Ivy Leaf's Diary







Happy New Year



The Vital Statistics Calendar 2010


Many of our readers have asked if there are any of the 2010 calendars left for sale and sadly, we thought that we had sold out early last year. Over the Christmas period, however, an unsold box of calendars was returned to us and we would like to offer these for sale at £10.00 plus £2.00 p&p. As before, all monies will be given to a charity as dictated by the Winchester Soroptimists. We have decided to offer these calendars firstly to our regular readers for a period of one week before advertising them on Ebay. Please contact me at




We do hope to create another calendar or similar product in 2011.



January 2011: 


The new year has begun in our village with all the snow gone! Long may it stay away, for 2010 was the snowiest year on record.


We had a local lady round for drinks the other evening and she admired the small snow statute that my husband had made in a moment of childish whimsy. It was melting even then and quite apparent that it was a snow-woman. "I'm afraid everything is sagging and drooping" said my husband, who then artlessly added, "It's a bit like reality really!" Before I could melt my husband with one of my famous stares, our friend said "That's why we buy these expensive foundation garments!" Now I know her secret! Talking of which, women have, in the past, gone to all sort of lengths to conceal underpinnings that might be seen by some as giving an 'unfair advantage'. I can think of several examples:-


In Singapore in 2003, I came across a powerful panty-girdle complete with waist cincher (in an unattractive brown colour). The notable feature was the built in 'knicker line,' quite sufficient to show through a pair of slacks. It effectively mislead one as to the structure of what was quite a formidable garment.


Ambrose Wilson (and others) have made corsets with 'concealed lacing' so that one's peers 'need never know your secret' according to their resident corsetière.


I know of an elderly lady who wore a corselette over her corsets, partly to suspend a second set of stockings over her less than attractive surgical pair, but also to conceal the engineering of her foundations. This ploy was not successful and simply enhanced the 'rigging' (as the brilliant authoress Jilly Cooper puts it) seen through her blouse.


But the most devious tactic was that of a rather vain lady who religiously each washing day hung a flimsy panty-girdle on the line for all to see. She actually wore a far heavier girdle, but this secret was allowed to dry, out of sight, in the airing cupboard.



A letter from the erudite Roger K


We are always delighted to receive criticism of the site provided that it is constructive. We can always rely on Roger K to put us right when some of our assertions fall short of the proven fact - Ivy


In your Diary for September 2010 you reprinted the following comment:-

“I had always assumed that 'women's lib, 'the 'bra burning' episode and the advent of tights put paid to the girdle, but an expert recently challenged this point-of-view. Far from 'bra burning' in the 1960's, this decade saw the advent of the first mass produced well-fitting brassieres. Manufacturers could not make them fast enough and department store buyers clamoured for these garments. Most stores had little storage capacity, so why store bulky corsets and girdles in many sizes that were not selling quickly in a space that would make a fortune in bras! The girdle simply vanished from the stores since the money was in the upper foundation. Certainly the advent of tights reinforced this trend so the panty-girdle lingered on for a decade, but it was business that killed the girdle, not any particular social trend.”

US sales statistics don’t support this conjecture. These statistics are provided in my two articles on this site, “US Bra Sales Statistics, 1960 – 1982” and “US Girdle Statistics, 1960 – 1982”.

They show that:-

Sales on non-longline bras were 175,068,000 in 1960, rising to 238,980,000 at their high-water mark in 1968, and falling to 195,240,000 in 1976. IOW, they rose by 37% in the first eight-year period, and fell by 18% in the 2nd period.

Sales of girdles (including corselets and corsets) were 63,996,000 in 1960, rising to 98,592,000 at their high-water mark in 1968, and falling to 48,300,000 in 1976. IOW, they rose by 54% in the first eight-year period, and fell by 51% in the 2nd period

Hence it’s untrue that “The girdle simply vanished from the stores since the money was in the upper foundation.”  On the contrary, girdle sales grew at a rate about 50% greater than the bra-sales growth rate through 1968, the penultimate year of the sixties. And when their sales fell, it wasn't because rising bra sales displaced them, because bra sales were falling as well.

And it’s untrue that “it was business that killed the girdle, not any particular social trend.” On the contrary, girdle sales didn’t decline until 1968, famous as the year that social trends turned (and that pantyhose hit the market in a big way, for which I also have the sales statistics).



Many thanks for that Roger; fair comment! There's quite a bit to think of here. I'm not so good at figures so I'll ask my technically-minded husband so look at the statistics. I wonder if the fact that our 'expert' was Australian had any effect on the matter. - Ivy




My husband, the engineer, pondered upon Roger K's statistics (above) and found that prior to 1967, 30% of foundation sales were 'lowers' and 70% were 'uppers'. That proportion had not changed for a decade. In the half decade that followed, the proportions changed to 80% 'uppers' and 20% 'lowers' where once again the ratio stabilised. In this transition period, lower foundation sales dropped by a third, whereas 'upper' sales increased by just over 10%. It was the death knell of the the lower foundation garment; - or was it?



