Ivy Leaf's Diary

2013

 

 

Wishing all our Readers a Happy New Year

 

 

 

January 2013: 

 

What a lovely surprise, a Skype call from Cathie and Bob Jung!

 

 

In April last year, we asked if any readers had come across this fabric that was photographed on an immaculate Spirella 305 corset (right). A regular correspondent and collector of Spirella brochures worked on the problem and found the answer. It is listed in the introductory leaflets about the 234 and 246 girdles that appeared in 1958. They were a bigger-hipped design for the well-fed post-war woman. The fabric is called 'lucky charm' and it was often requested by brides. Sadly, such detail and quality belongs to the 1950's and 1960's. Another sad piece of news came our way recently with the usual spate of Christmas cards. Our two remaining corsetiere acquaintances have both retired. They were well into their 80's and had been working for Spencer (or Spirella until Spencer took over) since the 1950's, a fact that Spencer never recognised. In fact, one of the ladies mentioned that Spencer had completely closed down. It seems that my supply of sturdy 305's will have to see me out!

Our model on the left wears a 234 girdle from the mid-1960's made from a more sturdy striped brocade material. It is still as powerful 50 years on as when it was new! Fitting these garments to modern women is one of the biggest challenges we face when making the calendars. If the better-fed women of the late 1950's were considered to be bigger hipped than their sisters of the pre-war years, then today's over-fed woman is far bigger still. Fortunately, our model who sported a 19-inch waist when she was 19 years old is of a size and shape to do justice to these vintage foundations, even if her waist is now approaching 30 inches.

 

February 2013:

 

I'm afraid that the ennui endemic at this cold time of year has got into my husband and myself and little in the way of new ideas has been forthcoming. Fortunately, we can rely upon our readers who send in suggestions to come to the rescue and a Canadian reader has asked about the Dominion Corset Company. We have opened a new page on the subject.

 

 

 

March 2013:

 

In order to escape the Western European winter, my husband and I decided to travel to the Far East, a place dear to our hearts. This is our excuse for the recent lack of updates. On our return to an empty fridge, we decided to eat locally at the local hotel. On the table adjacent to ours was quite obviously a couple who had just met for the first time. This is not uncommon in these days of computer dating. I would put the man in his early 40's and the, slightly chunky lady in her mid-30's. What drew my attention was that when she arose at the end of the meal, her torso from the hips to just under the bust moved in that restrained way that only a tight corset or girdle can achieve. Very good I thought; at least you are making an effort. It reminded me of the passage from Herman Wouk's book 'Marjorie Morningstar' where the heroine is cautioned about “those divorcees in their tight corsets”. Obviously, the wearing of tight underwear to lure a man is as valid today as it was in 1955. My husband remembered a snippet collected in the Philippines many years ago where there is a local word in the Maguindanaon dialect "Ebpamituanen" that is a divorced person who keeps a good figure to attract a new mate!

 

If my mention of tightly girdled torso leaves the younger generation somewhat bemused, regard the photograph on the right of a seated lady at the beach.

 

 

It irritates me when the supermarket decides to re-arrange all its produce and I have to resort to asking the rare supervisor where my favourite sauces have been moved. This is, of course, a very successful marketing strategy since it forces one to walk the aisles that hitherto have remained untouched in the hope that you will find something new to purchase. Since our site sells nothing, we have left the format well alone, however, having recently updated 'What lies Beneath' and 'The Visibility of Underwear', I realise that the two topics cover much of the same ground and there are articles from one that should reside in the other. Even 'What lies Beneath' was originally a spin-off from the 'Weddings' page. I will endeavour over the coming weeks to introduce a new page 'What lies Beneath' incorporating both pages and even some parts of 'Corset Detective'. This will not affect the 'Contents' page, it is simply that the links will take you elsewhere.

