With a company like Gossard, how does one adequately cover 100 years of glorious history? We thought that these fine images from their catalogues of 1916 and 1920 would be appropriate, since the corsets mark the watershed between the Victorian / Edwardian tight-lacers, and the 'conventional' front-laced corset that lasted well into the 1980s, and still may be purchased today.
Gossard implies very strongly in the verbose advertisement (left) that they were the first to produce front-laced corsets.
Is this true I wonder?
The details of the figure types shown on the left are reproduced in far greater detail below.
"More actresses wear Gossards than any other corset. The same is true of nurses, fashion writers, athletic instructors and business women. In social life, one will find the leaders in any city permanent friends of Gossards. In Paris, Buenos Aires, London, Chicago, New York and Sydney, is this especially true."
These words were taken directly from the Gossard advertisement to which this picture was attached. What happened to the women from Melbourne or Washington? Did they slouch around in un-corsetted misery. I suspect that the cities mentioned hosted Gossard outlets or headquarters.
The History of Gossard
The earliest information that Gossard has about its founder, American, Henry Williamson Gossard, is that in 1900 he was working as a representative for a wholesale dressmaking company in America. When he visited Paris to purchase the latest range of fabrics, he apparently visited the theatre and saw 56-year-old actress Sarah Bernhardt playing the unusual role of Napoleon II, a twenty-year-old boy who was dying of consumption. Puzzled as to how a maturing actress, who was certainly no longer sylph-like, could portray a boy, Henry Williamson Gossard set out to find out how her figure had been transformed. The answer, a specially designed corset with lacing at the front that pulled in Sarah’s curvaceous contours to create a boyish silhouette. Henry immediately knew the corset would be a hit with fashionable women around the world and returned to America with the intention of producing corsets. He did just that and in 1901 founded the H. W. Gossard Company in Chicago to produce top quality merchandise.
Henry continued to travel from Chicago to Paris twice a year to purchase exquisite fabrics including silks, brocades and laces for his foundation wear and soon built up a strong business which would go on to revolutionize the fashionable lingerie market around the world.
In 1922, Henry begins exporting to the UK and the first Gossard office opens in London, Regent Street. The first UK sales catalogue featured corsets and brassieres for a variety of figure types including short, stout and elderly! Fabrics included silks, satins, brocades, cotton, surgical and hand-knitted elastic and suede - colors included pink, pink and pink....plus the occasional black or white item for those who didn't favor pink!
In 1925, Gossard revolutionized the UK lingerie industry by moving the laces on a corset from the back of the garment to the front. It was a radical step but one that paid off as enormous quantities were sold. The corset was not only much easier to get on and off but was also much more comfortable.
In 1926, the First UK factory
is opened in Leighton Buzzard, where it remained until the early 21st
century before being demolished and replaced by an anodyne industrial
estate abhorrence. However,
the majority of the manufacturing process is now undertaken in factories
in Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco.
In 1930, H.W. Gossard Company ceases to be an American subsidiary and becomes a British company. Until this time bras, as we know them today, didn’t really exist. Although brassieres had appeared in various basic formats, from shapeless garments that resembled camisoles in the early 1900s to bust bodices that flattened the bust of the Flappers in the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1930s that bras started to take on the form and function of what we now recognize.
In 1940, during the Second
World War, Gossard’s production was turned over to assist with the
Britain’s war effort. It is reported in Gossard’s archives that its
factory and workforce produced: 348 experimental kits, 5,000 convoy
balloons, 19,000 lifebelts, 73,500 sails, 35,000 distress flags, 100,000 fighter dinghies, 120,000 brassieres for the WRNS,
639,306 parachutes and carried out repairs on 30,000 parachutes!
sine 1920-Present Day
In the 1950s, following the war, foundation garments became lighter in weight thanks, in part, to the introduction of the wonder fiber from DuPont called Nylon. In 1950, Gossard introduces its first lightweight girdles: Tru Balance and Answer and took yet another innovative step by introducing Silkskin, a lightweight, pre-shrunk, fully fashioned girdle. The 1950’s were years of expansion for Gossard. A new advertising trend meant that ad lines such as “You are not like anyone else” and “You’re as old as your corset shows!” made a direct approach to the customer with a strong selling appeal.
September 1956, sees the launch of the Perma-lift range of bras and girdles. One of the selling points was the “Magic Insert”, a cleverly shaped support within each bra cup made of soft, cool lightweight fabric specially treated to give permanent uplift.
In 1959, Gossard becomes part
of the Courtaulds Textiles Group
In the 1960s, Gossard pioneers the launch of its panty-girdle and bra-slip in the UK, both were thought to be very daring at this time but soon went on to become important garments within the foundation wear sector of the industry. However, fashion changed and pantyhose/tights became popular during the late 1960s due, in part, to the mini-skirt. Legs became the focus for fashion and garter belts, girdles and nylons disappeared from the wardrobes of young women. It was a disaster in lingerie terms. Sales of foundation garments declined rapidly and many small manufacturers went out of business. It was time to diversify or disappear!
In 1968, Gossard diversifies
and focuses on producing fashionable bras and launches the now
world-famous Wonderbra. It is recorded that Gossard actually first
featured the Gossard Wonderbra in an ad for a new girdle, for decency as
opposed to any other reason. However, it was the bra, lacy, low-cut and
exuding glamour and sex appeal that steals the heart of the female
population and becomes a success virtually overnight!
In the 1970s as women turned to burning their bras as a sign of liberation and freedom, Gossard responded by developing its Glossies range, sheer, shimmering bras and briefs in young styles and fashionable colors providing a very natural look under clinging clothes. It was noted at this time that women’s figure shapes were starting to change. Women were becoming taller and fuller in the bust area and, as a result, the demand for larger cup sizes was increasing. Women that fell into this category required the same level of fashion and style that their smaller busted friends were wearing so Gossard developed ranges up to DD. The best-selling larger cup bra was the Superbra.