There is hope!


That one-time bastion of the British 'stout' woman, the Ambrose Wilson catalogue, dropped through our letter box the other morning. Forty years ago, this mail order catalogue brimmed with girdles and corsets. Rubber reducers, waspies, corsets with 'invisible lacing'; all were present, sandwiched between the pages of sensible shoes and stylish, if commodious, dresses. Over the years, the catalogue dropped the girdle and the corset and simply, as did all the high street stores, advertised only brassieres. The British hip was allowed to waddle unfettered to the detriment of many women today. However, in this, the first edition of 2011, I was amazed to find a corset advertised as a corset. For sure, it is nothing like my trusty Spirellas, and the garment may even be worn over the clothes, but there is hope. There are several 'shapers' and 'waist trimmers'. Perhaps most heartening to read were some of the descriptions and garment names that easily rival the verbal excesses of the 1930's. My favourite is the Balconette Banger Booster. My husband asked if I would like such a device to which I replied that if my bangers needed boosting (which they certainly don't) then I'll commend the job to the Triumph company and their admirable range of Doreen bras!



I watched an interesting interview on television the other day. There were two fashion journalists and the usual male and female presenters discussing 'shapewear'. Apparently, 80% of women in Britain today wear 'shapers'; a 75% increase over the year and purchased by women of all ages. Many famous women admit to wearing them and Gwyneth Paltrow was mentioned. (Actually, I should stop putting the word 'shaper' in inverted commas since it had regrettably become part of the language!) One journalist was very anti:- "What a hideous colour; how unsexy; they take 10 minutes to put on; it's like squeezing into a rubber garden hose!" The other lady was an enthusiast:- "They are so comfortable; they make you look so good." I feel that the female presenter hit the nail on the head when she said "Perhaps 80% of women own a shaper, but don't wear them all the time - just for special occasions!" The cast then produced a corselette. "This is what my granny wore in the 1940's and 50's." Really? They are still produced today and were mainstream articles in the 1970's. Oddly enough, the anti-shaper journalist was impressed "At least it looks sexy." The younger woman did raise an important point that we have stressed on these pages before. Compressed flesh cannot vanish; it must go somewhere and so the cut and length of the garment must be appropriate to re-distribute the flesh correctly. Hurrah! How wonderful to hear this good corsetry advice in the 21st century. A girdle was produced and everybody recoiled. The younger journalist explained that if dyed and worn over trousers it would be very Madonna-esque. Oh dear! Just when she was doing so well!


The interview was fairly predictable and some of the phrases obviously rehearsed, particularly the reference to rubber; a guaranteed turn-off for most women. So women today keep a shaper at the back of their undie drawer for special occasions. I wonder how many corsets and M&S's girdles have also served silently, awaiting the call to duty. In corsetieres' anecdotes, there are several accounts of the trusty corset or girdle being deployed for those special occasions.



True or not true?


We are very careful when compiling this web site to ensure that letters, emails and other recollections that we publish at least pass the basic tests of veracity. We eliminate the blatant wish fulfilments and episodes that simply do not make sense or violate basic times and dates. One reader recently commented on a recollection from a camping trip. Surely no woman would ever hang her corsets on a washing line? Surely campers were not the sort of people that wore corsets? We welcome all enquiries and challenges (for example, Roger K's comments above), however, this particular challenge forgets that fifty years ago, we were very different from today in morals, dress and outlook. The letter published in the Spirella house magazine of December 1959 describes how a Spirella corsetiere actually made sales from hanging her stays on the line. It does not mention, however, whether this was accidental or a clever marketing tactic!



February 2011: Back again


I must apologise for the lack of recent updates but I have been away, following my husband on one of his last international business trips. At least I have kept in touch by email and have several interesting accounts to post on these pages, but first I must recover from jet lag. One project we will start on soon is to sort out the rambling mass of corsetiere's anecdotes. We will sub-divide these tales into categories such as:- husband's observations, son's observations and so on.


One thing I learnt from our travels is that corsets and airports do not mix well in these days of heightened security! I made the mistake just the once and now travel in several layers of expensive (but un-boned) elastic. I have recounted elsewhere about an elderly lady who had heard of 'pressurisation' and the swelling of the body during flight. She was concerned that confined as she was by her corsets, brassiere and surgical stockings, the only place left to expand would be her head. This was written as a serious concern to the airline! Of course these days, if you don't wear surgical stockings you may suffer from DVT. I think I was well protected against that but on the 13 hour flight home I really did feel a bit like that elderly woman. Flying is not my favourite past-time!



March 2011:  Mistakes


The dangers of over-tightening are well-known to corsetières. Regard the rather splendid American Spirella corset from 1954 (right). 