 

 

April 2013:

 

I came across a brand new Marks and Spencer panty-girdle from the 1970's recently. If I ever thought that British panty-girdles never measured up to their transatlantic cousins, I had to re-think my ideas. This girdle is a formidable confection of zipper, bones, heavy patterned elastic and satin panels (nylon actually). It would have flattened the stomachs of 50 or 60 year old women in the early 1970's. Interestingly, the bottom of the legs have that nasty rubbery strip designed to grip one's stockings. There are four suspender loops but no suspenders. This garment was a product of the transition from stockings to tights when the manufacturers tried hard to please both worlds and ended up by irritating both to the extent that by the mid-70's, the lower foundation had been abandoned by most women in Britain. This was not the case in America where the panty-girdle was well established before tights (panty-hose) came on the scene. This is frequently seen where the panty-girdle had suspenders attached to the bottom of the legs, not concealed within. The panty-girdle in Britain was never raised to the iconic status of the transatlantic version worn by millions of American woman for well over a decade.

 

 

May 2013:

 

I never noticed before, but the famous Berlei gay Slant girdle range that was successful for over four decades puts the 'g' of 'gay' in lower case.

 

   

As a fan of the trusty Spirella 305, and being of a certain age, I cannot come to terms with the modern fashion statement of wearing a corset over one's clothes. I was fulminating about this the other day when my husband remarked that Mary Poppins was doing just that in 1964! So she was; and I must say that Miss Andrews cuts a stunning figure too (as she still does today - added my husband)! Blake Edwards, Julie Andrews husband, who directed many other films (although not Pary Poppins), managed to insert corset and girdle sequences into a number of his products, notably the 'cake fight' scene in 'The Great Race' (1965 - left) and the use of a girdle as a submarine spare part in 'Operation Petticoat' (1959).

A few weeks ago I commented on the wedding gown that Elizabeth Taylor wore for her wedding to Conrad Hilton in 1950 (right). I suggested that a visible ridge was probably due to her underwear. Miss Taylor's gown is up for auction at Christies in a few weeks and the description reveals that the gown was fitted with an in-built corset. Miss Taylor sported a 20-inch waist in those days which, for a woman of 5 foot 3 inches, is shapely indeed.

The gown is expected to fetch upward of £75,000 and I suspect it will go for well into six figure country. As my Dutch uncle used to say "An item is worth what a fool will pay for it!"

 

 

They don't make 'em like that anymore!

 

I'm not referring, in this case, to girdles and corsets although that is perfectly true, I'm referring to the ladies below. Already one of them has been honoured in the Queen's birthday list for services to charity. The other lady in her late 80's not only has appeared in her corsets for charity but recently undertook a sky-dive in aid of Parkinsons. She was in tandem but the instructor is off the top of the picture. They broke the mould when ladies such as these were born!

 

What amazing weather for the late May public holiday. Definitely time to get into the garden for a glass of champagne!

 

 

June 2013:

 

We received an interesting letter from a theatre group about how women might dress in the 1960’s. “Were they tightly girdled? Did they squeeze themselves into their clothes?” Apart from the fact that we love to receive correspondence, it illustrates a number of misconceptions about the dress of half a century ago (Good Gracious was it THAT long ago!)

 

When we made the calendars, even two of the models who were in their late 70’s had a remarkably vague idea about traditional foundation garments. They knew what a corset or a girdle was, but they had never worn such things, simply a roll-on more to hold up their stockings than anything else. Most of them, however, remembered their mothers wearing girdles or being fitted for a corset by presumably the local Spirella, Spencer or even Strodex corsetière. The youngest model in her late 20’s had never even heard of a corselette and so it is not unreasonable that few women these days have any detailed knowledge of foundation garments in the 1960’s. Comments like “I wouldn’t like to wear that strait-jacket all day” reveal a complete misconception about how women wore their foundations in those times.

 

When a woman wears foundation garments correctly, they should be able to support and shape all day without discomfort. Her clothes will then be bought to fit that shape, not tightly nor loosely, but just right. Of course, some women wish to achieve a shape more than mere support and they will be prepared to suffer for that shape, but once again, the clothes or skirt should fit correctly. Too tight and the skirt will ride up and hang poorly. One can now appreciate why so many foundations of the era were made from satin fabrics and why slips (petticoats) were worn. They simply allow clothes to move over foundations unimpeded. As my corsetiere used to say “A well corseted woman does not appear to be wearing corsets.” A woman whose clothes move with her body, and I’m not talking about Victorian times, simply reveals a poor interaction between her outer wear and her underwear.

