Spirella and Sport


Spirella 1938


I do believe that the daughters of today would find it hard to understand that women actually wore foundation garments to play sports, but they did. By the standards of the times, women often possessed a more flexible garment for sporting activities, but in the 1940's (when the picture on the right was taken), it was regarded that a women who indulged in athletics without proper 'support', would suffer in later life from a whole list of unpleasant ailments.


Spirella went to great lengths, as these publicity shots reveal, to convince the modern, sporting girl, that their garments were flexible. This had been a fundamental part of Spirella's philosophy, ever since 'Pa' Beaman invented the flexible stay. 


Britain's famous Olympic athlete of the 1960's, Mary Rand, featured several times in Spirella's publicity, mainly in an attempt to dissociate Spirella from the infamous perception that the younger generation tended to foster:-


“To the uninitiated, the word Spirella all too often conjures up a vision of unyielding strong satin, rows of hooks and eyes, yards of lacing, and bones, bones, and more bones”


Spirella Magazine January 1958



Right from the beginning of Spirella, the flexibility of their patented spiral stay was used whenever possible in advertising. The Edwardian tennis player (left) has been well corseted by the artist, yet is still able to deliver a cracking serve. 


The photographs of the sporting girls (below), show that the high-waisted girdle was as flexible on the tennis court or golf links, as on the dance floor. The lady in the middle appears to be grasping the handle of a wooden tennis racquet, however, it might just be a croquet mallet. "How dare you photograph me in my girdle. Take that, you bounder!" My husband adds that some of the women currently playing at his local golf club might benefit from a decent foundation. He also remembers that his mother used to play tennis (well and vigorously I might add), whilst wearing a firm girdle, although it was from Marks and Spencer, not Spirella.


Mind you, it wasn't just Spirella that grabbed the golf club. Spencer had a go as well (bottom).


As regards skating in your girdle, Sarongster from Australia was at pains to show how flexible their girdles were (below).




Even canoeing and shooting get a look in!


Not that different as Spencer (right) shows!

Golf seems to be the sport of choice for these ladies. Possibly the marketing department realised that a golf swing requires a certain degree of freedom that potential customers might associate with their garments.

As famed Olympian and golfer, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, once commented "It's not just enough to swing at the ball," she replied. "You've got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it!"


The flexible Spirella, spiral-wound bones made all the difference.

There is one sporting arena where the corset and girdle might be expected to make its appearance, and that is, of course, bowls. The lawns of Britain come alive in summer with the elderly practitioners of this sport. The bending of the torso as the ball is released tightens the blouse and skirt of the player embossing the details of her foundations in embarrassingly candid relief to the spectators.

Even swimming in one's foundations was endorsed by Playtex wearer June Earing (US champion swimmer). I presume the latex was easy to dry. In fact, if you consider some swimsuits of the 1960's, especially those made by Spirella, the structure is basically a coloured corselette complete with bones and a back zip!

Just to complete this section on sports, horse-riding is one activity where protection and support of the spine does NOT require flexibity. From girls to grandmothers, tightly buckled lumbo-sacral supports have provided many women with that classical erect posture of the equestrienne.


Other Brands

It wasn't just Spirella and Spencer that extolled the sporting virtues of their foundations. In an age where the unsupported female form was believed to be in imminent danger of collapse, partaking in any sport  required special attention to one's underwear, or more frequently, a solicitous mother's concern for her daughter's well-being.




Archery, skipping, and, on the right, an apparent attempt to pole vault. It seemed that archery was popular although I never realised that it was performed on the move; not since Ancient Grecian times anyway.



Golf, of course features strongly. On one of the golfing pictures, the advertiser uses the subtle addition of the ladies two son's looking on in admiration. Whether they are admiring her 200 yard drive or her undoubtedly elegant style is a matter for conjecture. This is very cunning marketing. Golf was still something of a novelty for many women and more than anything it expressed freedom and equality; and you could still wear your girdle or, on the right, a somewhat inappropriate strapless bullet bra.




Athletes feature (we have already mentioned Britain's Olympic athlete Mary Rand above) and there is a French cycliste, two daring surfers (from Berlei of Australia - where else), and bizarrely, a trumpet playing lady. No doubt the flexibility of her stays allowed her to arch back and nail that top C. As an aside, a colleague of mine played a trumpet in the Salvation Army and found that without a seriously firm girdle, she got backache from standing up too long! Below, the German firm Felina shows that you can cycle, drive and play tennis in your girdle.






