Anecdotes and Stories

Recent additions are coloured in dark red

 

We have collected over the years, a number of anecdotes, recollections and letters in two sections of the web-site. For convenience, they have all been indexed here. (New contributions are in a redder font than the usual brown).

 

Many of the verifiable stories come from my husband and myself, others are from friends and acquaintances and some arrived unsolicited in the mail. Of the latter, we apply the basic checks of veracity before we publish. To a large extent they feature the older woman, for during the last five decades, the corset has almost exclusively been the preserve of the elderly. Sometimes the stories are well written, but run the whole gamut from blatant fabrication through to fantastical wish-fulfillment; these are not published. Occasionally we receive true stories about women and their foundations, however, if these women are still alive or in the public eye, we have no right to intrude on their privacy. Those for which the provenance is uncertain have only been included if they pass our tests of plausibility. In the final analysis, my husband often says "Well, I'm sure it must have happened somewhere to somebody!"

 

Corsetičres came from all age groups, but socially were quite structured into Middle and Working Class women. Their clientele, however, spanned anybody who could afford the merchandise from the top of government to the thrifty Scottish granny.

A rare occurrence of lady from the 'horsey set' into the ranks of the corsetičres was not a success. The clientele developed over the years by her aunt, was steadily reduced by the novice's conviction that her clients were as sturdy as her horses and, to paraphrase Tom Sharpe, "She laced and buckled her charges into their corsets with a vigour reminiscent of a race meeting."

A corset (95 times out of a 100) is designed to support, not constrict. Our Thelwell refugee did not last long in the trade!

 

 

The Ladies' Man

The Eccentric Lady

The Major's Corsets

Waddle In; Wiggle Out

From a Dutch Corsetičre

Old Women and their Corsets

Granny’s Old Corsets

The Squire’s Wife

Mother's Bridge Friends

What's in a Name ?

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Girl

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Husband  1

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Husband  2

 

Cautionary Tales of Vanity and Tight-lacing

Memoires de JACQUES

Carol’s Questions

Ghost of Spirella

The Bra Buyer

Memories from Mrs. C

My Mother-in-Law's Girdle

My meeting with Ethel Granger

My Daughter's Girdle

How I Lost my Best Friend

Joanne's Camp Corsets

The Dawn of the Panty-Girdle

Memories from Holland

The GM's Wife

The Major's Wife

Mabel's Corsets

 

 

 

Anecdotes from Corsetičres

 

An Irish woman ordered a black corselette which was duly fitted and the corsetičre watched another presumably satisfied customer depart. A week later the corselette was returned in the mail with a desperate letter asking for a refund. Apparently the woman had not slept for the guilt of buying black underwear and she wanted rid of the evil garment.

 

A corsetičre asked her husband to pick up a pair of corsets that needed repair from a lady in the village on his way home one evening. He went to the house, rang the bell, and a large formidable lady opened the door. Plucking up courage he blurted "I've come for your corsets". The harridan's gimlet gaze burned into him. "Old Mrs.Withering lives NEXT door" she shouted and slammed the door in his face. "Never again" promised the husband, as he realised he had mis-read the address.

 

A lady's husband rushed in from work. "Get your corsets off" he shouted and raced upstairs. The lady followed, somewhat surprised by her husband's sudden ardour, to find him getting into his football gear. "I need the corset laces for my football boots; they broke in last game!"

 

Granny was looking after her daughter's boisterous kids. After a long tiring day, and an hour getting the children to bed, she retired to her own room and divested her clothes down to her brassiere, corset and stockings. She applied a face pack in an unattractive pale green colour and re-arranged her hair for the night. She heard the children begin to increase their noise and at the end of her tether rushed into their room to give them 'what's for'. The children were stunned into silence and as Granny retreated to her room, righteous in her powers of admonishment, a small frightened voice whispered "What WAS that thing?"

 

On a similar vein, the daughter of a Spirella client was lounging around her Mother's house in an old housecoat, her hair in curlers and with a hardening face pack of ghastly hue in preparation for the arrival of her boyfriend later that day. The boyfriend arrived an hour early and the girl in question fled upstairs where her Mother found her virtually in tears and frantically applying her mascara and lipstick. "Quick, get my new girdle" hissed the girl. As the poor girl successfully overcame the reluctant zip of the girdle, she cried "I want him to see me as I really am!"

 

Spirella falls into this trap (right), and claims that a properly corseted figure is natural, not the un-corseted figure!

 

It is a very feminine trait to deceive oneself by imagining that the well-dressed, well made-up woman in the mirror is the 'real you', as opposed to the rather saggy object that emerges from the shower each morning!

 

Two middle-aged sisters were attending an old school reunion. To save on expense, they shared a hotel room. After breakfast one sister complained that her clothes felt awkward. “I must have lost weight. Everything feels loose”. Her sister wriggled in some discomfort. “You’re lucky. I could hardly get into my corsets this morning.” They looked at each other as the penny dropped. They retired to their room and re-emerged after 15 minutes looking far more at ease. Yes; they had mixed up their corsets. Well trained by their mother, both sisters wore Spencers, identical in all details except size! 

 

I was showing a prospective couple around a house for sale. The rather attractive widow who owned the property took us up to the master bedroom. I couldn’t help but notice that draped over the Ottoman were a sturdy pair of pink corsets. I was fascinated by the intricate tangle of laces (it must have been a Camp or a Jenyns – IL). I tried not to stare, but I knew that the lady knew I had seen them. And she knew, I knew. It felt very stuffy in that room and I blurted out my usual spiel to the prospective couple. “A very spacious room, with a southern exposure and two built-in corsets – I mean closets.” I nearly died of embarrassment as did the owner. The couple told me afterwards that they thought it was hilarious. Mind you, they didn’t buy the house. 

 

Younger brothers can be so obnoxious. I know I was. My elder sister was a keen equestrian and spent all her spare time (and our parents money) on horse riding. After several years, it became apparent that she had started to wear a corset, since oddly, it was pink and showed clearly through her shirt if she took her jacket off. I ribbed her unmercifully. “Penny’s wearing corsets” I would chant. “It’s a special support for my back” she would counter furiously. Ultimately, I reduced my sister to tears and our mother wisely and cleverly intervened. “Penny. Timmy’s right. Of course you wear a corset; you need the support for your back. I wear one too occasionally (that was news to me), and so will Timmy if he ever mentions the subject again.” So I didn’t.

A provincial newspaper reported this dreadful scandal in 1961. A teenage girl at a gymkhana 'dressage' competition was disqualified when another competitor's mother told the judges that the girl was wearing a back-brace to improve her posture. Whether this was illegal or not, it lead to a rather verbal exchange between the two mothers with accusation and counter-accusation culminating in tears all around.

 

We received a letter describing what could well have been this incident, however, there is more detail provided here. There had indeed been an altercation between two mothers concerning the daughter of one who had been wearing a corset. Wearing a corset for equestrienne activities was by no means unusual, however the accusation was that the corset was not simply a support for the lower back, it incorporated shoulder straps to improve the posture. This had been revealed by the girl herself who had mentioned the uncomfortable chafing of these straps to the other girl who had then complained to her mother that "It wasn't fair!". Was the corset for postural improvement or was it a genuine surgical support? That was the argument. The owner of the establishment consulted her own corsetiere on the matter. The owner herself wore corsets as some women did in those days and, hand on heart, she wore them to improve her figure. Could she really admonish the mother for attempting to improve her daughter's figure? The corsetiere suggested that shoulder straps were a bit over the top for a teenager, but, if that teenager tended to stoop, then she herself would recommend them. Of course, she could hardly imagine a teenager that would willingly wear such a corset - any corset in fact, unless she had some ulterior motive, like winning a dressage event! As in many such cases, there is a confusion of grey areas and vested interests that keep lawyers in business for a lifetime. The corsetiere secretly wondered if she could get a foot in the door of the riding establishment. Her final advice to the owner was that wearing a corset to improve the figure was quite acceptable and that please would the owner pass her calling card around the mothers of the equestriennes. Her ploy was partly successful in that she received several orders from the mothers for themselves, but only two orders for custom-made 'riding corsets' and those were for the two girls that had originally caused the argument!

When I was in the WRNS, I developed a chronic back-ache from leaning over operations boards that left me unfit for anything after just an hour or two. The doctor was unhelpful along the lines of "If it hurts when you do that - then don't do that!" A horse-riding friend suggested that a support might help and loaned me a corset that she wore for riding. It was quite short and adjusted by pull-straps. Frankly I was horrified, however, it did the trick and I had to admit that my uniform seemed to hang all the better for it as well. I knew the corset bones showed through my shirt when I leaned over the board but nobody mentioned it. I even got the Navy to pay for two corsets each year.

 

A sturdy Jenyns support for the equestrienne (left) does tend to show its presence when one leans forward (right)

 

Imelda Marcos is widely credited with her extensive, even excessive collection of shoes and designer clothes. Less well known is that this sartorial magpie had an equally extensive selection of girdles from which to chose. 

 

One of the less attractive epithets for the corsetičre is a ‘meat-packer’. One man who was embarrassed to mention his wife’s profession often claimed that she was in the ‘meat-packing’ business. In Herman Wouk’s book ‘Marjorie Morningstar’, the chubby friend of the heroine takes a job in the corset department of Macys. When her experience was questioned, she replied “I’ve spent all my life forcing human putty into the shape of a women.” 

 

Life was so confusing for the young women in the 1950’s. My mother used to scold me that wearing tight girdles would give me varicose veins. My poor sister, however, developed alarming veins during her first pregnancy when she was only 28. The nurse attending her blamed the veins on inadequate corsetry. You can’t win.

 

(In the late 1960’s) I was invited for afternoon tea with an acquaintance. This lady had a young son, seven or eight years-old I suppose, and his noisy presence eventually began to irritate us both. “Get your toy cars out and stop whining” the boy’s mother told him. He returned a few minutes later with a box of cars. The box depicted a lady in a rather elegant girdle and was emblazoned ‘Gossard’. My hostess blushed to the roots of her hair, although why, I couldn’t imagine, for we all wore girdles then.  

 

We were driving with my aunt in the Ardennes of Belgium. It must have been the hot summer of 1962. My aunt's face grew redder and redder as the miles passed (there was no air-conditioning then). Finally she asked me to stop and she waddled hurriedly off into the undergrowth. Ten minutes later a cooler auntie returned clutching a large pair of white perforated rubber corsets, apparently not uncommonly worn in those days. I remember thinking that her shape seemed the same, however, her stockings had become distinctly baggy. She professed to wearing these garments every day as well as vest, knickers and her thick support stockings; no wonder she was hot!

 

A female prisoner in Britain escaped from jail using a lock pick fabricated from a spiral steel corset bone. Corsets obviously were not confiscated after the event since female prisoners still form a small but regular clientele for the remaining British corsetičres.

 

The spiral-wound stay, although a great revolution for corsetry, did sometimes cause embarrassment when it broke loose from its casing. In the Spirella magazine of October 1959, a lady recounts walking home at night when she was terrified by something that tapped her on the back of her neck. She ran home only to find that the tapping was an errant stay from her corselette that had ridden up. 

 

David Niven also recounts the episode of a large and heavily corseted actress who was dancing with her partner closely clasped to her bosom. At the end of the dance, the man didn't let go and she hissed "the dance is over". "I can't move" replied the man, "One of your stays is up my nose"!

 

The phrase "bald, toothless and in her corsets" elicited a surprising response from our readers!

 

Granny lived with us when I was a child in the 1950's and, being used to a maid most of her life, regarded my sisters and I in the same capacity. The duty I hated was lacing her up in the morning. Although her corsets were front-laced she always needed help. I never understood why her routine demanded that wig and teeth came after corsets; she truly was an unappealing sight and I often asked my mother "Will I end up like that?" Of course Mummy capitalised on this and replied with homilies about brushing one's teeth and the evils of hair-colouring.

 

I stayed at my girl-friend's house one night (in the spare room I might add.) The next morning I went to the bathroom and flung open the door to be confronted by the back of my girlfriend's mother dressed in a pink corset, stockings, and apparently nothing else. She was bending over the basin and promptly stood up, her hands flying to her bosom. She didn't turn around of course and I stammered an apology and bolted. But I saw the toothless corsetted reflection in the mirror. It is said that a girl will ultimately turn into her mother. Whether this preyed upon my mind I don't know, but our relationship faltered soon afterwards!

 

Whilst lying in bed and attempting to finish the Telegraph crossword puzzle, the gentleman in question made a mistake. Finding that the eraser on top on his pencil had expired (his mistakes were frequent), he rose from the bed, ferreted through his wife’s underpinnings on the chair, and started to rub the offending letters with the rubber material of her Playtex girdle. This ruined both the newspaper and the girdle. This incident was portrayed in a 1960’s situation comedy starring Freddy Frinton and Thora Hird.  

 

It is a fact of life that women’s underpinnings do vanish mysteriously from washing lines. A corsetičre that I used to visit near Croydon, lost a Spirella corset in this manner. Corsetičres are not well paid, and although she had acquired the corset at cost price, it would take several weeks’ work to earn enough money to replace it. She connected the incident with the loss of a brassiere that she had put down to a stormy evening, however, her substantial corsets would definitely not blow away. Like all corsetičres she had some samples that she used to show clients. Taking an old sample corset, she washed it and rubbed all the bone casings vigorously with “Deep Heat’ cream. This cream, used sparingly, is excellent for the treatment of muscular aches, however, it’s a powerful irritant if mis-handled. Predictably, the corsets vanished overnight. I’d love to say that some unpleasant youth had to attend the doctor’s surgery for an ‘unexplained’ rash, but that would be too good to be true. Suffice it to say that the thefts stopped!

 

Somewhere in your web-site where you talk of Older Women, you recall Richard Gordon's phrase "Bald, toothless and in her corsets!" Sad to say, this was not necessarily the preserve of the elderly. As a teenager in the 1950's, my all too frequent trips to the dentist revealed that my teeth would be better out than in and I wore full dentures from the age of 17. In many respects, this had advantages of being fitted later in life when dentures are far harder to get used to. Shortly after this episode, my hair started to fall out when I combed it and my mother explained that alopecia was a curse than ran through the female members of the family. My mother had escaped, but I knew granny wore a wig. I was shocked to learn that she had done so since late teenage. Whether it was this twin assault on my vanity, I can't say but at university I started to gain weight to the extent that my mother insisted that I wear a corset, at least whilst at home on holiday. Indeed, I was bald, toothless and wearing corsets in my early 20's. Fortunately, I secured a good job for a woman in those days as an accountant and realised that despite my short-comings, I was fundamentally good-looking and potentially shapely and I spent quite some time and money on my appearance. I never had a shortage of boyfriends and was happily married for many decades.

 

Reunions and weddings can be guaranteed to send women into a frenzy of discomfort if not actual pain. Trying to don a uniform that fitted in one's early 20s when one is 50 is a recipe for disaster. The tight waist-band will pull the shirt into vertical creases and the collar will not actually fasten without throttling the wearer. At such re-unions, the bulging eyes and red complexion speak not of thyroid and blood-pressure but rather collars and corsets!

 

An elderly widow was asked if she missed her late husband, "Oh yes, I really do" she replied. "I've nobody to do up my back suspenders any more!"

