Four or Six Garters:


Garters are a characteristic of garments from the "Golden-Age" of girdles that seems to exert a special fascination. An example of that fascination was attributed to the young protagonist in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint (1969).  

When intended for use with stockings, girdles (and corselets) in mainline catalogs are equipped with 4 or 6 garters. Some specialty or fetish catalogs may advertise garments with more than 6 garters, and that concept also occurs in fantasy literature. However, I have never seen a store-type catalog image with more than 6 garters. Some typical arrangements are illustrated as follows. The two open bottom girdles from Sears in 1958 are equipped with 6 and 4 garters respectively. The panty-girdle illustrated on the same page is one of few that I've seen with 6 garters. Also, note that these garters are exposed and attached to the bottom of the panty legs. In later years, a more common arrangement with 4 hidden garters is illustrated by the image from Montgomery Ward in 1964.  

I've had various theories to account for differences between garments offered with 4 or 6 garters. Does having 6 garters, rather than 4 imply higher quality? Perhaps, but then "higher quality" would likely be reflected in price. I have not been able to discern a distinct relationship between number of garters and price. In fact, that is why I selected the earlier illustration (Sears 1958, p286), because it showed two open bottom girdles with 6 and 4 garters, respectively, in the same illustration and at nearly the same price. From an engineering perspective, six garters would provide a more even distribution of attachment for stockings (and decreased stress). On page 316, Montgomery Ward stated in its 1966 fall catalog that its Carol Brent "panty and girdle" represented "outstanding value" because those garments used "6 garters to prevent stocking sag." However, more garters also require additional time and fuss for attachment for the wearer. Lacking any additional definitive indications, I'm left with the idea that the number of garters is primarily a matter of user preference! This is certainly a question that needs further input from corsetiers and women accustomed to wearing stockings and girdles.



"Trolley" Garters:  


Sometimes, I've encountered the term "trolley garter" in advertising copy from Sears, Montgomery Ward and JC Penny. When it is used, it appears to refer to a garter that can slide along a loop of fixed length, where the ends of the loop are generally attached to the garment at separate locations (or some times the same location). The image for a double front, side-hook girdle in Sears 1936 identified trolley garters and clearly illustrate this feature. This would allow for some flexibility while still holding the stocking at about the same height on the woman's leg. I've only seen trolley garters used with open bottom girdles, garter girdles, garter belts, and corselets. Interestingly, I've observed that a garment with garters (that appear to be identical with the ones labeled as trolley garters on another garment) may be shown on the same page of a catalog but it is not likewise identified.


I strongly suspect the use of "trolley" garters helped give more flexibility to stiff girdle-to-stocking attachments.  However, it did not allow much adjustment for stockings of varying length. (Hence, the practice by many women of folding the welt for overlong stockings.) In 1936, Sears also referred to "loop" garters on p 125, which seems to be fairly descriptive. New garments with trolley garters are advertised on the Internet as well as replacement trolley garters for repair of garments.


The following examples covering a span of several decades were specifically labeled in the advertising copy as using trolley garters.


The ends of the garter loop are clearly separated in the waist whittler (Sears 1958), the waist nipper (Sears 1961), and the 1966 Montgomery Ward "cross-over" girdle. This arrangement makes it easier to visualize how the garter clip can slide along different parts of the loop to respond to the wearer's various body positions.  

The long front garter loops associated with a typical open front corset function as trolley garters. The two boned, all-in-ones shown in the 1960 National Bellas Hess catalog probably provided very firm support and the additional flexibility with the trolley garter-stocking attachment would be a significant benefit.


The high waist girdle (Montgomery Ward 1980's) and firm control corselette show examples of trolley garters (as identified in the copy) used in the early 1980's.






French Garters:


I've seen modern garments advertised with "French garters". However, that description seems to refer to fancy decorations - like sequins - for show purposes. Sears lists the "Uplift Charmer" as having French garters in 1936. However, it has the appearance of a trolley garter as shown elsewhere in the same catalog. This is the only example I've seen of a "French garter" in a standard catalog.  


