Brassieres

  

With every profitable corset or girdle sale, there must be a matching brassiere. After all the work of clinching an order for a 305 corset in the expensive 'bouquet' material, it was so easy for the practiced corsetiere to add "and of course, Madam will have a matching fashion line brassiere." It added about 25 percent to the deal and aesthetically was the correct thing to do.

Happy, confident, and preparing for a night out, the lady on the right presents a picture that embodies the whole concept of Spirella. Fashionable, money well-spent, and a sight that many husbands would be familiar with as they too prepared for the evening, for in the chauvinistic world of 1957, the money well spent was the husbands', and Spirella had to convince him as well as his wife!

Brassiere 415,  January 1957

 

 

Style 375 from 1961

Spirella's brassieres photographed very well in black, particularly with the black lace over a paler nylon backing. The brassieres came in almost as many styles and variations as the girdles and corsets they were designed to complement. 

 

'Fashion Line' from 1971

The necessity for a made-to-brassiere is amply demonstrated by the three ladies above. The lady on the right is almost tubular above the waist, whereas the lady in the centre tapers strongly into the waist. Neither would find satisfaction from a ready-made long-line brassiere. Note how the pointed cups of 1961 have rounded ten years later. Confusingly and irritatingly, Spirella kept re-naming their favourite models. The 375 becoming the 'Fashion Line'.

Judging by the photographs and letters that appeared in the Spirella magazines of this era, style 31 was the most popular brassiere of the 1960's. STYLE 31 gives a high degree of comfort in wear and is designed to appeal to a large number of women. Unique cup design gives well defined separation with maximum breast support. Carries no front boning. New non-rubber Lycra is used for all elastic sections.

   

 These style 31's from 1964 and 1970 were Spirella's most popular brassiere and often complemented the 305 corset.

Although Spirella had its usual tortuous numbering system for brassieres, the company never had to hide its bras euphemistically behind numbers as it did for its corsets. A bra is a bra and is worn by virtually all women. A series of brassieres were developed in the late 1950's under the names Gentle Line and Fashion Line.

Gentle Line brassieres from 1959 show the back and front fastening models. Spirella's made-to-measure and personalised underwear allowed for many variations. 

This is an original Gentle Line brassiere (above) from the author's collection. Note that although the advertisements show off the garment very well, they fail to capture the exquisite detail and materials used in the construction of this beautiful garment. Indeed, the peach coloured brassiere from the Letchworth Museum shows the best that could come out of the Harlow Factory (below).

 

Form, function and fashion could be combined, exactly as the client required. This Spirella brassiere from the 1950's (below) had exquisite satin and lace detailing, yet was also back-laced. 

 

 

Side-lacing was also available (right). The lacing on the brassieres was called 'soft lacing', since it was not supported by adjoining bones.

 

The full ensemble of laced brassiere, laced corset (complete with under-belt) is described elsewhere.

 

  Brassiere 365 with 'soft' back-lacing

 

Banish any romantic notions of the wearer being laced into her brassiere. The lacing was normal adjusted before wear to achieve the desired tension. The lacing was a boon to the elderly lady whose weight fluctuations defeated any other sort of garment. 

 

 

The back-lacing and side-lacing (above) were options right until the 1990's.

 

Fashion Line brassieres from 1960, 1962  and 1964 carried the success of the style 31 into the future but ultimately, the lightness of these garments would be their undoing. 

As can be seen, each style of brassiere had a basic structure that, like the other Spirella foundations, could be had in various lengths, materials and fastenings. In the 1960's however, Spirella had the answer to the woman with large, small or quite importantly, unequal breasts. The models 364 and 375 rank as some of the most elegant brassieres ever constructed.

Style 364 (1960) and style 375 (1961) yet again show that even subtle variations from the design team warrant another number! 

