments were provided by the Symingtons Collection and feature Maggie Philbin (far right) modelling a 1957 Dior corselette (that the presenters kept referring to as a 'corset'). The detail of the garment can be seen as a composite picture that explains the multiplicity of Miss Philbin's hands. A young Sarah Green (right - in the middle) wears a Jenyns corset from the early 20th century that was made under licence by Symingtons.





This was a Danish sitcom that ran from 1978 - 1982. In one episode, a lady shows off her new Spirella corset. It is a period piece, but the plot is set between 1929 and 1947, so well done the properties ladies. However, a corset wearing lady would always wear her knickers over the corset. This has been omitted so as to give the viewers a clear sight of the corset.



Another undressing scene comes from a 1938 documentary on "How to undress in front of your husband" - really! It features two women, one is sleek, elegant and she disrobes with an economy of effort, languidly gliding from her evening gown through a waft of chiffon and into bed where she still looks ravishing. The poor old stout woman grapples with her clothes, throws them to the floor, scratches herself vigorously, grunts whilst she tears at her corsets that she throws unceremoniously across the room. She gets into bed with all the grace of a sack of potatoes. I love these instructional newsreels from a more innocent era.




It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World


Miss Merman's panty-girdle is well displayed on several occasions in the hilarious film 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963) and another such garment remains on display in a museum on Hollywood Boulevard.




Miss Merman wears what was de rigeur for American females in the 1960's, a panty-girdle. The director seemed to enjoy engineering these brief glimpses



What Film??


Guess what film contains this charmingly evocative series of clips. The year is supposed to be 1964 and we see a lady attaching her stocking to the suspenders of her panty-girdle. (This immediately tells you that we are in America since the panty-girdle had not really arrived in Britain; it would not do so for another five years and then in a shorter more attenuated form). It is very well done as she pulls up the front then the back of the stocking. Finally, her dress is zipped up. How very, very 1960s.



They should have shown the lady pulling down the leg of her girdle to cover the suspender, but perhaps that might have been too titillating for such a serious (and excellent) docu-drama 'From the Earth to the Moon' (2006 - Tom Hanks).



The Egg Lady


I do not mean to call the amazing Edith Massey (1918 - 1984) a curiosity, however, her roles in John Waters films, notably 'Pink Flamingos' (1972) required that she wear a bra and girdle for a specific scene. Since Edith did not possess such a garment at that time, John and Edith went into the 'corsetry' section of Lane Bryant and Edith tried on half the girdles in the shop and modelled them for John who was thoroughly enjoying the sales lady's discomfiture. Edith, kind soul that she was, just wanted a girdle that would fit. Eventually, and with much relief to the sales lady, the sale was made and John and Edith left the premises.


Dancing in your Girdle



'Elvira Mistress' of the Dark' (1988) played by Cassandra Peterson, puts a spell on the conservative villagers to help them relax just a bit.



The lady on the right (above) is not from this film, but why is she running through the woods in her corselette?


If you can't get your girdle on by yourself, by all means involve a friend...


from 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' (US TV 2015 -)



from 'Spanx and Eve'  (YouTube  2010)


Of course, once you're into the garment, there's nothing like a relaxing puff on a cigarette (Lily James and Gillian Anderson on the set of 'All about Eve' - 2019).

Meanwhile, the girdle might not appear in the movie but Joan Crawford (right) displays what your Americana would wear in the late 1950s.





Below we have three films that express a common theme: On the left, we have a film (unknown) where a lady's boyfriend is horrified by her Spanx. She retorts hotly that without Spanx she wouldn't be able to wear the sexy dresses and jeans that he really likes. An argument follows. On the right, Jennifer Garner in The Tribes of Palos Verdes (2017) learns that her husband is cheating on her. In a desperate mood, she cuts off her Spanx and throws it away.




It is hugely tempting to add some commentary to the scenes below from Suzanne Heintz's short film GOODWILL TOWARDS MEN ("The Girdle"). Once again, a woman rebels against the underwear that she has to wear to look good for her husband.

In this case, her husband receives an accurately thrown stiletto shoe in the face. Fortunately, her husband is a mannequin, but that is all part and parcel of this amazing New Yorker's artistry.




Not a Girdle in the Movie!



Casino Royale 1967 

The poor lady inverting over the railing at first glance appears to be wearing a panty-girdle but in fact it is a pair of French knickers over (presumably) a suspender belt.




Naked Gun 2Ĺ 1991

Margery Ross (playing the part of the First Lady) gets inadvertently inverted by Leslie Nielsen and falls over the White House balcony. Her dress is ripped off by Lt. Drebbin in a bit to arrest her fall and she clings onto the balcony, not in a girdle, but in a pair of baggy white directoire knickers.

