Girdles

Spirella's Girdle Descriptions

Coppelia

Spirelettes

The 205 Girdle

Panty-Girdles

 

Girdles started to replace corsets in the 1930's and in 1966 six million girdles were sold in Britain in nine months. A fair proportion of these were accounted for by Spirella's 6,000 consultants as the corsetieres had become known. (By 1966, the term 'corset' was having image problems in the marketing department). Even in November 1968, a report from Kayser Bondor disclosed that in a survey of over 3,000 women, 70 per cent still wore conventional girdles and the vast majority of women needed and wanted controlling garments.

As we will see (weddings), 1968 probably sounded the death-knell of the girdle, as British woman suddenly adopted the panty-girdle that her American sisters had been wearing for nearly a decade. In fact, Spirella introduced the Spirelette 122, their first pantie-girdle, in 1953, but withdrew it in 1955. It was far too early for British woman!

Today (2012), the girdle is probably less well known than the corset that still has a small, but dedicated, following. The panty-girdle, or shaper if you must, is the lower foundation of choice, if, of course you chose to wear a foundation. But let us return to the heyday of the girdle.

 

Spirella girdle 206 - 1956                                                                                                                                                                       Spirella girdle 246 - 1958

 

In the 1960's the 200-series girdles were the foundation of choice for the young woman, the bride and even the aspiring lady politician. The 205 girdle has enough of an interesting development to warrant a separate page.

         

The 205 girdles (from 1956, 1964, 1965, 1970 and 1978 above) and the 206 girdles (below)  were Spirella's longest selling designs. The front panel of the 206 could be ordered in a choice of materials. The odd selection of a cartoon on the left is not without reason, for the styling of the 205 changed in the late 1950's.

      

The 206's from 1957, 1958, 1965 and 1968 show the exquisite details available on these garments.

The 205 and 206 models ran from the end of the war until the 1970's. They were immensely popular, however, in response to the bigger hipped woman of the 1960's, the 234 and 246 (below) were introduced in the late 1950's; they were the first new style in over a decade.

With the post-war boom, people began to grow (as they still are today) and the 234 girdle was designed in 1961 to accommodate the larger hipped woman. The 234 girdles (1961 - 1964 above illustrate the different cut from the 205/6 series. 

 

   

The 246 was a lighter girdle for the younger figure, however, fancy materials could be ordered at extra cost and were a favourite choice of brides.

       

The more flexible girdles 207 and 208 (right) were introduced in 1964, however, the 207 seems to have induced head-aches in the poor models.   The 208, light and flexible, at last brings a smile to the model.

 

 

 

Excerpts from the Spirella magazines describe these girdles in far more detail.

 

 Coppelia

The Coppelia 40-series range was introduced in the mid-1960's to counter the cheap (and extremely well made) products from from the stores such as Marks and Spencer. It was very difficult for some women to believe that the extra expense of the made-to-measure girdle was justified in view of the choice of fittings from ready made girdles.

 

The girl in the middle below is a rare example of a poorly constructed Spirella picture; the girdle is worn far too low and very obviously, such a girl doesn't need a girdle like that, although her mother might!

 

Frankly, with girdles like these, long-line brassieres would have been more appropriate.

         

Coppelias 40, 41, 41, 43, 44 and 45 from 1969 to 1972.  The lady in the 45 doesn't look as pleased as she does above in her 41!

Latterly, Coppelias became (in Britain) the first girdles sold by Spirella in stock sizes. The pictures come from  Spirella's last catalogues produced early in the 1980's.

 

The Coppelia girdles were, in fact, very well made, however, when they came on the market, the era of the corsetiere as a skilled trade was on the wane. Many corsetieres might as well have sold 'Tupperware', or 'Avon' cosmetics. How many measurements do you need to sell a plastic tub or a perfume? None; and that is my point. Coppelia was never a great success, because it was too easy for an inexperienced corsetiere to foist on a client, and the client would feel that, perhaps Marks & Spencer were cheaper and better.

 

The emphasis had moved from service and quality, to sales, sales, sales!

 

Coppelias 42 and 42.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to persuade a new generation (Spirella hoped) to embrace the girdle, or vice versa, Spirella provided detailed instructions with each garment concerning laundering (very important) and amazingly, how to put on the garment itself. Mostly, this would appear to be common sense, however, the instructions for the corselette may come as a surprise. The garment should be turned inside-out before donning and effectively unrolled up the wearer. This is actually an effective technique and is still encouraged by many South American manufacturers who still produce all-in-one garments.