 

There was a British TV drama in the 1960's which featured the attractive proprietress of a corset shop in the Midlands. She was having an affair with an older man. The man's rather dowdy wife found out and decided to get her revenge. She invited the corsetičre round to her house to be measured for some new underwear. The corsetičre turned up to be greeted by the lady and her friends. Armed with some formidable corsets she suggests that the older lady try them on since they were suitable for 'someone of her age'. The older lady keeps her cool (remarkably) and asks what the corsetičre is wearing. "I'll show you" says the younger woman (this was common practice for corsetičres in the 1960's). Predictably the corsetičre is wearing a rather pretty lace overlaid basque. At this point the older lady says "I think that's just what my husband would like" and proceeds to show the corsetičre a photograph of him. As much it can on black & white TV, the colour drains from the young lady's face. The friends of the older woman grab the corsetičre and eject her, in her underwear, into the rain. One assumes the affair ground to halt after that!

 

The corset, inevitably one feels has to be the butt of many music hall jokes:-

 

My wife went into the corset shop and said "I'd like to see a corset that would fit me." "So would I" laughed the rude salesgirl.

 

Our family was so poor, my Mum used the bones in her corset to make the soup!  Les Dawson

 

I'd love to slit my mother-in-law's corsets and watch her spread to death.  Phyllis Diller.

 

I always wanted to wear my mommy's girdle but I didn't have the guts.

 

I went into a store to buy a new bra. "What bust?" asked the salesgirl. "Nothing" I replied "It just wore out!"

 

(Professor) Jimmy Edwards always referred to Rimsky-Korsakoff as Ripzem-Corsetsoff. A bit crass, even by the late Professor's standards.

 

Vivian Vance (remember the "I Love Lucy" TV series?) once said before meeting the Queen, “If I wear a girdle to fit into my dress, I can’t curtsey!”

 

A lady politician once threatened to "Eat her girdle" if such-and-such an event took place. One catty opponent was heard to murmur "She needs that girdle outside her tummy, not inside!"

 

A mother was reading in the sitting room. Through the open window she heard her seven year-old son discussing with his friend, and apparently with quite some knowledge, her own girdles. "My Mummy's got lots of girdles. She wears the really tight one when she goes out with Daddy. You can tell 'cause she walks funny!" Her son's friend was less of an expert but volunteered that 'Gran' wore a corset. Later that evening, she was sufficiently concerned to ask her husband if she did, indeed, walk funnily, and was re-assured that she didn't. But the doubt was always there afterwards!

 

Weight loss is a common problem in the older woman, just as weight gain plagues her younger sister. Several years ago I visited a lovely old-fashioned corset shop in Rouen, France. The proprietress appeared from behind a screen and asked us if we would mind waiting for five minutes, as she was fitting a customer. My husband, who was with me, is quite used to the interior of ladies' shops, however, the groans and struggles from behind the screen eventually unsettled him and he wandered outside. He later explained that he felt dreadfully embarrassed and that somehow he was intruding on a rather private moment. After 10 minutes the corsetičre and the lady emerged. The lady was in her 70's and explained that her corselettes were too big for her and she had decided to buy a smaller size. The groans were caused by the effect of the first corselette, which was far too small, and the ensuing struggle with the zip until the corsetičre intervened and procured a larger size. Typical of French underwear, the corselettes she had chosen were beige, constructed from heavy elastic, well-boned and zipped up the front. Sadly, the charming satin panels were no longer included.

An exchange of letters to a British ladies' magazine in the early 1970's was prompted by an opening shot from a retired 'Colonel Blimp' character. He suggested that women were poor drivers since if they wore corsets like his wife, then they were quite unable to look over their shoulders to reverse! The final letter of a heated exchange came from a woman who said that if male driving standards were any indication, most men were also wearing their wife's corsets!

 

At a formal dinner, a retired major discovered that the lady on his left was a Spirella corsetičre. The lady was used to the stilted effect that such revelations could have on subsequent conversation, however, the major volunteered that his wife, "The old Memsaab" as he called her, wore abominable corsets to hold in her tummy. "I think you mean abdominal" the corsetičre replied. "Exactly!" retorted the major, "That's what I said."

 

At my first embassy banquet in Montivideo, I was amazed at the figures of the other embassy wives. Coming from London suburbia, I was used to mother's corsets, but surely here was engineering of the highest order. I was soon to visit a corsetičre recommended by one of my Uruguayan friends and I too learnt how to walk, talk and eat with a waist-line six inches smaller than was strictly comfortable. When my husband was awarded his first of many honours, I thought that at least I could have got an MBE for all those evenings confined in my steel and brocade prison!

 

A hostess at a bridge afternoon, took the chance of being dummy to leave the table and prepare the afternoon tea. Her friends were alerted by a cry from the kitchen and they rushed in to find their friend bent over in some discomfort. "I think my back's gone" she moaned, and a closer friend helped her upstairs to lie down. As the others prepared to wind up the game, the hostess and her friend re-appeared, the former returned to the vertical, but extremely red-faced as she busied herself back in the kitchen. Her friend explained in a hushed voice, "Her bra flipped under her corsets when she leaned forwards" and, being a substantially boned garment, it wouldn't let her straighten up again. The bones were digging painfully into her back!

 

The nu-back corset (right) was designed with the advantages of a corselette but had the back top and lower separated with enough overlap to prevent exactly the discomfiture of the lady above.

 

Spirella set great store by their corsets' life-saving properties, although I doubt if any withstood the test that my aunt tried. In a London Hotel (and thank Goodness it was the foyer), she entered the open doors of the lift, and fell into the machinery below, since the lift had stuck one floor above. She was recovered unharmed, except for the loss of her dentures, although completely filthy and covered in grease. The hotel staff were most solicitous (as well they might be), and provided a room and a doctor in short order. "It's amazing" he said, "she could have been killed." Ever after my aunt claimed that her sturdy corsets were her salvation, although we suspected that the cushioning effect of numerous gin & tonics had something to do with it!

 

In the early days of the metal zip fastener, there were some catastrophic zip failures on girdles, which is why, these days, all such zips are backed by hooks and eyes. The old corset shop in Croydon, sadly extinct, refused to stock zippered girdles for several years. Talking of which, yet another euphemism for girdle was ‘zipper’. It wasn’t so common but I’ve heard of a mother asking her daughter at a wedding “I hope you’ve got your zipper on today”. My husband speaks of a girl-friend who referred to her ‘waist nipper’ as a ‘zipper nipper’, although whether this referred to the garment’s zip fastener, or to the poor girl catching her flesh in the zipper was more than my husband dared to ask! This girl, who was somewhat overweight, later purchased a basque, however, the boning on the garment simply wasn’t up to the task, and every time she sat down, her tummy would force the front bones to fold back on themselves. 

 

The origin of the phrase “My girdle’s killing me” is lost in history. It was probably uttered too often to be associated with any one source, although Playtex cemented it into advertising legend in the 1960's. My husband claims that at least one girlfriend uttered the phrase after a long (and expensive) dinner. A female cynic might add that the phrase originated from the first woman ever to wear a girdle.

 

This was heard at a restaurant in Aberdeen, amazingly in 2001. "Oh, my girdle's killing me." My husband and I turned to identify the source of this archaic expression and were stunned that it came from a pre-teenage girl, and by no means plump or chubby. We were astonished!

 

 

Another amazing story from my husband, which he swears is true, was the woman who he gallantly drove home after a ball. She invited him in for a nightcap. “Could you help me remove my brassiere?” the girl asked my astonished husband. Gallant to a fault, my husband replied in the affirmative. The girl vanished to the kitchen and returned with the back of her gown unzipped and a pair of pliers in her hand. Apparently, the girl’s only strapless bra (which she called a ‘cathedral bra’) had been stolen from her washing line, and the solution was to modify an ordinary bra with wire twisted to secure the shoulder straps out of sight. My husband removed the wire and was bidden farewell!  

 

A beautiful Twiflit 'cathedral brassiere' from the late 1960's.

During a mixed foursome of golf at the RAC Club near Epsom, I drew the 'short straw' and ended up with two women of the 'jolly-hockey-sticks' sort. Formidable, opinionated and loud, they made for uneasy golf companions. After a couple of hours, Agatha was driving and on the back-swing, we heard a distinct snap. She lowered the club and stood back. "Excuse me" she said, and took her friend off into some convenient bushes. The friend returned and asked if we had a safety pin. Actually, I had. (In the early days of the zipped fly, failures were not uncommon and I always carried a few safety pins just in case.) I gave her the pin and tendered my help. She looked at me in what is known as an 'old-fashioned' way and said "No - but thanks." Her companion returned and play was resumed. I told them why I kept the pins and it seemed to break the ice. The lady revealed that a suspender had been torn from its moorings. We all laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the game. I married the 'broken suspender lady' a year later, both of us having lost our partners some years before.

 

My cat had been missing for two days when, just preparing to retire for the night, I heard a  mewling sound from the garden. I quickly slipped on a dressing gown and some slippers, and went downstairs into the garden, following the sound which emanated from a patch of wild roses. As I moved over to the flowerbed in the dusk, I tripped and landed in the rose bed. Not seriously hurt, I was, however, stuck, as the barbs pulled at my hair and dressing gown. I wasn't going to spend the night there, so I managed to back half out of my dressing gown and with a convulsive jerk I pulled myself free, unfortunately leaving my expensive wig and gown in the rose bed. So if you were the gentleman walking his dog who was startled by a middle-aged, bald woman running across the garden in her corsets, then I apologise!

 

In the days before central heating (Britain in the early 1960's), a woman wrote to an 'agony aunt' that her latex girdle was so dreadfully cold to put on in the morning. Rather than receiving a helpful suggestion (my old aunt slept on top of her rubber corsets to avoid this problem) the 'agony aunt' retorted that one must suffer to be beautiful!

 

British public schools (which in the quaint English terminology mean private schools) to this day boast the position of matron, a female cross between house-mother and nurse. As late as the 1970’s, this character would wear, as part of her office clothes, the full regalia of a nursing matron from the white head-dress to the watch pinned to the left bosom. At a famous south London public school, the matron was very much a formidable character in true ‘Hattie Jacques’ style. At the beginning of one Easter term, the assembled staff were surprised at the laughter that greeted the raising of the school flag. As their collective gaze swiveled to the flag-pole, there, for all to see just below the school flag was a large pair of corsets. Any doubt as to their owner was dispelled by Matron’s scarlet face. There is a small addition to this episode. A school-wide hunt went out for the perpetrator of the act, and a 15 year-old pupil was found to have secreted away beneath his mattress, a good collection, not just of Matron’s foundations, but those of some of the masters’ wives as well. The pupil quietly vanished from the school.

 

I must confess that during the mid 1960's whilst at boarding school I too played a similar prank when I noted our own Matron's Marks and Spencer white satin-panelled girdle on her washing line billowing gently in the breeze. Clandestinely, I removed it and hoisted it up our particular flag pole. I made the mistake of bragging to other boys of my prank and an unknown school snitch reported my misdeed. Fortunately I was not expelled like the other boy. However, our headmaster was furious and I was given six of the best with one of his canes over the seat of my own white Marks and Spencers "St Michael" underwear! They were far less substantial than the girdle so the Head's cane really hurt!

 

Still on the subject of schools; between the wars, at a girl's boarding school near Perth in Scotland, the girls would wait until after lights out to start making a noise. The new housemistress, who slept in a separate room at the end of the corridor, was a young and inexperienced teacher. If the girls timed it properly, the teacher would rush in to scold them without taking time to reinsert her dentures. A lady in her late 80's recounted this tale (for she was one of those girls) and added, it's hard to take anyone too seriously when they're standing in their corsets shouting "Go to shleep, girlsh!"

 

My husband and I were walking past the Corset Shop in St. Leonards (It sadly closed in 2009 - Ivy) when I saw a stout old women emerge from the shop with her daughter (perhaps even grand-daughter). The old lady was crammed, not to put too fine a point on it, into a classic twin-set over a white blouse. A rather lovely Jaguar saloon car pulled up and the younger lady’s husband emerged. Jaguars look superb, however, in reality, they are very low and quite cramped in the rear. The performance that ensued with husband and wife, at first helping the stiff old biddy into the car, and latterly pushing and pulling, was quite comical, but rather sad. The whole story was clear to see. The old lady would come to the shop once or twice a year to replace her corsets. This expensive habit precluded the purchase of newer more fashionable clothes. Ironically, if she had purchased even a new suit that fitted her stouter body, she might not have needed such tight corsets in the first place. The proprietor of the shop (for it is owned by a man), confirmed that she came in every six months for two brand new Twilfit corsets; one in white, and one in tea rose brocade.

 

Walking along the Embankment by Waterloo Bridge in 1988, my husband saw the most obviously corseted women he had ever seen. He takes up the tale. “She was a big woman, but her waist was incredibly small by comparison. About 42-26-42 I would guess. Stunningly dressed”. I asked him if he was sure it was a real women; there are many theatres in the area, and Covent Garden is only just across the river. "You know" he replied, “I’ve never been certain, and I never saw the woman again”.

 

Madame Chang Kai Shek was famous for wearing a pair of bullet-proof corsets. When her husband was forced to leave China, they left behind many items in the rush, and her pink satin corsets became the proud trophy of one of the bandit chiefs.  

 

A woman hurried into the restaurant at Selfridge’s in a waft of powder, perfume and parcels. As she joined her friends for coffee, she gushed in a voice audible several tables away, “I’m so sorry to be late. I was trapped inside my panty-girdle!”

  

A modern tale from a few years ago (2001). Three student girls were walking down a street in Sheffield when two of them started to lag behind the third. They started to giggle, as did several passers-by. "What's so funny" the third protested. "Look at the bottom of your jeans". And there for all to see, was yesterday's discarded panty-girdle hanging out and being dragged along the street. Mortification knows no bounds!  

 

In Britain, well before the advent of the Charity Shop (Thrift Shop in the USA), or even the car boot sale, was the Jumble Sale. These sales took place in Church Halls and the like, and represented the unwanted items that clutter a person’s life, yet cannot really be discarded as pure rubbish. During one such sale in the late 1960’s, whilst rummaging through a pile of old clothes, a teenage girl discovered an old pair of corsets that she held up and showed to her friends. Waving them in the air she crowed “Coo, just look at these; can you imagine anybody wearing these things?” All the assembly laughed, except, that is, for the haughty lady, who had in fact organized the event. Shortly afterwards, the corsets were discretely purchased by that same lady. The elderly women who recounted this tale laughed at the memory. “Those were her own corsets. I know that because the Spirella lady visited me after fitting her. She couldn’t bear to see her old corsets flourished in public and had to buy them back!”  

 

Tom Sharpe in his extremely funny book ‘Porterhouse Blue’ had this to say about the Dean’s wife:- “Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting”. Very eloquent, and very true. Mr. Sharpe, I’m sure had a standard Camp corset in mind here. Later in the book "Lady Mary disembarked languidly from her corsets."

 

At a rather posh garden party, a very smartly dressed woman had been irritating her rather plump hostess by making a number of personal suggestions about her frumpy figure. Eventually she retired to 'powder her nose'. On re-emerging from the house, the hostess couldn't help but notice a couple of feet of corset lace dangling below the hem of the lady's skirt, and re-engaged her in conversation. "Do you think I should wear corsets like you do" the hostess asked ingenuously. The smart lady retorted "Oh I don't need to you know. But it would certainly improve your figure." Nobody mentioned the very obvious corset lace to the woman. (In the 1960's and 70's, there were numerous corsets designed with invisible lacing for those ladies who wore a corset but pretended to their friends that they didn't!)

 

My wife was preparing to go out and, as was almost a ritual in the 1960's, called me into the bedroom to 'do up her zip'. My wife stood up, turned around and asked me how she looked. I resisted laughing and slowly built up for the punch line "You look like a million dollars, your hair's fantastic and that dress will drive the other women wild." She almost purred. I turned to leave the room and added "What's that hanging down?" My wife looked and squeaked as she saw that a corset lace had broken its moorings and was dangling for all to see. Cats can hiss as well as purr and a good five minutes of 'engineering' was required to secure the errant lace. My wife's confidence was ruined and throughout the evening she kept asking me if she looked alright.

