have been asked to write about my time working in the corsetry and ladies wear
shop that you can see in the photograph. My name is Rosalind and I live near
Manchester, although the shop you can see was on the Lancashire coast near
Blackpool. I worked there from 1958 to 1966 as assistant to the owner. I was in
my 20’s at the time so you will know that I’m now on the wrong side of 60!
memories of most of the shop and its customers are still very clear, so I hope
readers will enjoy what I have to say, and I would be willing to answer any
specific questions where I may not have mentioned something or other.
shop, as estate agents would say, was deceptively large, although narrow at the
front. It went back quite a long way and also had a first floor section. Within
the shop we had two counters, probably quite old, with glass fronts and drawers
for displaying items. Then there were shelves for boxes and the odd display.
the shop we had a very good display room with a number of mannequin figures all
dressed in a variety of bras, girdles and corsetry, as well as catalogues for
customers to look at what was available.
we had a staff room and a fitting room with two cubicles divided by velvet
curtains. At the back was a stock room.
shop was owned by a lady called Rose, who was in her 50’s and quite elegantly
dressed. She was a trained corsetiere. I had never worked in this type of shop
before and was really just her assistant, although by the time I left I was very
knowledgeable and went on to work at a larger ladies shop as a manageress.
fair to say that we had customers of all ages from 16 upwards. The type of
garments purchased by the different age groups was quite well defined. Of course
in those days all women wore stockings and some means of support, and apart from
very slim women, it was usual to wear a girdle that might be a lightweight type,
such as a 'roll-on', or something firmer and more supportive.
the more elderly customers were the ones usually buying corsetry, it was very
usual to see a lady in her 30’s wearing quite a firm support and perhaps a
long line bra, even if she was only moderately plump.
of our location there were many hoteliers, and some had plenty of money to
spend. Some ladies would be in every week buying something, and particularly in
the winter we were very busy. Rose would also visit them at their hotels if
younger customers were often still at high school, probably sixth formers, and
they usually went for suspender belts or lighter weight girdles. The first time,
they usually came in with their mothers, but would then visit by themselves.
As can be seen in the photograph, we sold a wide range of bras, girdles, corsellettes and corsetry, mainly from a variety of the well-known ‘off-the-shelf’ makes like Berlei, Kayser and Silhouette. In addition we had a very good selection of general underwear such as slips, knickers, vests, as well as a wide variety of stockings or ‘nylons’ as many women called them.
a customer would purchase more than one item during a visit, and sometimes she
would end up buying a whole range of things, especially the well-heeled
hoteliers, who might spend over Ł60 (a lot of money then!)
ladies who wanted ‘proper’ corsetry, such as you can see on this site, Rose had
contacts such as Madame Foners, in Liverpool and she would liaise with them if
customers asked for special brands such as Camp. I
don't think we ever sold the traditional back-lacing corsets. I certainly met
several ladies who wore Spirella girdles, but I don't recall ever seeing a
Spencer garment. We
did have quite a bit of competition from general ladies wear shops, but I think
we offered a more personal service and customers felt more comfortable there
than in a large store.
the stock room there were some quite old pre-war garments that would probably be
worth a lot of money today, but sadly they are long gone.
the shop counters we had slips, knickers and stockings laid out in the display
drawers. Most of the girdles and lower foundations were kept in the stock room,
and brought out when a customer had chosen one from the models on display.
most things, we had very easy and very difficult customers! I think the vast
majority of women just chose things that were ‘ok’ but we definitely had
more discerning customers who wanted to look as elegant or ‘sexy’ as
possible, although the latter word was never used!
would often come in after having bought a new evening gown or an outfit for a
special occasion such as a wedding. They would bring it with them and then
choose foundation garments to go with it. Most things were in white, but we did
have a good selection in black if required.
customers were very careful to avoid any bulges in their figure, while others
seemed not too bothered. The former would be the ones buying corsellettes or
high-waisted girdles and long-line bras. Many of the bras used to have securing
tabs to attach to the top of the girdle.
recollect that panty-girdles started to become popular around 1965. We
had some stock from an American maker, I forget which, but it included
long-legged girdles with internal suspenders. These caught on quite well with
some of the older customers. The mainstream items were regular bras and open
style medium depth girdles.
women wore slips, either full slips or waist slips. We had some that I would not
describe as full slips but came down to about suspender height. I’m not sure
what they would be called.
Long-line bras were quite popular in the late 1950's but I seem to recollect not
a huge demand in the 1960's despite the more modern style lighter fabrics coming
in. I don't think they had gone out of fashion for the women who
need them, but the range was now much smaller.
girdles, the complaints were usually "it rides up too much" or "it’s too
hard to bend in!" Suspender bulges under clothing were common, as is mentioned
elsewhere on the site, and although some suspenders had ‘modesty shields’,
the small satin tabs over them, they invariably went to one side and were
also got the ‘girdle line’ showing through skirts, but it was quite normal
and most women had to accept it.
worked in the business for a number of years, I have seen all shapes and sizes,
and seen fashions come and go. ‘Womens’ Lib’ had a lot to answer for as
far as ‘glamour’ is concerned, and I was sad to see much of the traditional
underwear die out, and the shops closed, to be replaced by faceless stores
selling cheap and nasty imported ‘lingerie’.
is nice is that there is still a steady if not huge demand for these things, and
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if girdles one day come back into fashion as
women get fed up with tights! For myself I hate the things so you can guess what
I prefer to wear!
hope this has given a little insight into my time at this shop.
was fascinated to see this site. It was lovely to be able to look at some of the
older things again, and I really think that modern women have lost the plot, so to
I fully agree Rosalind, and many, many thanks for your excellent contribution to our site. - Ivy
Rosalind's photograph of the actual shop front and the Hairdressers shop that it has become today.
