Ivy Leaf's Archives - 2005


Jan 2005:  Where are the Corsetieres today?

The vast majority of corsetieres, whether working for the made-to-measure business, or serving behind the counters of the specialists and department stores, tended to be mature women. This was preferred by the customer, and after the 1960’s, it simply represented a lack of younger interest in the trade.

In 1960, there were many thousands of professional corsetieres in Britain, each with hundreds of clients. Millions of women wore lower foundations. Although some young women tried to enter the trade at 21 (this was the minimum age required by Spirella), most houses felt that a slightly older woman would be appropriate. Spirella tried to encourage younger corsetieres to introduce the youngsters of the 1960’s to ‘proper’ foundations, but this attempt was not successful. The few younger women that entered the trade were mainly daughters of corsetieres to whom the concept of corsetry was second nature. Alas, these households were rare. The average age of a corsetiere in 1960 was over 50 with rare extremes of 21 and 80.

By 1970, a huge social change had occurred, and although the counters of the department stores still groaned under the mass of corsets at sale time, the industry was in terminal decline. Virtually no new recruits were coming in, and corsetieres were leaving the business. Shinners of Sutton is a typical example. In 1971, it had a sale of corsets that covered several tables. They were finishing their long association with Camp and all these corsets were on sale. My husband vividly remembers his Mother trying to buy that classic of all Camps (the 143 model), and the only assistants around were two young women in their early 20’s. They had armfuls of these corsets and were nattering away to each other, completely oblivious to quite a number of middle-aged women keen to snap up these bargains, little realising that these might have to furnish their corset requirements for the rest of their lives! Matters came to a head when a middle-aged women walked out of the changing cubicle in a half-fastened corset and shouted at the assistants, “Are you going to help me or not?”. Sulking, the assistants dropped their corsets on the counter and sauntered over to the customer.

The whole point is that in 1970, the young assistants were neither interested in corsets nor pursing a career as a corsetiere. Looking at our age distribution from the 1960’s, we can see that the vast majority of the corsetieres of that period are now in their 90’s. My own corsetiere from South England is 85, and still going strong I might add. Certainly, there will be some women in their mid-60’s, the last who were trained, rather than simply served as corsetieres, however, their memories are probably brief since they would have left the business well before the older corsetieres. Times were changing rapidly. Young women wanted televisions and perhaps a car. A corsetiere then, and now, earns little more than the basic minimum wage in Britain.


January again: Lunchtime Encounters

My husband and I do enjoy going out for that quintessentially British ‘pub lunch’; simple tasty food, a pint of bitter for him and a gin and tonic for me. It gives us a chance to indulge in that fascinating pastime of ‘people watching’. We were lunching at a very traditional pub near Effingham in Surrey. This old establishment is a haunt of the elderly and it seems that on pension day (Thursdays), they come out in their masses. On this occasion, half a dozen women (in their 60’s) entered the lounge bar and sadly gave me every reason to criticise the poor shape of today’s middle-aged and elderly population (see my rants about the ‘lost generation’). One of the women, however, arrested my attention (and certainly my husband’s). I’ve encountered many large busted women, but this lady was bigger than anything I’d ever seen before. Dressed in slacks and a very floppy woolen-knit jumper, her prodigious bust projected alarmingly from half way down her front. I felt very sorry for her. I well know the weight of even a D-cup breast, but this poor women had transcended the alphabet. The embarrassment of her bosom, the inevitable back bad and neck caused by the weight of her breasts must have dogged her for many decades.

I consulted one of my corsetiere friends and asked about the problems of fitting such a figure. “Very difficult” she replied. “The breasts need to be supported, but at that size, you can’t possibly hang them from the shoulders. In principle she would need support from underneath, something firmly anchored like a corset so the weight can be transferred to the lower spine. It’s a problem. If you hoist the breasts to where they should be, they’ll look gigantic and literally the lady would not be able to see her food at the table for example. If you try to minimise them, it’s simply too uncomfortable. She’s probably found a compromise over the years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she wore a corselette.”