 

My husband and I turned up for a rather posh dinner party (rather above our social level I felt). On entering, probably unfashionably early (10 minutes late) we were greeted gushingly by our over-large and over-bearing hostess who obviously had already sampled some of the excellent wine on offer. As she turned to lead us into the drawing room we noticed that her zip was completely undone revealing 'not insubstantial underwear'. We were the first guests; what should we do? I shooed my husband away and politely asked our hostess if I could help with her zip. She appeared momentarily transfixed then recovered her composure. "Thank you, but I'll call the maid and join you shortly." We were never invited again but I couldn't have left her like that, could I?

 

My ancient auntie was visiting us for the afternoon. As we toured the garden looking at the flowers, I noticed our recently acquired kitten beginning its stalk and dash game. I looked around for the object of its attention and noticed that auntie’s corset laces were dangling down. Before I could intervene, the kitten pounced on the laces and swung there, its front claws firmly caught in the laces. Auntie and the kitten panicked as one. The kitten went mad, auntie screamed, tripped and fell. The kitten killed the laces, disentangled its claws and rushed off after the next victim. Mercifully auntie, although slightly the worse for wear, damaged only her pride.

 

My husband was so pleased to hear of this tale. He said he was sure it must have happened somewhere at some time, and indeed it did in Wyke Regis in the late 1960’s – Ivy.

I rarely got to see my wife dressing in those days. Our caravan holiday was the exception (it's hard to be private in a caravan on a rainy day). Each year, my amazement was renewed as I watched my 'well-built' wife struggle into a girdle that seemed impossibly small. The force required to do up the hooks and pull closed the zip made a mockery of the "Could you open this jar for me?" typically female request! I was always forgiven my blatant voyeurism by remarking how fine she looked, for she did too!

 

As a young lad I was intrigued by the antics of the family that occupied the neighbouring caravan. Come rain or shine, about 8 o'clock, father and son were ejected from within. This was followed after a little while by the caravan rocking gently on its springs. After another period, the mother and daughter emerged. I asked my mother what was going on and she replied that as gallant gentleman, the father and son should not see the females dressing in the confined space. "But why the rocking of the caravan?" I asked. "Because these are not easy to put on" she replied with feeling, brandishing a girdle under my nose.

 

On a camping trip one year, I heard my two sons laughing and sniggering behind the tent. They were making fun of a pair of sturdy pink corsets drying on the line beside the neighbouring tent. I quickly scolded them, concerned that the occupant might hear their rude remarks. They were, however, a seriously firm garment and must have been a nightmare to dry. Sometime later a large, humourless woman retrieved the corsets and cast an angry gaze in my direction. I did, however, enjoy the five minutes of sound effects that followed. Donning corsets in a tent is apparently not an easy task!

 

My gran always came to stay at Christmas and she always wore what she called her 'Christmas outfit'. This was a long black velvet skirt and a ivory coloured satin blouse. I later learnt that this blouse was a construction from her wedding dress; that would explain the sumptuous quality of the garment. Getting a cuddle from gran was a treat but also a surprise. I loved the feel of the satin and velvet but was always surprised at the hardness of her body - quite unlike my mum who was less extravagantly attired, but oh so much softer!

 

For several years pre-university, I would watch as my daughter struggled into heroically tight pantie-girdles. After a year at university she abandoned her foundations with “I can’t believe I used to suffer like that!” I then found her reclining in the bath one day wearing a pair of new jeans. She was ‘shrinking’ them onto her body in the style of the mid-60’s. So tight were the jeans, that the zip had to pulled closed with a shoe-lace (a trick she learnt from her girdle days). I pointed out the similarities with her girdles but she retorted “this is the uniform of freedom (a contradiction, but I didn’t interrupt); my girdles were objects of male subjugation.” Youth!

 

My son 'discovered' corsets in 1962. We were on holiday in Berwick and our walk down the High Street was interrupted by the loss of his presence. He was 20 yards behind us gazing at a shop window that was, embarrassingly, full of corsets. "What is that for" he asked, pointing at a particularly complex Camp creation. "They're women's things" I replied, hoping that would suffice. It didn't. "They keep their tummies flat" I explained. That same week, we had travelled onto Edinburgh and were staying with relatives. Their elderly neighbour had a pair of corsets hung on the washing line. We met her for tea subsequently and my son came up to me and said in a quiet, secretive voice, "I know why she's got a flat tummy!"

 

In the 1970's, before property buying for personal gain became common, a retired couple bought a villa in Spain. In those days, selling the property and exporting the money was prohibited by Spanish law. (The Spanish believed that price inflation of property would kill the market for local people, and lead to rural and social decay - as it has all over most of Britain. It seems that the Spanish were rather perceptive, but I digress.) Eventually, the lady's husband died and she wished to cash in the value of the villa. Transferring the money legally was out of the question so she bought an oversized pair of corsets, withdrew as much as the bank allowed in cash (they were not stupid), and stuffed the corsets with as many pesetas, dollars and pounds as she could manage and fled the country. Paper is an excellent insulator, and she nearly passed out several times from heat exhaustion in the attempt to relieve rural Spain from 20% of her property's inflated worth.

 

Another corset smuggling episode was widely reported in the British press in the early 1980's. A middle-aged lady shop-lifter modified a pair of corsets to carry all manner of hooks and straps. She wore it over her dress but underneath her voluminous coat. She would enter a supermarket and surreptitiously hang items beneath her coat on the corset. The theory was that in emergency, a quick unfastening of the busk would drop the evidence and she could then make a dash for it. Unfortunately, when she was queried by a suspicious saleslady, she panicked, tried to release the busk whilst running and tripped over her stays. This lady, at least, was caught; red-handed, and one presumes, red-faced as well.

 

Old women and their corsets!” This was the despairing cry of an Edinburgh corsetičre with whom I used to correspond. Old women, who, she had to admit were the mainstay of her income, seemed to drive her to distraction. The purchase of a corset seemed to imply to these ladies that a lifelong confidante was also acquired as part and parcel of the service. A corset is hardly a complex garment although some of the creations that these old biddies ordered were indeed not easy either to don or to remove. We’ve mentioned elsewhere that the term ‘Granny Knot” almost certainly comes from the habit of these ladies to fumble their corset laces into an impossible knotted tangle. How many times was my correspondent called out late at night to help some arthritic victim release herself from her stays?

Certainly, the 'Thief Knot', (that is a knot tied in a particular way so that any illicit undoing of the knot will be obvious) was used by jealous husbands when fastening their wives' corsets.

 

This tale had been backed-up on several occasions. I know of a London Spirella corsetičre who gave up the business. Apparently, having sold a corset, the elderly recipient would often regard the corsetičre's lifelong attention and advice an integral part of the service. More than once at bed-time, the poor fitter was called out to untangle the back-lacing on some poor old biddy's corset!

The charming lady on the right was asked to try on a relatively simple Spencer front-lacing corset. Despite being in her 80's (2009), she had never worn such a device although knew exactly what was required. This didn't stop the inevitable tangle that sooner or later had to be sorted out by a friend!

My Mother-in-Law used to drive me to distraction. She visited all too often and from the moment of her arrival to that of her departure, she recounted a litany of her ailments. Her teeth, her back, her legs, her neck. All seemed to rebel against their owner. Everything she wore seemed to be 'surgical'. Her surgical stockings and surgical corset might have thwarted the aches and pains, but in concert they caused her to walk like a marionette. Occasionally, her ensemble was joined by a surgical collar when a trapped nerve in her neck caused her to lose the strength in her left arm. The benefit was less chatter, since talking through clenched dentures is not easy; the disadvantage was that she needed to be unlaced from her complex foundations at night and re-assembled each morning! A knight in armour would have been less bother.

 

We received a similar missive and I'm not surprised. Older ladies love to talk about their ailments - Ivy

 

Granny used to talk freely about her surgical corsets and surgical stockings. I wondered why her bra was never called 'surgical'; it certainly qualified on lacings and number of bones! My sister and I used to snigger out of earshot "I wonder if she's got her surgical teeth in today?" or "Pretty surgical blouse!" Oh how we mocked our poor granny.

 

Another reference to armour: R's mother was anything but coy about her underwear. "I've got my armour on today" she would announce, slapping her rigid stomach with gusto. "But isn't it uncomfortable?" chorused our young daughters. "You'll find out when you're my age" she promised them as they shivered in horror. Watching her sit down was basically fascinating. She'd lower herself gingerly toward the chair and then, unable to resist gravity, she would collapse into the seat. She would exhale noisily, the seat would creak and her thighs would spring apart revealing her old-fashioned bloomers. Most dramatically was the alarming rise in her bust, as her corset impacted the seat and forced everything violently upwards.

 

In an incredibly unprofessional act, a corsetičre, driven to distraction by an obnoxious client, submitted her measurement forms with one inch subtracted from each dimension. She hoped that the ill-fitting garments would lose her the client forever! In a cruel twist of fate, the lady actually enjoyed the tighter foundations and maintained her relationship with the corsetičre for many more years.

 

In contrast to the tale above, a client refused to accept a corsetičre's measurements and demanded that a couple of inches be removed here and there to accentuate her waist. Despite the fitter's protests, the client prevailed and a month later was fitted with her new corsets. She then had the nerve to complain that they fitted badly and refused to accept them. This could have cost the fitter dearly except for the fact that they actually fit her quite well and she wore them regularly (against all the advice from her training) for several years afterwards.

 

My aunt was very proud of her erect posture and frequently admonished the younger generation for their dreadful slouching. We all knew that if the younger generation wore corsets like hers, they would have perfect posture as well, but we were far too polite to mention it. That is until one day when she fired off a tirade culminating with “.. look at my ramrod posture.” My son (who would have been about eight at the time) piped up, “That’s because you’ve got ramrods down your back!” “Pardon me, young man. What do you mean by that?” “Every time you bend over I can see two great rods up your back.” I scolded him and told him not to make personal remarks. I explained to my aunt that, indeed, the bones in her corset were quite visible when she bent over. She was mortified that people knew her secret!

 

On the bowling green at Eastbourne I was involved in a mixed tournament. My partner was a lovely, if rather stout, elderly lady and an excellent bowler. Half way through the match I realised that the sprinkling of spectators were amused by something when it was my partner's turn to play. I moved behind her and realised that as she bent to play the ball, the ridge of her corset top was revealed taut against her blouse. Each time she played more and more of the blouse was pulled from the waist-band of her skirt. I discretely drew her attention to the fact. She was most grateful but it ruined her game, and I suspect the enjoyment of the crowd!

 

My father used to comment that women had an unfair advantage at bowls because of all the elastic that they wore. My mother agreed about the elastic (she always wore a firm girdle whatever the occasion), however, she maintained that it put women at a disadvantage.

In the snooker hall of the Conservative club in Stafford there used to play a disagreeable fellow. We laughed behind his back since when he leant over the table to play, the outline of a surgical corset was clearly visible. He was notable for taking his ale from a quart tankard although not in the presence of his wife, who was similarly abrupt and 'tweedy' in that ex-military family sort of way. I suspected she was as stiffly corseted as her husband, for when she sat down her back never left the vertical. They were a classical 'shoulders back, stomach in' couple, and with the sort of corsets available then, there would probably be no other choice! We often joked that the 'old Major', as we used to call him, wore his wife's corsets, and in the jovial male preserve of the snooker room, this supposition would call forth a bevy of ribald jokes and supposedly true anecdotes (which blatantly were not*).

 

*A curious verification of this tale is recounted elsewhere.

 

One of the strangest accolades for a corselette comes from a lady who was an unfortunate passenger on the ‘Morro Castle’, the ship that caught fire off New Jersey in the 1930’s and was a total loss. The poor lady spent some time in the sea, and later wrote to congratulate Spirella that the bones in her corselette didn’t rust after the harrowing experience.

 

I’ve known several people, usually women, who cannot wear watches. I’m not talking about the allergic reaction to base metals, but simply that the watch would stop or keep bad time. On other women, the same watch would be fine. I mentioned this to my husband who was about to retort along the lines of “silly women”, however, he thought for a bit and said “Take some old biddy with alloy ‘stays’ in her corsets, steel under-wires in her bra and chromium plated suspenders. As she walks through the Earth’s magnetic field, she probably generates enough electricity to stop a watch!” “What about the poor old soul’s heart of gold” I replied, and the argument came to rest there. But I wonder if he has a point.

 

Famed Olympian and golfer, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, was once asked how she managed to hit 250 yard drives. "It's not just enough to swing at the ball," she replied. "You've got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it!"

 

Some women are incredibly coy about their underpinnings, whereas others blether on about their latest girdle or corset (that's when women wore such things of course!) The most devious lady of my acquaintance regularly hung out her Monday washing that always contained a few modern panty-girdles. These weren't part of the wash, simply a ploy to show the neighbours that she was 'with it' (this was about 1970), and had kept her figure. Her fitter, and the corsets that dried discreetly in the airing cupboard, told another story. The panty-girdles were her daughter's cast-offs!

 

When I started working on the south coast in the early 60’s, I stayed in digs owned by a stout, elderly woman called Ada. She was a member of the Salvation Army and had strong attitudes towards drink and staying out late. Every Thursday wash-day, the hot water pipes in the kitchen would receive their weekly insulation in the form of a pair of sturdy pink corsets wrapped around and between them. They were a “devil to dry” she would say, but dry they must by Sunday since, she candidly admitted, that without them, she would never get into her uniform skirt.

 

My mother was in the WRNS (Wrens) during the war before she married and raised a family. She started attending re-unions when I was a teenager, and for that one day in the year she relinquished her trusty M&S girdle for an old corset her mother had passed on. I knew granny wore corsets but this was the only time I saw them in detail, as mother roped me in to help with the unaccustomed hooks and laces. It was quite a process and not without a degree of ‘language’! Still, she looked very smart, if slightly red of face, but the uniform was awfully tight.

 

Still on the subject of the WRNS (or any uniformed service I imagine), keeping stocking seams straight on parade and maintaining the requisite tightness of stockings and shirt lead to numerous tactics. An acquaintance who was in the WRNS for two decades swore by her six-suspender girdle. Any less was to court disaster on parade. A firm brassiere was essential whilst marching, and her shirt bottom had several hooks sewn on to attach to her girdle (in the manner of a brassiere's girdle hooks). Airline stewardesses went further, and more than a few airlines supplied their stewardesses with blouse-knickers combinations.

 

As is so often the case, a recollection placed on the web-site elicits an enthusiastic response in kind - Ivy

 

When I was in the Wrens, the drills and marching played havoc with my legs and I decided to wear a pair of support stockings underneath my service issue blue pair. I hooked the support stockings onto the side suspender of my girdle and the service blues onto the front and back. I hoped that if the single side suspender let go, friction against the other pair would hold them up.

 

We received a swift riposte on the story above - Ivy

 

I was never in the forces, but I did try exactly what the lady above recommended. It might have worked for me in the old days of the knobby suspender button, but I tried it with a standard Marks girdle and the middle buttons would simply let go after a while. I'm afraid friction was not sufficient to stop my support stockings from descending embarrassingly down my legs in a fashion made famous by Nora Batty! The solution was to sew on extra suspenders.

