Marks and Spencer

Dating Marks and Spencer Girdles

Memories of the Marks and Spencer Girdle

A tribute to the satin elastic girdle can be found in the 'Best Foundations' section

featuring

In 1967, this charming lady of my acquaintance displays what the perfect middle class lady in her early 60's would wear to a wedding. Silk twin-set and pearls, hat, gloves, long-line bra and zippered high-waisted girdle from Marks and Spencer.

 

So I wrote in the chapter on Weddings. Millions of women wore Marks and Spencer, and many, who could well have afforded Spirella or even Rigby and Peller, filled their drawers with the favourite brand of the British High Street, and for good reason, as is described below.

 

We are rather lucky to have eleven satin elastic girdles in our collection. They are the popular sizes of 26–32” waist and three are unworn. Three have been worn a bit and the other two, I imagine, must have been the regular foundation for a middle-aged women in the 1960's. They could well have belonged to our friend from the wedding (They didn't incidentally; one was purchased from a charity shop in 1974 and another in 1981). All are as tight and as strong as the day they were manufactured. I sometimes feel that those girdles, even if worn on a daily basis, would last a lifetime.

 

The oldest and most worn is a strong and as supple as the new models although a patina of yellowing has suffused the garment. My husband worked on the image for a while and, for artistic reasons, increased the contrast beyond reality, however, the silver and gold appearance of these superb foundations justified this ‘poetic licence’.

For those of you that have a fascination with numbers, we possess four different styles of this classic foundation:-

Models 8000/714 (red label), 8028/1903 (blue label), 8054/956B (black label) and 8054/953 (black label)

 

In Britain, the girdles of Marks and Spencer occupy a prominent niche in the foundation garment history of the nation. From the mid-1900's to the present day, M&S, as we shall call the company, provided support to millions of women. During the 1950's to 1980's they provided girdles that were unmatched for strength, durability and style. However much I might praise the made-to-measure foundation retailers, M&S captured a huge proportion of the market during those years.

 

Consider the all-satin / satin-elastic girdle of the 1960's. It was a classic of its time, and the fact that so many still exist in the drawers of the elderly and fashion-conscious implies a change in fashion rather than the wearing out of the actual foundations themselves.

    

These girdles were generically referred to as the '8000 series' and came in various styles and hip-springs between 10 and 13" to suit the majority of Britain's women. The 8000/714 is perhaps my favourite. It is unique in having the inner facing of the bone casings in satin rather than cotton. The attention to detail on, what after all was just a high street brand, is simply amazing. How often do we pay for a name brand and come away the envy of our peers, but actually disappointed inside. In all honesty, I’ve never seen a Spirella or Spencer as well made as these garments.

Early Days

 

Marks and Spencer's first girdles were sold under the "St. Michael" brand name in the 1950's. The hook side version shown here is made of corset quality tea-rose satin, and has the unusual feature of an additional waist strap, presumably to achieve the waist required for the 1950's fashions. This girdle (which for many would be called a corset) is exquisitely detailed; notice the apron front and the old-fashioned suspenders.

 

 

To be honest, this beautifully constructed foundation (far left) quite escapes my memory. Both my husband and I well remember the satin elastic girdles and the rows of boxes in the high street branches of Marks and Spencer, but neither of us remembers this. It is from the 1950's. We were amazingly lucky to find one in such excellent and unworn condition. If I could find a friend with a 25" waist, I'm sure the girdle would be eminently wearable and long-lasting. The elastic is of a gauge not used in foundation garments any longer (probably rubber, rather than lycra based..

Recently observed  is an even older model (middle). This must surely go back to the beginnings of Marks & Spencer as it has the CC41 utility mark.

Another early, rare M&S girdle.

 

Classic Girdles: Marks & Spencer 'Firm Control'

The fabulous satin elastic M&S girdle from the 1960's. These seriously strong garments, finished totally in satin elastic, were some of the greatest foundation garments ever manufactured for the masses. All the girdles photographed above are over 40 years old, yet could could be worn today and would probably give a decade's service to their wearer.

The evolution of the traditional M&S girdle. (From top left: satin elastic; satin front panel zipped; satin front panel hooked; pull-on; nylon front panel and finally there is neither satin, nor even shiny nylon, nevertheless, this girdle is as strong, as long-lasting and as powerful as her sisters.)

