In an era when women relied on their foundation garments,

to appear in an unstructured swimsuit would be unthinkable.

This is why women's swimwear in the post-war period up until the dawn of the Bikini

closely resembled that classic foundation garment: the corselette.


Marguerite Chapman (1918 - 1999) and Jane Russell (1921 - 2011)

demonstrate how closely their satin swimsuits

resemble what they might wear under their day clothes.



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. If you can make a powerful corselette, you can design a swimsuit to shape the figure and Spirella did so very successfully. Some of Spirella's swimsuits are far stronger than any foundation made today. They zipped and hooked at the back, and beneath the trendy helanca fabric lay layers of powerful elastic. Boning, hooks and a back or side zip were all part of the suit. Concealed lacing was not a Spirella option, however, it was used by a number of actresses (and a famous member of royalty) in the 1950's.




In the 1960s, Playtex persuaded a swimming champion, June Earing, to endorse their brand, not least because you could wear the girdle whilst swimming! A Spencer consultant relates that this was not without its own hazards:

“Did women wear girdles under their swimsuits in the 1950s?”   The answer for many women was yes, and perhaps I can tell you about my own experience  Those of you who remember the fashions of those days will recollect that the average woman's swimsuits were much fuller coverage and of thicker material than today's. The material of the swimsuit was not so stretchy as it is today but they had some rubberized elastic built in to give them shape. Once my body had got used to the firm support of my Spencer foundation garments, it didn't react that well to suddenly being unsupported. I thus joined the legions of women who needed a girdle under their swimsuits. I remember the fist time that I went swimming after joining Spencer, I happily removed my underwear and put on my swimsuit. I felt great for about an hour, but then I began to feel this dull ache from my stomach and back and that strange ‘falling out’ sensation with which corset wearers are familiar. I knew I was going to need to wear a girdle under my swimsuit.

I decided to
buy an off-the-shelf girdle from a department store. I had seen adverts about the new molded rubber that seemed very popular. This rubber panty girdle was a new concept for me.  It was a single piece molded rubber garment with no apparent seams complete with a rubber crotch which was perforated with a number of holes. I was a little surprised when the girdle came complete with a small pack of scented talcum powder. The shop assistant told me in a conspiratorial whisper that this was to help the girdle slide on easier and also to disguise the rubbery smell. I took my purchase home. It seemed like the perfect girdle to wear under my swimsuit; light and very form fitting with no seams to show through. I tried on my swimsuit and looked at myself in the mirror. I was impressed. The girdle firmed me up and there appeared to be no sign of it under my swimsuit. This was wrong as it turned out!


I decided to go to the public pool and I put on a dress over the swimsuit rather than try and change at the pool. I remember having fun swimming but it was when I got out of the pool my problems began. For a start, water had got inside my rubber girdle and when I stood at the edge of the pool, the water drained out of the perforations of the crotch of girdle and through my swimsuit. I was acutely embarrassed as it looked exactly as if I had an accident.  I quickly sat down to sunbathe but as my swimsuit dried in the sun it changed colour slightly as material did in those days. And to my embarrassment the suit dried unevenly as part had the rubber of my girdle under it and part did not, and it was soon clear for all to see that I was wearing a girdle and exactly where my girdle ended.