 

In the 1960's, my mother wore a corset as she always had done, I wore a girdle and my daughter wore a panty-girdle. We were all fitted by Mrs. S of Winchester. Towards the end of the 1960's my mother died, unchanged in a lifetime of habits, and I adopted the panty-girdle as my friends were doing. Still Mrs. S. would supply us with the best Spirellas (probably Coppelias or Spirelettes - Ivy). My daughter, suddenly inspired by the freedom of university, disposed of her panty-girdles but I rescued these (expensive) items and waited. Four year's later and going for a job interview, I laughed as my daughter bemoaned the loss of her girdles and was going to visit M&S when I produced her faithful Spirellas. She wore them and swore that the confidence they inspired helped her land the job. (Spirella should have used this as advertising material - Ivy)

 

As a policeman on the beat you come across some amazing sights, but none more so than the elderly lady I surprised late one night. Wearing her corsets over her nightie, she was rummaging around the front garden. “I’m looking for my teeth” she quailed, and indicated an open window upstairs. I found the teeth amongst the ruins of a shattered glass and returned them to their grateful owner. How they got there I do not know. Some things are better not asked.

 

(The wearing of corsets over one’s nightie is simply the recourse of the elderly when forced to walk around after having prepared for bed. Virtually unknown today of course, thirty years ago, there were women who had worn corsets most of their life and any physical effort without their support was almost impossible. Gerald Durrell and Ian McRoberts both describe elderly women arising from bed and putting on their corsets before venturing further. - Ivy)

 

My mother's sister gave her a brand new Excelsior girdle that she had tried on but was too tight for her. It wasn't my mother's brand (which was Marks) but it was her size and she was far too thrifty to refuse the gift. A few mornings later, I heard 'language' coming from her bedroom and I went in to see what was up. The girdle's zip was on the left hip, not on the left front as her normal ones and she had managed to do up the girdle all twisted round. She was trying to wriggle it round without unfastening it. She persevered, however, either the girdle went on twisted, or my poor mum's back was twisted as she tried to do up the hooks-and-eyes under the zip. How she suffered with this unaccustomed garment every other week until a year later when it was consigned to the dustbin.

 

As a teenager in the early 60’s I was used to wearing a girdle and enjoyed the luxury of fitted Spirellas like my mother wore. As panty-girdles came into vogue, mother showed me the Spirelette catalogue and I was fitted for a long-leg model that according to the brochure was aimed at the young market. When the girdles (mother ordered three) arrived I was horrified at their weight and firmness. I couldn’t do much about it because she’d spent a great of money on them and I could either wear them or revert to the old style. I called them my chastity belts which caused mother no end of concern since I had just discovered boys. She needn’t have worried because no boy was ever going to see me in those things! (I suspect a Spirelette 105 was the culprit - Ivy)

 

When my mother came to stay, our crowded Monday washing line received an addition with Mummy’s pink corsets enjoying their weekly wash. Our young son was always amazed at these heavy garments and would ask what they were. I would explain that older women wore them to keep their figures trim. To this he would ask if I wore them. How do you explain to a seven year-old that a 36 year-old mum is not an older woman. “No. I wear a lighter support called a girdle,” and I would show him one of mine to avoid any unnecessary curiosities developing. At this my 10 year-old daughter assumed a haughty air and announced that in a few years, she too would have to wear a girdle. My ex-naval husband simply used to comment in his dry way “I see the Admiral’s raised her flag!”  

 

When 'Bob-a-job' was common (Boy Scouts searched the area for job to do. One shilling - a Bob - was given to the scout movement for each job) my son used to roam the houses of our neighbours. Apparently one arrogant woman, who I disliked, had little time for boy scouts and in an effort to be rid of him just handed him a plastic bag and told him to dispose of it somewhere else. My son's curiosity was aroused (why didn't she throw this in her own bin?) and he investigated the contents and found a pair of sturdy pink corsets. They became a clandestine trophy of his troop, and I got one up on my snooty neighbour!

 

I visited the daughter of a famous British politician (this was in the mid-60's) to fit her for a girdle. When I arrived at the house, a party was in full swing although it was early afternoon. The lady was gushingly enthusiastic and wanted to be fitted in front of her friends, however, I had my standards and refused. Reluctantly she retired to her bedroom where the fitting was accomplished. (What a sign of the times. Even when intoxicated, a women put a girdle fitting high on her list of priorities - Ivy)

 

The husband of another famous politician related how his wife practiced an entire speech before going to bed clad only in her bra and girdle. She was highly animated in the theatrical way that politicians affect and it was all her husband could do to stop laughing out loud! "You're not listening, are you?" she admonished. Her husband's reply of "No Darling, just looking!" did not go down well.

 

I love understatement. This gem comes from the dressing rooms back-stage in New York. Everyone turns around, and suddenly Ethel Merman bolts into the corridor, wearing only bra, panty girdle, hose, platform shoes, wig and jewelry. Somebody asks, "Is anything wrong, Miss Merman?" Miss Merman's panty-girdle is well displayed on several occasions in the hilarious film 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963) and another such garment remains on display in a museum on Hollywood Boulevard.

 

   

Miss Merman wears what was de rigeur for American females in the 1960's, a panty-girdle. The director seemed to enjoy engineering these brief glimpses

 

"Suit, shirtwaist, hats, stockings , girdle. I can go into a ladies' room any time and emerge a complete Amerikanka, full of indignation and waving dollars." Thus quoted the heroine from Herman Wouk's 'Winds of War'.

 

 Vivian Vance once said before meeting the Queen, “Well, I can’t get into my good dress with my girdle off, and I can’t curtsy with it on!"

 

Movie star Lana Turner is credited with saying: "I'm telling you, the merry widow was designed by a man. A woman would never do that to another woman."

 

At a diplomatic party in Argentina, a British diplomat was heard to remark on the elegance of the women. His wife was less enthusiastic. "All the elastic in Buenos Aires is here in this room!" she replied caustically.

 

An old school friend was staying with me for several months whilst her house was being re-decorated after the death of her husband. Being a widow myself, I was grateful for the company, despite her rather forceful manner, and we got on as well as in the old days. After the first week I was horrified to see that she had washed a pair of corsets and hung them on the washing line to dry. I certainly didn't wear such things and I didn't want my neighbours to think that I wore them! Trying to explain that (diplomatically) to my friend caused quite a discussion since she was the sort who cared nothing for other peoples' opinions! She even got one back on me by suggesting that a corset might improve my figure! There was a temporary cooling of our friendship that thankfully didn't last the day; however, she dried her corsets in the airing cupboard thereafter.

 

I was getting dressed one morning (this would have been around 1972) and forgetting that it was the weekend wandered to the bathroom in my underwear. I was shocked to bump into my teenage son emerging from the bathroom and, unusually was lost for words or actions or anything; I just froze. He recovered first and said "You look good, mum; but why don't you wear a panty-girdle?" I retreated to my bedroom, my mind a flurry of thoughts and mixed emotions. How DARE a 16-year-old have views on such matters? How COULD a 16-year-old have views on such matters?

 

As a teenager in the 1950's, I was called in (and not for the first time) to help my granny lace her corsets. She was accompanying granddad to some function. I was quite impressed by these 'evening corsets' being far more Victorian looking that her normal day corsets. "Would you like them any tighter, gran?" I asked after a few minutes struggle. "If you hear two pops, that will be just too tight," she replied. I must have indicated some confusion for she added "That will be be my eyes popping out!"

 

A customer's corsets had been returned for repair. Corsets are rather intimate and do get soiled and therefore must be laundered prior to return. Although this lady's corsets had been cleaned, there was permanent discoloration outside the corset on the back laces at the bottom. The cause for this stumped my friend until the old lady explained that those were the marks left by her husband's boot when he tightened the laces!!

 

My son must have been only nine or ten when he returned from school one day and asked me "What's a girdle?" Ah-ha I thought; he's growing up. Better to explain and get it over with rather than let him develop some terrible closet desires later on. I explained all about girdles and corsets and even selected my expensive Excelsior girdle from the wash to demonstrate what these garments look like. He looked on in that irritatingly blank manner that confused children adopt and after some time said "I thought a girdle was for cooking!" Oh Good Gracious! Here was I trying to avoid confusion and I had done the opposite!   (A girdle is a Scottish iron plate used for scone making - Ivy).

 

At the Eastbourne Hydro, a hotel that used to be patronised by geriatrics, I heard an elderly lady booming away to her companion in the manner of the rather deaf "I really can't get on with these new corsets!" A vigorous tugging at a point near her waist put action to the words as her friend mimed a volume switch being turned down!

 

An elderly Scotsman was accosted by a Edinburgh bobby* for a driving offense.

"Did ye no see the STOP sign?"

"Aye. I did fine."

"Well, why did ye no stop then?"

"I cannae obey all yon daft signs. I'm no goin' tae wear Spirella corsets and tha's a fact!"

Across the street was a huge advertisement 'Wear Spirella corsets'

 

My husband received this story (warranted true) from a Scottish policeman.

*For our American readers, a 'bobby' is a policeman, derived from Robert Peel who conceived the police force. Policemen were also called 'Peelers'.

 

The secretary at a doctor's surgery in the late 1950's was sentenced to a three months suspended sentence for altering the order form for a surgical corset that had been prescribed for a local woman that the secretary loathed. She had subtly reduced the waist measurement and increased the length and weight of boning that turned the corset from a comfortable support into an item of torture after a few hours wearing. The victim was the magistrate herself who extracted this just revenge on the secretary. History does not relate if this intriguing battle was ever continued.

 

A fanatical bridge player used an opponent's corsets as a weapon against her. The opponent wore corsets of such a severity that she could only sit in the most upright of chairs. Our fanatic always arranged the seating so that the poor woman sat for hours in the softest and least supporting chair that she could find. Her concentration never lasted the match and the hostess unashamedly won a regular income from the unfortunate woman.

 

"Auntie M. used to stay with us. When she went to her room each night I could hear this terrible ripping sound. My mother explained that it was the velcro on her corsets!" Many older women tried Velcro fastenings; it was marketed as easier for those with arthritic fingers, however, the sound effects put as many off!

 

On the death of my aunt, my uncle asked my mother and me to help clear out her 'effects' (her clothes and smalls). These were dutifully sorted for the charity shops until mother exclaimed "Well! I never knew she wore these!" as she brandished a couple of obviously rather expensive corsets. These lace-up items that bore the Spencer label were 'rescued' by mother for more discreet disposal as she tut-tutted about the vanity of her poor sister. Good for you Auntie I secretly thought! I had always admired her figure.

 

When shopping for a new girdle with my mother, she always used to exclaim "If it can't stand up for itself, it won't stand up for you!"

 

At a seaside hotel, I was woken up one morning by noises from the adjoining room (the walls seemed to be paper thin). "Help me would you; there's a dear!" was accompanied by a repeated huffing and puffing. "Surely that's tight enough?" "No; keep on pulling!" I was fascinated by this discourse and took care to keep silent. There was little more in the way of 'sound effects' other than some rustling and the swish of a long zip being closed. I dressed quietly and exited my room as the occupants of the other room emerged. What a contrasting pair! One lady was short and barrel-like, the other tall and thin. Who was lacing who remains a mystery but both women seemed pretty well corseted to me, for neither could descend the stairs with any ease at all.

 

A dear old lady of our acquaintance passed away last month. She was 99 years old and fiercely independent until a brief final illness. Her niece, who stayed with her during her last failing weeks, simply noted that she needed help with her elastic stockings. She managed her own corsets to the end.

 

My sister returned from a teenage party (this would be in the early 60's) earlier than expected and rather red-faced. Our anxious mother was concerned for a variety of reasons and the interrogation began within seconds. "What has been going on?" she asked. "Nothing's going on, but this is coming off!" She dropped her skirt there and then and with unexpected force pulled down a waspie over her hips. She stormed upstairs where I found her struggling out of her not insubstantial panty-girdle. The marks of the bones were livid on her pale skin. No wonder she had come home. I noticed that mother found it all rather amusing and she explained later that only one foundation garment is required; two simply adds to the bulk and discomfort. Personally I preferred none at all, but that was quite unacceptable then.

 

Our mother used to let us play with her cast-offs for fancy dress. Occasionally this would include her girdles and corsets. She showed us how they worked and we knew by then that they helped mummy with her figure. Whether she hoped this would lead us to wear 'proper' underwear we never knew, but my sister always wore firm foundations from the time that mummy allowed her, whereas I avoided them like the plague.

 

I barged into our dressing room to find my wife engaged in the extremely private and female task of trying to get the hooks and eyes of her girdle to meet. I was ejected in short order and marvelled at the power I had witnessed in hands that (apparently) could never remove the top from a jam jar! Before retiring that evening, I noticed the girdle discarded on her chair and dared to take a look at the waist size. The label proclaimed 28" and the lack of fading suggested that this was new and therefore close to its intended size. I knew for certain that my wife's relaxed waist exceed 34". No wonder she struggled, however, the result was a very sleek silhouette. I had no complaints at all!

 

I was on a tram in Amsterdam one evening many years ago. The Dutch are famous for not closing their curtains and every tram ride was a series of cameo glimpses into the Dutch way of life. I witnessed eating, watching TV and amazingly one night, a lady disembarking from her corsets. That her hair was in curlers detracted from the potential eroticism, but the scene was etched indelibly on my mind.

 

We were giving my elderly granny a lift home after a stay of several weeks. The car was loaded with her belongings and on the corners, the car's lurching caused a strange groaning sound from the suspension. "Yours stays are creaking, Gran!" said my husband artlessly. She laughed, but night-time thoughts are the bane of the elderly and she phoned me the next day to ask in some concern "You couldn't really hear my corsets could you?"

 

Why was it that a girl could romp and play in that indestructible way that all children possess until somewhere in mid-teenage when, unless covered from shoulder to knee in layers of industrial strength elastic, she would somehow fall to pieces?

 

I have read on these pages how the daughter would reject the underpinnings of a previous generation. I have an example of something entirely opposite. In the early 1960's, my teenage daughter was a huge fan of the Springfields, in particular the female singer Dusty. Against my wishes and copying her heroine, her eye make-up became more and more pronounced, although I had no objection to the tight fitting all encompassing satin blouses and flamboyantly petticoated skirts. One day she approached me as she was preparing her ensemble and asked with some embarrassment if she could borrow my corset. "I don't wear a corset!" I retorted quite sharply. "But I've seen it" she persisted and I realised that she meant a laced waspie that I used to wear for formal occasions (sadly rather rare). I dug out the white laced article in question that I had bought years before at Dickens and Jones. Fastening it around my daughter we laced about three inches off her natural size, far more than I thought healthy, but my daughter was delighted. For a girl effectively covered from neck to knee, I felt that the combination of the narrow waist, the impossibly flared skirt and the shiny blouse were very attractive. I was somewhat concerned that the teenage boys would think so too!

 

I well remember wearing a similar outfit when I was a teenager. In those few years between the 'sensible' 50's and the 'bra-burning 60's', I wore a panty-girdle and bra; both were boned as well. By the standards of the day, a boned undergarment on a thin teenager was certainly not exceptional. I remember that my outfit sported a broad belt, just to make the point of the attenuated waist. No Victorian corsetted heroine ever sported the weals that I did after an evening thus attired!

My daughter recently discovered 'shapers' and discovered, as I did many years ago, that wearing more than one foundation garment compresses the torso about as much as the extra layer of elastic adds! If the first girdle doesn't get you into the dress, the rest won't either!

 

My daughter discovered an old trick that I used to employ to pull the zipper up on my girdle. Instead of the pathetic little ribbon usually supplied at the end of the zipper tag, I tied a firm piece of string. My daughter also discovered the down-side of this strategy when she was struggling into her girdle one Saturday night. She pulled the tag clean off the zipper that was then left jammed at 'half-mast!' Unable to escape from garment without recourse to scissors (it was very expensive), she solved the problem by wearing one of my girdles over her own. Returning hours later she uttered a heart-felt "My girdles are killing me!"