The 2008 film Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day staring Frances McDormond, Amy Adams and Shirley Henderson has a sequence in a corset salon where the models are parading around in highly stylised girdles and corsets. Eventually, Miss Pettigrew is fitted with a pale blue corselette that to my eyes shouts 1960s, not 1938 that is the era of the film. I rather like the wrap front corset where the engineering is covered by a flap. Miss Adams comments "There's so much whalebone on her, I'm looking for flippers and a tail!"





On the left, the Three Stooges attempt to fix a leaking pipe with a pair of corsets from A Plumbing We Will Go (1940). In the middle, a scene from the the sitcom Sex and the City (season 2, episode 3 from 1999) shows Samantha in her girdle.




Madeleine Stowe arouses all sorts of fantasies wearing an Angora sweather and a girdle in The Two Jakes (1990).

During a tempestuous love scene, Jack Nicholson rips off Miss Stowe's skirt revealing her nicely in-period girdle. He drags her back into the room where they kiss and make up apparently.



If you ever wondered what the frumpy girl (Mare Winningham) was wearing beneath her cardie and skirt, well St. Elmo's Fire (1985) lets you know. The boyfriend was not impressed.



Inevitably at some point in the sitcom Green Acres (1965 - 1971), a girdle would make an appearance.

"Your old lady stuffed her girdle down the drain!" remarks the plumber somewhat artlessly. The plump lady on the left denies vehemently that it was her girdle.


The film Rings on her Fingers (1942) starts with Gene Tierney working as a salesgirl in the corsetry department of a major department store.

Note the garters on the girdle (top left). They are the rare (and unsuccessful) flip-over style that were supposed to be an easier way of attaching your stockings. They were never that secure.


Possibly one of the greatest girdle exposures takes place in the iconic film from National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). The picture is set in 1962 and accurately depicts the style worn at the time.

Martha Smith above just doesn't know where to put her hands.



Poor Verna Bloom playing the part of the Dean's wife, Marion Wormer looks good in a strapless bra (left), but less elegant towards the end of the movie (right).




Julia Robers in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) lectures on the perils of women falling into the 'housewife trap'.

On the right, a husband helps his wife off with her girdle (she has cut her hands on a broken milk bottle) in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005). She quotes

"You know the worst part of it is? A quart of milk got sucked up inside my girdle."


From Australia comes a less well-known comedy / drama Undercover (1984) set in the Sydney of the 1920s. It starts with a women being laced into a conventional old-fashioned corset from where it charts the rise of Fred Burley's Berlei company.



The woman on the left examines a new foundation garment from New York and says "What about this; it's an all rubber corselette!" Indeed, some women wore all rubber foundation garments in those days and, amazingly, still do.


The Rose Tattoo (1955) features Anna Magnani (1908 - 1973) attempting to overcome her Italian curves with firstly, a girdle that will not fit, and then a corset that she cannot close even with the lacing fully extended.










When Men wear the Girdles


There are many films, notably the British 'Carry On' films, that have the males for some (usually contrived reason) wearing female underwear. Peter Butterworth wears a Victorian corset in 'Carry On Screaming' (1966), Kenneth Connor, a black basque in 'Carry On Taxi' (1963) and Bernard Bresslaw runs through a hotel in a white corselette (unbelievably) disguised as a beauty contestant in 'Carry On Girls' (1973 - right)!






In 'Carry On Constable' (1960), two rookie police officers, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtry, disguise themselves as women to capture a gang of shop-lifters that are plaguing a department store. Of course, they end up in the corsetry department where they catch a stout woman apparently sneaking a corselette into her shopping bag. They challenge the woman outside the store rashly shouting "Show us you girdle Madam!" Madam turns out to be the Mayoress who has a legitimate account at the store. To avoid embarrassment, our two cross-dressing coppers make a run for it.


There's a number of interesting points here:


Kenneth Williams really camps up the part and walks bow-legged in his (her) heels, whereas the outrageously camp Hawtry walks and runs well in heels and actually passes quite well for a woman. The item in question is a corselette, not a girdle, but I presume that the director felt that the shouted word "girdle" was funnier and, probably, that most of the audience would be confused by the word "corselette". The shop girl ably demonstrates that running in a tight skirt does limit one's motion. In fact, in 1960, the shop assistant would wear a girdle but the outline on her skirt suggests a brief panty-girdle at best.





The 'lady' in the bra and girdle on the top left (and such a sight must have been common for husbands, and less so for sons in the 1960s) may have been the catalyst for many forbidden desires. However, the 'lady' in question is Glenn Milstead also known as the drag queen 'Divine' and a favourite of John Waters in his film 'Polyester' (1981). Waters was also the director of 'Hairspray' (1988) in which Devine starred and (amazingly) John Travolta reprised the part in the 2007 version (left below). 


The 'lady' above is of course, Dustin Hoffman in 'Tootsie' (1982).




















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