 

 

These pictures show two Coppelia 43 girdles. On the left is the older one (late 1960's) with the signature details of metal zipper and high quality satin elastic panels at the sides and rear. On the right is the same style of girdle but dating from a  decade later. The quality of the satin elastic just is not quite the same and the zipper is now a plastic affair. This insidious decline in perceived, if not actual, quality was a sign of the times.

 

 

Spirelette

Spirella coined the term Spirelette in the 1950's and even introduced a pantie-girdle in 1953! This was simply an attempt to woo post-war woman by offering less formidable underwear than that of their mothers yet keeping them within the Spirella fold. It did not work and models that were introduced in a blaze of publicity were quietly withdrawn but a few years later.

In the 1950's, Spirella coined the term 'Spirelette' for a range of lighter girdles. These were still made-to-measure, and should not be confused with the Spirelette range that was introduced in 1963 and was pushed towards the younger clientele in the 1970's (see panty-girdles). I believe that the name 'Spirelette' was a response to arch-rival Spencer's, Spencerette. The Spencerette, was by no means a light garment, but when the name was introduced, it was certainly lighter than the corset it replaced.

The latter Spirelette was never fully made-to-measure, and was simply available in an enormous range of sizes. Note how even a garment aimed at the more youthful figure (216 from 1954 right), had the option of front-lacing. How many housewives in their 30's and 40's wore a laced foundation in the 1950's? We'll never know and the records of Spirella and Spencer that might provide a clue, are probably lost forever. Certainly, not many of these women would shout from the rooftops "I wear a corset like my mother and granny did", although that would probably be the reason why!

Laced girdle 216 from 1954

Why is it that the photograph compiler gives the model a semi-swooning posture? Scarlet O'Hara's corsets had reached the cinemas 15 years before. 

 

 

        

Spirelette Girdles (above): the 122 from 1953, 126 from 1957 and 1953, the 127 from 1953 and 1957, and the 128 from 1954. Amazingly Spirella offered a pantie-girdle (the 122) in 1953.

 

Girdles from the Ivy Leaf Collection

It is often quite revealing to look at real girdles from Spirella (and other makes for that matter), since, to be honest, the majority of girdle wearers in the last 20 years have been older women.

The example on the right is an absolute classic Spirella. Note the waist, 30", and the 34" hips have created more of a tube, than some of the shapely girdles above, worn by shapely models. This is the girdle of an elderly woman, whose 26" / 36" lower proportions have changed with age. 

Flesh is lost from the derriere and a lack of exercise allows the tummy to protrude. This was no corset designed to flatten the stomach at all costs (left), this was typical Spirella, made-to-measure, and designed to support the abdomen without constricting it in any way (right). No off-the-peg corset or girdle was made with such a scant hip-spring of 4". By catering to the vagaries of the female shape, Spirella became justly famous.

The following pictures of girdles have been collected over a 35 year period and are classics of their era.

Above we have in the top row, 205 (post 1960), 205 (pre-1960 style) and a 206.  In the bottom row, a 234, a 246 and an older American 202. On the left in black is another 234. Despite the dramatic difference in materials, the cut of the two 234's is identical.

 

The real girdles, in colour, and with the obvious lustre of satin, nylon and brocade, say so much more about the garments than the black & white pictures, although exquisitely modelled, will ever do.

 

Identification requires access to a Spirella magazine or brochure of the period, however, such was Spirella's fascination, and latterly ever-changing range of model numbers, that not even our collection has a reference to all the models. Spirella's service to its client allowed for the copying of older styles and these keep cropping up at auction. Their provenance is hard to determine.

 

 

Details from a 206 girdle (1957 - left)

and one twenty years younger (1977)

 

If you are really lucky, then the garment may still have the manufacturer's tag attached  (right). So much more than a high street purchase, this tag tells of the garment model, the material, the corsetiere and client. Even the date is recorded of this 30 year-old 206 girdle (left). It's a collector's dream, for we look at a slice of history.

Regard, however, the difference between a 1957 206 girdle and the 1977 one. Both eminently powerful and long-lasting garments, the older girdle has so much more quality. Note the suspenders 'flashes', the adjustable clips and heavy corset quality satin. The metal zip adds a touch of charm, but for once, the newer garment has the edge since the old metal zips were not as reliable as the plastic variety!

Provenance of the best sort!

The girdle's suspenders have been incorrectly assembled and this is why it remained as a return with its tags.

 

 

Incidentally, as an aid to dating Spirella's girdles, the metal zip was replaced by nylon zips in 1958, but only on corselettes. The nylon zip, however, was well established on Spirella's girdles by the early 1960's. That dates these girdles above.