It is a very uncommon example of a corset with 'no entry'. The only way to don the garment is to release the lacing as far as possible, pull the corset up over the hips and then tighten the lacing. This time-consuming procedure was used by ladies whose vanity could overcome any amount of trouble or discomfort. The typical wearer would lace tightly. But look closely at the picture on the right. The corset has split (actually on both sides) where the fabric would bend as the wearer sat down - or has it?


This is what we thought when we wrote this piece back in 2005, however, closer inspection of the garment reveals that those seams are not split, they were sewn that way to accommodate the straps of an under-belt. I can well imagine the difficulty of donning such a garment, but with the added complication of an under-belt, it must have been nigh on impossible. No wonder the offending belt was removed. What corsetiere would persuade a client to buy such a thing? Or perhaps the client persuaded the corsetiere? It was not uncommon for a client to over-ride the years of experience of her fitter. This usually ended in tears!


I have only ever encountered two of these corsets with no entry and the one shown here is in our collection.



A Question to our Readers


The photographic company who took the photos for the 2010 calendar are planning to use some of the Ivy Leaf Collection for a series of modelled poses. Would anybody be interested in purchasing such pictures?


We have mentioned before, rather tongue-in-check, the purchasing of 'corset futures' as a hedge against inflation. Recently (these things come along a bit like buses - nothing for ages then several in one go), we received two offers to purchase the entire Ivy Leaf Collection. Currently, we hold over 500 foundation garments, 150 items of vintage clothes and uniforms and over 150 brochures, books and sales materiel. The Collection is not for sale, however, reduced space and increasing age (both of ourselves and the garments) have decided my husband and I to part with some articles from the Collection, if only so that others can enjoy these amazing articles of  a bygone era.



April 2011:  A Time of Change


The 1960's started a profound time of change, the echoes of which still reverberate with increasing amplitude around the world. From a corsetry perspective in Britain, the girdle would die at the end of the decade as women moved into panty-girdles or more often discarded their lower foundations forever, or so we thought. Little did anybody guess that 40 years later, the lower foundation would re-appear in the mainstream stores. But let us return to the mid-1960's and regard an interesting observation from a Spirella Magazine of the period. The magazine often used weddings to illustrate the impact that Spirella had upon the bride, bride's mother, granny, bridesmaids and even the corsetiere herself, who was often invited a s a guest. In one instance from 1968, the bridesmaid wears a corset. This would certainly have been untypical, but not unknown as the chubby sister of the bride attempted to get into the dress that fitted scant months before. The mother of the bride and bridesmaid wears a Coppelia girdle. What of granny? Granny, a widow, met a visiting American from the same church in the late 1950's and moved to New England where she re-married. Like her peers in America, granny wore a panty-girdle and was more than surprised to discover her grand-daughter wearing a corset. In the 1960's, things changed but not quite in the regular order than one might have suspected. Indeed, it was still more common for granny to wear the corsets, mother the girdle and daughter the panty-girdle, but sometimes the order could be completely reversed!


Whilst we are in this contemplative mood, let us consider the picture on the right. Two women stand in the kitchen. They are wearing corsets from the 1960's, yet this is 2009. They are looking at a computer screen during the making of the Ivy Leaf Calendar of 2010. In the 1960's, it was suggested by the authorities of the day, that computers might be useful for some universities, but that their application for the general public would be minimal. Who was it who said that 90% of what you read and hear is rubbish? Probably my husband, but he heard it from a greater authority. Now, would you believe that!


 There are four decades between these foundations and the laptop computer.



The End of April:


For everybody in Western Europe, the weather has been glorious. One day of rain has fallen on our village in the last six weeks and the plants are in dire need of water, nevertheless, the hills are green with the verdant touch of Spring. Sad to say that with all traditional signs of Spring come more modern indicators:- the bra-strap, matching the top in neither shape nor colour; the bulging midriff contained by nothing more substantial than jeans two sizes too small, and the pale, white, unclad leg. Those that are not that uniquely British shade of luminous white are coloured in that strange orange hue that comes from lotions and the sun-lamp. To be fair, there are a goodly number of fit, healthily tanned Britons out there, which is just as well since the country will host the Olympics next year!


The Royal Wedding is on everybody's mind, or if it isn't, then the media has failed in its avowed intention. It has certainly failed in the direction of my husband who simply grunts when the subject is mentioned. His contribution to the subject was to suggest that there would be more than a few corsets in the wedding party. I imagine there will be, as well as a goodly array of shapers (sorry I should say girdles), and why not. Surely this sets a good example to the Nation.



May 2011: That which is tightly confined, cannot get fat.


When I was a girl, we were treated much the same as our brothers with the exception of clothes for church and formal occasions. We could dress in shorts and T-shirts in the summer and run with abandon through the local fields and woodland. As we entered teenage, a dramatic change was effected by our mothers who suddenly felt that if we were not swathed in industrial strength elastic, our organs would collapse through our pelvic girdles and we would be condemned to a life of pendulosity, varicose veins and general immorality.


