Ivy Leaf's Diary
We wish all our Readers a Happy New Year
As soon as the printers go back to work, we will submit the 2018 calendar for printing. We will hold the cost at £10 plus post & packing this year since there were no other associated production costs. Already we have three of our regular models and two newcomers keen to participate in the 2019 calendar, but more news of that will come later in the year.
How are the Mighty Fallen...
We do not often quote from the Second Book of Samuel, however, auction pictures of a Namsie girdle caught our attention (right). This limp, flaccid apology for a girdle was really nothing more than a support for one's stockings. I well remember the industrial strength Namsies of the 1960s. The modern version has a plain elastic back and quite a pretty, but token nylon panel at the front. In the old days, the zipper was made of metal, the elastic of heavy-duty woven rubber and it had enough bones in it to stand up for itself. 'Fully Guaranteed' indeed (below).
Meanwhile on the subject of industrial matters, what it is about the advertising industry and building sites that they find so appropriate to market foundation garments? The cartoonist, Maidenform and Gossard all had this peculiar association between girders and girdles.
The 2018 Calendar is ready
|The printers excelled themselves and turned the calendar
around in 24 hours.
It will cost £10 + £2 post & packing = £12.00 to the UK; Euros 11.5 + 5 = Euros 16.50 to Europe and US$ 13 + 8 = US$ 21.00 to the USA and Australia. We have a list of interested parties and have sent out Paypal invoices. I should add that the faces that are blurred in the previews (right) will be in full focus on the calendar.
||We would like to thank those of you who have bought the 2018 calendar. The
response has been excellent and we covered our production costs within 48 hours
of receiving the calendars from the printers. Well done; any profit now accrued
will be donated to charity.
Today I will be meeting with the group of friends that are enthusiastic about making another calendar. In order to get it printed well before the end of the year, we will probably have the photo shoot in the summer. This has the advantages of warmth and copious natural lighting. Whilst the ladies love dressing up and trying on the vintage foundation garments, the fastenings and suspenders (garters in the US) always take them by surprise. My husband is often frustrated at the delay between photo sessions and sometimes equally embarrassed to be called in to help one of the models to close a hook-and-eye. Another moan that they have is "Why, oh why, did they put in back suspenders that you have to sit on?"
The 2018 calendar has sold out!
Thanks for your excellent support and let's look forward to the 2019 edition which will feature the classic house location, some familiar models and some new recruits.
Meanwhile, we are always delighted to discover new facts about an aspect of corsetry that we thought we knew so well. We came across an advertisement for St. Michael brand girdles marketed by Marks & Spencer from 1932. This is two decades earlier than I had supposed.
We attended a local lecture last week regarding that famous author, Jane Austen. Sitting in front of us was an acquaintance, a well-built but wealthy and habitually, a very well-dressed lady. After the interval, during which most of us had repaired to the bar for a glass of wine, our friend sat down in front of us and revealed no less than six inches of her back-side from the waistband of her trousers, that had dropped to seat level, to the hem of her jacket. (This is known colloquially as 'Builder's Bum' or 'A Dagenham Smile'). Modern trousers are often cut short in the waist and our friend had presumably purchased trousers designed for a younger and lighter woman. Both pallid, quivering buttocks were clearly visible and quite disturbed my husband's concentration as he attempted to look anywhere except at our friend's behind. There was not a sign of underwear, let alone the powerful elastic that might be expected of such a woman. Your foundations should shape your body and your clothes should fit that shape.
How often have we commented on the excesses and hyperbole of the advertisers and marketing departments? We came across a 1960s TV advert for the famous Playtex 18-hour high-waist panty-girdle. The scene entitled 'the beautiful waist' shows the same lady clad in three historical costumes grimacing and moaning as she descends the stairs. She even holds a hand to her waist to accentuate how much she suffers in the uncompromising underwear of those periods.
Then, in modern attire she descends like a feather with a ravishing smile on her face because she is wearing an 18-hour girdle. What is blatantly apparent is that her waist is the same size in all the poses despite the story line that she is encased in whalebone, rigid stays or one of Dior's waist whittling 1940s girdles. What is the message that they wish to convey? Is it that the old-fashioned underwear didn't pull in the waist? It certainly did. Is it that they could not be bothered to source the correct period underwear? I suspect so. She must have been wearing the 18-hour girdle for all the poses if she even wore a girdle at all. I bet she did for we all wore girdles then.
It is very sad to relate the passing of Lys Assia, (1924 - 24th March 2018). Born Rosa Mina Schärer, she was the first winner of the Eurovison Song Contest in 1956 when the competition was a million miles from the political minefield to which it has degenerated.
This is a naturally beautiful woman who had the figure to emphasise the sculpted waist of that period. Was that figure the product of foundation garments or nature. In 1956, it would probably have been a combination of both.