Each year M&S subtly changed the panelling, but the entire construction in satin elastic was a feature of the first of these foundations (top left). A later model incorporates some nylon flanking the central front panel, but the majority is satin elastic (middle right). Hook-front was an option instead of the metal zipper on this exquisitely panelled girdle (top right). In the 1970's, heavy elastic replaced the satin at the sides and the front was faced in fancy nylon (bottom left). The serious boning over the tummy is obvious. The boned 'roll-on' without zip or other entry was the last incarnation (bottom right). For many British women, this girdle was the final 'open bottom garment' that they would wear before changing to tights and the panty-girdle. All these examples come from the 1960's and 1970's, and are as wearable today as when they were new.

 

Something that is often forgotten, is that all these girdles were available in black as well as white. Flesh, and skin-tone, although available, were not fashionable in the 1960's and 70's.

In the 1960s, it was quite possible that granny, mother and daughter could all be wearing the same foundation garments!

 

The Dawn of the Panty-girdle

 

The panty-girdle became mainstream in the USA in the early 1960s. This can be seen in the film 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' (1963), where Ethel Merman reveals her underwear on several occasions. Although the British produced girdles at least as good and strong as their American counterparts, they never quite produced the same quality of panty-girdle although Marks & Spencer came closest. Almost a decade later than America, at the beginning of the 1970's, even with such beautiful girdles on offer, the majority of Britain's women suddenly realised that a social revolution had occurred. The Beatles, Carnaby Street, Christine Keeler and the Swinging Sixties had moulded their daughters' attitudes, and mature women decided that the panty-girdle would mould theirs. The girdles and the corsets of their mothers were discarded within a few years and Britain changed forever as mothers followed their daughters into the panty-girdle and very rapidly into no lower foundation garment at all. Where American women spent one or two decades in the panty-girdle, the British were late adopting it and early to discard it. Figures have never been the same since.

 

The Panty-girdle

 

The models on the left come from 1977, 1973 and 1974 and, like the model on the right possess the (artificial) satin panels that were the hallmark of its American cousin. Even the vestigial bow is present at the waist. All had bones at

It would take another decade before boning at the waist would be eliminated but by then, few women were wearing them any more. In the evolution of the panty-girdle, the suspender attachments have vanished, however, that weird and uncomfortable 'gripper band' is present at the bottom of the legs. Who on earth would trust the security of their stockings to such a fallible system?

 

 

In a desperate attempt to boost declining sales, women were subjected to a colourful revolution of modern fabrics, and, for better or worse, their underwear took part in this spectral fantasia. In practice, however, pretty and feminine these garments might have been, they showed through light clothing and advertised one's reliance on old-fashioned support. They died out quite quickly.

 

Marks and Spencer produced so many patterns during this period that find a match bra and girdle set is quite hard.

  

Flower power was neatly represented on many of these panty-girdles from the 1970's. High-waisted, long-legged (but oddly never together), they came in all styles, even with a matching brassiere.

As the 1970's progressed, so the flowers vanished to be replaced by a purple hue, surely one of the worst colours for underwear! Some of these pantie-girdles represent the nadir of this collection. They look like the knickers a seven-year-old might wear.

For a company that could produce the satin elastic girdle, the hideous corselette above has plumbed the depths. Shapeless torso with hemispherical padded cups. 1974

Women had become liberated and, when they chose to, could dress as men. Unisex was the theme, and women started to wear underpants, albeit perhaps with a slightly higher elastic content their husbands'!

This page brought forward two recollections from my husband. Firstly, when he was studying at Oxford, he remembers that all the students had to dress in regulation white shirt, black trousers, white bow tie, academic gown and mortar board for the exams (I'm not joking)! Girls were allowed a modification of this dress code, being white blouse and black skirt, but coloured underwear (brassieres in particular) was prohibited*. It was deemed unsettling for the boys to see the colours of the brassieres through the thin blouses.

Shortly after university, my husband was working alongside an elderly engineer, who, in an attempt to describe the colour he needed for a map said "Oh, you know, it's the colour of ladies' underwear!" (implying purple). He quickly added "Er, perhaps you don't know that!"

Yes; mauve and purple were the colour of choice, but only for a few years if that and then only for the older woman, not the younger set as suggested in the adverts.

It wasn't just Marks and Spencer who flirted with colour; nearly every other manufacturer got in on the act, and several were severely taken to task for portraying National flags

!

 

* Caledonian Airways prohibited their stewardesses from wearing coloured brassieres under their uniform white blouse.

 

We finish this section with a collage of coloured girdles:-

 

 

To be honest, they do actually look quite good on a young model like Victoria who thought they were fantastic, just like modern (2014) swimsuits!

 

Things aren't what they used to be!