You can touch your toes and even cut logs but exactly what the French lass (right of centre) is doing, I am not certain. It appears that in the act of hurling a bowling ball down the alley, she has tripped, but those French lasses got up to all sorts of high jinks in their scandalous girdles. Even if you were not that sporty, you could listen to records in your 'cool minimum' girdle - or was it just cool to listen to records? How many women of the period declined sporting activity fearing that to do so would mean abandoning one's foundations, and hadn't Mummy warned of the evil consequences of such depravity.


Warners, again showed off the flexibility of their girdles and coined a hoary phrase

"Sylph control!"





The Mexico Olympics seem to have inspired this riding lass (above left), however, by the time of the Munich Olympics in 1972, women generally had begun to abandon the lower foundations. Southern Germany, however, was definitely more traditional and this Teutonic lass holding a riding crop may not have been untypical. One of our calendar girls, who tried on the firm Spirella 105 panty-girdle commented that she disliked it, but it might be good for horse riding!

I bet that the open-bottom girdle worn by the girl on the right was not suitable for horse-riding unless she wore a skirt and sat side-saddle.




Even catapulting features, however, surely the marketers have lost the plot here

since the act of the young lady in no way expresses the flexibility of her foundations.

Perhaps it simply emphasised youth and was almost certainly inspired by the

Spirella cartoon from September 1960!



It is hard to believe that tennis players used to complain about the sound

of their stays creaking let alone the animal shrieks of Miss Sharapova.

Nevertheless, these two women are prepared to play table-tennis

apparently on a very hot day.


Once again the sporting Maidenform girl (left) attempts to throw a baseball although it looks doubtful that there's much effort involved. At least she appears to be chewing gum in true professional style or is that a spare ball in her mouth!



Playtex spent a fortune on advertising the flexibility of their boneless, latex girdles:-


Female celebrities of the post-war era showed a candour concerning their underwear that is almost alien today. Lisa Kirk, star of 'Kiss Me Kate' and twice winner of the US Tennis Open, Sarah Palfrey Cooke extolled the virtues of their girdles. Only Gwyneth Paltrow has been so candid in recent times.


Gracina adds some of the most unlikely of sports: Tennis (fair enough and I bet Miss Sharapova would grunt in corsets like that), shooting (don't take this girl lightly), horse riding (when even today a corset provides for good back support) but really, boxing!!

Annie Oakley (1860 - 1926) wore many costumes during her long career, some loose but others very obviously fitted over a tight corset.


On Yes! Women really did wear corsets whilst playing tennis. (New Zealand c. 1900)




Tights would in later decades come to mean panty-hose (US) but here we have yet another euphemism for girdle, Sport-Tights. Fencing is yet another sport you can do in your underwear, especially whilst saving rubber for the war effort in a Carter's panty-girdle. In 1938, Life Magazine ran an article on the latest underwear fashions with the emphasis on flexibility, witness the cyclist and the ping-pong player. Is the lady on right preparing to throw the javelin or attempt a pole-vault? The mind boggles. Of course a corset, was mandatory for the feminine motorist. This is not particularly far fetched. In the early days of motoring, the roads were bad and progression was marked by a series of bumps and bangs. A firm corset (and brassiere) would be a boon to the well-endowed lady motoriste. Warners badminton player also gets in on the act in her oh-so-flexible panty-girdle.


However, it took Silf Skin to show the gymnastics that could be performed in your panty-girdle.

Eliminate those pesky bones, those rigid panels and you too can fold yourself up like the girl on the right



The Gossard lady touches her toes although it looks like the base of her corset might sever her legs. Finally, although not from a corsetry company, Hollywood proves that is really is possible to do the splits whilst wearing, if not a corset, at least a waist cincher!



From the Corsetry and Underwear Review of 1922


Firstly, it was most important to emphasise that the 'wasp waists' of the Victorian era were long gone and that corset wearing was recommended by Doctors.

In fact, this young lady wears a Ferris Corset and the text goes:

"Today, there isn't any form of exercise, however violent, which is barred to women - dancing, skating, walking, horseback-riding, golf, tennis and the rest."

And don't worry, "it's not a harness" although it's hard to imagine some of the current Tennis Amazons belting out their 100mph serves wearing these tight rubber girdles.


Finally, there's nothing to stop you playing pool in your underwear - other than the club rules I suppose!





The dividing line between swimsuits and underwear is a very grey area. In the post-war period until the 1960's when many women were married to their foundation garments, a lady's swimsuit might also have to perform the function of underwear. The lady would feel very uncomfortable without proper support. Spirella made some excellent examples with bras inserted and the material of the swimsuit of sufficient elasticity to rival some of their corselettes. Look at the hook-and-eye and zippered fastening, the brassiere section and the heavy duty elastic nylon. construction. We have taken the liberty of flanking Spirella's best by the model Barbara Payton whose satin swimsuit only needs the addition of garters to appear like a fashionable corselette.