"Co-ordination” was the
by-word of the 1980s and with it came perfectly colour matched bras and
briefs. Gossard introduces its immensely popular Ritz collection of
co-ordinates from A-E cup. During the early part of this decade, Gossard
also introduced its Basque style onto the lingerie scene, gaining
unrivaled success for years to come.
In 1985, Gossard group buys the 'Berlei' brand.
1990s. In recognition of the company’s high level of manufacturing, Gossard was the first UK lingerie manufacturer to be awarded the BS5750 Quality Award. Gossard has also been awarded 'The Queen’s Award for Export Achievement' on numerous occasions. Furthermore, during the 1990s, Gossard divided its product offering into three clearly defined categories to cater to every aspect of a woman’s lifestyle and wardrobe: 'Ultrabra' for fantastic cleavage, 'Smooth' for essential invisible lingerie looks and 'Luxury' for those moments when a little decadence is called for.
In 1994, Playtex acquires the Wonderbra brand when Gossard’s license to
produce it expires. Using its expertise and in order to ensure that
Gossard still have a cleavage offering the Gossard Ultrabra launches in
1994 to a rapturous response. With curvaceous glamour at the forefront
of fashion, successive Ultrabra ranges followed including Ultrabra
Perfection, Ultrabra Light and the most impressive and impactful yet,
the Ultrabra Super Boost! Ultrabra Super Boost was launched in August 1999,
following an 18 month development, research and testing. It hit the
market with the claim “Biggest Cleavage EVER or Your Money Back!” It
was an instant success. This was also the first time a cleavage bra had
been available in larger sizes, going up to an incredible F cup truly
representing cleavage for all! Still available, and still as popular,
the range benefits from a colour injection every season, making it truly
the bra with the 'wow' factor!
The Sara Lee Corporation buys Courtaulds Textiles in the summer of 2000, making Sara Lee the owner of the Gossard brand. I wonder why this tidbit of information did not surprise me? How many gravestones of former girdle makers does Sara Lee now stand on?
Corsets from 1920 and 1930
This incredible flight of fancy comes from a Gossard cartoonist in 1940! In fact, in 1950, they excelled themselves once more with an incredible display of models and the factory products. These pictures were available for Gossard corsetieres (to purchase at their own expense). We have used the cartoon above as one of the pages for the 2015 calendar.
It's interesting how the two corselettes (basques or guipures) above speak of the fashions and the times. Both ladies are going to an evening function in strapless gowns. Neither has wide hips, however, the lady on the left will wear a figure hugging design, whereas, the model on the right will wear a skirt 'en bouffant' style.
As with all reputable corset manufacturers, a trained corsetiere or fitter was absolutely essential.
Gossard even made the combined brassiere and corset (left) that achieved fame as Spencer's Spenall, but I wonder, which came first ?
This heavy satin Gossard comes straight out of the box in 1964. It would be stiff and tight on first wearing, but if well-fitted, it would become as comfortable as a good pair of shoes. A staunch ally, a necessity even, for the older woman to attain a good figure.
Suffice it to say, that we feel the image below sums up so much about the art of the corsetiere and the corset shop where she worked. This is why it once graced the opening page of Ivy Leaf's tribute to the corsetiere.
Interestingly, although the advertisement (1930's) and the actual corset (mid-1950's) are a quarter of a century apart, the style and cut has barely altered, such was the pace of change in those days.
These Gossard advertisements (right) span nearly a decade (1930, 1935 & 1938) and play heavily upon the well-used marketing ploy 'What lies beneath'. What is rather curious, if not down-right amusing is that the high-waisted girdle of 1935 is referred to as 'bosom-high'. By 1938, in a curiously American way, the same girdle is now called 'Buzum-hi'. That's progress for you, if not quite in spelling. It marked the dawn of an era of course spelling.
A very 1950s American woman, and this is what Gossard wanted.
Let us hear from a very 1960s fashionista about Gossard.
Style 26 Panty-girdle by Gossard
Let’s talk about one of my all time favorites, one of the firmest early 60s girdles ever made, and one of the first girdles I ever owned as a young girl. This girdle should not be the girdle you give your non-girdle wearing wife as a first time girdle! Tight bands of elastic criss-cross the front in a tightening effect similar to a Japanese finger trap so popular around the time this girdle first came into being! It is for vintage girdle wearers only, and collectors too. Its long legs and firm tummy always remind me that I’m girdled. I own more Gossards than any other girdle, and this is one of my regular every day girdles I wear to work. I also have sexy Gossards, with satin sides and rear, but this Powernet variety, style 26, is my favorite. Six garters always and well made garters, just like the rest of the garment.
Today, I wore one to work, as I knew I would be writing this tonight. I had to show off a little, and since it is cool here, I wore a 60s knit skirt and sweater. The skirt is turquoise, and screams 60s at you. Not late 60s, early 60s. I have not seen this color since, nor will I ever. When I do wear it, I get lots of laughs from my co workers, and the men pay close attention to my derriere. The Gossard makes no bones about presenting anyone who chooses to look with the sight of a very, very tightly girdled rear. The deep V rear panel does not lift and separate as later models tried to, this tightens, compresses, and forms the classic girdled bottom. My co-workers will never get used to my attire, but accept me for what I am, I am lucky I can wear what I choose to work, and most of the time, my vintage appearance draws compliments. Everyone should own one Gossard girdle!
The model 485 was very similar to Lyn's style 26.