The second encounter involved a problem of adequate support but in a much younger woman. Obesity is a much publicised problem these days, and we encountered a classic example in a women who could only have been in her late 20’s. The woman’s stretchy outfit concealed nothing of the rolls of fat that hung from her ample frame. My husband whispered “I’ve seen her before. Not actually her, but she’s the spitting image of one of our Spirella archive pictures.” Later he located the photograph and indeed, the pendulous abdomen was there for all to see. Like many very obese women, her breasts were carried by far too small a brassiere. This totally inadequate garment cut into her shoulders and the thin strap at the back had ridden above the fat under the arms to produce an indentation like a tourniquet.

Like many obese women, her face could have been quite pretty, but she had become defensive in her condition and she looked sour and surly. “That abdomen needs support,” said my husband. “Are you going to tell her,” I replied, and husband quailed visibly. Of course he was quite right. Proper support, a little figure forming, and appropriate clothes would make this women quite attractive, however, like her generation, the idea of a corset would be totally alien ‘something that they wore in Victorian times’. Sadly, the girl seemed doomed by her own adiposity for want of a little old-fashioned knowledge.

Spirella 1937

February 2005:

We recently received, in our attempts to become more familiar with European corsetry some lovely French and German corsets. These will have to be catalogued, photographed and then inserted appropriately into the web site. As always, any information on matters of corsetry are most gratefully received. The Syrian girdle that we described a few weeks ago, despite being only eight years old, has revealed alarming deterioration of the elastic. Never mind, I'm sure they are still available, and I have to admit it was rather cheap.


March 2005:

A discussion on the merits of French corsetry.



April 2005


We were updating the site recently, and I had written about Camp corsets being popular in view of the quantity still available at auction. My husband, who was tasked with inserting the comments raised an interesting point. "Do you think that they are common because they were popular, or unpopular?" He elaborated. "The most worn corsets and girdles will never appear at auction since they become too worn to be of any value. They end up in the bin. It's the corsets that women are persuaded to buy, that they try a few times and then reject because they are too uncomfortable or badly fitted, that survive". 


Eventually, we came to the conclusion that, indeed, a truly popular garment will ultimately become rare, however, there are many Camp's at auction for several reasons:-


1) They are immensely strong and last well;

2) They are still made, and even in the 1980's still carried the old 1930's patents causing confusion amongst inexperienced sellers;

3) For many elderly women who had worn Camp's all their life (Camp covered every age from, maternity to matronhood), the Camp corset might be a purchase just before passing away;

4) Camp's became unfashionable and littered the higher shelves of the old traditional corset shops for years, and are only now coming to the auctions as these houses close.


So, my comment stands, however, so does my husband's. In 27 years, we've always managed to work out our differences.



May 2005   More Camp, Boards, Ramrods and Rambling

My notes last month on Camp corsets elicited a response from several ladies whose mothers and grannies had worn these devices. This is always gratifying. Sometimes we can write on what we think are interesting topics and receive no response. The Camp corset, however, friend or foe, was certainly popular and still enjoys a limited clientele today. My favourite response on this subject follows:-

“If you want your stomach to be as flat as a board, you’ll have to wear a board.” These were the uncompromising words that my mother used to drum into me. Not that she forced herself or her daughters into corsets or anything like that, she was merely stating a ‘fact-of-life’. Normally, she would wear her trusty old girdle, however, the boning was barely equal to the task of restraining an abdomen stretched far beyond its elastic limit by three pregnancies and innumerable chocolates. The old girdle, however, was apparently comfortable, and did its job of supporting mother’s tummy and holding up her stockings. She always bulged though.            