 

I got my first grown-up panty-girdle when I was about 16. I felt so proud now that the womanly things in life like make-up, heels, proper adult clothes and all the accoutrements were permitted to me. Shortly afterwards, I was helping my mom by bringing in the coffee for the bridge friends (an adult game still denied to my developing brain) and I overheard one of her friends say "I see Stella's into girdles now." How did she know? Was it my age and demeanor, or was it the slightly controlled way that I walked? It is strange how an off-hand comment can ruin a girl's confidence.

 

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC in the 1970s. From about 1978 on I had a girlfriend who was actually from up in Canada. She wore girdles regularly any time that she was out in public. The first time I brought her home for dinner at my parent’s house, my Mom insisted on fixing dinner. I would have preferred to do it myself. The second time, I insisted. We were almost through dinner, and Mom offered her a second helping. She refused, and when my Mom asked her why, she put her arm across her tummy and whispered to her, “This is NOT EXACTLY an 18 Hour!!” Mom just said “Oh!” and didn’t force the issue after that!

 

My 11-year old son wandered in from the garden one summer's day and I could tell that he wanted to ask a question but was embarrassed. All mothers will know the feeling. What is coming next? What answer will I be able to give to possibly a difficult question? Can I palm this off on his father? "Mummy" he asked eventually, "Why do sister's knickers have a zip fastener?" OK; not for his father this one! I explained that his sister has reached that certain age when she was becoming a woman and needed more support than that provided by a simple pair of knickers. I explained that the garment was called a girdle. He nodded. "Do you wear a girdle?" I explained that I did, but I did not dry them on the washing line. "Why?" In reality because I was not going to have the neighbourhood ogling my somewhat substantial foundation garments. So I lied about them drying better indoors around the hot water pipes. "Does granny wear girdles too?" Biting the bullet I launched into a rambling discourse on panty-girdles, girdles and corsets, brassieres, and the female requirement for support (I omitted the bit about vanity). "Will I have to wear one when I grow up?" I explained that men didn't wear such things and his little face relaxed. Problem solved!

 

At the Conservative Club in *****, the rule that ladies were barred from the snooker room was lifted in 1976. In order to make a point, a young thing from the country determined to enter this hitherto male bastion to have a game. Although she was rather attractive, no man dared to play with her for fear of the opprobrium from his peers. Eventually, the girl's mother joined her for a game that was watched avidly by the men. The snide comments did not help the standard of play which was a shame since the girl had quite some skill. The mother, however, was less successful at the sport since it was quite obvious that her corsets prevented her from bending fully to address the ball! As she lowered her torso to the table, her corset would only go so far until it ridged up alarmingly through her blouse. The pair retired embarrassed to the lounge and the snooker room returned to its male preserve thereafter.

 

As a youngster, our family regularly stayed with my mother's sister who lived in a rambling house just outside Chichester. Aunt Madeleine was rather good-looking despite her years and was always immaculately turned out in contrast, I have to say, to my dear, but somewhat dishevelled mother. Auntie always appeared long after the rest of us in the mornings and expected breakfast to be laid out on the table. She ate with delicate precision, a hallmark of everything that she undertook. The house was grand and extensive and during the day time we played in the corridors. It was, ironically, a lovely house for the family that Aunt Madeleine never had. Only at night did the corridors take on a slightly sinister aspect and my sisters and I revelled in the telling of ghost stories.  I remember one night creeping along the gloomy corridors to 'spend a penny' when I spied at the other end of the hall a shambling creature that shuffled along. It was draped in a shapeless cape and by some trick of the moonlight its ghastly white face and hideous shrunken mouth were revealed. The creature was bent over and its claws seemed to hold something heavy in front of it. The image was burned into my retina and I'm afraid it gave me nightmares. I was terrified to 'spend a penny' at night and my sisters wickedly added to my fear by telling me tales of 'the Groke', a shambling evil monster from the Norwegian Moomin genre. Only much later, my mother, being concerned that I was sleeping badly and becoming tired, explained the truth that 'the Groke' and my aunt were one and the same. I got a potted lecture on how women 'take care' of their appearance and the appurtenances required thereof. All I had seen was simply my aunt in a voluminous house-coat, sans teeth, wig and make-up heading for the bathroom. The heavy weight she carried was simply her stomach, that being used to corsets for many decades needed to be supported during her un-corsetted night-time perambulations.

Spencer demonstrate in 1945, the positive effects of a well-fitted corset.

 

In a similar vein to the 'groke' story above, friends of my parents used to visit and stay overnight from time to time. The husband was a large, shambling 'hail fellow well met' sort of chap whereas his wife was tall, thin and very elegant. Everything she did was measured, her speech, her movements; all were carried out with delicate precision. I remarked on this to my mother who seemed to take it as some sort of personal criticism (that was not intended) and being unusually catty she retorted "She talks and moves just as fast as her dentures and corsets will let her!"

 

I can understand why weddings bring out folk in their best clothes, but why oh why don't the women break in those new shoes and corsets before suffering agonising hours of standing around at the ceremony. I remember well an old friend of my mother who decided that her cigarette-stained teeth let down down the rest of her admittedly elegant appearance. "I'm getting them all yanked out" she told my mother. "You'll regret it" responded mother who had worn dentures for decades, but to no avail. I saw the woman two weeks later at a rather posh wedding and it was pitiful to watch her struggling with her teeth. She was "corsetted half to death" as my mother put it and obviously in agony from her pointed shoes. She looked fantastic provided she stayed still and didn't attempt to speak, but it must have been a horrible experience for her.

 

Years and years ago when I was a child, I remember taking a holiday with the family to the Massif Central in France. We stayed at a lovely hotel in forests by a lake. To my parents, the only drawback was the hard seats in the dining room. This was no problem for me since the staff gave me a cushion to raise me up to the table height. Each evening at dinner, I was fascinated by a couple of elderly women who sat at the table adjacent to ours. They always arrived 30 minutes after us for a later sitting. Both were thin, very old-fashioned and although they spoke English one was obviously foreign (Danish as it turned out). What intrigued me was when the Danish lady sat down, cautiously I might add in that elderly way, there was a distinct 'thunk' from the chair at which point the lady's shoulders appeared to rise alarmingly. This was so fascinating that I waited for the performance at every meal. We got chatting to the ladies and eventually, the Danish one explained her predicament (I think my interest was a little to blatant!) "It's my corsets" she explained. "They are new and the rear steels are too long. I need them for my back. When I sit down, the steels hit the chair and the corset forces my shoulders up. It's terribly uncomfortable." "You should never, ever wear new corsets on holiday, Torna" admonished her stern friend. The women proceeded to discuss the merits of their foundations whilst my father and I grew more and more embarrassed. I wonder to this day, did the women extract a subtle revenge for my undisguised interest.

 

Going to university, particularly if one comes from a sheltered background, can be something of an eye-opener. Ever since my mid-teens, I had dressed like a younger version of my mother and in short order, I realised that I was in a minority here in the mid/late-1960's. My mode of attire was a dangerous waste of elegance and within the first term, I had copied my peer group (as one will always do) and wore slacks and a blouse with a bare token nod to any sort of foundation garment. My arrival back home on holiday was greeted enthusiastically by my father, less so by my mother. "Young Lady! You are undressed!" Perhaps, even at that age, I was sensitive to the great sacrifices that parents make when raising a family and without a word, I went to my room and re-appeared as a carbon copy of my mother; bra, girdle, sensible make-up - the lot!. My peers were aghast about my lack of spirit and rebellion, but I told them "My parents have given up a lot for me, it's not much to ask for me to dress the way mum wants when I take advantage of their hospitality."

 

Husbands can be so infuriating! I often criticised my husband for his 'male blindness' to all matters domestic, then one day as we were about to go out, he commented "Your girdle's making a lump underneath your skirt!" "What do you mean" I snapped. I was very conscious (and proud) of my sleek appearance. "There seems to be a 'thingy' poking your skirt at the back." I felt for the 'thingy' and to my horror discovered that out of my line of sight, but plainly clear to others, was a bone that had become curved* and was plainly obvious to anybody who cared to look. "How long have noticed this?" I hissed dangerously, "Every time you wear that girdle" said my husband, completely unaware of the danger he was in. "HOW LONG?" Realisation dawned on his addled male brain - "Ooh; not long, just a few times." My husband can't lie and I rushed upstairs and changed, throwing the errant garment into the bin. I was seething but at least my husband still regarded my derriere from time to time.

 

*This is a perennial problem with bones. If the girdle is rolled off the body, the bones will eventually set with an outward curve. A lady of my acquaintance who regularly wore such a boned garment explained that the correct way to divest the girdle was to insert one's hands, palms to the body, down either side of the girdle and ease it downwards. No bending of the bones occurs you see. If the girdle is too tight to get your hands in, a zippered girdle is required.

 

In conversation with some girlfriends, I mentioned that my granny was quite inflexible. My young son piped up "Was that because of her corsets?" We all laughed and the poor lad nearly burst into tears. "No; that was just her attitude." I explained, but in fact, my son was actually quite right as well.

 

Alone in my room, I was aware of 'sister getting ready for riding' noises in the 'pink palace' next to my World War II plane museum. Today there seemed to be some argument about what she should be wearing, a largely one-sided argument conducted by our mother. I left my room to see if I could hear more of the argument when sister's door burst open and she stormed into the corridor in her underwear pursued by mother brandishing a pair of corsets. "You WILL wear these young lady and you, Johnny, stop staring at your sister!" I retreated embarrassed and only emerged once the shouting had died down. I watched mother and sister get into our car from the landing window. I have to say, my sister always looked smashing in her riding attire, but today, judging by her movements, mother had won the argument. Later I asked mother why my sister had to wear corsets and she replied "She's learning to jump and it protects her back."

 

I read about multiple foundations in your diary of November 2013. I remember a friend of my mother. Now as both of them and all the other ladies of their group are gone for nearly two decades, I can tell the story. This women in her late 60's always wore firm panty-corselettes since she had large breasts and was very conscious regarding her physique. Often she also wore a long-leg-panty-girdle over her corselette to achieve a very molded and flat abdomen. This was very effective, but in addition her bust was very prominent. For this reason my mother and the other female friends of this group of ladies sometimes called her 'armoured cruiser Potemkin'.  But to be honest, although I was a man in his 20's at that time I liked her trim figure very much. This lady was widowed some years later and - together with my mother - went on holidays together. Mom later told me that her friend used to relax on a lounge chair on the lawn of the hotel but only dressed with her skin-coloured corselette. I don't know if she only forgot her swimsuit or wanted to attract men, but very likely the latter was the reason. Of course my mother strongly disapproved this.

 

Going back to a simpler time in the late 1960's, my wife and I used to tow the old caravan down to Dorset every summer for our holidays. Although we had been married for a few years, my wife was very coy about being seen in her 'smalls' as she used to call them and would take the opportunity of my morning walk to the camp shop to do what was necessary to complete her toilet and assemble her person for the day ahead. It always amused me to look over my shoulder and watch our tiny caravan lurching on its springs as she completed some complex part of her morning ritual. I guessed that the 'donning of the girdle' was to blame for I had seen a box in the litter advertising Marks and Spencer's best and strongest for a waist of 28 inches, whereas I'm sure my wife's waist was bigger than mine at 32 inches. One rainy day I abandoned my trip to the shop and knocked politely on the door before I re-entered our caravan. My wife had her girdle at 'half mast' as it were. "Oh well; you might as well see where your money and my tummy goes" she said with a sad air of resignation. I was amazed that this woman who needed help to open a simple jam-jar could force two sides of industrial strength elastic to meet across six inches of quivering abdomen. The result however was very impressive and I said so. After that, she was never coy again. I knew her secret (that most women shared in those days) but I appreciated the effort involved and she was happy.

 

There was a time in our family, around the early 1960's when my sister became old enough to behave and dress like a smaller version of mother herself. This lead to any number of morning dramas where my sister would yell down the landing "Mummy, you've got my girdle again!" Mother's invariable response was "Sorry Poppet! Thank Goodness, I thought I was putting on weight there!" Both wore girdles that were identical except in size.

 

 

Cautionary Tales of Vanity and Tight-lacing

On the theme of vanity and women in cars, the lady in this tale had taken delivery of new corsets to wear to a wedding. As any corsetičre will explain, this normally ends in tears, since the lady will usually be lacing tighter than normal to get into that 'expensive new dress' that wasn't quite in her size, and, any corset needs to be 'broken in' to ensure both comfort and long life. Indeed, the lady in question had been silly on both counts. Dressed in her finery, the taxi arrived but unfortunately, in the confines of the rear compartment, she discovered that it would be impossible to sit down without splitting something expensive. The taxi driver, displaying unusual perception, offered the lady a rug that he placed on the floor. With no words exchanged, the lady crawled on all fours into the rear of the cab and stayed in that humiliating position for a journey of over 20 miles! History does not relate whether the same exercise was repeated on the return journey.

 

The dangers of over-tightening are well-known to corsetičres. 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. Obviously this corset was strong enough to resist catastrophic failure, however, the lady could never wear it again for fear of a more permanent rip. A major re-sewing of the corset is required here and, I suspect, the vain and wealthy woman simply ordered a new pair, whilst admonishing the corsetičre for a faulty product! I have only ever encountered two of these corsets with no entry and the one shown here is in our collection.

 

At a family gathering one Christmas, a young boy was heard to ask his Aunt whether she wore her corsets too tight like his own Granny. Apparently, like his Granny, she suffered from the slightly pronounced eyes of the thyroid sufferer. The young boy had been told by his Mother that it was a side effect of too tight underwear.

 

My Mother, who lived for many years near Ascot, regularly visited the big horse races since, like many of her generation, she was a firm royalist and loved to get a glimpse of the late Queen Mother or the Queen herself. One year, by dint of queuing, and not a little elbowing and shoving, she got right to edge of the Royal enclosure where the great ladies and a retinue of lesser Royal mortals would walk past. Oh dear. My poor Mother, how disillusioned she was. “Pancake” she told me later “Pancake makeup and corsets! There was one old dowager Duchess who looked like she was wearing a mask. She could barely move her face and there wasn’t an inch of movement in her torso.”  

 

Vanity and its consequences are well-known to the St. John's ambulance crews who attend Royal Garden parties. These days it is usually heat exhaustion and the blistered feet caused by new and tight shoes, however, (and it still occurs but rarely - IL), in days gone by, the word would go around the marquee for a female helper. This almost always meant that some woman, often in a dead faint, required the loosening of over-tightened corsets. Pursuing this theme, I have seen women in such tight dresses that not just walking and sitting was an effort, but the very act of eating and breathing was impeded.

 

My aunt attended a Royal garden party many years ago. According to the warnings contained in this site, she broke every rule in the book. New stiff corsets, new stiff shoes, a new dress, a new hat and a new bosom-hoisting brassiere. The ensemble was tried on once, briefly at the final dress fitting (so at least she did check that it all worked together) and then put away in preparation for the big occasion. On the great day she even put in what she quaintly called "her teeth for smiling with", a rarely used set of spare dentures that were pearly white but a poor fit. She suffered agonies during the event as her brassiere poked her, her corsets dug into her thighs, the suspenders chafed and her teeth seemed to have a will of their own. On returning home half-crippled by her shoes she recounts divesting the lot in an explosion of relief. Nothing had been broken in, except that is my poor auntie!