Garter - Stocking Flexibility:


Ripped stockings were a concern of inventor Emma Bettinger. In 1920, (Pat. # 1,362,556) she developed improvements for a garter belt so that garter tension was better distributed whether the wearer was sitting or standing.


Inventor Samuel Fry took a different approach to provide flexibility in the garter-stocking connection in 1944. (Keep in mind that the high quality, sheer stockings of that time did not have much stretch). His invention used an elastic insert in the stockings themselves that would allow the welt to remain in a relatively stable position with respect to the girdle garters, but allow stretch near the wearer's knees.  


Inventor Sallyann Zanka (Pat. #3,130,730) developed a system of panels to modify the standard design for panty girdles in 1964. These panels provided additional flexibility to and maintain a more uniform tension between stockings and garters and reduce excess stress at connections.  





Movable Garters:


In 1962, Benjamin Murdock proposed a modification to panty girdle legs to include multiple slots in a reinforced hem. Then the wearer could move the garter-tabs almost anywhere on her panty girdle to suit her convenience. Also, she could select the number of garters she wished to use. Garments incorporating this invention were sold by Sears in 1966 and described as "No-Tab leg elastics."



I infer from Murdock's patent description (following) that he feels that designers have failed to consider functionality or user needs when designing garter attachments for girdles and panty girdles.



Garter Placement vs. Stocking Length:


The concept of a girdle, garters and stockings working as a dynamic system will be discussed in detail in a later section. However, it should be apparent to the reader that the whole process of selection of the right combination of foundation and stockings was somewhat haphazard (unless the woman's measurements were close to the "average" used by manufacturers).  I am forced to conclude that each woman worked out what she could wear on the basis of trial-and-error.


Depending on the length of the girdle and stocking length, adjustable garters had to accommodate this variation to fit smoothly. Shorter stocking lengths would be required when garters extended from the bottom of the leg of a panty girdle. However, the hidden garters used with later panty girdles appeared to be attached at varying heights along the thigh. Garments provided some allowance for length adjustment like the panty girdle sold by Sears in 1961. However, the relocation of the garters was probably to achieve the hidden effect and minimize "garter bumps" as much as any other reason.

In some cases, hidden garters didn't always mean that the edge of the stocking was also hidden! Inventor Mildred Bell developed improvements for panty girdle design to prevent ride-up. Unrelated to her design, the drawing she used happened to illustrate a typical problem of "garter gap" between the girdle and stocking welt. (This was later addressed by an invention promoted by Burlington.) However, this image prompted my memory of a few times when I saw women (two neighbors and an aunt) in unguarded moments wearing shorts over a panty girdle where "garter gap" revealed the tops of their stockings.




"Goodbye Garters"  


To me, this ad in the 1971 Sear's catalog is the harbinger of the ending of the "Golden Age" of girdles. Pantyhose had arrived! While some foundation garments with garters are still available, those items are definitely on the fringe of fashion today. The "Be-Slim" briefer in the mid-1990s still includes four tabs for attaching garters, but the copy doesn't bother to mention this. (Note that when they were used, the garters would have been located relatively high. This would have required stockings that were longer than usual.)  

There were still some interesting transitional developments in the last couple decades. Russell invented "Hiplets" in 1969. Later, Bozzini (1999), and Jones (2000) made modifications for pantyhose.




In 2002, Bronwyn Rice patented a new garter system  (Pat. #6,393,622). It bears a resemblance to earlier "garter panties". However, her intent was to invent a system that would have no outwardly discernable bumps or seams when the garters were not in use. They are designed to be completely detachable. This provides convenience for the woman to wear stockings during the day and still wear the same garment later with sports wear and without stockings. I'm glad to know that some women still prefer stockings rather than pantyhose.