I think there are several points that emerge from this state of affairs. Firstly, support. Women performed quite hard labour at home in those days, a decent support of the back and abdomen was actually quite a help. A women will have to withstand the trauma of childbirth, so again support is needed. With any size of developing bosom, support is both a comfort and a necessity. Secondly, security. Panty-girdles do, to a limited extent act as chastity belts! Even today, women who wears shapers are somewhat coy about revealing their secret to some potentially ardent swain. Panty-girdles were referred to as 'finger nippers', but whose fingers I leave to the imagination. Thirdly, peer pressure, surely the strongest force on the planet. Girls listened to their mothers in those days, and they certainly copied their friends. Lastly, and here I must quote Ken Jenyns:- "That which is tightly confined, cannot get fat." He said that there was no scientific proof for this, but coming from a family that made corsets for decades, it simply was an observation based on his and his family's experience. How often do we ignore the mores and customs of yesterday, only to find that they were based on hundreds of years of cold, hard experience. We ignore experience at our peril.


Doreen Caldwell states in her book 'And all was revealed' (above right), "It was curious that girls who appeared to us all as fearless Dianas, even Amazons, should have crushed themselves into such constricting garments. I think that Mothers and peer pressure had a lot to do with this.


On another subject, who remembers when the telephone directories carried pages of Spirella Consultant contacts. One person certainly does!



Girdle Observations:


I will badly plagiarise Mark Twain's famous statement here:- "Whenever my husband feels the need to perform DIY, he should instantly lie down until the urge passes!" Occasionally, he does actually perform a useful task and I did mention some years ago, his effective repair of a car exhaust using a steel bone from a corset. I feel that may have been a pinnacle in his achievements! It did, however, bring to mind the effective use of a girdle in repairing a machine on board a submarine in the old film "Operation Petticoat" (left).


We have talked at length about vestigial lacing, that reminder of the days of the laced corset that appears on so many foundation garments that most of us forget its implication. Rarely, however, is it so blatantly displayed as on this modern pair of Marks and Spencer shapers (right).



June 2011:  Weddings


Regard the charming and typically 1960's wedding group photograph. It was in fact taken in 1963 and I have discussed elsewhere, the lengths to which the local Spirella corsetière would take to gain the 'inside track' on providing as many women at the wedding with Spirella's finest.

Contrary to Spirella's house literature, not every woman wore Spirella and not just for financial reasons. The high street girdles were, quite frankly, nearly as good as the made-to-measure variety and were many times cheaper. Nevertheless, by the standards of the day it is likely that beneath coats and fitted rayon dresses lie at least six corsets and  a dozen girdles and four corselettes. One can also surmise that there will be 18 brassieres of which perhaps 10 will be long-lines.


Of the corsets, a couple might be regarded as surgical. These does not imply some orthopaedic appliance, but simply a heavier boned garment with heavy back boning and perhaps an under-belt. Amongst the girdles, there might be a couple of suspender belts and a waspie for the bride and bridesmaid. Tights and panty-girdles were not at all common in Britain in the early 1960's. There would have been possibly 26 pairs of stockings of which a dozen would be classified as support stockings and a couple as surgical stockings. That is more pairs than the number of women present, but in those days, it was not uncommon for a woman with varicose veins to wear a surgical pair under a more fashionable pair.


Now, as we said, not all the women would be wearing Spirella, however, if they were, the sum total in today's money would be just over £4000 in foundation garments and stockings. That is £400 in commission! With such a potential, if probably unachievable, target on offer, no wonder predatory corsetières networked and then pounced at the notice of an impending wedding.



June 2011:  Camp Corsets and Bunty


Although I have never regularly worn CAMP corsets, I never fail to be impressed by the sheer ease of adjusting the lacing, and the instant and flattering (not to mention flattening) results on one's abdomen. Our good friend Bunty modelled one such corset that we wished to sell on the internet. Bunty is not a corset wearer, however, she was sufficiently impressed that she tried to persuade us not to sell it. As we explained, she would probably never wear the garment. Remember the prodigiously long Spencer corset that she ordered a few years ago. She rarely wore it since, in her words, "It was a bit of a faff to put on!" She was more impressed by the CAMP. Although 10 inches shorter at the front, it hoisted her not insubstantial abdomen into its proper place with little more than a tug on the straps. As Tom Sharpe wrote in his excellent and funny book 'Porterhouse Blue' "Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting!" Bunty comes from the rarified world of the English Country woman where donning a corset is a commonplace task (or it was 30 years ago!), not an act of seduction. Sadly, Bunty has no Sir Godber to ogle the donning of her stays for she has resolutely remained a spinster.  

Indeed, the sight of Bunty in the corset rendered a formidable garment even more formidable!



July 2011: Prose


Although I have lived in Britain for many years, English is not my first language and, although regarded as fluent, I can never match my husband's talent for spotting eloquent or graphic prose. Indeed, the final editing of the web site is left to my husband unless, of course, the erudite Roger overrules him.