 

Daughters! Bringing them up is a fine balance between letting them experience that which will teach them and protecting them from experiences that will harm them.  So it was in the 1960's when my daughter was getting ready to go out. I observed her struggling into a panty-girdle of tourniquet strength. "That's going to become awfully uncomfortable later on" I warned. "It's uncomfortable now" she wailed "but I want to wear the blue sheath." I neither approved of these new panty-girdles nor the dress but that argument had been fought and lost before. I let her go, realising that she was a woman and not  a girl any more. Earlier than expected she returned in a taxi and burst into the house in floods of tears. (I had to settle the bill with the driver). Apparently, after eating, the girdle became intolerable and she retreated to the loo to get rid of it. Once dis-embarked from its constricting embrace she could no longer get the dress to fit, and she could no longer get back into the girdle. She left the party, her embarrassment covered by a friend's coat. She sobbed out her tale of mortification on my shoulder. Perhaps the young woman was still a bit of the little girl. Ah well! That's one experience that taught her a lesson without causing any real harm, except to her ego!

 

The perils of tight-lacing are legion, and not simply confined to the health of the wearer either. Here’s a well-known trick if you really want to tighten a corset (either front or back-laced). Take the two loops of the corset laces and put them over a smooth, but strongly anchored object and lean away from the object. You weight will automatically pull the laces tight. The dangers are, the laces snapping, or the loops coming off the anchorage, both of which can precipitate the wearer to the floor. Since the commonest strong-point is a door handle, make sure the door is secured shut. I know of one hotel guest who was proceeding to dinner, when she was startled by the explosive opening of the door she was passing. The sight of middle-aged woman crashing backwards to the carpet was even more alarming. It’s one of those situations that you can’t just ignore, the woman may have been injured. Fortunately, it was simply a case of injured pride.

 

From Boston in the 1940's - the cartoon is not connected with the story, but shows the technique.

 

My mother was short and stout—very stout. In those days before Spandex, she wore a steel-reinforced heavy cotton undergarment called a corset to hold herself together. Mother’s corset laced up the back, and to completely contain her, it had to be laced tightly. Each morning she’d step into the corset, pull it up around her and loosely tie the laces into a bow. Next she’d reach behind and drop a loop from the tied laces over the bedpost, then lean forward and walk away from the bed to tighten the contraption.

 

One morning while Dad slept, Mother went through her usual routine and was walking away from the bed to tighten the laces. Holding her breath while she tugged, she decided to give it one more good pull. That poor bed just couldn’t take it and gave way with a great crash! We children and Grandpa came running into the room to find Mother standing in her knee-length bloomers and full-length corset and Dad sitting up in the demolished bed, looking rather dazed.

 

There is a humerous modification of the classic 'Mills & Boon' movelette that goes "She stood alone; her hair blowing in the wind, but far too proud to run after it!"

 

This actually came to pass (and it must have happened elsewhere) at a wedding in the Yorkshire Dales, where a middle-aged and rather over-dressed woman was assaulted by a gust a wind that first removed her hat and then her wig. A bald woman is a rather arresting sight and with the other guests rooted to the spot, she leapt after her wig with a vigour that split her skirt clean up the back revealing her slip through which her corsets were clearly visible - not that anybody was looking!. The poor woman simply did not have enough hands to conceal her embarrassment.

 

An elderly and rather vain lady was being fitted with a new pair of corsets. The corsets in question were long and rigid in the back and fastened at the front by means of straps and buckles. She exhorted the fitter to fasten it as tightly as possible, against the fitter's advice, since new corsets do need to be 'broken in' for the first few days. The fitter left and agreed to pass by the following week. That evening whilst preparing for bed, the elderly lady realised that the strength in her hands was quite insufficient to budge the buckles (which once fastened have quite a strong over-centre action). It was several days (and nights) before the poor lady ate humble pie and phoned the corsetičre to free her from her corsets. The lady subsequently reverted to front-lacing corsets since, in extremis, one can always cut the laces.

 

Above we have shown one of the classic disasters of tight-lacing, the split corset fabric. The example here also has this evidence of tight-lacing, but, regard two other tell-tales, the permanent horizontal creasing and the eyelets hole surrounds coming free from their anchorage. The wearer of this corset probably had laced far too tight then, to compound the folly, attempted to sit down. The forces that come into play can tear even a strong corset asunder.

It's an odd fact. I've known a number of women who have, let us say, laced for vanity rather than comfort. Often wealthy and self-centred, these ladies would spend a fortune on their corsets and clothes, yet would never wash their corset regularly (if at all). One way to prolong the life of any garment is to maintain its cleanliness. Were these women lazy, or did they not want their evidence of their vanity on the clothes-line or in the airing cupboard?

I was dressing up to go out with a new boyfriend and, wanting to look my best, struggled heroically into my tightest pantie-girdle, fastened my stockings to the garters and finally got the hooks and eyes to meet so that the zipper could be pulled up. My, but I was firm and tight, and I pulled on a new pair of fitted white trousers to contrast with a loose pale blue jumper. I looked fantastic. My mother regarded me descending the stairs (not without a little difficulty). "You're not going out like that are you?" she asked with a faint amused smile. "Why not. I'm wearing a girdle" I retorted (this was in the days when girdles were a bone of contention between mother and daughter.) "I can see you are." Mortified I realised that the unlined white trousers not only showed off my trim shape, but also showed exactly how I had achieved that shape. I wore a lined white skirt that evening instead, but it was a shame about the trousers.

 

We're going back to the late 1950's here when elderly women would first have experienced corsets as teenagers (possibly even younger) in the late 19th century. One must remember that elderly in the 1950's was late 60's or 70's. Such women could not live without their foundations and there were plenty of main-stream, bespoke and personal fitters. My granny was one such lady and very well-monied and connected in a way that seemed not to have passed down to our generation (although it did later when she passed away). She employed a maid as a dresser and the maid, revealing confidences that she should not have done, often regaled us grand-daughters about the struggle to maintain granny in the shape to which she had become accustomed. It wasn't just the corsets and stockings, it was the wigs, dentures, powder and paint that all had to be selected for the appropriate occasion. The occasion could be relaxing at home, meeting an ambassador, attending the races, a garden party or a game of bridge; in fact, a world alien to the majority of us. Whether she would be standing, sitting, smiling or talking, indoors or outdoors, determined, not just her appearance for the day, but what was required to hold her together and allow, or not, sufficient flexibility for locomotion or sitting. Her array of wigs was pre-prepared of course, but wind-proof attachment to her bald pate was essential for the outdoors. Teeth for smiling, teeth for eating or teeth for comfort; corsets for standing, corsets to get into her gowns, corsets for sitting, corsets for riding or corsets for comfort (if such were possible). Her skirts were always long to conceal the ravages of time upon her legs, but should they flow, should they hobble, should she wear a petticoat, two petticoats or a crinoline? What make-up would suit the outdoor sun, or rain, or the glare of the electric indoor light. Choices, choices and today, the poor maid would have to consult a questionnaire to get it all right, but in those days, people had memories and granny would be turned out as immaculate as a china doll and often as immobile!

 

I was lacing an elderly aunt into her corsets one morning when there was a sudden popping sound. "What was that?" I cried in alarm fearing some injury to the old dear. "That was just my eyeballs" she laughed "that's tight enough you know." My old aunt had a wicked sense of humour and had popped her finger using her mouth in the time honoured tradition of children the world over.

 

My wife always wore a girdle in the 60's; I guess all her friends did as well. If she wore slacks then she would wear a what she called a panty girdle although they looked just like elastic underpants to me. If she was going somewhere special then she would wear one of her old girdles over the panty girdle. Since she had gained a little weight since her girdle days, this was no mean feat, but the end result was pleasing both to my wife and myself. More than once I was called in to make the hooks and eyes of the girdle meet. Amazingly, disembarking from this elastic prison was far easier, even after a full meal, than putting it on. She simply unzipped and un-hooked the girdle and then by sliding her hands down her hips between elastic and flesh, the whole contraption simply slipped down her hips to the floor. It was a performance that I never tired of watching although my wife ultimately got fed up with me asking "Doubling up today Dear?"

 

I realised from an early age (I had two older sisters), that women can usually absorb any amount of flattery, however exaggerated or preposterous it might be. I could always score brownie points with the women in our family simply by saying "You look really good today" or "I like your hair" - simple stuff. It was the older relatives and friends that produced the most interesting responses. One old aunt (actually I was a teenager then so she was only about 60 or so - old in those days), always was over made-up, over-dressed and over-bearing, however, a "You look smashing Auntie" always produced a clucking, a touching of the hair and a cooing worthy of the most over-acted pantomime dame. Shame about the lipstick on your dentures would have been more appropriate, but flattery will get you anywhere; it always got me a few shillings at Christmas anyway. The only riposte that really floored me was from one old virago who tottered through the front door. In response to my cheery greeting she stared at me for a few seconds and said "Would you like to try on my corsets young man? Then you'd look smashing as well!" I was mortified and was never quite as flippant again.

 

 

Letters from Clients

We often get letters from browsers of the web site, occasionally from corsetičres and, more often from women who have experience of corsets. The browsers provide a wide range of subject matter from the 'unbelievable', through 'wish fulfillment' to genuine interest and curiosity. Those with corsetry experience, however, are always gratefully received. Often, it is not a personal experience, which would be unlikely these days, since traditional corset wearers, and email familiarity don't cover the same target groups. It is usually, daughters, or even sons with a somewhat prurient interest in their female relations' underwear, that provide the best detailed accounts of what was actually worn during the 'halcyon days of corsetry'. Sorting the 'wheat from the chaff' is neither an easy task, nor even probably accurate. We've included letters that bear the hallmarks of authenticity such as correct dates, reasonable grammar, and appropriate attention to detail. Others, that we find equally interesting, but without the credentials that befit this page can be found elsewhere

One substantiated letter is shown below. The letter mentions Spirella (hence its inclusion here), however, it is quite honest in its description of the trials and tribulations of growing old. The dates quoted indicate the period of the story.

 

The Eccentric Lady  (Cobham, Britain 1954 - 1990)

I know the history of this lady unusually well. She lived before and during the War in South America, returning to Britain in 1950, where she settled with her husband near Dorking in Surrey. At age 40, she adopted the conservative dress of her peers, which mandated a girdle and long-line brassiere. The girdle was a Berlei, which, although not made-to-measure, did come in a wide variety of lengths and hip-spring sizes. Like many women of her generation she suffered badly from varicose veins, and the girdle that she wore was not so much to control her enviable figure, but to anchor the powerful surgical stockings that she loathed but needed to wear. Her posture was excellent, but once again, this was nothing to do with her foundations but simply years of horse riding on the pampas as a young woman.

In the mid 1950’s, she experimented briefly with Spirella, in order to get extra suspenders fitted. She ordered a girdle (which I believe was a model 234) with five suspenders on each side, three for the elastic stockings and two for a pair of fashionable stockings worn to disguise the shiny elastic of the stronger pair. This was not a success. The marginal improvement to the appearance of her legs failed to outweigh the discomfort of the suspenders. She also felt that the girdle was too expensive, although undoubtedly of a high quality. As she said at the time, “It’s beautifully made, but who’s going to see it?”

In the late 1950’s, resigned to her surgical stockings, she decided, like the majority of British women, that Marks and Spencer’s girdles were the equal of the more expensive brands, and she bought three high-waisted girdles from M&S each year for a dozen years. These were originally the famous satin elastic girdles, that latterly evolved into the equally strong, but less elegant, nylon-fronted girdle.

In 1971, now into her 60’s, a visit to friends in America convinced her that she had fallen behind the times. She returned to Britain armed with Sears and Roebucks’ best panty-girdles and her M&S girdles were consigned to the dustbin. Over the years, she had developed a blind spot for the ‘knobbly’ appearance of her legs, however, she was acutely conscious of her thinning hair and her yellowed, and somewhat random teeth. In the post-War period in Britain, an amazing 25% of adults over 25 year-old wore full dentures, so, in fact she had lasted rather well. Deciding not to wait for her hair to turn silver (or fall out, whichever might come first), she bought an elegant, and very expensive wig. Against strong advice from my Mother, who lost all her teeth as a young adult, she went to the dentist and had all her remaining teeth removed. She suffered from this mistake, and although immaculately coiffured and with gleaming white piano keys, she thereafter talked as if she was rather tipsy; a bit like the dotty old Aunt Clara in 'Bewitched'.

In her late 70’s, this hitherto remarkably energetic lady, suffered a bad fall that exacerbated a back problem caused by a horse-riding tumble many decades before. She developed a pronounced stoop yet still managed to live alone in her large house, her husband having passed away in the late 1970’s.

I lived abroad for a few years and didn’t visit her again until 1992. Into her 80’s, she was, once again in excellent shape. Her hair and teeth were, of course unchanged, but the face was older, the lipstick bearing only a passing acknowledgement of the edge of her lips. She still slurred her words but she was once again fully erect with a remarkable figure for her age. I noticed that she elected to sit down only in upright chairs and then quite carefully. I asked after her back and she commented that it was fine just so long as she wore her ‘armour’. On further enquiry she confessed, that for the first time in her life, she had started to wear a corset provided by the same corsetičre that she had briefly encountered over 45 years before. She told me “You won’t believe it, but it’s got 28 buckles!” Was she complaining or boasting I wondered, however, she was right, I didn’t believe her and it must have shown on my face. She strutted off to the study that had become her bedroom, the daily assault on the stairs being too much for her. She returned with a Spencer dorso-lumbar support, and indeed, it had 10 buckles to close the front, four on each side for an under-belt, four for the shoulder straps. This total of 22 buckles was standard Spencer. However, I thought that the under-belt was totally unnecessary. The corsetičre had modified the back lacing and inserted three cluster-lacers (never a Spencer option), which would allow for much easier adjustment of the garment. I felt that she had been taken advantage of by her corsetičre since the corset could have been far simpler, and of course cheaper. I noticed that the corset was fashioned from white orchid material (washable satin), by no means the cheapest option.

The rest of the tale becomes rather sad. A few years later, her car was stopped by a policeman. She had been driving erratically (she always had done in fact), however, her slurred speech was misinterpreted by the law. She was asked to accompany the officer to the police station. As she alighted from the car, he saw that she was in her stocking soles, and as her coat fell open, wearing her corsets and very little else!

The end was near. She was getting very eccentric and was transferred to a nursing home that she tastelessly, but not inaccurately, referred to as “Death Row”. We visited her several times and I do believe that she became the bane of the nurses’ existence, although I suspect they admired her spirit. She died after a short and probably disagreeable stay in the home. She was found in bed, corseted, with her teeth and wig immaculately in place, in total defiance of her nurse’s instructions.

“They don’t make them like that any more” I told my husband. “Corsets?”  he replied. “Don’t be silly. Women!”

Waddle In; Wiggle Out   (I must apologise. This was taken from the internet. It is, however, so real, and it corresponds so well with a Spirella magazine cartoon from August 1958, that I couldn't help but include it.  Ireland 1958).

The Spirella corsets were fantastic feats of engineering. I remember suggesting to my mother that she would be far better off without a corset, as I thought that they caused more trouble than they were worth, but she was horrified at the idea. "They are a great source of warmth and comfort", she told me. "Plus, they have the added advantage of pulling in the stomach, and making me look in much better shape than I am". "But Mummy," I protested, "You tell me that they’re most uncomfortable, that they hurt when you kneel down, and the bones stick into your ribs and thighs, that they are impossible to dry after they are washed. Why do you have to put yourself through such torture, just to feel that you are looking right."

