The Amazing World of Before and After Woman

What an immense subject! As a friend once quoted in a farewell speech to a group of colleagues in Egypt:- "This country has many minefields, and this speech is just one of them"!

In order to understand advertising one steps into a hugely complex interplay between, business, beauty, vanity, greed, peer pressure and that incredibly feminine trait which has made millions for advertisers and merchandisers alike, self-doubt. The most beautiful woman in the world is like putty in the hands of the skillful advertiser. 


Just in case your self-doubt was under-developed,  just leave it to the marketing department to sow the seeds of future profit! Both Spirella (left) and Spencer (1941; right) used this powerful technique.



Of course, the solution was simple. Husband reaches for his wallet; wife wears a Playtex (left) or Persuasion (right) and there is praise all round, particularly from the cherubic daughter! Of course, the marketers realised than within a few years, that darling cherub would also be in need of their foundations. There treads a fine line between marketing and indoctrination!


On the left, was the dressed even zipped up? Nice bra and belt, but it is not going to produce the accentuated waist on the right.


I could never hope to cover even a small part of this fiendishly complicated subject, and so I will simply concentrate on some of the themes that recur in corsetry advertising, particularly my gullible friend below, the amazing 

"Before and After Woman".


An actual photograph showing how "a Spencer smoothes out a bulging abdomen,"     Spencer 1941 (above) and 1947 (right).


All corsetry manufacturers resorted to these photographs that show the woman before wearing their product and the woman afterwards. They range from the accurate and believable to some blatantly (and badly) touched-up photographs that lead the reader to believe that the mere act of putting on a corset will not only re-arrange the figure but also the hair and teeth. The technique, however, must have been successful, since the style of these advertisements has been in use for over a hundred years.

I have decided to use the advertisements of Spirella and Spencer to illustrate this effective form of marketing, partly because they use a common technique but in quite different ways. The first advertisements that were regularly published come from Spencer in the 1930's.


The story is plain for all to see. Lack of foundations is not an option. Poor foundations are a mistake. Buy our product; your figure needs it and you deserve the best - whatever the cost.

In 1932, the poor unfortunate in the ill-fitting foundations hides her shame in half shadow. The settings and models are very elegant and reminiscent of the stylish Barclay and Spencer advertising of the previous decade.

By 1934 and 1935 (right), the poor sister is given the same facial expression and brought into the light so that one could observe her defects more clearly and the subsequent improvement wrought by the Spencer foundation.

There is a strong moral undertone present throughout. Look at 'before woman's' suspender attachments. Before she discovered Spencer the woman was careless and could not even attach her stockings correctly. The foundations of 'before woman' even look rather worn and unpleasant. Not the sort of girl that any proud Mother would like her son to marry!

Quite remarkable how the Spencer girdle cures that hanging lump of flesh. Also rather odd is that the dress accentuates the breasts even more than the brassiere!


Perhaps in 1936 the intelligence of either the marketers or the public had dropped somewhat, since arrows indicating 'before' and 'after' were added just in case one had missed the point. The mere act of wearing a girdle seems have cured a terrible case of rounded shoulders in the woman on the left above. Note the underlying morality once again. The raised arm of the properly girdled woman in the middle shows not a trace of body hair, which, presumably, the morally deficient wanton in the nasty girdle had omitted to remove. Poor woman, she even has to stand in the dark, so deep is her shame! Mind you, that girdle and brassiere combination in the middle does look rather charming. Of course, what else happens when you raise your arms; the roll of waist-line flesh is diminished. Spencer didn't miss a trick!


To our left, some years later, the marketers must have had another panic attack that the long-suffering public had missed the point. With enough arrows to keep the Merry Men of Sherwood happy (not to mention the model), it is stressed that sagging breasts, lordosis and bulges are WRONG. Oddly enough, the same model suffered from rounded shoulders and a pronounced stoop just a few years earlier. The lady in the RIGHT picture appears confused; "Is this really right? You've turned my slouch into a hollow back!"

My husband refers me to a cartoon that one of his frivolous colleagues must have sent to him. It does, however, illustrate the exaggeration of the advertisement on the left. (At my express request, he edited out some parts that might be considered offensive). On the right is another impossibility that cartoonists love, however, it does illustrate the truth that flesh cannot be compressed, it can only be redistributed!