The brassiere for the well-defined waist (middle), and the style 35 on the mature figure (above right 1963), was what Spirella did well and what the ladies in the pictures probably could not buy in the High street. The materials are fine and elegant, the cut superb and one presumes the finished article was extremely comfortable. 

It is ironic that today, when female interest and purchasing power for brassieres is quite huge, the remains of the Spirella empire, which still fits corsets, has completely lost its edge in the brassiere trade at which it was so good. It's almost heartbreaking to see how few fabrics are available nowadays compared to the beautiful fabrics that were available in the 1960's and 1970's. Year by year, another fabric was dropped from the corsetiere's swath of materials until even black vanished in the early 1990's. Tea Rose went the way of the rest, to be replaced by a boring flesh tone. If the marketing department knew what they were doing, they hid it well.

The pictures below herald the death-knell for the Spirella brassiere. Although a long-line brassiere benefits from proper fitting, and certainly made-to-measure is ideal for the non-average figure, there's little to be gained from a made-to-measure bandeau. However attractive the pictures below might be, the girls could just as well have bought their brassieres at Marks and Spencer's and saved a week's wages. Even some devoted corsetieres admitted that the made-to-measure brassieres, costing up to three times the High street brands, were simply neither as strong nor as comfortable.

Even in the short-length model, the Fashion Line brassieres from 1961 are classics of their sort. However, despite their excellent design, there were other manufacturers who designed as well, and far more cheaply. The lucrative off-the-shelf market would signal their demise of Spirella's brassieres. The Coppelia 60 model on the right (1972) was a 'sensible' brassiere with a deep bandeau to prevent ridging of the flesh (all too commonly seen these days).

Very pretty models, pretty poses and pretty smiles simply did not cut it with the sophisticated young woman of the 1970's. 

Far from mother introducing daughter to the extended family of Spirella, the reverse was true. Mothers followed their daughters into panty-girdles and Marks and Spencer brassieres in their millions, and Spirella would never recover.

34 84
32 85

 

Advertising Styles

Spirella's strapless brassiere was very popular, possibly it was a garment that would, indeed, be worn for a special occasion, and thus the cost could be justified. In Spirella's advertising, however, we run through a whole gamut of emotions in these pictures from 1957.

"How dare you photograph me in my bra" this stern matron below seems to think.  In the middle, the poor lady appears to be meeting guests, whilst realising that her wardrobe is incomplete! Only on the right has the charming hostess the confidence to serve her guests tea in her underwear.

From the same year, this very stylish model has realised that it is perfectly alright to appear in your brassiere, providing that you adopt a sense of the theatrical.

Style 424 (left - 1957),  and Gentle Line (above - 1957)

Spirella's brassieres were made for many years at the factory in Harlow rather than the main factory in Letchworth.

 

Measuring Systems

From Instructions to Corsetieres, Spirella introduced another word into the fitters' lexicon: Bandeau.

I must insert an ironic curiosity here. Because Spirella's foundations were made-to-measure, there was no need to refer to the size of the brassiere cup; it would all be taken care of by the measurements. This is in complete contrast to the revolution in brassiere design and marketing invented in the 1930's.  The concept of the 'alphabet bra' in which a woman had an A, B, C or D-cup is a story in itself and not only led to ease of marketing and sizing, but also peer pressure amongst women as the power of the bosom ascended after the Second World War. It was a marketing gold-mine and I wonder if a small part of the traditional corsetry firms' demise was due to the simple lack of a stated cup size. Below we see this revolution as advertised by the very famous Warner's company in 1944, and also by Bali in the same year.

 

I had always believed that the alphabet brassiere cup size was invented in 1944 by Mrs. Leona Lax of the Warner Company, however, I have received information from "Roger K" that the alphabetical classification of cup sizes was invented some 10 years earlier. Whether it was Warner's that patented the concept I do not know and will look into the matter. My husband added that there are four cup sizes; egg cup, coffee cup, tea cup and the challenge cup !! Honestly; that joke is old even by his standards.