 

My protestations were met with a tight lipped. "Just you wait until you have lost your figure through having babies and you’ll know why people need corsets for their self-esteem". To get back to the corsets on approval, I remember, on one occasion, my mother getting trapped into a corset that she couldn't get out of. It had the usual hooks and straps, but, in addition, it had a zip which went from the thigh to the waist. When she got into it after much difficulty, she couldn’t get out of it. I was called to assist. Eventually, I had to make her lie on the bed while I endeavoured to get the zip down. After a long struggle, I was able to get the zip down and I unleashed the hooks and clamps. Her reaction was, "I don’t think I’ll be buying this one this year".

   

 

 

The Major's Corsets   (near Stafford, Britain 1974 - 1977)

We often receive interesting feedback on our articles. Virtually always constructive, they range from the “Yes; my mother wore those” to the frankly skeptical “Are you sure anybody ever wore that sort of thing?” It is, however, rare to get specific feedback since all our anecdotes and recollections are ‘disguised’ where locations or names are mentioned. The code of the corsetičre is much the same as a Doctor, and confidences must be respected. Of course, we know the identities of the famous politician who wore Spirella, and the American lady who bought the Camp corset in Holland, but these confidences are inviolate.

It was, therefore, with some excitement that we received a letter from a lady who had heard about the couple that we described last year. She said that if we hadn’t described the couple as coming from Stafford, she could have sworn that they were a couple she knew from her own home town. Of course, this was the actual couple; we had simply changed the name of the town. We phoned the lady to ask for more information.

She confirmed the story since she had served behind the bar at the club for several years in the early 1970’s. “It was a very ‘tweedy’ club” she recalled, “All wooden panels and old fogeys. Mind you there was an early evening younger crowd; mainly local solicitors and a few professional people. They played snooker for money. They used to ‘chat me up’ in a harmless way. I was old enough to be their mother (almost). I always dressed well; it was that sort of club.”

She recalled the couple vividly, largely because they were far more abrupt and haughty than their peers. Our friend was more charitable than most, and simply gave them the benefit of the doubt. “They both had bad backs. She suffered with her legs as well.” She went on to catalogue the poor woman’s deficiencies in some detail and with some relish. I suspect she had been at the receiving end of some harsh words from the miserable old woman. I enquired whether she and her husband were as obviously corseted as the tale related. “Oh yes. The younger men used to joke about ‘the Major’. They both wore Spencers; I know because I visited the same fitter and met them leaving the fitter’s house.” Apparently, this had not improved their relationship. The ‘lower ranks’ (our friend) were not supposed to use an expensive corsetičre in general, and to know that their superiors did in particular. “I was always fitted for my brassieres since I used to be very large up there. Men! They always confuse large breasts with voluptuous promise” she digressed, “I expect that’s why the young solicitors used to joke with me. I must have been some sort of mother figure.”  She added that the appellation of ‘Major’ was a wind-up, for the gentleman had never risen beyond the rank of Captain!

It seemed that the poor fitter suffered from the caustic tongues of the couple as much as our new friend, and thus volunteered more information than would normally be forthcoming. Apparently, she never fitted gentlemen, however, the Major’s wife had originally produced a drab grey corset from her husband that had been faithfully copied by Spencer. Although Spencer provided gentlemen’s supports, the choice of fabric was simply a grey or beige drill. The Major’s wife had originally demanded a white material, and had been informed that these only came with women’s corsets. The bottom line was that the Major’s corsets were actually women’s, but cut to male measurements. The material they chose was the same as his wife’s, an ivory-coloured artificial satin (it sounds like Spirella’s orchid – IL). Whether this choice was the Major’s or his wife’s is not known. In all likelihood I suspect, it seems a simple expedient to have all the family corsets made from the same material. Practicalities such as washing are rendered far easier.

She went on to describe the old lady’s corsets. They would go upstairs for the fitting, leaving the Major in the lounge. The poor old lady. It was the one time that the corsetičre could extract some revenge, and by devising an expensive engineering triumph of steel and rubber, she maintained the elderly lady’s ramrod posture. Not that the corsets were particularly unusual, but simply very heavily boned, with spinal steels and front-laced. The only real difference between her corsets and the Major’s were the shoulder straps that pulled the top of her spine into the steels’ support, and that the Major’s corset buckled rather than laced.

So although the Major didn’t actually wear his wife’s corsets, the ribald jokes of the snooker room were not so far from the truth after all!

Many elderly women used to crow about "how they had kept their figures." With devices like this Spencer back support, any posture, other than 'stomach in, shoulders back' was not an option. This would be the sort of corset that the Major's wife wore, albeit in the satin orchid material. In all likelihood, it was donned immediately after morning ablutions. The lady would only disembark from its rigid embrace on retiring for the night.

How I lost my best friend   (Maine,  1965)

Summer holidays were the best times of my young life. My brother and I used to stay with an Uncle and Aunt in Maine, and there was their daughter Sam. Sam was a tom-boy, several years older than us, and a natural leader. She tolerated her young charges with great enthusiasm and lead us into the woods, camping, looking for bears, exploring the wilderness and everything else that kids will enjoy until dinner beckons. Sam had unruly red hair and freckles and to all intents and purposes was just a boy like ourselves, but Sam was in charge, the natural leader, the captain and we adored her. I only ever saw her in jeans, shorts and a shirt and the only way that you could tell she was a girl was that her underpants had little flowers on them when we stripped off to play in the stream, but apart from this eccentricity she was our hero. For years, the formula repeated itself, that is until the terrible year of 1964 when Tom got measles and we couldn't visit Sam. By 1965 we were so excited about the summer holidays that I couldn't sleep the week before our visit.

When we arrived, we were greeted by our Aunt and Uncle but not by Sam. Where was she we enquired? "Samantha is coming; don't you mind" said our Aunt "But I think you'll find she's changed." At that point Samantha entered the front room and my world collapsed. What had they done to her? I blinked (litterally). Was this Sam, our hero? No. This was a scale model of Mom, of Aunt M---, of - of - a woman. Indeed, this was Samantha. (Theere was a popular song that described this sort of transformation called "Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha". It inspired the use of the name, for we never publish real names usually at the author's express request. The author's story continues ...- Ivy)

Samantha, as we now had to call her, sat with the adults, ate with the adults, laughed at their jokes and, what I really hated, condescendingly referred to us as "the kids". What on earth had changed her? She minced, she didn't walk (I was to find out why later). Her hands, bent back at the wrists, pantomimed every enunciation. She talked like had a marble in her mouth and her teeth, which on recollection, had been the pension fund of the local dentist, were pearly white and amazingly regular. Her freckles had gone, replaced by a porcelain 'air stewardess' face if you know what I mean. She sat very carefully, knees together and gently angled to her left. Her unruly mane of red hair was wavy and a darker shade than I remembered. "Auburn" she hissed sometime later when I artlessly mentioned the fact. When she moved, her hair stayed immobile. I saw her shake her head and to a hair, her coiffure followed suit. Although I did not know it then, she had become a very beautiful, albeit very artificial woman and had moved beyond my world years before I would, for girls are far more advanced in that respect. For the last time in my life that night I cried. I cried for the loss of my best friend.

Because of my loss, a loss I might add that my younger brother took in his stride, I resented Samantha with a passion. She had become very private in her person whereas before we were in and out of each others' rooms day and night. One day when she was out with the adults and Tom was off fishing by himself, I dared to enter her room and was amazed at the change. It used to be a workshop, but now it was a boudoir (a word that I didn't know then). The stuffed toys were still on their shelf but there were mirrors, tables of potions, oils, a wig(? - probably a hairpiece), make-up, lipstick and so many other tubes and bottles the use of which I could barely guess. Lying on the bed were discarded clothes and a garment that looked like a long pair of shorts. Ah-ha so she did wear her old clothes from time to time, perhaps all was not lost. Sadly, on looking closer I realised that it was one of those elastic things that older women wear. I picked it up and was surprised by its inflexibility and weight. No wonder she walked with that controlled gait. I put it down guiltily as I realised that I was trespassing on a woman's privacy. I hurried from the room, embarrassed by my actions but it bought me to my senses. Samantha was a woman and I was a boy. Things change, but as rational as I might try to be, I felt that my heart was broken.

 

 

 

 

From a Dutch Corsetičre  (Staatenkwartier, Den Haag, Holland 2004)

 

A question often posed by the romantics, is whether corsetry will ever make a come-back. The answer, I'm fairly certain is no*. However, a old Dutch corsetičre who I used to visit, related an interesting episode in one of her recent letters. This lady has served in one of the Hague's last corsetry shops in the Staatenkwartier for many years.

 

Last month, a middle-aged American lady, very expensively dressed in a smart business suit entered her shop. She said that she was "just looking", and somewhat aimlessly peered at the numerous brassieres on display until the last client had departed from the shop. She then asked if the corsetičre sold anything for the waist and hip area. From the back of the shop, my friend procured some panty-girdles that the lady tried but without enthusiasm. In typical forthright Dutch fashion, she asked the lady if she was trying to hide the roll of flesh that the elegant cut of her outfit had completely failed to disguise. She passed one of her limited stock of Camp corsets to the lady, partly to see what reaction this might elicit. There followed a long period of what cannot be translated accurately from the Dutch, but which I would say was "noises off" from the changing cubicle. The lady emerged without the corset and to my friend's surprise simply said "I'll keep it on. How much please? I suppose I'd better have some stockings to hold the suspenders in place!"

 

My friend resisted saying that the corset is for supporting the stockings, not the other way around, but whatever; to the money conscious Dutch, a sale is a sale! Personally, I wonder whether the woman will persevere with her new acquisition. The Camp is a remarkably effective garment, however, for a generation raised on panty-girdles it will never be truly comfortable unless worn regularly. If the lady ever returns to my friend for a second corset (three is ideal for regular wearing) then corsetry has made a limited and very rare comeback. So somewhere in the executive echelons of the multi-national organisations, is a 50-something year-old woman, whose power-dressing is perhaps more powerful than her peers might realise.

 

My friend reported (in a Christmas letter – 2005), that the lady in question returned a few months ago. She only purchased a few pairs of support stockings, however, that she wanted stockings and not tights suggests that the corset does see occasional use! 

 

June 2006: The lady visited the shop once more and my friend was quite shocked by her appearance. She was bloated, puffy and with the mushroom-like pallor of far too many air miles. She walked like an overloaded wheelbarrow, and the cut of her elegant outfit was ruined by the fact that it no longer fitted - anywhere. Once again, another pair of stockings was purchased. Despite her concern for the poor woman, my friend could scent a major sale, as any corsetičre will who detects a weight fluctuation in a regular client. Sadly, no more expensive corsets were purchased, but a small fortune in 'shapers' and brassieres passed across the counter. 

 

 

 

July 2007: 

The American executive lady re-appeared after an absence of nearly a year. Her condition was more bloated then ever. She seemed to have given up with the Camp (it almost certainly was too small now) and a huge roll of flab bulged over the top of her skirt straining the buttons on her blouse. Her jacket, attempting to be fashionably wide in the shoulders was almost comical in its width. Her expensive designer clothes and shoes shouted “look at my wealth” but her figure told another story. By no means well endowed, she even made the (almost criminal) mistake of wearing too small a bra and pockets of fat bulged over the top of the cups. What she looked like in her underwear remains the professional knowledge of the proprietress, but the description above is plain for all to see. She wanted to buy a ‘cinch’, an Americanism unknown in Holland, but what used to be called in England, a ‘waspie’. Triumph sell these and my friend was rewarded with the sale of two cinches and several new bras. The shop no longer sells or even stocks corsets so the proprietress simply pushed the new line in shapers (panty-girdles) that are making a limited come back (In Holland that is. In England and America they’re much more fashionable). Sadly, and against the advice of our friend, the American bought sizes far too small. The result of the purchases that the lady decided to wear (except the cinch) predictably made little improvement although the high waist of the shaper spread out her midriff somewhat. Nevertheless, a sale is a sale and the woman appeared satisfied but the pasty complexion, and the sagging body told a different tale.

 

Our Dutch stewardess friend who de-bunked the notion of the mandatory girdle (at least on Dutch airlines since the 1970’s) has encountered this woman on several occasions as she jets around the globe. “She’s superficially pleasant, but really focused, like she looks right through you. If I had that sort of money I’d surely buy some clothes that fitted! She’s always fiddling with her waist band, even when she’s studying reports. Honestly, she a walking personification of the adage ‘My girdle’s killing me!’”

 

It has been said that wars have been waged on such trivia as a general’s haemorrhoids or toothache. I wonder what executive and far reaching decisions have been made by this female captain of industry as she struggles with her ill-fitting foundations?

 

October 2008:

I learned recently that the lady had left Holland. My friend in the 'lingerie boutique' as she somewhat presumptuously calls it, bemoaned the passing of a regular income. Surprisingly, shapers are hardly being sold there any more and my friend has concentrated on a younger market that seems addicted to colourful brassieres these days. Personally, I wear white, tea rose or very rarely, black. The obese American lady is history.

 

 

* When I placed this account on the web-site in 2004, I really believed that corsetry was finished. I never imagined the renaissance in 'shapewear' that was about to arrive!

 

 

Old Women and their Corsets   (Scotland  1960's)

Old women and their corsets!” This was the despairing cry of an Edinburgh corsetičre with whom I used to correspond. Old women, who, she had to admit were the mainstay of her income, seemed to drive her to distraction. The purchase of a corset seemed to imply to these ladies that a lifelong confidante was also acquired as part and parcel of the service. A corset is hardly a complex garment although some of the creations that these old biddies ordered were indeed not easy either to don or to remove. We’ve mentioned elsewhere that the term ‘Granny Knot” almost certainly comes from the habit of these ladies to fumble their corset laces into an impossible knotted tangle. How many times was my correspondent called out late at night to help some arthritic victim release herself from her stays? Such a case was related to me, although in this instance, despite the discomfiture of the poor victim, there is an element of humour.

The lady in question was staying at a hotel prior to attending a forces re-union. The only way to fit into her old uniform was to use a corset that she kept for just such occasions. Unusually (probably to disguise any possible indications of its presence) the corset had no mode of entry other than by loosening the laces. The advantages of such a corset are a very smooth line, but the disadvantages are the amount of lacing to tighten and what to do with the yards of laces once tightened. Lacing a corset, if you don’t wear one regularly, requires three hands and the lady looked around the room for a strong-point to help her lace. (I’ve already recounted one embarrassing tale of the lady who used a door handle to help tighten her corsets. - Ivy) By the window, there was a steel ring set into the wall that had been used in the past to attach a fire escape mechanism. Having embarked into her stays, the lady then tied the laces through the loop and knotted them. As she moved backwards, so the laces pulled tighter and she could use her hands to adjust the laces above and below in the time-honoured manner. There came a problem. With the corset sufficiently tight, she now couldn’t reach the knot. If she moved forward, she lost much of the tension since her hands were none too strong. She compromised by pulling everything tight and then moving to the ring, she re-knotted the laces closer to the corset and moved backwards to finish the job. Perfect. She got the corsets to the desired circumference and holding the laces as tightly as should with one hand, she yanked on the knot with the other and promptly jammed it. She wasn’t immediately concerned. She had done this before and was always able to fiddle the knot undone. In this case however, the tension under which the laces had been put had done a really good job and she couldn’t quite see the knot. Her reading glasses were on the dressing table some three metres away and quite out of reach. Now she started to worry. Aha! Easy. All she had to do would be to unlace the corset and step out, but no. She had re-knotted the laces too close to the corset and the length of lacing was now quite inadequate to permit her escape. Sadly she decided to jerk back and break the corset laces. They could be re-tied and re-strung at a later date. After half a dozen convulsive jerks all she had succeeded in doing was to render the knot completely and utterly solid. Corset laces are designed not to break! She was trapped. She couldn’t reach the phone or the bell and was condemned to remain tied to the wall in her corsets until the chambermaid arrived; if the chambermaid arrived. She couldn’t even sit down. Mercifully, peering through the curtains an hour later, she saw some friends and managed to knock on the window enough to attract their attention. Her friends had a great chuckle at her misfortune, but even they had to cut the laces so tightly were they knotted. Her secret was out, she wore corsets because she had put on weight, but two of her old colleagues admitted to doing exactly the same! One borrowed a corset from her mother (a sure recipe for discomfort – Ivy) and another more affluent lady bought one especially for the event. During the course of the re-union and the re-telling of the tale, our embarrassed victim found herself being credited with performing acrobatic feats whilst hanging by her corset laces in a Houdini-like bid to escape. The story does not relate whether the lady purchased a corset with a proper entry for subsequent occasions.