The advertisement on the right clearly demonstrates that by using cartoons, one does not have to fake the photographs of real models!

This cartoon actually reminds me of a story from the excellent (if slightly risque) book, Bust Up -- the history of the brassiere. I'm quite sure that much in the book is fictional (the brassiere was NOT invented by Otto Titzling),; however, the story of the elderly lady taking her first commercial flight rings true. The lady in question 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! 

Much has been written about the effect of metallic corset bones on modern airline security devices. Be assured that they DO set the bells jangling and one can expect a thorough but discreet frisking from the security lady who, despite her training seems to be as embarrassed as the friskee. "I didn't know people still wore these things". "Well they do, young lady" and (under the breath) "you might look a sight better if you did as well".


I just love the look of utter dejection on the 'incorrectly corseted' model above right; the weight of responsibility

 for the poor posture of women worldwide rests on her slim shoulders! (1941)


The word 'bulge' features throughout the 1940's and 1950's.

Only a Spencer girdle (or more likely the artists' skills) could save you!

There's more of this below.


Even in the late 1950's when we were supposedly more sophisticated comes another girdle admonishment.  Certainly, the boning in the front of the girdle will cure that bulging (note the word) abdomen, however, the bulging flesh squeezed between the brassiere and the girdle seems to have vanished ! 

By 1941, that old girdle must have passed around so many models that it was truly stretched beyond recovery. In fact, the mere act of buying a new girdle may well have wrought the improvement depicted by the picture on the right. The poor model seems to have lead a hard life. For a period of half a decade she would appear in her ill-fitting girdle and be transformed only to relapse in the next batch of Spencer advertising.


As for the 'before and after' models below left, a huge emphasis was put on the postural condition 'lordosis' (sway-back in horses). In fact, far from atrophying stomach muscles, surely the opposite was true since such an arching of the back takes considerable skill!


The poor girls in the ill-fitting girdles look surly. On the far right she pouts so much that it looks like she has experimented with botox decades before it became available!



    Below we see a selection of the most uplifted of all the before and after bosoms!




Even the corsetiere was called in to show her approval (Spencer 1941). More than a little artwork was required to show these 'before and after' images which were blatantly modified.

We received, what might be called a 'take off' of some Spencer adverts. They have been altered even beyond the imagination of the marketing department, yet represent only an extreme case of what happens when reality is left behind.

Many of these pictures come from Spencer advertising brochures that were issued to corsetieres and Doctors. They also appeared in the advertisements in the popular ladies' magazines of the day. The 'pantomime' of the advertisements is echoed in the words that accompanied them. In both the USA and UK, a fictitious head of corsetry, Anne Spencer, was referred to as the contact lady. 


In 1949, and for decades afterwards, Spencer asked the most personal of questions "Do your breasts sag?" Well they will if you don't hold your shoulders up as the model on the left clearly demonstrates!


In 1958, the lady in the middle has almost dislocated her right shoulder in an attempt to portray the sagging breasts suspended in the pretty satin brassiere. Again we are reminded just which photograph is which. I love the smile on 'after' woman; it is so smug. She must be delighted that her breasts ride on an even keel with her new brassiere. It was a common photographer's trick to loosen the strap on the profile breast to cause this alarming droop.




I estimate that there is at least four inches of uplift on those bosoms. In fact, if they were any more uplifted (on the right) they would be pointing skywards!


I fell that Betty MacDonald in her book 'The Egg and I" (1945) may have suffered the same fate at the hands of the 'corset lady.'  

".....then she had me bend over and she slipped straps over my arms and then snapped me to a standing position. My legs were squashed so tightly together I couldn't walk a step and I had to hold my chin up in the air for my bust was in the vicinity of my shoulders."




The Battle of the Bulge


I know that this is a very corny title, however, it is no more or less corny than some of the advertisements that came out of this period. The word 'bulge' was used extensively by several manufacturers to strike fear into the hearts of the susceptible woman (and aren't we all).