"...Lady Mary asked, adjusting the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting!"

"...Lady Mary disembarked from her corset languidly."  Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue


"Mrs. Dredge pushed open the door and leant against it, gasping with all the vigour of a leviathan that had just zoomed up from several hundred fathoms. She was large-boned, like one of the better varieties of Shire horse, and on this stalwart framework there hung great, soft, voluptuous rolls of avoirdupois. A buttress-work of stays, linen and rubber was required to keep this bulk under control, so Mrs. Dredge’s body creaked and groaned alarmingly with each breath she took. Her black hair was piled high on her head and nailed in place with a forest of pins and round her massive neck hung a vast array of necklaces and pendants that tinkled and clattered as her massive bosom heaved."  Gerald Durrell's Rosie is my Relative


"....strapping and lacing herself into the rigid satin tube that was her underwear.

"The elastic confines of womanhood."

"The stout matron grimaces rather than smiles. If you had seen the effort that it took her to lace tight that unaccustomed corset, you would not be surprised at her expression. Her eyes bulge, her bosom is hoisted inches higher than even Howard Hughes intended by the hip-quenching force of her formidably over-tightened stays. Her corsets have removed her feminine hips and she tapers like a female tent-peg into the arrow-head agony of her stilettos."

"Her spectacularly elevated bosom eclipsed the food on the table when she sat down to eat, a feat accomplished not without effort; both sitting and eating that is. Like her friend, her corsets were tightened to life-threatening levels. The groom secretly wondered (as all grooms do) if this was what the future held for his new bride."

The memoirs of Ian McRoberts


".. and old Mrs. Lomax, who misheard her stewardess's assurances and came screaming on deck, bald, toothless and in her corsets."  Richard Gordon's The Captain's Table


Notice how in the examples above, a corset is sometimes referred to as 'corsets'. For example, 'my granny wore corsets' or 'my granny wore a corset'. To my mind, the latter is the more modern. The term 'corsets' comes from 'a pair of corsets' since corsets are made in two symmetrical halves joined together by lacing to form one garment. It is the same with a pair of trousers where the tailor cuts two symmetrical parts and joins them together. In this case however, the term 'trouser' does not exist.



A Tale to Gladden the Heart


I heard recently of an American lady who had become very obese. Like many overweight women, she retained a very smooth and handsome face, but the rest of her body had simply filled out and overflowed with fat. She determined to lose the weight by a number of successful strategies and within about a year had reduced to a conventional size. Unfortunately, and this is often the consequence of rapid weight loss, her skin had failed to keep up with the mass reduction resulting in hanging folds of cellulite. Showing great courage, she did not give up and with exercise and commitment took steps to minimise the excess folds of skin. At about this time, somebody must have suggested to her the benefits of proper foundation garments (by proper I mean by the modern standards of spandex and lycra rather than whalebone and laces). She described how, with a properly fitted brassiere, a waist cincher and a capri-length shaper, her remaining wayward bulges were smoothed into a firm and very feminine shape.



August 2011: 


I must apologise for a pause in our usual ramblings but my husband was taken ill and had to spend a few days in hospital. Full marks to the NHS who were terrific, however, any form of enforced inactivity, be it a hospital bed or an aeroplane, rankles with my husband. Fortunately he is once again restored to rude health and able to update the site as I deem appropriate.



End of August 2011:


After a gap of several years, we were delighted to receive a letter from Alison, the retired Spencer corsetiere. She describes how she fitted a college girl with a proper brassiere. It is so interesting to receive these letters. Sadly, our circle of retired (and active) corsetieres is diminishing as a lack of Christmas cards points to yet another fitter's demise. In response to several readers requests, the new text provided by Alison has been displayed in a different colour to make it easier to find.


An eagle-eyed reader noticed two entries regarding the use by a teenager of her mother's / granny's corsets to achieve a narrow waist and asked if this was not the same episode that had been passed along and modified in the re-telling. It is hard to tell. The entries came from different sources and both passed our tests of verisimilitude. The singer Dusty Springfield is mentioned in both accounts, but in one account, the corset is a modified Camp and in the other, a waspie from Dickens and Jones. I would like to believe that there are two independent accounts here. As my husband said, it must have happened more than once. There were just so many tiny waists then and teenage girls will go to any lengths to achieve what is fashionable. I told him that women of all ages are prone to this!



September 2011:


A brief sojourn abroad has allowed my husband to recuperate in time to face the challenge of creating another calendar. The enthusiasm of our models appears to be undiminished and we are sorting out what garments might fit which model. This is not trivial since modern women, even those boasting a modern size 12, are larger than their sisters of yesterday.