Read more about the old corset shops and their sad demise.
to Rosalind: (Questions in
black; Rosalind's response in brown and Ivy's additions in green)
I seem to remember that
while generally in the UK girdles
had four suspenders, some had six or even (I think)
In my limited experience, it tended to be
only the firmer garments that had more than four suspenders.
My girlfriend at the time (mid 1960s) decided not to buy a particular
girdle not because it might
be too firm but because she didn't like having extra
Was there a practical reason why some
girdles had more than four suspenders and was the
suspenders gave better support for stockings and prevented them from twisting.
As you say it was generally the firmer girdles or corselettes that had six
suspenders. (It’s not well appreciated these days,
that one of the functions of the corset or girdle was to hold up the stockings.
The stockings of the older women, who would need
firmer support, were often highly elastic and would need six suspenders simply
to counter the tensions involved - Ivy)
Faced with so many types
and styles of girdle in the
1950s and 60s, what features did a purchaser typically
consider when deciding which to buy? Obviously factors such as length and
strength were important
but there were so many others - type of fabric,
panels, boning, type of fastening, etc. etc. Did satin panels play any part in
the choice of garment? What
kind of discussion took place between the woman buying
the girdle and the sales assistant?
There was a very
wide choice of style and finish and one of the main factors was price. Customers
varied widely in their fussiness and some would simply come in and buy a garment
without even trying it on whilst others could spend over an hour trying on the
different styles and makes. Some ladies were very keen on satin panels as they
gave a smoother line and felt nicer to wear. Customers would often ask what we
thought and had we tried them. In actual fact we did try on quite a few items to
get some idea what they were like. Long-term comfort was a major factor as
exploited by Playtex!
have said that girls of high school age usually
bought suspender belts or light girdles.
My sisters and girlfriends seemed to prefer the
suspender belts which had only side panels
of elastic and seemed quite firm.
Was that the type
your customers of that age generally bought? Were such belts more comfortable or
more functional than
the shorter ones?
Were there reasons for preferring a belt to a
Girls I knew in the mid 50s to mid 60s did indeed
suspender belts or light girdles.
However, two of
them definitely did not - and I had the impression that
quite a few girls (of 5th and 6th form age) wore more
The younger of my sisters
(who was a little "plump") wore what seemed to be
quite a firm girdle with a zip. It had a wide, non-stretch
front with two little elastic triangles between
the suspenders, and the whole of the back was double
A girl (friend of my then girlfriend) I
often met at our youth club and who was rather more heavily
built than my sister, wore a boned girdle and, I think, long-line bra. I could
feel the rigid material
and the bones as I danced with her.
This was in
the south of England and I wonder whether things were
different further north or whether some girls there
also had to wear heavier foundations.
school girls didn't only wear suspender belts, but that was very common. The
bigger girls definitely did wear girdles and these ranged from lighter stretch
type to firm control girdles. A lesser number wore long-line bras but I recall
at least one that did. She was very voluptuous and also wore girdles. The deep
style suspender belts were a halfway house and provided some degree of control. (Rosalind
doesn't mention the north-south divide. I well remember in the late 1960's, a
newspaper comment that pretty underwear wasn't available in t' north! This
elicited a fusillade of replies from northern women, who accused the writer of
assuming that they still wore frumpy corsets.)
When panty-girdles and
tights became popular in the
late 60s, my wife complained that panty-girdles described
(by M&S) as firm control were nothing like as
firm as their open girdles had been.
Was there a tendency
for manufacturers to downgrade their definitions
of firmness to match the greater freedom that
women seemed to enjoy from about that time. Perhaps was
my wife simply wrong in her belief.
You are quite right about 'downgrading' the definitions! Simple panty-girdles by their very design couldn't give the same degree of firmness as girdles, although some of the long-leg types definitely did. (The Spirellette 105 is definitely a case in point – Ivy.)
Did women buy special garments for weddings?
Women definitely did buy new bras and girdles for weddings. In the 1960's brides
would be wearing whatever suited their body, so there is no definitive answer.
There was little in the way of glamorous stuff like today's basques. For formal
dressing, foundation garments were almost always worn, even if the lady was
slim. She would still feel the need to be wearing a girdle and a supportive bra.
picture on the right from Spirella - April 1959 shows that even the thin and
angular lady deserved the correct support. Sadly she seems less than happy with
the experience - Ivy)
(The picture on the right from Spirella - April 1959 shows that even the thin and angular lady deserved the correct support. Sadly she seems less than happy with the experience - Ivy)
long would a standard corset last ?
would last for several years and customers would generally have two or three or
more. I'm not sure how long they would be kept but certainly longer than the
lighter weight girdles and roll-ons that were more popular. Those tended to
lose their elasticity and would be replaced. (A
corsetiere I used to visit in Croydon, South London, could expound at length
about frequency of washing, acidity of perspiration and many other factors that
would extend or reduce the longevity of the corset - Ivy)
the old favourite:- Did women wear their knickers over or under their corsets?
were always worn over corsets and girdles. (So now
you've heard it from an expert - Ivy)