Herman Wouk even uses the word in his classic tale 'The Winds of War' (1971). There's a passage from about 1940 where Captain Henry is distracted by his wife, Rhoda, complaining in their bedroom. “Hook me up. Look how my stomach is bulging," and then, "I'm bulging a FOOT. I look six months' pregnant. I'm horrible. And I'm wearing my tightest girdle. Oh, what'll I do?" cries the wife of Pug Henry. Her husband sees no difference from normal but wisely declines to comment. There you have it all: the woman's attention to detail (real or imagined) and the unobservant husband wondering what on earth she is worried about. Fertile grounds for the corset  manufacturer.


Good use of the mirror is achieved is this charming before and after from 1943.

It suggests, however, that the time taken to struggle into that all-in-one Spencerette allowed her critical friend to go home and change!



























In this case, the power of the Spencer girdle has actually caused the model to shrink latterally. Where did all that flesh so. We have mentioned elsewhere that flesh cannot be compressed.

The words themselves are interesting since they represent the focus of the marketers attention. Regard the quotes from the contemporary advertisements below (the italics appear in the advertisements):


1934    Farewell to bulging abdomen and Lordosis Curve Backline

            “Spare tires” – Hips and Diaphragms vanish!

1935:   I lost every bulge in a Spencer of this airy fabric

           To lose that bulge – Spencerize!

            You can lose that bulge

            To correct that unlovely slump – Spencerize!

            Delightfully cool and my bulges are gone.

            Her mirror repeated her husband’s advice! 

            Hips 3 ½ inches less in her Spencer

            I lost several birthdays when I lost these bulges

            I reduced my hips 3 5/8 inches in a light-as-air SPENCER

            “I see you lost your Lordosis Curve Backline” “Yes, thanks to my new   SPENCER”

Even a mild panty-girdle will flatten that tummy and a simple brassiere raise and sharpen the bosom if it's a Spencer

This page in particular brings out the flippant side of my nature; an old-fashioned cynicism about marketing I suppose. However, let me add as a poignant foot-note that Spencer's products brought immense relief to sufferers of bad backs. The poor woman on the right has suffered from large breasts all her life that have become seriously pendulous in later life. She will have suffered from a bad neck and spinal problems simply due to their weight. A Spencer brassiere not only gives her an elegant bust-line, but supports her breasts in a comfortable fashion. Many women with this problem often sleep in their brassieres.


1936:   What can I do ? My figure bulges dreadfully

            My Spencer is the answer – that ugly bulge is gone

            Summer time is danger time …when you neglect SAGS and BULGES

            Her mirror warned her that her figure was slumping. But her mirror told a different story when she donned a SPENCER

            You’re headed for trouble if you neglect SAGGING BREASTS!

            Your SPENCER guards you!

            Abdomen sag is dangerous, too!

            I feel younger and look it in my SPENCER

1937:   Don’t let bulges sneak up. Slight or serious – BULGES vanish in your Spencer.

            I was a mess in hot weather! my bulges are gone and I keep cool in my SPENCER!

1939:   Why don’t you get rid of your bulges? You know they are unlovely. Why delay? And save money – Spencer wearers do.

Notice the repetition of the words BULGE and SAG. As I said at the beginning, self-doubt is the marketer's entry into a lady's (or her husband's) wallet. 

            Perhaps the ultimate indignity: Have you "Bridge-Player's Bulges?" (right). Striking straight at the heart of the middle-class, this advertisement contains so many 'white lies'. The before and after pictures are particularly unbelievable. The wrinkly old girdle, the poor attempt to secure the stockings, the wide hips (caused by too many hours at the bridge table), all require the corsetiere's attention. Below the customer has learned to attach her stockings smoothly and there must have been some radical change to her pelvis. Once again, the fictitious Anna Spencer is called in to help.



If the marketers couldn't convince your friends, perhaps you could, although there are not many nationalities that would be quite so forward as this exhortation from 1936:- "Whom have you among your friends inclined to be stout?" Note use of the word stout here. It's an old fashioned term which implies a constrained obesity, for which one might read corsetted obesity.

By the 1940's, one would have thought that a Spencer foundation had all the properties of the travelling salesman's eternal remedy:

Spencer 1941:  The Spencer supporting corset is prescribed for dropped stomach, hernia, floating kidney, varicose veins, chronic coughing, arthritis, faulty posture. Smoothes away bulges, relieves backache, headache, nervousness, indigestion, constipation, poor circulation and faulty breathing.