Sadly, at our time of life, friends and acquaintances start to pass away and so it was with our sturdy friend from the village who my husband rescued from the mud three years ago. Her niece kindly allowed me to dispose of her clothes, however, her corsets were worn beyond reasonable recovery and had been neatly but often repaired. They were consigned to the dustbin rather than our collection. It was obvious that she had not contacted my corsetiere, and I can not really blame her for the price of a new corset these days is astronomical. Talking of things astronomical, this is a bit of a passion that my husband likes to indulge in the winter months. I noted with interest that Ethel Granger's husband had a similar passion. I shall have to make sure that my husband concentrates on photographing the right sort of heavenly bodies this winter!


Alison continues to provide us with an 'Indian Summer' of recollections. It is so interesting to read these snippets from a bygone era. She mentions in her latest text "trapped in her bra". This echoes one of our pages entitled "Trapped inside my Panty-girdle" and also harks to the confinement in general of women's clothing that we have discussed at length within this web-site. Pencil skirts, impossible rear suspenders, back-laced corsets, tight dresses ("Will you zip me up, Darling?") all formed part of a complicated ritual of, some might say, subjugation. Of course, in these liberated days, such confinement does not exist, or does it? I noticed at a recent award ceremony on television how several of the actresses were hobbled by their skirts and ludicrously high heels. The 'mincing gait' of their hey-day may well turn out to be the only way they can walk in later life!



October 2011:


Our weather patterns this year have seen the best warm periods in March, April, May and now September and October. In the village pub, however, there are dire prognostications of an impending hard winter. The farmers have noted that the cows have a thicker coat than is usual, the finches in the back garden have put on weight, and the berries are in super-abundance on the bushes. My husband scorns these signs are says the mere fact that Heathrow Airport has laid in extra snow ploughs guarantees a mild winter! My old Dutch aunt (of the rubber corsets incident) always maintained that you couldn't wear enough clothes whatever the season; that she was proved wrong in the Ardennes was a singular episode.


We are becoming very busy. We hope to be involved in the Spirella centenary year (2012) and meanwhile have started to arrange the fitting sessions for the next calendar. Before winter each year, we try to visit as many of our corsetiere acquaintances as we can. Regrettably, these visits tend to get fewer each year. We recently met up with the Spencer fitter from the south coast. It is a long way from the west country, but she was visiting her daughter in Exeter and we could meet up. Her grand-daughter was attempting to show her some home movies of a cousin's wedding in the 1960's that had been uploaded to YouTube or some such social site. Our friend watched with interest and was moved to say "You just don't see figures like that any more!" She was referring of course to the torsos of the women in the film. How different they are from the unfettered potato sacks that one sees all too often these days; even at weddings. "I could have fitted those women myself. In those days I had hundreds of clients in the West End. Diplomat's wives, actresses and even some lady politicians. You'd be surprised who I fitted!"




Alison continues to provide recollections of her time as a Spencer corsetiere. This, she assures us, has been prompted by her grand-daughter's interest in her past. I have often said that there is so much to learn from the older generations.


Last week we visited the First Garden City Heritage Museum at Letchworth. They have a considerable collection of Spirella memorabilia, not the least impressive of which was a vast tome (that took a strong man to lift) showing the photographs of corsetieres who had worked continuously for 21 years. That the tome went from 1910 to barely 1930 shows how prolific Spirella were in those days. Note also the motto on the front page and the moralistic exhortations. Truly this was another era of work ethic and upright moral standards. Not that this applied everywhere; Spirella was committed to caring for its staff and in return expected commitment from its staff. Even the town of Letchworth was 'dry' for many decades after its founding.

The meeting at Letchworth was to discuss plans for the Spirella centenary at Letchworth (this post-dated Spirella in Britain by two years.) There will be an exhibition in the museum, talks and educational features. Their impressive collection of books and garments will be catalogued and rendered easier for the serious researcher to access. We hope to be involved in the assessment of their collection.


Whilst at Letchworth, I discovered the model number of the mystery Spirella girdle about which we wrote in 2007 and 2008. It is an older style of the 205. We found it advertised in a Spirella brochure of the late 1950's; the style changed somewhat during the 1960's hence the confusion.




A Meeting with an Amazing Lady:  This report has been moved to a page specially dedicated to Medeq.



Fitting Sessions:  (this section has been moved to Making the 2012 Calendar)



November 2011:


We were most pleasantly surprised to receive a package containing some bras and corsets that a house owner had found in her loft. What interested us in the first place was that the items were from Spirella and unused in their original plastic bags. The owner had no idea of their provenance for the name on the labels was not the previous owners of the house, but it was the labels themselves that were interesting for they form a lovely piece of history.


One can surmise that the lady, a Mrs. B*ck, who owned the corsets lived in the house in the late 1970's and perhaps for decades before that. As the labels and receipts demonstrate, she would order two 305 corsets and a 369 brassiere in the winter, and then two brassieres and a corset in the spring. This was not unusual for a regular Spirella corset wearer although by today's standards that represents about £800 - £900 a year on her foundation garments. Inn fact, the real cost may have been less since corsets were not a speciality item like they would be today but it still represents a considerable financial outlay for somebody presumably retired.