She did, however, put her own good advice into practice for ‘special’ occasions, meaning weddings and formal dinners. In fact, if she dressed up to go out with father, out came her sturdy Camp. The front of this formidable device was rigid with flat steels (the 944 has six bones at the front.  IL), and the pulley system of lacing allowed the wearer to exert a ferocious tension. I was always fascinated how mother’s alarming abdomen yielded to the pressure of the device. Indeed, the front of the corset was as stiff as a board and mother’s tummy, temporarily and uncomfortably, was as flat as a board as well.

Utrecht Letter, 1987

The Camp triple lacer, one of the most powerful, yet easily adjustable corsets ever made. 

From Cherry-Tomatoe

Most unusually, I have met a number of corsetieres who are quite scathing about Camp corsets. “They’re too short in the back”, “I had to rescue the old dear from her Camp”, “They’re bulky”, being the most common lines of attack. I suspect that this is little more than professional bickering, since the Camp was actually very popular and significantly eroded Spirella and Spencer sales. The Australian equivalent, Jenyns was equally popular and answered the first criticism, since Camps, off-the-shelf, are often a bit too short. I suspect this was towards the end of their popularity, when shops were pushing unsold stock with little regard for the customer’s dimensions other than waist and hip. Perhaps the criticism was valid after all.

The biggest present of all this month, was Roger K's request that we include a section on his various articles. This erudite and prolific writer has provided so much material that the simple page has grown into quite construction. Read Roger K's words  in Roger's Ramblings.


End of May

It really is most sad to watch the decline of an acquaintance. Inevitably, our work with, and visits to our elderly friends, exposes us to just this sadness, although, as I shall mention, it has the odd moment of light relief. My husband and I have visited a lady who has been resident in one of the South Coast's residential homes for several years. In her late 80's, she has worn corsets since the war, and apart from lamenting the decline in the quality of what she quaintly refers to as 'her stays', she has revealed little more about her lifetime habit. To such a woman, corsets were commonplace and raised no interest. On our last visit, this frail old woman was obviously in considerable distress and sat uneasily in the typically overheated lounge of the home. Her ramblings about the weather were interjected by quite un-ladylike wrigglings as she attempted to achieve comfort on the sofa. Eventually she asked me to accompany her to her room leaving my husband alone and bemused. We returned after 10 minutes, the lady comfortable at last.

What had happened was that she had her corsets on back to front. "That's impossible' my husband retorted. "Nobody makes that mistake." "Unless they're selling on Ebay" I replied. Indeed, some Ebay vendors are quite inventive when it comes to displaying a corset incorrectly. No. The reason was amusing but sad. The lady had worn front-laced corsets, probably since her husband had passed away, or since her funds precluded the employment of a personal maid. Before that, she wore back-laced corsets. Typically of a failing mind, she had reverted spontaneously to the way she used to dress over 30 years previously, and had donned her corset, and then turned it round before tightening the laces, which she'd largely failed to do. No wonder it was uncomfortable! The staff from the home confirmed that Mrs. P was indeed reverting to the past and added interestingly, that this seemed more and more common as the elderly lost patience and hope for the current state of the world.

Meanwhile, my husband was digging through our archives and came across a copy of Mrs. M's Spencer corsetiere certificate (below). Mrs. M is one of the few remaining Spencer, (or ex-Spirella) corsetieres in practice in Britain today. Quite amazingly, Mrs. M had graduated from the Spencer corsetiere's school on 25th April 1955, just over 50 years ago. We phoned her to offer our congratulations and she was so pleased. We were the only people who had remembered her achievement, not even Remploy (the company that currently owns Spencer) knew of her long service record. She told us of her mentor in 1955, an 81 year-old lady who had joined Spencer when they started in Britain. Sadly, Mrs. M is likely to see the end of this era. She has only a few dozen clients, all of whom require surgical supports. Mrs. M herself, is her only 'fashion foundation' client.

Inspired by Mrs. M, we also spoke to the corsetiere from Sussex who has regularly supplied me with garments. She joined Spirella in 1958, and stayed on despite the take-over by Spencer. Today she has but a dozen clients. This is a major change from the hundreds she used to visit in her west London days before her husband passed away. Politicians and celebrities, she fitted them all. She still has a few 'fashion' clients and three who wear the front and back-laced corsets that derive from the Spirella 325.