Granny’s Old Corsets   (Ayr, Scotland  1974)

I’ve mentioned this episode elsewhere under ‘number of foundations’, however, it is worth repeating in this context. The aged widowed Grandmother of my cousins passed away, I would guess it was in the mid 1970’s. The lady had married into wealth and travelled extensively with her husband, well before tourism had become commonplace. When the family started to clear her house, they came across the usual prized (but sadly worthless) trinkets collected over the eight decades of her life. In her bedroom cupboards they found the unfashionable, but high quality clothes of the wealthy that were either consigned to the dustbin, or perhaps the local jumble sale. Amazingly, they found 20 Spirella corsets in nearly identical sizes, give or take the odd half inch. They were all white, but in different materials, brocade, satin, nylon and a light aertex quality. They were all front-laced and secured by a long, offset row of hooks-and-eyes. These were passed on to me as the family had little idea of what to do with them.

The corsets were all in very good condition, about three were unused, and the others exhibited all the signs of normal use, but with regular washing and attention to little details such as wear in the elastic. I would guess that none of the corsets was more than four years old. In today’s money, her ‘bottom drawer’ represented an investment of about US$5,500. I can only surmise that the lady obeyed the rule of three’s ‘One in the drawer, one in the wash and one on the body’. This is the corsetičre’s advice to promote longevity of one’s lower foundations. Actually, two would do, but a persuasive corsetičre with a rich client, would normally recommend three. The corsets were, indeed, roughly grouped into fours, indicating three active garments and a fourth ready to replace the oldest corset of the trio when its controlling days were numbered. The brocades would have been for winter, the nylons and aertex for the hotter climates that she and her husband used to enjoy visiting. It is the largest and most expensive collection of one woman’s corsetry that I have ever encountered.

I forget who once wrote “…bereavement, complicated by disposal of the mysterious underpinnings of the elderly woman;” but the idea is quite correct.

Most women are, not unreasonably, quite private about their underpinnings and the disposal of such articles after use. Concealment in a plastic bag and disposal into the bin is a preferred method. If the garment in question is expensive and substantial, it may take on a second life as an item on the shelves of the local thrift shop. Do not do what a paranoid acquaintance of mine did and that was to throw her old girdle onto the garden bonfire. The clouds of noxious black smoke brought her grandchildren running to the scene, as the woman stood mortified before the blackened, melted remains of her girdle, the spiral bones and metal suspenders adhering in a horribly fascinating way to the leaves and twigs of the garden refuse.

Disposal at a jumble sale carries its own problems. Nobody wishes to witness their once expensive corsets being tossed around the sales room by hysterical teenagers “You don’t mean people still wear those things?” Of course, there is the terminal disposal of some superb collectible items by relatives completely unaware of both the historical and financial value of Grandma’s satin Spencers. As I’ve said before, your Granny just might be wearing her most valuable heirlooms.

 

 

My Daughter's Girdle  (Tauton,  1971)

 

When my daughter became 16, I felt she was old enough to make the journey to stay with my own mother in Weston-super-Mare. It gave my daughter a fortnight of being spoiled and living in a different environment. A week after the first visit, my mother phoned me and I could tell that something was amiss. She beat around the bush for so long that I started to worry about the cost of the call and asked her outright what was the matter. "It's Jenny" she volunteered. "What on earth is the matter?" I asked, by now genuinely concerned. "She doesn't wear a girdle!" explained my mother, apparently relieved that she had shared this family sin. Oh dear I thought. Mother was very old-fashioned and apart from broadening my daughter's experience, I had hoped that her youth might rub off on her granny, but apparently not. Mother had worn corsets ever since I could remember and I had worn a girdle since I was Jenny's age. I didn't dare mention that I had recently started wearing a panty-girdle. "You still wear a girdle, don't you M---?" My mother brought me sharply down to earth, "Yes - er - of course I do." Of all the people on this planet, my mother is the one I cannot lie to. "All the time?" "Except in bed, Mummy." I tried to pass it off as a joke. The silence at the other end was not encouraging and the conversation shortly finished.

 

That Christmas, Mother was coming to stay and I approached Jenny. Talk about beating around the bush, it took me 10 minutes to get to the point. "Darling, would you mind wearing a girdle when Granny's here?" The re-action was as 'teenage temperamental' as I had feared and my exhortations fell on deaf ears. "I'll be wearing mine" I volunteered. Stony silence. You can't plead with your own offspring, but it was close. Eventually, Jenny agreed and, since she had outgrown the one girdle I had bought her and refused to borrow one of mine, we went shopping a few days later and procured what was actually a very feminine, but eminently functional panty-girdle. I knew that Jenny would never wear a traditional girdle and hoped that the compromise would appease her granny. By way of retaliation, my daughter persuaded me to buy her a rather elegant suit that I felt was far too old for her (and very expensive) but, as she said, "If you want me to behave like a lady, I must at least dress like one!" To her credit, Jenny wore her girdle and new outfit over Christmas and elicited some rather enthusiastic compliments from all the male members of the family. Granny typically made no comments other than "I see Jenny is now correctly attired. Don't you think those heels are a trifle high?" she added as a parting shot.

 

The episode, I suppose, marked my daughter's transition from a girl into a woman. Her wardrobe changed (at my expense) within a few weeks and as she admitted a year later, "You know, I never would have believed it, but I feel quite naked without my girdle!" So, did granny actually, with subtlety far beyond my abilities, manage to get my own daughter to do exactly what she wanted. I really felt that I was little more than a puppet operated by my mother and daughter!

 

 

The Major's Wife  (Esher, 1958)

 

This is one of several articles where the title Major is mentioned. One has to realise that in the decades after the war, many men who had been in the army kept their military titles in civilian life - Ivy

 

My Aunt and Uncle, Pru and Dennis (they weren't really relations but we called them that in those days), visited us quite regularly. Uncle Dennis had known my dad since their school days and together they sparked a boisterous chemistry of anecdotes and stories. We had heard them all before but we still enjoyed the re-telling. Uncle Dennis, or Major as he was called, had a tendency to talk rather loudly, in fact he tended to bray and we knew this embarrassed his wife. He would not take "no" for an answer and although he could be the life and soul of the party or any gathering, he was actually a bit of a bully. In contrast, Auntie Pru was very respectful and quiet. Quite tall and elegant she considered every movement and utterance carefully before committing to action, a feature attributable more to her underwear and dentures than any natural reticence. Her main input to conversation was a heart-felt "Oh Dennis!" when one of his stories became risqué or too far-fetched. What really annoyed her, although she kept her cool, was her husband's hearty "Laced and braced, Dear!" when she appeared in the morning. I asked my mother what he meant by this and she explained that Auntie Pru took a little while to get her into her surgical corsets in the morning. I did at least know what a corset was since granny wore one but I felt that Uncle Dennis was rather rude to comment on his wife's underwear. By way of variation he would come out with a few favourites "She's putting on the war-paint", or "plastering over the cracks" and once, unforgivably, he chortled "The Memsaab's probably forgotten where she put her teeth again!" I began to dislike Uncle Dennis.

 

Then came the winter when we went without a visit for nearly seven months and mother explained that Uncle Dennis had been 'poorly', an expression that covers all maladies from a heart-attack to indigestion. The next time they visited was in the summer and unusually it was my auntie that drove the car. She alighted in her usual, slow, considered fashion that I now knew was due to the limitations imposed by her corsets, but poor Uncle Dennis. He was even slower and had to be helped out of the car. "Damn back" he muttered "I slipped a disk hauling in the coal." "Laced and braced, darling!" said my aunt and for once Uncle Dennis fell short of a quick riposte. His banter was subdued and Auntie Pru, for the first time, held her own in the chatter around the table. After a few whiskeys however, the spirit of the old major returned and he said to his wife, patting her rump "It's me that's laced and braced now." I liked him a lot better after that, but inevitably, once he had started the joke, he couldn't leave it alone. "My girdle's killing me!" he roared winking archly at my mother "But you girls know all about that!" Really he was quite insufferable.

 

Mabel's Corsets

 

Mabel and her Corsets.

The experience of a typical wife and mother 1911 - 1990.

 

My mother May, who for some reason was always called Mabel within the family, was born in 1911 into a world where all women with any aspiration to smartness wore corsets. Photographs of my mother taken in her 20’s show her with a slender figure and I know that she played tennis for her work’s team for many years. However the years roll by, she married in 1934 and had two daughters, my sister born in 1938 followed by myself in 1942. During this period my mother put on considerable weight, changing from the slim figure of yesteryear, into quite a full figure. After the war in about 1947 she decided to take matters in hand and arranged a visit to the local corset shop, with me in tow, to see what a professional corsetiere could do to help her figure.

 

I was about five years old at the time and can just remember my mother taking her dress off and an elderly lady tugging and pulling at her. After awhile the strange lady dropped to her knees so that her head was level with mine and with a smile on her lips held out a small packet of dolly mixtures for me. Reflecting on these vague memories, it seems pretty evident that all the tugging and pulling I had seen was in fact the corsetiere lacing my mother into her new corset, and when she knelt down, it was to do up mum’s suspenders, whilst Mum stood upright smiling down at me. There seemed to be a great deal of laughter and chatting while all this was going on, but I soon became bored and can remember staring out through the glass door at a horse drawn milk wagon that was standing outside. I can remember vividly, the milkman returning to the wagon, catching sight of me and giving me a big smile and a cheery wave as he led his horse off down the road.

 

Mum was obviously pleased with her new corset because we continued to visit the little corset shop until I was about 12 years old. I think we visited at least 3-4 times each year and on each occasion; Mum would buy another corset with perhaps a bra. In an effort to control her ever increasing bosom, the bras that she bought were usually long line pattern with elastic inserts and reinforcement and they all stretched right down to her corset. Most of her bras had very wide shoulder straps and for those that weren’t quite as wide as she would have liked, she had sponge rubber shoulder pads that slipped onto the bra straps to prevent excessive digging in. I remember whenever she wore a see-through blouse, I could see a line of hooks and eyes stretching right down her back. Although money was tight in those days, Dad had evidently said that he didn’t mind how much Mum spent on her corsetry. He obviously enjoyed seeing her resulting super firm, hourglass figure! Mum tended to experiment with various styles of corset. Most were rigid control front lacing with hook side fastening, made in cotton brocade, whilst others had the hook side fastening but were minus the lacing. I remember the name Twilfit on many of them and all had to be extra firm control and all had to have a minimum of six suspenders! Achieving the best figure possible seemed to be almost an obsession with Mum; she seemed to have at least 3 or 4 corsets and a similar number of long line bras in use at any given time.

 

It was Mum’s 45th birthday and during the course of the celebratory tea she had prepared, she announced ‘I’m treating myself to another nice present; I’m buying a Spirella corset and bra!’ She told us that the local Spirella corsetiere, who only lived a stones throw away on the opposite side of the road, had been calling around touting for business. ‘Well, I’ve got an appointment to be measured tomorrow afternoon; I’ve often wondered what it would be like to wear posh made to measure corsetry!’  I felt rather disappointed; it looked as if our visits to the little corset shop were over. ‘I don’t know about that,’ said Mum, ‘we’ll have to see how I get on,’ she laughed. Well, Mum and Spirella got on very well indeed and I must say that I was very impressed with her hourglass figure whenever I saw her walking around her bedroom dressed only in her corsets and stockings. Our visits to the little corset shop did indeed become a rather rare event. She wore Spirella corsets for the next three years or so. They were all beautifully made, front lacing pattern and had the de rigueur six suspenders, which I think were all individually adjustable. By this time I was 16 years old and had left school to work in the office of a large furnishing company.

 

Mum had yet another surprise in store for us on the corsetry front. When I returned from work one evening, she announced that Dad would be driving us to the little corset shop the next Saturday morning. ‘I’ve decided to try these new rubber corsets that a lot of the girls at the works have started to wear. They give you a super firm smooth figure and cost less than half of my Spirella’s. The girls think I’m crazy to be paying so much. And while we’re there I’ll treat you to a girdle; it’s time that you had some control as well.’ Mum got her first rubber corset as arranged, but little did we know that she liked them so much that she would wear this type of corset for the next 20 years! I thought the corset was cleverly designed, so simple but so effective. There was none of the complication of the Spirella laces and various panels and inserts. Instead, the thickness of the rubber varied; thicker across the tummy area to flatten and thicker below the bottom, to lift and emphise the womanly shape. It was made by Playtex and had a zip front and a lovely velvet-like cotton lining. The only down side was that these corsets were only available with four suspenders, which I remember was a source of annoyance to my mother. My own purchase was a Berlei girdle in lightweight Lycra which was very pretty and to my surprise, very comfortable. Mum obviously enjoyed wearing her new corset and replaced it every 3-4 months to ensure that the rubber was at it’s strongest for maximum control. She was soon refering to them, simply as her - ‘rubbers’.

 

I was 16 years old in 1958 when I introduced my new boyfriend to the family. He was six years older than me and he was eventually to become my husband. I noticed immediately that he was rather taken with mums firmly controlled full figure and confided in me from time to time - ‘all middle aged women should have figures like Mabel.’ Mum always hand washed her corsets and very often there were several pairs drying, hanging over the backs of the dining room chairs. My boyfriend soon grew accustomed to this scene! Several years later he was recruited to use his DIY skills to increase the shelf space of the airing cupboard in Mums bedroom. When he had finished, he jokingly complained that most of his time had been spent moving mums corsets to a safe place on the bed and then replacing them on completion of his work!

 

Life rolled on and I got married in 1964 at twenty two years of age. This was a cue for Mum who was now 53 to buy a new pair of corsets so that she could display her best figure at the Reception! Any holiday or social event was invariably preceeded by a visit to the little corset shop! My new husband was suitably impressed, in fact he coined a much repeated phrase - ‘you can’t beat a full figured woman wearing strong corsets’. It was about this time that the owner of the little corset shop decided to retire and so from then on Mum purchased her corsets from the well known mail order firm of Ambrose Wilson which she always referred to as her corset catalogue. And so it continued until Mum reached 75 years of age when because of severe arthritis in her hands, was finding it very difficult to put her corsets on. My Dad had passed on back in 1974 and so Mum had nobody to help her. Out came the Ambrose Wilson catalogue again and I helped Mum select a simple medium control roll-on, in elastic net, which we thought would be easy for her to pull on. It would provide some degree of control as well as suspenders for her stockings.

This choice proved successful and I reordered at regular intervals until Mum passed on in 1990 at 79 years of age.

 

Mabel lived through a remarkable era of corsetry which seemed to die out with her. During this period it seemed that virtually all smart woman wore corsets with suspenders for stockings and whenever the subject comes up for discussion, I hear my husband murmur ‘paradise lost’.

I have to admit that I have now developed a full figure similar to Mum’s, just as my husband predicted … so, where are all the lace-up corsets when you need them!!