The odd thing is that all the garments are unworn. It may be that the elderly lady had become a little eccentric with advancing years and would still order her foundations with the regularity of the past but save them for a 'rainy day' and use her existing corsets. One of my husband's distant Scottish relatives had no fewer than 20 Spirella corsets when she passed away. In her defence, they were all worn and varied between winter fabrics and tropical fabrics for she travelled extensively. It was still a huge investment of many thousands of pounds. Another lady of my mother-in-law's acquaintance had a full drawer of Marks and Spencer girdles when she died in the 1980's.


So there we have a story! The elderly and slightly eccentric Mrs. B*ck providing a nice commission for the Spirella corsetiere thanks very much!





The calendar has taken us a lot of time and effort, nevertheless, our researches continue into all things Spirella. A gap in our knowledge has always been Spirella in Germany, however, after some judicious trawling through the internet and with the help of Google's 'Orange Man' we have found the following information:-

Although the Spirella literature of 1924 mentions Berlin, this may have only been the head office, for the factory lies in Düsseldorf some 300 miles west. The factory was originally built in 1907 for the company Die Bühne GmbH in Düsseldorf’s Oberkassel neighbourhood. The picture (left) was taken from the north-east in what was then an expansive railway marshalling yard. Today, the area has changed and the marshalling yards have gone. The picture (left) can no longer be reproduced since the north-east flank of the factory is now a narrow alley, the Greifweg (aerial view - right). The view from the south-east (right, recent) shows that the building's exterior has not changed in over a century.

After Die Bühne ceased operations on 7th November 1912, Spirella Gesellschaft took over the premises in 1913 and remained there until 1936, using the factory for the manufacture of corsets in the Spirella tradition. Typically of the Spirella factories all over the world were the large picture windows and ceiling windows. Cutting and sowing requires good light if your seamstresses are to produce top class workmanship.

Today, the factory houses the Julia Stoschek Collection, an international private collection of contemporary art with a focus on time-based media art. The collection opened in 2007 and comprises installations, videos, photographs, paintings and sculptures. Each year a different exhibition presents, documents and makes available to the public different aspects of the collection.



The 2012 Calendar:  We have moved previous sections of the diary relating to this topic to a dedicated page 'Making the 2012 Calendar.'


Yesterday, the photographs were taken for the new calendar. We are so lucky to have four charming ladies who are prepared to model the garments from the collection. That they thoroughly enjoyed the experience is such a bonus. The highlight had to be where the oldest model was put into a Spencer measuring garment. These are not easy to assemble and the hysterical giggles from the dresser and the other models brought the house owner and my husband rushing along from one of the sets to see what was happening. Discrete as always, my husband called out "Are you decent?" at which point the laughter erupted once more. Fortunately, my husband brought his engineering skills to bear and our long-suffering model was finally encased in the contraption. We are also incredibly fortunate to have a friend whose house is a perfect backdrop for the scenes that we had in mind. Our own humble abode is gezellig (there is no English equivalent), but with neither the style, furnishings nor space to accommodate such a venture. We are very lucky; in fact, the day started inauspiciously. Thick fog determined us to avoid the main roads and head across country, however, the road we needed was closed and we only got to our destination just in time. The house owner's husband staggered upstairs with a 25 kilo suitcase full of corsets whilst my husband assembled his camera and lights. At this point, one of the models phoned up from Exmouth to say that she had a flat tyre and would be late; she hadn't actually left home. The second dresser then phoned up to apologise. She couldn't leave her farm due to some malady afflicting the herd. We decided to press on regardless since we had a tight schedule. The first scene was to feature the gorgeous satin Camp from the previous calendar but to our horror, we discovered that one of the metal-centred suspender knobs had disintegrated. Safety pins to the fore, we attacked the errant garter whilst my husband muttered darkly about PhotoShop. After this shaky start, we all settled down and the team began to function as a unit whilst our fourth model turned up and almost leapt into a back-laced German corselette. There were so many off-hand yet hilarious comments that one model suggested that we should be recording sound as well as pictures. In the jolly atmosphere, we broke for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed a totally inappropriate lunch of sandwiches, stollen bread, sticky buns and chocolates. "I really will need a corset after this" was uttered by several of the models. By chance, our planning had put the corset scenes in the morning, and the more forgiving girdle scenes in the afternoon. This is a handy piece of advice for all aspiring corset calendar designers!


In view of Letchworth's Spirella Centenary next year, we planned to re-create some of the scenes from the Spirella magazines of the 1960's and the models dressed in clothes of the period. In this respect we were very lucky. The models all found something to fit. I realised that my husband has a disturbingly good eye for picking the right clothes for the right model. He puts it down to his engineering training but I do wonder! During the 'black corset' scene, an unwelcome piece of Spirella history manifest itself as the seam of one of the black orchid material 305's started to rip asunder. Our model was quite distressed but we assured her that the corset had already split and it was a fault with the last batch of black orchid that Spirella ordered. They never made black corsets again!