 

This picture by Francis Tattegrain shows a Victorian lass seated by the beach. She has achieved a fashionable shape using tightly-laced corsets. The dress fits the corset and will move with the corset, but in those days, that was the desired effect (left). For every day wear in the 1960’s, comfort and support was the ideal. Our model in the Strodex girdle and brassière has achieved enough shaping to remain comfortable all day, yet to maintain a flatness of stomach, that could not be achieved unaided. The slippery satin foundations allow her dress to hang and move properly.

 

 

 

July 2013:

 

We have begun to consider whether we should proceed with a calendar for 2014. We have no shortage of volunteers with ladies of 89, 81, 68, 59, 52 and 41 eager to try on garments from the Collection. What we miss are two ages groups, the 30's and 20's. Oddly enough, in an era where women appear on the High Street exposing more flesh than any 1960's foundations would allow, these younger women are remarkably coy about modelling. We are loathe to engage professional models, not just because of the cost, but professionals tend to look professional and amateurs naturally have that 'lady next door' look that professionals would struggle to attain. Anyway, it's early days yet. We have at least some models, all of the garments and an excellent venue. The other point to consider is whether a calendar is the correct vehicle to display the photographs. If we take this route, the calendar part will be shrunk to a thin strip around the edge allowing for more photographs and comment. Following the logic of this, why even bother with the calendar and why not produce a colourful edition of 'What Lies Beneath'.

 

It would appear that our readers are of the opinion that the calendar format is an unnecessary imposition.

 

Meanwhile, a reader has sent in an excellent article about Madame Caswill, a Bristol corsetiere. We are so grateful for such articles. It was the preservation of memories of this era that first inspired my husband and I to start this entire web-site.

 

 

August 2013:

 

What an amazing response we have had to our questions regarding the calendar (July). The general opinion is that a calendar does impose restrictions, however, it is a fascinating object to have hanging in one's study. What we will do is go ahead with, we hope, the largest and most comprehensive photographic session and produce a calendar, but much more besides.

 

Meanwhile, we procured recently a large size, unused Sears Hi-rise panty-girdle, the mainstay of American women in the 1960's. The garment is immaculate and it arrived coincidentally on the same day as our old friend Bunty. She was game enough to try it on "Are you chaps still at the old corset game?" she asked. She has lost even more weight recently and the girdle was actually rather too large for her but the photographs show this lovely 50-year-old garment to excellent effect.

 

A reader sent us a slightly bizarre Berlei advertisement. Why the lady stands on her head is not clear, however, we have tried analyse the thoughts of Berlei's advertising department at that time.

 

I was delighted the other day to receive an article from 1966 that appeared in the Montreal Gazette. It dealt with the dangers of driving whilst wearing a girdle. The article is very chauvinistic by today's standards, but is redolent of 60's Americana. What really grabbed my attention was that the same topic was aired in a shorter article that appeared about the same time in a ladies magazine in Britain.

 

Girdle Scanned As Driving Hazard

Your girdle may gather your girth to beautify your bulges — but what does it do to your driving? Surprisingly little study has been made of the girdle-driving relationship, as researchers for the public service division of the British Motor Corporation of Canada Limited discovered after their interest was attracted by two separate, recent incidents involving lady drivers in different parts of Canada.

In Windsor, Ontario, a lady driver hit a telephone pole. Moments later, a press report stated she stepped from the car and left a girdle on the window sill of a nearby building. There was no further explanation.

In Montreal. a lady driver pulled up behind another car at a stop light, and then, for no apparent reason, drove into the car in front with a tremendous bang. There was no damage, except to the sensitivities of milady as she blushingly stammered to the other driver (a man, of course), "I'm so sorry. I've no idea what happened.”

The lady was a liar by the clock — she knew exactly what happened, and explained it later to her husband. Her girdle, it seems. had bothered her during the warm drive downtown and she took advantage of the stop at the light to adjust it. As she elevated her derriere and tugged at her girdle, her foot slipped onto the accelerator and the car roared ahead.