For fans of 1960s fashion, there is a super YouTube clip that was recommended to us. It shows some lovely fashions as well as the construction process of what looks to be a Berlei girdle.
Many years ago, we asked our readers if anybody had information on the demise of Wilbro, that famous specialist corset manufacturer. Today, we received a copy of a letter from Dr. Yvonne Cawcutt, the last owner of Wilbro, to a client in 1992. How sad that such amazing bespoke corsetry houses faded away. Sad, but not surprising as the rot started in the mid-1960s. It is amazing that most of the bespoke brands struggled on for another three decades.
Does anybody remember a corsetière called Dorothy Stokes who operated from her salon in Birmingham in the 1980s?
Our lack of updates recently is simply a consequence of our time of life. My husband and I are retired and, while we still can, we enjoy travelling, especially during the school term time. It was with a pleasant surprise that on our return home, we found on the doormat a small brochure from that long-lived mail order company, Ambrose Wilson. Sadly, the pages dedicated to serious lower foundation garments have vanished, however, on the back page was full page advert for the Triumph Doreen brassiere; a garment almost as long-lived as Ambrose Wilson itself:
"The world's bestselling non-wired bra".
I fully agree.
The article above prompted one reader to send us some scans of a 1939 J.D. Williams catalogue. J.D. Williams marketed many products under the name 'Ambrose Wilson', but where does this name come from? Whilst researching this, my husband came across the address of the registered company at 53, Dale Street, Manchester, UK. The edifice used to be known as Ambron House, but trawling through Google maps we could find no evidence of this name. Oddly enough, the rather run-down area (faded splendour might be kinder) that Dale Street has become was the set for one of the scenes of 'Captain America' (2011) portraying 1940s Manhatten.
The film scene (insert) and the street are one and the same. The building on the right of the street beyond Fred W. Millington Ltd. (57, Dale Street) is presumably number 53, the old Ambron House. Like their lower foundations, things are not what they used to be.
We have discussed within these pages the topic of 'At what age did girls start to wear girdles?' We received a most interesting article from the pages of the Corset, Bra and Lingerie Magazine of 1967 from the Teenform company. Their thrust seemed to be to exploit an opportunity in the market to get pre-teens to wear foundation garments that surely they did not need. The idea was to get girls into foundation garments early so that they would be easy marketing targets later on.
Another reader alerted us to a Spirella calendar from 1938. This poignant reminder of pre-war Britain had the corsetiere's name and address stamped on the back; she may well have circulated these to gain business. With the power of Google map and pegman, one can visit these locations and sadly, but not surprisingly, the establishment is now a British Red Cross charity shop, just one of many charity shops in what once was a busy shopping street. The lady would have lived in a maisonette above the shop. The only connection with corsetry is that from time to time, old foundation garments find their way into these establishments.
We have received several communications regarding modern 'shapewear', in particular, the heavy-duty, long-leg, zippered, what would have been called panty-girdles in the good old days. It seems that sizing is a problem if bought on-line. The main complaint is that the garment might fit one's thighs, but getting the waist closed is a real struggle. We found a promotional video for just such a garment marketed in Latin America and it takes the customer and the sales girl their combined efforts to 'stuff' (an inelegant word but very apt) her abdomen into the elastic confines of the garment. The end result however is very pleasing but are we not reverting the days when a lady required a maid to get dressed?
||We described in last year's
diary, how we met a re-enactor / costumier at a local fair. Realising
that she lives locally, we met her again recently over lunch where we
discovered the depth of her knowledge of materials and foundation garments.
She was charming, knowledgeable and, most importantly, very keen to join in
our next calendar that will be the grand finale. Our new friend is also an
excellent amateur actress and we feel that she will bring a whole range of
expressions to our next efforts. An excellent seamstress, she makes her own
costumes and corsets as well. She described how her mother had worn a girdle
until the late 1960s whereas her granny was never to be seen without a
decent lower foundation garment. Both women were slim but we all wore
girdles then. We showed our budding model some of the Jenyns corsets that we
have used for the calendar. She correctly dated both corsets with ease, the
first of which was a present from Pat and Ken
Jenyns when they visited us in 2010. They kindly gave us three 1912
corsets unopened in their wrappings. We have only ever opened one that has
been worn briefly by our model Victoria in 2014 and by Cathie Jung in 2016
(right - note that corset is loose on Cathy and rather tight on Victoria. It
has a 19-inch waist).
Amazingly, this morning we received an email from Pat Jenyns reminding us of their visit in 2010 (was it really eight years ago?). Pat Jenyns has recently published a book about her (Great?-)grandmother Sarah Ann Jenyns (left). I ordered a copy straight away. Sarah Ann travelled to Britain from Australia in the early 20th century to register the patent on the corset that she had designed; women were really tough in those days. The patent rights were granted to Symingtons of Leicestershire so that they could manufacture Jenyns corsets in England and the corset featured here is one of those.
