The Rise and Fall of the Girdle


A tribute to the long-leg panty-girdle



It might seem odd to call a department store, however famous, a brand, however, Sears sold so many foundation garments (and still does) that the makes it sold were often forgotten and frequently carried the Sears name in any case. Their 'famous Gale' line of corsets was familiar to many matrons who shopped from the Sears catalogue. One has to remember that, even today, parts of the USA are nothing like as accessible as the regions of Europe and mail order, for many, was the only way to shop. But to catalogue all of Sears foundations would culminate in a volume as thick as one of their mail order brochures so I will concentrate on what may have been the most popular foundations of all time. Let us go back to 1965. Propelled by a terrible assassination and awaiting the promiscuous fall-out of another war, the world teeters on the edge of a social revolution. Beneath the smart suits and dresses of the era, the American woman was fundamentally different from her sister across the Atlantic. Consult the mail order catalogues of the day and you see that the girdle has all but died out. If you didn't wear a corset, you wore a panty-girdle, and you probably wore a Sears. In Britain (and Europe), women would keep their girdles until the end of the decade; the move to panty-girdles was brief as women abandoned lower foundations altogether.



Panty-girdles and Jackie Kennedy styles define the mid-1960s as portrayed by the Sears catalogue from 1966.

The model on the right (who was born 30 years after 1966) shows off an immaculate Sears panty-girdle from this era.

These catalogues provide a goldmine of information regarding 'who wore what, when.'


The Rise and Fall of the Girdle


We have a number of Sears catalogues dating from 1918 to 1972. A quick walk through their pages is to take a trip down memory lane. We must emphasise that this is not a work of scholarship, but a rough analysis based on what appeared in the pages of these catalogues. Of course, the Sears catalogue does not reveal what women wore, simply what Sears expected them to buy; the relative sales figures can be found in the 'Roger's Ramblings' page. Here are some observations:




Corsets are present in all the catalogues, however, from the late-1930, back-lacing steadily gives way either to front-lacing or cluster-lacing. Basically, donning one's corset became a task for oneself, not one's maid. From the late 1950's the number of pages devoted to corsets decreases drastically, and the models for sale are more 'surgical corsets' or supports rather than fashion garments. Corselettes stand the test of time as well evolving from complex under-belted creations to the ultimate entrapment device, the long-leg panty-corselette. The garment was extremely popular prior to the WWII mainly because independent brassieres were not available. The corselette pre-WWII was really a corset extended to hold the bosom. The word brassiere appears after WWI but their appearance in any number does not happen until after WWII. Long-line brassieres never occupy much space in the catalogue and steadily the conventional bra would dominate the pages, and subsequently the floor space in the department stores.


The popularity of girdles rise and fall over a three decade period, the shortest of any serious foundation garment. What might have been a longer success was squashed in short order by the panty-girdle. This garment first appears pre-WWII but dramatically dominates the catalogues as the 1950's come to an end having evolved into the long-leg panty-girdle. For two decades, American women wore a bra and panty-girdle; it might as well have been a uniform. Incidentally, Sears never used the term panty-girdle, simply panty or girdle.


Waspies and basques enjoy a few pages during this period, oddly a decade after Dior's new look that required such garments. Rubber is a mainline material for 10% of garments pre-WWII, but the material requirements of this conflict precluded rubber for corsetry for the best part of a decade. It returns during the 1950's and 1960's, latterly under the championship of Playtex, only to die out in favour of what a friend incorrectly called more natural fabrics (what is more natural than rubber?). Oddly, we see a renaissance today of rubber corsetry in Latin America.


That was the American experience. Typically, before the internet generation, modes and customs from America would cross the Atlantic about five to ten years later and, indeed, a British history follows the same course, albeit delayed; the move into the panty-girdle occurring at the end of the 1960's. One major difference however, was that Europeans never embraced the long-leg panty-girdle with the fervour of their American sisters, and whilst Americans wore some really elegant, sleek foundations, the British were reduced to little more than elasticated underpants. Amazingly, spear-headed by the fashion-conscious Asian market, the panty-girdle (although not called as such) once again fills the shelves of the stores.



A tribute to the long-leg panty-girdle

The advertisement, for once, didn't lie. This was an excellent, firm and stylish panty-girdle that, within its 20 inch length, controlled everything from waist to thigh. It was worn by mothers and daughters at least until the revolution of youth took a firm hold at the end of the decade. Latterly worn by mothers and grandmothers this garment would literally be the 'mainstay' of American women for three decades.


The classic Sears 28497 long-leg panty -girdle





Was this one of the most widely worn girdles ever? From grannies to grand-daughters, we all wore girdles then.



Long-legs everywhere in a typical mail order catalog from the 1960s.