June 2005

Ivy_corset_ivy.jpg (25510 bytes)

Our holidays over, we have accumulated a number of catalogues, corsets, girdles and, perhaps most precious of all, memories. It will take a while for my long-suffering husband to format the scans and photographs, however, we have enclosed a few pictures below to whet the appetite.

Spirella_UK_buckle_ubelt.jpg (23411 bytes)  Spirella_UK_lacingx.jpg (46809 bytes)  Spirelle55_0958_modelling1x.jpg (37834 bytes)    Coja_view.jpg (65719 bytes)    

Spencer_1x.jpg (21845 bytes) Spencer55_1947_hiback1x.jpg (15035 bytes) Axfords_OA.jpg (21146 bytes)

We have here (left to right), a Spencer, a Victorian Spirella scene, another Spirella from 1958 and Holland in 2005. On the right, a long Spencer, a very long Spencer from 1947 and an ultra-long (28") corset from 1971!

On another vein, we often receive kind, but skeptical, emails about the dressing habits of several decades ago. They often go along the lines of “Surely nobody actually wore a corset with 20 buckles, or, surely no women ever wore two pairs of stockings”. I can honestly say that they did, although I have no statistics to suggest how commonplace this might have been. Recollections from corsetieres, their clients and my elderly acquaintances often elicit memories of such practices, although so many elderly folk tend to remember memories rather than the actual fact, which can cause confusion. Recently, however, we came across two definitive pieces of evidence. We received a box of the grotesquely named ‘Duribilknit’ surgical stockings. There on the cover were the words “Designed for use with or without fashionable stockings”. A few weeks later, driving to the ferry at Harwich on returning from our trip to Scotland, we broke the journey at a convenient pub near Newmarket. It was a rare hot day in May, and we sat outside. Slowly, but elegantly, an elderly lady emerged from the pub to sit at a table nearby. It was quite apparent that she was actually wearing two pairs of stockings, since the underlying pair (of seamed support stockings) had snagged the overlying pair causing them to crease behind her calves. I’m sure she was unaware of this, and quite obviously stiff in the confines of some corset, the creases would have been in a ‘blind-spot’. I suspect that the support stockings were anchored to her corset, however, the overlying pair were probably tights and thus inadequately secured to prevent some wrinkles. She gingerly lowered herself onto a wooden bench as her daughter (niece?) carried out a tray of drinks. “Good Heavens” said husband “You can almost hear her stays creaking”. Indeed, we’ve rarely witnessed anything like this lady for many a year. Whether her corset had 20 buckles, of course, is a matter for conjecture!

The journey from Scotland via Harwich to Hoek van Holland on the ferry took 14 hours, 10 of them on the road. It made me consider the evolution of car design. When I was a girl, cars were quite upright and somebody like the old lady mentioned above, could enter an old Rover with ease. In the 1980’s and 90’s, cars became much lower, and Jaguars (pronounced JAG-U-AR, not JAG-WAR incidentally) in particular were dreadful to enter and exit. These days, even the tiny Toyota that my husband rented, allows one to sit upright, although in most other respects it is quite unremarkable. “Why can’t we have a car like a Rover with leather and wood?” I asked my husband. He thought for a moment “Because it would cost a brand new Spencer corset for each trip to Scotland” quoted my numerate man. On that strange statistic I’ll close this page.