The copy of Pat Jenyns book has now arrived and we look forward with pleasure to read about the amazing Sarah Ann.
Meanwhile, whilst sorting through some rarely visited areas of our archives, we came across some pictures from CAMP catalogues of the 1930s and 1940s. The standard corset modelling pose at that time was in front of a mirror so that one could see the front and rear of the corset in the same picture. Sometimes (and Spencer used this frequently) there would be a bowl of roses present. Was this to indicate style and femininity or to disguise the rubbery odour of the pre-lycra elastic? CAMP alone has the model holding a dog up high. The message seems to be "I can now lift objects (like the cute little doggie) thanks to the support of my CAMP corsets." Presumably with another few tugs on those powerful straps she could have hoisted a Great Dane. It reminds me very much of that classic line from Tom Sharpe's hilarious novel, 'Porterhouse Blue' (1974). "Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded [her husband] of a [horse] race meeting." Mr. Sharpe knew a thing or two about corsets. In his novel 'Indecent Exposure' (1973), he writes "The Colonel hauled the bush out of the ground, a feat which had it not been for his wife's corsets would certainly have ruptured him". Should you wish to know why the Colonel was wearing his wife's corsets, I recommend that you read the book.
RIP Madame Medeq
It is always a pleasure to hear from Bob and Cathie Jung who phoned us yesterday, however, this time they told us of the very sad news that Madame Medeq (Diana) had passed away on 22nd March this year. For a while she had been living in a care home and Bob and Cathy visited her in November 2016. Even then, she was a shadow of her former self and we count ourselves so lucky that we managed to visit her in 2011 when she was still bright and full of life.
Two years ago we talked about the COOPERATIVE WHOLESALE SOCIETY LIMITED CORSET FACTORY in Desborough, UK. The cooperative society in Desborough was formed in 1863 to counter exploitation of workers by agents and employers. One of the enterprises founded was the corset factory that still stands to this day and still produces lingerie for the Wacoal Group. We received an email from a gentleman containing a link to how they made corsets at Desborough in those days, for Northamptonshire and Leicestershire had been the hubs of spinning and weaving since the 17th century. Their corsets were marketed as 'Desbeau', an attempt to attach a suggestively French quality label to a corset that was designed for the cheaper (albeit good quality) end of the market. In the same way that Desborough can be turned to Desbeau, so Medical Equipment can be contracted to Medeq as in the late Madame Medeq mentioned above. It's all in the name. The gentleman's aunt worked in a co-op corset shop and wore their products as many of her peers would have done. We have shown a few clips from the video entitled 'A Matter of Form' below:
Firstly, there's the mandatory corset-lacing scene from the 'bad old days', then the workers trooping to the factory, the corset inspector and finally the co-op corset shop window display.
The sheer volume of corsets made pre-war and girdles post-war takes many by surprise. It was another world well over half a century ago and these factories were state of the art. The health of workers was a major concern, not just at work but in a far more general sense. The factory had playing fields and an active social club (much like Spirella in Letchworth). Sadly, those playing fields have been turned into a modern housing estate quaintly called 'Desbeau Park' as a nod to the past.
We have added a few photographs of Madame Medeq's corsets.
It is always gratifying and humbling in equal measure to learn that what one thought was one's comprehensive knowledge is incomplete. We found quite recently, a page from a Marks & Spencer publication of the 1960s that we have placed here. Here is a transcription of a text passage:
WHEN YOUR MIRROR tells you that you should really chose a firmer foundation that will really control, it’s time to buy a St. Michael highline zip girdle. Made in satin elastic or nylon and elastic net, they give the s-m-o-o-t-h-e-s-t hip and waistline you’ve ever had and cost only 39s 11d. for sizes 26” -32” waist. Also available luxury&nbbsp; version at 49s. 11d. for even firmer control.
No wonder our search for a satin elastic girdle to fit a 34-inch waist has been in vain. This explains why in the 2012 and 2013 calendars, the stouter lady, Madeleine, wears the nylon and elastic girdle whereas the three slimmer women can fit into the satin elastic. The last time Madeleine tried on this girdle in 2015, my husband was called in (at her request) to help fasten the hooks and eyes before pulling up the zipper.
I believe that the second girdle from the left is the 'luxury version'.
I might add that Madeleine and Marjorie (far left) are both keen to pose for another calendar.