 

 

On the left we have the 1960's. The girdles are the famous Marks and Spencer satin-elastic, firm-control girdles that are as strong now as they were 50 years ago. You could buy them from the big store in the nearby town where, on a Saturday morning, you could park on the High Street. The chest of drawers is made from walnut with beautiful marquetry; it would make an auctioneer drool these days, but back then it was quite normal.   Then there was a social revolution and flower power, in a misguided attempt to persuade younger women into foundation garments, appeared on some sad elastic underpants in the 1970's. The chest of drawers is made from compressed fragments of what might once have been a forest, but now has a veneer of what nearly passes for wood. I visited the town some weeks ago, but having queued for 40 minutes to reach a car park that was unrelentingly full, I turned around and went home. They don't sell proper foundation garments these days anyway!

 

 

 

 

 

Dating Marks and Spencer Girdles

 

 

These apparently identical girdles can be accurately dated from their labels. The white girdle is from March 1973 and is a model 911B/1909. The very rare black model 8009/1906 comes from either 1968 or 1969. They are the same size, 34 waist & 44/46 hips but the black one is a good inch shorter. This was a bit of a problem for our model who not only is tall, but has a long back. If you look closely, there are very subtle details in the stitching patterns but to a casual observer, they are identical other than the colour. I wonder if these girdles were sold in different lengths?

 

Memories of the Marks and Spencer Girdle

 

 

  

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Teenage Girl

I was born in 1945 and as a teenager, I went through the usual sequence of suspender belts to a girdle. I think I had a suspender belt from about 12 for best wear at the same time as my first brassiere. From about age 14, I had a ‘roll-on’ for best wear. The visit to M&S for firm control was at 16 for my first adult dance, rather than youth clubs and 78 records! My mother managed my expectations about ‘only for when you want to look your best’, so I was not surprised at my reactions on trying on the zip-up, boned girdle and strong hooks and eyes on the long-line bra.  I was very pleased with the results, I was grown up at last! But “oooh”, they pinched. I remember that I could not curl up on the sofa to read a book. They were tight and I could not bend as I wanted.  Mother suggested I wear them for an hour a day to get used to them. I think they were so strong that I had to get used to them, because they were not going to change their shape for me! Most of my friends wore the same for best wear, so we accepted it. I am sure16 year olds today would not put up with it.

One of my school-friends had an elder sister (I was 16 and she was 19.) I remember being very impressed that she had three girdles.  She had a two-way stretch one, a boned zipped one, and one she called “the beast” for her evening dress.

She also recounts:- "Bending was not much of an option when well 'shoe-horned' into the M&S firm control girdle and long line bra that I had in the 1960s for best wear!"

 

Of course as the years passed by (1960's - left to the 2000's - right, 'firm control' would have seemed to be 'no control at all' for the teenage girl!

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Husband #1

I have seen it questioned why a woman with a 24-inch waist would need a girdle. In 2004 I'm sure she wouldn't, but back in the time when girdles were worn by just about all women, waists were generally smaller anyway, and manufacturers made and sold girdles in small sizes. Two of the three steady girlfriends I had in my teens had waists of 22 inches, the other one was 24. At that time, Marks & Spencer's light, medium and firm control girdles were sold in sizes starting at waist 23/24, hip 34/36. That was the size bought by the two slimmer girls when they started wearing girdles. (The third girl wore only a deep suspender belt at the time I knew her).

The girl who eventually became my wife was proud of her small waist (and even now it is only 24 inches) but was annoyed at having only a small (32) bust and what she thought of as disproportionately large hips (35). She therefore bought bras with slightly padded cups and wore a girdle to try to get her hips in proportion to her waist and bust. For several years she bought a standard M&S medium control (open-bottom) girdle, having tried a light control one, and immediately taken it back as "useless, even to hold stockings". She appeared to me to have a good figure, emphasised by the narrow waist, but she always thought her bottom was too big, and would certainly not have gone without her girdle for that reason. When she passed her 20th birthday she pointed to a very slight bulge on her tummy and said her girdle was getting worn out. She bought a new one but, on trying it on at her home, decided that it was not strong enough to flatten her tummy and hold in her bottom. A return trip was made to M&S and the medium control belt was exchanged for a firm one, still in size 23/24 inch waist. When I first saw her wearing it, there was no doubt about it; her perfectly flat tummy and tightly held bottom were very apparent. She still had no need of any help at the waist but from then on she quickly bought more firm girdles so that she could wear one all the time to help keep her figure in proportion as she saw it.