July 2005:


I expounded recently about the remarkably strong Spirelette 105 panty-girdle. Often, the comments in these pages generate a response, however, the demise of our site for several days left a bit of a void. This was neatly filled during conversation with the secretary of our local solicitor (lawyer). I was waiting for an appointment and I got talking to the secretary who I imagine was in her 50's. We compared ailments (as women do) and she sympathised with my poor back which has been a nuisance recently. I brought up the topic of Spirella and their excellent corsets, and to my surprise she agreed. Apparently, her mother and grandmother had been regular Spirella wearers. She remembered as a teenager being fitted by the local corsetiere. She found it a 'very old-fashioned experience', nevertheless her mother bought her three panty-girdles and three brassieres. I asked her to describe them, and her memories of a strong, zippered  garment suggested the Spirelette. I didn't want to lead her, however, when I mentioned the satin panels and four suspenders, not six, she agreed that this was the bane of her teenage years. She appeared to have had a love-hate relationship with her girdles. They were very effective, however, she remembers that they were not very comfortable. She said it was like wearing a pair of 'steel knickers'. As soon as she left home, her 105's were consigned to the back of the drawer and, as she admitted, Marks and Spencer's  have been her choice ever since. One exception was on her wedding day in the early 70's when an unused 105 was pressed into service at the behest of her mother. She got rid of it before the evening reception, "I didn't want to offend my mother, but I certainly didn't want my husband to think I wore such things!"


On a related matter, my husband was driving us to friends for dinner. They live along a very bumpy road (too few houses for the council to take ownership) and the movement of my bosom was distinctly uncomfortable. It would have been quite sore but for what my husband calls my 'iron bra'. I wear this especially strong bra when we visit these friends! As I mentioned, the secretary referred to her Spirelettes as ‘steel knickers’ (almost certainly because they had been fitted too tightly). The references to iron and steel are, in fact, quite common. Betty Macdonald, in her novel “The Egg and I” recounts "The Corset Lady had piercing black eyes and a large bust and stomach apparently encased in steel, for when I brushed against her it was like bumping into our oil drum." Margaret Dumont was unmercifully called ‘Old Ironsides’ by the Marx Brothers, in reference to her corsets. One of my elderly acquaintances at the home in Sussex refers to the ‘armour’ that she has to wear. (The old dear actually wears a fairly conventional Spencer posture corset with four rigid spinal steels. Hardly armour by the standards of the 1950’s, it is, by modern standards, quite an unusual garment. I’m sure she picked up the term from her daughter or grand-daughters.)

Steels is a term loosely used in corsetry. The bones in the corset used to be whalebone or baleen hence the name. With the demise of the poor whales, steel was often used. However, these steel bones could rust from washing and snap (see the birth of Spirella). The term ‘steel’ was more often associated with the heavier bones at the back of the corset, the other bones being called exactly that; ‘bones’ or more archaically, ‘stays’. Ironically, many of the rigid back steels were latterly made from aluminium and its alloys. During the Second World War, rubber and steel were in short supply. Women donated their corset bones for the war effort, and to this day, gaps in railings around houses testify to the extent that ordinary steel was pressed into service. Spiral and flat steel bones are still the mainstay of the diminishing corsetry business (pun intended).

This brings me to a tale that was recounted by my husband. He has no idea of its veracity, however, it was related by one of his school colleagues. The sister of this colleague was a Girl Guide and apparently doing quite well, collecting badges, going on camps and generally enjoying the healthy activities of days gone by. One skill that she could not master was compass work, and the Guide Mistress had reduced her to tears with her inability to master the subject. Oddly, in the garden at home under the tuition of the brother, there was no problem. It was the brother that hit upon the solution. The steels in the Head Guide’s corsets were attracting the poor girl’s compass!



August 2005:  Strange uses for corsets.