All in all, it was a very successful day. In fact it was one of the most enjoyable days that I can remember and the models assured us that they felt the same way. I do believe they were sincere in this since they asked when were we going to make another calendar and could they buy some of the girdles and corsets!


We took some 300 photographs at the photographic session with the idea of accumulating enough material to make a calendar for 2012 and also one for the Letchworth Heritage Museum in 2013. We are putting together a draft for the latter since this may require much more forward planning. If you are interested in these calendars please let us know so that we can order the appropriate print run. The calendar mock up below is rendered in sepia, however, there will be a full colour version available.



December 2012: The 2012 Calendar




At last, the draft of the 2012 calendar has been completed (above). In order to make a paltry 12 pages, one for each month, we have been fitting and photographing our models since September. The big day was on November for the 'live' photo shooting session.  As recorded elsewhere, this was not without drama, however, of the 300 odd photos that were taken, there are enough to make this colour calendar and another for the Spirella UK centenary next year (the 2013 calendar). We have tried to re-create the 1960's and the spirit of the corsetiere in those days. All the garments come (more or less) from this period as do the models, although three were teenagers then and one (remarkably) in her mid-30's for she had her 80th birthday during the gestation of the calendar. I might add that she celebrated this event by two weeks of travelling, parties and a "good, long walk with friends" and I mean about 10 miles or so. 80-year-olds are not quite what they used to be!

For many reasons too boring to relate, the calendar will not be ready for the new year, however, I suspect that the content rather than the calendar may be the selling factor. All proceeds will go to the charity selected by the ladies who modelled the garments, for charity work is something at which these ladies excel and have a proven track record. We hope to have the calendars ready for the end of January and they will be sold at GBP 10, USD 16 and EUR 12. They are double-sided A4* in size so that when hung, they form an A3 page with the pictures at the top and the month at the bottom (see mock-up for 2013 right). This gives a much bigger picture than the 2010 calendar and it will be in full colour.                                                                                                                *before printer's trimming



The Ivy Leaf Collection


The Ivy Leaf Collection is more than just foundation garments, it also includes period costumes from the appropriate era. From this source we were able to provide the models with clothes suitable for a garden party or wedding. The models took to the clothes with the same enthusiasm that they wore their corsets and girdles and I think that the results speak volumes for their confidence and poise. As my husband commented "I think women are just born actresses!"


This was borne out recently when a friend from the village and I went to visit a local National Trust property. My friend was unusually distracted and admitted that she was concerned about a forthcoming fancy dress party for which she had no appropriate costume. On returning home for lunch, I instructed my husband to dig out a costume for the lady. She retired to the guest room and emerged after a while with confidence restored to such an extent that, she related later, she was the centre of attention at the party. Over lunch, she talked about her own mother in Ireland who, after a period of being rather overweight, restored her figure with 'proper' foundation garments and never looked back. Our friend was duly encouraged to wear a corset as a slightly chubby teenager, however, this was not an episode she remembered with affection, particularly when her secret was discovered whilst staying with a girl-friend. Apparently the friend's brother burst into her room by accident and saw her in her corsets, a fact that was widely communicated at the time. Our friend's mother always maintained that women chose the nunnery to avoid the embarrassment of being 'left on the shelf'. "They would never be on the shelf if they wore proper foundations!"


Even the inimitable Jane Russell had an opinion on the subject. When asked what was the secret of her enviable figure that she maintained well into her 70's, she breathed huskily in reply "Underwear!"


In this shot (left), her dresser proffers a Playtex girdle that the actress declines to wear thereby undermining her own sound advice!


End of the Year


The year is nearly over and what a year it has been. Sometimes we think that no new ideas will come our way, but then, often unexpectedly come new offers and challenges, not the least of which was to make the second calendar that will now stretch to 2012 and 2013. We have described the fun that this generated amongst the models, all of whom were amateurs ranging in age from late 50's to early 80's. We met the charming Mme. Medeq, and corresponded with Robert and Cathie Jung. We met so many interesting people and next year is the centenary of the Spirella Building in Letchworth in which we have been invited to take part. There is so much to do! Meanwhile,


we would like to wish all our readers and supporters a


Merry Christmas


a Happy New Year



Footnote to 2011:


The Ivy Leaf Calendar 2012 will be advertised on this web-site. Thank you for all your interest. This has helped us gauge the number that we should produce. The printers are ready to start work on the calendar as soon as they return to work in the new year. In order to get a calendar, please wait for the announcement on this web-site (not any other web-site) and let us know your wish to place an order by email to




An invoice will then be sent to you with a request for a postal address where the calendar should be sent.


The cost will be


GBP 10.00 + 2.00 p&p;

EUR 12.00 + 3.00 p&p; or

USD 16.00 + 4.00 p&p.


All proceeds will go to a charity chosen by the models.


Wishing you all a Happy New Year - Ivy