Nine years ago we wrote the following
that is equally pertinent today as we bask in a similar heat-wave with no
remission in sight:
"England is a curious country. For two years the population has moaned about
the dire summers. This year, we've had no rain and temperatures over 30o
C (that is 86 o
Nine years ago we wrote the following that is equally pertinent today as we bask in a similar heat-wave with no remission in sight:
"England is a curious country. For two years the population has moaned about
the dire summers. This year, we've had no rain and temperatures over 30o
C (that is 86 o
oF for the Imperialists amongst you). Still not satisfied, the population bemoans the heat and discomfort at night. I must admit, the orchid material (Spirella's popular artificial satin) from which my corsets are made is a little heavy for such temperatures, however, experience tells me that we'll soon be back to cardies and tweeds before long! I do have a few old Spencers constructed from light-weight Aertex material that would be cooler, but regard the picture on the right. The fitter shows the light-weight corset to the client who I'm sure will, as the advertisement claims, lose every bulge. The problem is the transparency of the material compared to the bone casings. I have a morbid dread of my corsets being seen through my clothes and I suspect that however cool and effective that Spencer corset might be, its presence will be detected through a thin dress. Also I just hate the material, so I'll suffer through the hot spell."
We have added a new section called 'Transparent Corsets' to the web-site (currently under construction). I am not talking about some flimsy scrap of titillating diaphanous lingerie here, I mean a real corset. Hot summers are rare in Britain and so the 'transparent corset' was much more a feature of American Spencer and Spirella where the 'Miami Matron' could achieve her shape confined within a girdle of well-boned Aertex. Personally, I have no desire to see a panorama of compressed cellulite reflected in my dressing room mirror.
We have started work on the 2019 calendar. Our first model came for a fitting session and it was as hilarious as always. In this case, the lady remembered her grandmother was a wearer of Jenyns corsets and that her mother-in-law was regularly fitted for her corsets at some up-market establishment in London. We have also procured another photo-shoot location that will be perfect for some outdoors photographs. We hope to conduct the photo-shoot some time in August and get the calendar printed by October.
You could not live in England at the moment without realising that the England football team is doing rather well. Meanwhile, at Wimbledon, the ladies tennis grunts its way to the semi-finals. I have to say that Serena Williams' outfits this year, both at Roland Garros and Wimbledon have certainly attracted my husband's attention. *
In years gone by, the tennis stars of 1960s were quite happy to advertise the Playtex girdle:
SARAH PALFREY COOKE Holder of 40 Nation Tennis Titles says "On the court, in the drawing room, PLAYTEX does wonders for your summer figure. So comfortable and invisible, it gives the illusion of no girdle at all!"
PAULINE BETZ 4-times Nation Woman's Tennis Champion "The only girdle allowing complete freedom of action. You hardly know you have a PLAYTEX on, yet it keeps curves where they belong."
By today's standards, it seems odd to advertise your girdle, but on the other hand, Spanx has made its inventor extremely wealthy using celebrities' endorsements.
Just after the war, Cooke was ranked world number 4 and Betz world number 1. Betz won Wimbledon in 1946.
It might seem strange that such sporting women would wear girdles (and I've said it before), but we all wore girdles then.
Marks and Spencer dropped the brand name St. Michael in 2000, 72 years after its inception. Marks and Spencer was struggling to cast off an image of middle-aged, middle-class clothing. As far as I know it still is. We have friends who can be considered as 'alternative'. They are very arty and my husband once remarked to the lady (who is in her early 50s) "I suspect that you never wear and never have worn anything from Marks and Spencer, whereas I only wear clothes from Marks and Spencer." This is true; my husband shops for clothes about once every two years and then with great reluctance in a mad dash that ends up with me having to take back half the purchases that are the wrong size.
In the Marks and Spencer archives are some interesting pages and articles. There is a brief article called 90 Years of M&S Lingerie and a far longer spiel that amazingly fails to mention their classic satin elastic girdles. There is a video as well that, once again, neglects the girdles of the 1960s. Having read and watched these articles we find a number inconsistencies that we have discussed on the Marks page of this web-site.
What's in a Name?
Whilst searching the collection to provide suitable items for our models, we came across a minute panty-girdle from the early 1960s. This garment was labelled for a 24 inch waist so would have been worn either by a very slim woman or, more probably, her daughter. Even so, I imagine some waif with a 24 inch waist would still struggle to don this formidable article. It has six bones, front, back and sides and, incredibly, a bone on the inside of each leg. There are satin panels front, rear and both sides that add an additional nine seams, the last seam being down the centre front under the satin panel. In fact the girdle is double-skinned at the front. When the poor girl would have divested herself of the wretched thing at the end of the day, there would be no less than 15 vertical welts around her torso, two on each thigh plus the embossing of the suspenders, not to mention the tourniquet-like ridges grooved into her flesh at the base of each leg and above the waist. Before you ask, toileting required removal of the garment. No wonder we didn't drink so much in those days. The name of this torture device - LIBERTY!
* When we wrote this piece about Wimbledon, we did not appreciate that Miss Williams actually advertised for Berlei sports bras. Their advertising is spot on and rather amusing.