A letter from a lecturer’s wife was so amusing that it went straight into ‘Corsetiere’s Tales’, however, it prompted me to recount the most inventive use to which I have ever seen a corset stay put. My husband and I were driving along the south coast road of the Moray Firth when there was a loud bang from beneath the car, followed by a horrible rattling and grinding noise. We stopped rapidly. My husband donned his overalls (which he needed to carry in that sadly unreliable Ford Granada) and crawled underneath. “The exhaust has snapped off” came a mumbled explanation. Apparently the rear end of the exhaust pipe was now dragging along the road. He fumbled in the tool box and produced two jubilee clips that would fit around the two ends of the broken exhaust pipe. “I need a piece of steel” he said. “What about a small branch” I offered hopefully. His eyes raised and he gave me that withering look that meant ‘branch = wood = exhaust at a million degrees = fire = petrol = boom = silly woman’. “Oh” I said, would a corset bone do?” He paused “Yes, probably”. We had a few corsets in the boot (trunk) that we had inherited from an old lady, and one of them had two heavy back steels for which I have numerous spares. It was the work of a minute to procure the bone, and another five minutes to secure the exhaust pipe. The result held together so well that we ran the car like that for weeks before buying a new exhaust pipe!


September 2005:

We are frequently approached by interested readers asking for an explanation about the markings in corsets. Usually this is accompanied by a query as to its age. It is common to believe that corsets at auction are older than they really are. This occurs for several reasons. The seller may be under the misapprehension that corsets died out with the Victorian era. Several times I have seen corsets advertised as Victorian that were made in the 1980’s! Materials, stitching, suspender style and length are all subtle clues as to the date of the garment. Zip fasteners, for example, were not used on clothes until after the 1930’s, and not on corsets until after WWII. Another misleading concept is the patent dates that appear on corsets, particularly Camp and American Spirellas. The patent dates largely come from the 1920’s, but the garment may come from any time after that, and usually does.

Spirella in particular loved its numbering system, and every model had its identifier often stamped on the bone casing inside the garment. M 325 means model 325, the front- and back-laced corset that sold surprisingly well. Its number first appeared in 1939 and remained unique until 1988 when Spirella was sold in Britain to Spencer. I might add that my corsetiere in Britain has three clients that still wear the Spencer front- and back-laced corset (the spiritual successor to the Spirella 325).

Readers sometimes appear surprised that their corset has no size marking. This is simply because Spirella, Spencer and the other made-to-measure garments had no specific size; they were tailored to each individual customer.


Corset Shops

Much of the content of this site comes from research, collecting items, reading old magazines and corsetieres' manuals, however, nothing beats first-hand knowledge. We have been lucky this year. We had a long chat with the proprietress of Coja, one of the last true corset shops in the Netherlands. This establishment has been operating for over 45 years.

More recently, a charming lady from Lancashire, wrote and told us about her times in a corset shop near Blackpool. She even sent us a photograph of the shop. We have included her recollections as a separate page "Rosalind's Recollections", so helpful has she been. She is quite willing to answer questions, and we have included a section on these at the bottom of her page.

Yet another lady wrote in the other day with a very intelligent question about the complexity of corsets. Basically, if Victorian corsets simply needed two symmetrical parts connected by laces and a busk fastener, why did so many designs of the 20th century incorporate elaborate under-belts and the like? Like all good questions, this set us thinking and our reply has been documented in the under-belt section on surgical corsets. Incidentally, this bilateral symmetry of the corset is why, archaically, corsets were called a 'pair of corsets'. Modern English Usage now decrees that corset is singular.)


November 2005

Some months pass in a flurry of corsets and correspondence, and then, like last month, there is a dearth of incoming news. The auctions dry up, emails are few and far between, and no letters arrive from our elderly correspondents. October was one of those months, coming, as it did, after an energetic discussion between Rosalind and ourselves.

We're presently working on some curiosities, like why is a girdle zip always on the left, and did stiff old ladies walk that way because they were elderly, or because they wore stiff, old corsets. For sure, women's undergarments used to have a profound effect on the way we moved, sat and conducted our daily life.