"If any article of normal wear creates discomfort for a lady driver or tends to distract her attention front the road, then she should change that article or not drive," says Dr. Wallace Troup of Ottawa. Dr. Troup is chairman of the Canadian Medical Association's committee on medical aspects of traffic accidents. "The specific subject of girdles has not come before the committee." adds Dr. Troup "but it may be one we should consider. In all the voluminous Canadian statistics on traffic accidents, according to BMC, manufacturer of Austin and Morris cars, there is no reference to the presence or absence of girdles. What is known is that women drivers were involved in some 40,000 accidents in 1962 and that ‘inattentive driving’ is a leading cause of accidents. How much of this lack of attention might be attributed to girdle trouble?

Most accidents occur on weekends — Friday, Saturday, Sunday — with Saturday's record worse than all other days. What then, are the day-to-day girdling habits of Canadian women? Do they gird particularly for weekend gaiety? Do career girls wear girdles during the week and relax on weekends? Is it the other way around for homemakers? These are questions which may need answering.

A male-female parking con­test in Los Angeles showed that men drivers could park in 28 7 seconds in a space where women took 37.4 se­conds. Since efficient parking requires a succession of rapid twists - fore and aft, port and starboard - isn't it possible that these figures once again raise the spectre of the girdle! Two lady experts speak up strongly in support, as it were, of girdles. Says Dr. Lillian A. Chase of Toronto, a specialist internal medicine, "Today's girdles are light and shouldn't hamper a driver in any way." A good girdle should be an asset in driving, according to Mrs. Shirley Locking, director of women s activities for the highway safety branch of the Ontario Department of Transport. "Posture is important to good driving, and a good girdle, properly fitted, helps posture."

Another aspect of the situation, according to BMC, has appeared with the trend to colored and patterned girdles. Psychologists tell us that a women's choice of color in undergarments is often a clue to certain personality traits. We also know that a driver's personality is reflected in driving habits. Is there, then, a link between the color of a women's girdle and her ability at the wheel?

It's unlikely we'll ever know the answer to these questions until we can develop a breed of traffic cop with sufficient courage to say "Tell me, madam, are you wearing a girdle, and if so, in what colour?”

 

Considering both articles, it is fair to say that women, both now and then can be encumbered by the appurtenances of fashion, be they corsets, girdles, tight skirts or heels. This may affect their driving, however, most women will simply drive within the limitations of the confinement. I sympathise with the women who when criticised that her corsets must surely impede her driving skills, retorted that if men's skills were anything to go by, they must be wearing their wife's corsets as well!

 

Another interesting topic to come our way recently was the financing of one's foundation garments from the public purse. Imelda Marcos, apart from her enormous collection of shoes had an equally large, state-subsidised collection of girdles. An American lady politician is rumoured to have dipped into party funds for her Spanx and Nancy Ganz shapers. I would like to think that the female MP's within the British government who were Spirella clients (and I could name several - but I won't) purchased their girdles out of their own money. This was probably the case since, when these women wore girdles, one feels that an MP's expenses could be clearly justified; would that were the case today!

 

 

September 2013:

 

Traditionally, August was a very quiet time for the corsetière. Families were away on holiday and money that had been diverted to the holiday fund was in short supply for foundation garments. Even in September, the ladies of the household would be thinking ahead to Christmas and the inevitable allocation of funds for the family gathering. The best period was spring when, as if to match the reappearance of the sun, everybody wants to look at their best.

 

September has been very quiet for us, largely due to a predicted stay in hospital and the associated recovery period. Suffice it to say, it won't just be the bones in my corset or the under-wires in my bra that will set the security bells jangling at the airport in the future! It was very kind of Bob and Cathie Jung to phone us with words of encouragement and advice.

 

Nevertheless, we have managed to secure a second location for the photo-shoot that will provide the basis for the 2014 calendar and probably much more besides. Details of how to purchase the calendar will appear on this web-site in due course.

 

 

Details of the Making of the 2014 Calendar have been relocated to their own page.