 

One effect though of the heavier girdle was a tendency for some flesh to spill over the top of the belt on to the girl's waist and for a slight bulge on her thighs below the girdle hem. On several occasions thereafter, when buying a new girdle in M&S, she checked the various styles to see if there was a slightly longer one. As I remember it, she did not want a full high-waist girdle because, as she said, she had no need of it. One day she asked an assistant who said that the length increased slightly with the sizes and my girlfriend decided to buy the next size - 25/26 inch waist and 36/38 hip. She tried it on and it was slightly longer but "not as firm as my usual ones", she said. Her next idea was to exchange that girdle for an extra firm one in which the smallest size was 25/26, but she thought the additional strength would compensate for the larger size. However, on examining an extra firm control girdle in M&S, she realised it had six suspenders instead of the usual four and immediately gave up the idea saying she "didn't want to be bothered with more suspenders; four are bad enough". In consequence she bought another of her usual firm girdles and never again tried to get anything different.

The classic girdle was actually worn by young women but it was their mothers that were the main customers

That episode would have been in 1966. Only a few years later, she had begun wearing pantie-girdles with tights, and found that the M&S firm ones were not nearly as controlling as the girdles had been and, in particular, lacked the down-stretch back panel that flattened her bottom so well. She felt more rounded in the pantie-girdles. The pantie-girdles were also shorter, barely reaching her natural waist and certainly not covering her thighs. Her waist was still only 23 inches, so the girdle was really only for hip and tummy control. By then, M&S produced only the brief pantie style in size 23/24, obviously assuming that women wanting more coverage would be larger. My wife, as she then had become, was still concerned about big hips, and tried a couple of short-leg firm control pantie-girdles from M&S , that had to be in size 25/26. I remember these well because they came with a little packet of attachable suspenders which my wife threw away immediately, seeing no possible reason for wearing stockings with a pantie girdle. The new girdles also came higher at the top but were understandably quite loose on her slim waist. Nevertheless, she liked the smooth waist to thigh fit and wore those girdles quite a bit, though she found the legs a bit uncomfortable especially when they sometimes rode up. The old ritual of tugging down the hem of a risen girdle was replaced by the occasional pulling down of pantie-girdle legs.

Pregnancy then intervened and, after the birth, my wife returned to her regular pantie-girdles. Unsurprisingly, she was not as svelte as before her pregnancy, her waist now being 25 inches. She was more worried, though, about her hips and tummy and complained that her old brief firm control (size 23/24) pantie-girdles were not very good. The short-leg ones were better, but starting to wear out. Having for years bought all her foundations in M&S, she was surprised to find in (I think) British Home Stores (but might have been Littlewoods) a new range of firm pantie-girdles which had a non-stretch front panel, a satin down-stretch back panel and were available in size 23/24. She bought one, found it much firmer and liked especially the effect on her bottom and tummy. Her waist once again gained a "spare tyre" from the tight girdle and within a few weeks we had returned to the shop to buy another identical girdle. She saw that there was a longer style in the same range, described as a cuff-waist girdle and available in 23/24 waist. She bought one of those, too. For some reason she found that one distinctly tighter and on one or two occasions, having worn it under a dress to go out, took it off as soon as she got home and put on a regular length one instead. By the time she became pregnant again, my wife's waist was back to an ungirdled 24 inches.

After the second child was born, my wife found the panelled girdles too uncomfortable, and reverted to the standard M&S brief, firm control styles, still always buying 23/24 waist. This time, again finding a distinct spare tyre above her girdle around her waist, and realising that it could be seen when wearing dresses fitted to the waist, she bought a high-waist firm control girdle from M&S. It was in size 25/26 waist (smallest available in that style), which again made it slightly loose in that area, and had six bones;  long ones at the sides, shorter ones at the front and back. She disliked the bones, especially the side ones which didn't follow her curves closely enough. The girdle was also a coloured one, pale blues and lilacs, so she liked that. It gave her a good smooth shape but she said it was no good under straighter skirts because it was not strong enough on her tummy or rear.

This is a charming account from a gentleman, whose wife, although as slim as many of us would dream about, still suffers from those feminine traits of self-doubt. The history of M&S from the 1960's to the 1980's is very accurately recounted.

Memories of a Marks and Spencer Husband #2

Most of our regular correspondents are elderly women, for it is these ladies that wore the garments to which this site is dedicated. Sometimes, as above, it is the man who provides the recollections. We talked to one such gentleman in his late 80's and he recounted how every morning for decades he watched his wife don her stockings brassiere and girdle. He found the daily ritual fascinating and was happy to provide the money for her forays to Marks and Spencer. Each night her underpinnings would reside on the chair in the bedroom. We recreated the scene with period garments and gave the picture to the old man. He was strangely moved and said "That's just what I meant. I don't suppose anybody would understand any more." He was terribly grateful for the picture.