At last, we received a garment that sparked a lively discourse between myself and an acquaintance, who I use as a sounding board for Marks and Spencer girdles. We received one of M&S's firm control girdles that, I believe, just post-dates the satin elastic variety. The side panels are heavy-duty elastic, the rear satin elastic and the front, a charming confection of firm lace and satin. The girdle was well used in its day, but is still as bullet-proof as ever. It has all the hallmarks of its sort: the label indicating the 'waist-line' and the six 'so-lo' suspenders. My contact who wore these girdles in the late 1960's (when she was in her 40's), always maintained that she bought and wore these girdles two sizes below her natural measurement. That is with her relaxed waist of 30", she would purchase girdles of size 26". As far as she was concerned, a flat tummy was everything (and these girdles are masters of the flat tummy). Comfort, other than the necessity to wear the garment for, say, six hours at a time, was of no concern whatsoever.

Just after we wrote the comments above, I received an interesting email from a lady who claimed that 'in extremis' she would force her natural 34" waist into a 26" panty-girdle. Apparently, the biggest challenge was mustering the strength to mate the hooks and eyes beneath the zip fastener, but she claimed it secured her a new husband. With such over-tightening of a garment, she admitted that walking normally was difficult, her gait already constrained by her tight skirt and high heels. She admitted that the apocryphal tales of being 'trapped in one's girdle' were perfectly possible. Normally it's easier to get out of a garment than to put it on, but with such tightness, problems can arise.


Later in November 2005:

There’s nothing like a simple question to plunge the researcher into a morass of falsehoods, myths, perceptions, rumours and anecdotes. Somewhere in this labyrinth lies the truth, shining brightly by virtue of its simplicity. Thus it was that our research into corset fastenings, and why do some corsets lace on the right and fasten on the left, saw my husband and I, floundering amongst our collection of corsets and girdles, some zippered, busked, hooked (up to 33 hooks), buckled (16 was the record), laced (as many as four times), and with all combinations of the above (lacing, 10 straps, hooks and eyes and a busk!) The ones that fitted I tried, those that didn’t, we discussed. So; what were our conclusions?

If the laces or fastenings are offset either to the left or right, there is no real difference. When I say offset, I mean by a few inches. Once the zip on a fashionable girdle, for example, is completely round on the left hip, it is easier to fasten for a right-handed person, although it's also very easy to put one’s back out. I’d love to know if women with bad backs were more predominantly left-handed, but that’s yet another avenue of research. In our page on Marks and Spencer girdles, the picture shows how the zipper is always offset to the wearer's left, but sometimes it is vertical, sometimes it leans to the centre and sometimes away. It doesn't actually make much difference.

Hooks-and-eyes are a nuisance, be they on brassieres, girdles or corsets. Zips are virtually always backed up by a few hooks-and-eyes in case the poor zipper fails. It’s interesting to note that on some of our Marks and Spencer girdles, the lowermost hook-and-eye has pulled out. These garments were subjected to quite some force, especially when the wearer sat down. By far the easiest fastening is a busk. It’s strong, it acts as a bone, and it’s fairly inconspicuous. Why, oh why did it go out of fashion on corsets?

If you adjust the lacings on a corset each time you wear it, that’s another chore. In fiction, the ardent swain might be persuaded to lace in his love, but in reality, only the terminally romantic will fail to delegate this task to the maid or the wearer after a few attempts. I am well used to wearing my trusty Spirella's (latterly Spencer's), but trying on a Camp reminded me how ridiculously simple that lacing method is. One goes from bulging abdomen to youthful flatness with a firm pull of the straps (“Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting” writes Tom Sharpe in his hilarious novel, Porterhouse Blue.) Would that my other lost youthful attributes were as easy to recreate!


My husband found this picture in an Ambrose Wilson catalogue of 1962. Fan-laced and busk-fronted, this would be my dream corset!