 

October 2013:

 

As has been the case in the past, the gestation period of the calendar has not been without its problems. Two of our models have decided to spend November in warmer climes rather than parade around a stately home in their corsets! Can you imagine that? Nevertheless, plans are advancing and the garments, properties and locations have been secured. Which brings me onto the subject of women and their girdles. I remember some man quoting in the 1960's along the lines of "Why can a women wrestle daily with an uncompromising confection of industrial strength elastic, yet not possess the strength to open a jar of jam?" I don't know, but it's true. I like to think that it gives my husband a sense of purpose I suppose.

 

We received a lovely story from a WI (Womens' Institute) meeting in the late 1960's.  The speaker was from Spirella and she demonstrated a range of foundation garments on models that she had brought with her. Part way through the evening, a man banged loudly on the door and the ladies first thought he was trying to get in to enjoy the show!  He lived in the house next door to the venue and was trying to let them know that one of their cars was on fire!  The car belonged to the lady who related this tale, who had unwittingly parked too close to a workmen's brazier.

 

I suppose that could be put down to a confusion between brazier and brassiere. My husband adds that brasserie could have been added to the confusion had the meeting taken place in a restaurant! Of course in America where the humble bra is pronounced "br' zeer" the confusion would not have arisen. In most of Europe, despite the alluring words "soutien-gorge" "büstenhalter" "bysthållare" and "fronglwm", the bra is almost always called a "BH", pronounced "Bay-hah". How dull!

 

Later in October

 

Miraculously, we avoided being blown away by the recent storm, however, the resultant piles of slippery leaves make walking down the village street a hazardous affair. My husband does not notice such things; he can even walk home from the pub in pitch blackness without a problem; it's just irritating. However, before I sound off like some female Fawlty, I must recount a recent observation.

 

We were dining at a local pub, the west country is full of such establishments, when a youngish couple entered and, from their accents, definitely from the other side of the Atlantic. Both were casually, but very well dressed in that American way, however, I noticed (as did my husband judging by his swivelling chameleon-like eyeballs) that the lady's white slacks, although very elegant, completely failed to hide the outline of her underpinnings. A longer-legged shaper would have been more appropriate, but it was heartening to see a younger, quite shapely woman at least attempting to wear 'proper' foundations. A similar story appeared in our corsetiere's tales page many years ago.

 

Even later in October

 

 

On 13th October, the House of Worth model Jean Weston passed away aged 83. Jean, better known as "Rowlande" came to prominence after the war as a model for Dior's 'new look'. This was very much a function of her physique, for at 5 foot 9 inches and a scant 7 and a bit stone, she needed no corset to achieve the 'nipped in' waist demanded by Dior. With an 18-inch natural waist, she actually needed padding of the hips to create the required silhouette, whilst the corset trade made a fortune reducing those women with more generous proportions.

The fashion houses of the day ensured that she was provided with outfits for every occasion and, right up to her death was she always immaculately attired. It reminds me of the celebrated husband and wife cooking duo, Fanny and Johnny Craddock. Fanny cooked in the most exquisite gowns and, unlike normal mortals, never splashed or spilt.

Although Fanny was older than Jean, they were at their hey-day during the same period of the 1950's and 60's, a period when we were far better dressed and presented.

Jean Weston  (1930 - 2013)  

Fanny Craddock (1909 - 1994)

 

 

November 2013:  An amazing thing!!

 

We took the chance recently to spend a few days in the east of Holland with my sister-in-law. For a couple of years when we lived abroad, we used her home as our contact address since our house was being rented out. On arrival, she produced a small parcel and told us that it had arrived by post a few days ago. I was mystified. I had ordered nothing, and as far as I knew, that address had been removed from all our correspondence, both written and electronic. It was about the size of a wallet, but heavier.

 

I opened the parcel that was very carefully wrapped and discovered to my amazement, a vintage Spirella stereo viewer complete with the classic Spirella stereo slides.

 

I remember ordering such an article many years ago and, on careful inspection of the postmarks on the envelope, discovered that the viewer had been posted in 2005, over eight years ago!! The package had been re-stamped and franked and carefully re-labelled. Indeed, I remember the disappointment when the viewer failed to turn up, but living overseas, this was not uncommon. I suspect that the stamps intended for air mail were insufficient and the package went sea mail. Frankly, you might as well then throw it away since sea mail can take years even these days. It must have arrived at my husband's work place who decided to re-direct it to our last known address. How amazing!