Perhaps the ultimate indignity was to pose in front of graph paper so that rise in the bosom could be assessed by all (1962).

An old trick lies below; the subliminal connection between tight underwear and weight loss!


Spirella’s Approach

While Spencer woman was becoming more and more extreme, Spirella used the same technique but in a much more realistic way. It probably never had the same marketing success, however, their approach persisted until the 1970's and certainly convinced a number of ladies to buy Spirella, since the advertisements and articles were just a little too close to home for comfort.

These before-and-after photographs from 1939 (UK) show ordinary women and illustrate one of the fundamental principles of proper corsetry, that the garments supports and does not compress. In 1940 (below), the use of the Spirella modelling garment to achieve the effect was illustrated.

These photographs from 1930 are perfect examples of the Spirella principle. The photographs are very similar, but the Spirella on the right is not compressing, as the giveaway folds of fat under the arms are not present. The abdomen is allowed a slight bulge, the contours are smooth and the woman probably really does feel the improvement. To a professional couturier or corsetiere the pictures above will ring true; however,  from a marketer's point of view, they would end up in the bin!


Even in the 1950's, Spirella (August 1958 below) continued to show realistic women and the effects of the foundation garment. No unnaturally nipped in waist for this matron, however, the elevation and re-shaping of her bosom is rather startling! Compare her profile with that of the Spirella corsetiere. The pointed bosom was not just a Hollywood, or a Howard Hughes invention. It thrust it way forward on both sides of the Atlantic. My husband remembers, as a youth, being fascinated by his normally chestless Aunt's prodigious bosom at a family wedding! The year was 1958 when these publicity shots were made. 


The lady in the middle really goes to town on the before and after effect! She reminds me of a woman who recounted a scene of embarrassment



Another example of support rather than compression is shown above right from Spirella in 1943: The Spirella Principle. The smiling lady on the right is at last satisfied, even if she has reverted to wearing her mother's style of underwear.

The Spirella Principle, which is the principle of all good corsetry is summed up in the following exchange between two middle-aged women. "Surely, not all your curves are due to Spirella", "My curves are my own. It's where they lie that's due to Spirella".

Spirella continued its before and after regime right into the 1960's, however, the hyperbole was replaced by fact. They simply returned to the emphasis of support over constriction and often used the normally clothed woman to make the point:-


From the Spirella magazine of 1958 come some quite realistic photographs. The lady on the left illustrates the influence of the brassiere and corset [made in Spirella's most expensive materials, please note] and on the right, Mrs. R. of 1962, showing how such garments affect her presentation whilst clothed.

I'm a fan of whoever Mrs. R is., partly because my figure, far from its proportions of the 1960's, has become more like this lady's, although not quite!! Regard the picture below. Mrs. R. has purchased, at quite some expense, a Fashion Line brassiere and a 305 corset. Her shape has improved, she feels better both physically and psychologically and her dresses fit her figure. She is happy; her husband is happy, and isn't that what corsetry is all about !

Just when you thought that the world was too sophisticated for these obvious deceptions comes this amazing piece of advertising licence from a modern shapewear manufacturer:-

That's not even the same girl!!!

Mind you, Ardyss, who make some of the most powerful modern girdles, show that some pictures are simply not faked. These pictures come from a film showing an overweight women struggling, and I mean really struggling into her Ardyss Body Magic. Mind you, the same effect can be used (and frequently was in the 1960's) by squeezing oneself into a girdle six sizes too small. Many is the husband who discovered on his wedding night that his bride was not quite the shape that she had hitherto portrayed!


Foundations do make a difference as the sequence above shows. This is probably one of the more realistic attempts at 'before & after' as is the sequence below:

"Ah yes Madam. That is quite a nasty bulge you have there!" But we have just the piece of industrial strength elastic that you absolutely need."

Five minutes later: "Very good Madam. Now let me help you put that unpleasant abdomen away shall we, hmmm?!" "Don't panic, I have a radio handy to call for assistance."

Indeed, the result is a distinct improvement and, it has to be admitted, a rather svelte figure. The fitter looks like she is pretty well compressed too, but like the corsetiere of old, she is probably wearing the firm's firm products as well.

"Just a word of advice. It might be better to undress in the dark."