28th November 2005:  St. Andrew's Night


Wherever you are in the world, the Scots will always take the opportunity to celebrate their patron saint's day, and my husband is no exception. It's the one of the few times in the year he really dresses up in full Highland regalia with kilt, sporran and all the works! It might be that he even takes longer than myself to dress. Just in case anybody asks "What does he wear beneath his kilt?", the answer is rather mundane; simply M&S underpants. The reason for this entry was a letter from a gentleman prompted by our new page on the Feel of Corsetry. This gentleman mentioned that decades ago, at barn dances and the like, the exchange of partners and the close dancing meant that all sorts of foundations were felt by the wandering male hand. At the recent St. Andrew's Ball, I asked my husband, who danced the Scottish reels (with a triumph of enthusiasm over skill I might add) for three hours, did he 'feel' anything interesting? Sadly, the answer was negative (apart from myself), but with an average age on the dance floor of 35 - 40 or so, I doubt if there was a woman up there who would even understand what a foundation was. As he remarked on the way back to our hotel room, "That's another erosion of life's innocent little pleasures, I fear!"


December 2005:

We regularly correspond with a translator who specialises in translating the slightly esoteric language of the corsetiere from German into English. We were very lucky to receive in the mail, the full catalogue from FIGESTA, on which, apparently, the translator had been engaged. No easy task this! That Buestenhalter means brassiere, is the subject of quite some amusement (both male and female). The practical Dutch, however, whose equivalent, bustehouder, is simply referred to as a BH, pronounced Bay-Hah. (Apparently the Germans use this contraction as well). I suppose calling a brassiere a bra is similar. I also learned that Velcro is called Klettverschluß in German. Similarly, klitteband is well known to the Dutch who have no idea as to what Velcro is! So much for globalisation, but I digress. The FIGESTA catalogue is superb for a number of reasons. 1) It shows that traditional corsetry is alive and well in Hanover, and that 2) the traditional corset model still exists. There is hope after all.

Footnote: When we contact the corsetieres that still work for Spencer, we always ask, “How’s business?” fully aware that one day, the whole enterprise will fold up. Our south coast friend, Mrs. I, in her Christmas card to us mentioned that Spencer had recently stopped making brassieres. In fact, this was neither a surprise, nor will it have much effect on overall sales. More than a decade ago, Spencer lost its brassiere templates. This was not trivial. Brassiere construction is fiendishly complex and the fitting even more so. That Spencer’s experienced corsetieres were declining at this point, the loss of the templates was the death-knell for the made-to-measure brassiere. I tried several and the fit was poor. I’ve worn Triumph Doreens ever since. Mrs. I. reckoned that the writing was on the wall for the future of bespoke corsetry. So I have a choice, do I purchase enough 305’s to last me a lifetime, or should I sample some of Figesta’s wares?


The year draws to a close, and we have been busy maintaining the Ivy Leaf site. As I mentioned above, we have times of prolific output, and times when the world seems to have forgotten that the corsetiere ever existed. We have recently split the archives of Ivy Leaf's diary into years. One day we will probably move the diary contents to more appropriate places on the site, but that lies in the future. As always, the pages that are updated are indicated on the contents page, however, continual minor editing, weeding of errors and small additions happen all the time. These are too numerous to mention. For the moment we will pause to enjoy the festive period, and I await with eager anticipation, my husband's latest attempt to cook the monster turkey that fills most of our freezer. We have great plans for 2006 and look forward to hearing from all of you. (Our attempt to pause failed! Check the contents for some recent additions; + back-dated diary notes 1.)

We owe a huge debt of thanks to all the friends, acquaintances and elderly correspondents who have kept us supplied with material. We simply hope by recording their memories here, that they will be preserved. We welcome constructive criticism, and always look forward to hearing from those readers who contact us with corrections, or point us towards interesting articles on Ebay. The Ebay vendors (Cherry-Tomatoe (CT)  Trishypoo (TP)  Lyn Locke (LL)  Gilo49 (G49)) consistently turn up the most amazing articles. I wish we could buy them all!

A big thank you to Ros, Simon, George, the Figesta company and the translator, Roger K, the charming staff of Coja, my solicitor's secretary, Mrs. T and Mrs. I, the active Spencer corsetieres.


Peace and Goodwill to all

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

from Ivy Leaf and her long-suffering husband!