 

It has, of course, given my husband a fantastic new idea about the forthcoming photo-shoot and he hopes to produce some stereo pairs to recreate the feeling of those bygone days!

 

Our model looked at the stereo pair through the Spirella viewer.

"Oh Dear; my boobs really do stick a lot!"

 

More November...

 

Meanwhile we received, by no means the first, correspondence regarding the wearing of multiple foundations. This is a technique whereby the wearer dons a couple of girdles (or 'shapers') to increase the compressional power. It is quite effective up to two garments, beyond which, the added layer of elastic defeats the compressional powers and one starts to get larger. Never attempt to get into four panty-girdles.

 

Meanwhile something strange is going on at the seaside!

 

 

 

December 2013:

 

We knew that we could never issue the calendar before the end of the year. The only available dates for the photo-sessions were too close to Christmas and our friendly printer is simply up to his neck in calendar productions. He has said, however, that he would welcome the work after his holiday break in January when work tends to be slack. To compensate for this, the calendar will include January 2015 and quite some pages of notes and extra pictures. Due to the generous donations already received, the basic calendar will be held at the price of £10 for the fourth year.

 

 

An Amazing Coincidence

 

At the Christmas party where all the models were present, my husband and I were given a lovely postcard by way of thanks for his efforts as photographer and stage manager. Now, bearing in mind that none of the models had seen the draft versions of the calendar, consider the cover page and the card:-

 

     

 

On the reverse they have written:-

 

Thank you for so much fun    Doreen, Madeleine, Beverly, Marjorie, Jenny and Margaret   Your calendar girls!

 

Whilst putting the artwork together for the calendar, my husband penned a comment on one of the pages:-

 

" One of the fundamental principles of the collection is that it should be worn and experienced by as many  women as possible. Museums do not allow this, keeping their garments well-documented, but essentially hidden from view in case sunlight or perspiration damage them. To our mind this excludes a vital element if one seriously wishes to research garments of the past."

 

We abhor the modern museum, where articles are displayed (rarely) and then almost in isolation so that the viewer can get some feeling for the object. We strongly disagree. We love the 'junk shop' approach to museums. To use a phrase that in other respects I dislike but should be applied to museum curators "If you've got it, flaunt it!" What is the point of hiding history for a few serious researchers who will publish papers that few others will read. Our collection is there to be worn. Those amateur models who have worn our garments have learned more about traditional corsetry than any number of hours at a museum would have taught them. They understand how it feels, how it restricts, yet enhances locomotion. They understand how it made a women 'feel good' about themselves. You cannot get that from a museum catalogue. It's not just corsetry; so many museums hide what should be displayed. A wonderful example is the telescope in a local observatory. It had sat in a museum for years. Many people saw it, but nobody looked through it. The observatory bought it and now thousands of people a year look through it for that is what telescopes are all about. Oddly enough, the husband of Ethel Granger was a keen amateur astronomer. Rant over.

 

 

Details of the Making of the 2014 Calendar have been relocated to their own page.

 

Christmas Eve:

 

Truly atrocious weather has battered the West Country for days now, however, it may be dry for Christmas Day. This enforced staying at home has allowed us to put the finishing touches to the calendar which will be printed in early January and go on sale shortly afterwards. Otherwise it has been a good year for us with the exception of a stay in hospital and subsequent recovery but it showed that my husband does have his uses and that he can manage a small household (under close supervision of course) for a short period of time. We have had several Skype calls from Bob and Cathie Jung and have been in contact with the two remaining corsetieres that we know although both now have stopped fitting corsets. Their stories of the glory days in the West End of London, fitting actresses, embassy wives and female politicians are a joy to hear. One of our models recollected that her mother had been fitted regularly by a Spirella lady in the 1950's. Our friend was a teenager then and seemed to escape the clutches of Spirella's front line but she took to modelling corsets for the calendar with great enthusiasm and the effect on her figure was startling! That's what corsetry does for girl!

 

Wishing you all a

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

from Ivy Leaf and her long-suffering husband!