Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
The Other Side of Corsetry
The little piece of dog Latin above refers to the old schoolboy's motto "Semper ubi sub ubi" literally "Always where under where". This poor joke is but the puerile tip of an enormous iceberg of prurient interest in underwear; specifically, the interest of men for ladies underwear.
Restriction and Confinement
I've received a number of enquiries about 'severe' corsets with the recurring theme of a young woman (normally about late teenage) apparently under the strict control of her Mother having to wear unreasonably tight, long or heavily boned corsets (see below). I know of no such instances since the last war where any girl was persuaded to, or even could be persuaded to wear corsets against her wishes. Certainly, young women in those days habitually wore far stronger foundations than their peers of today and I've mentioned many times throughout these pages that corsets were worn (infrequently) by teenagers for special events even in the 1970's. However, what defines confinement is highly subjective as the following example demonstrates. A family (in the 1970's) was taking a cruise of several weeks duration. Father observed Mother unpacking and arranging their daughter's underwear, in particular a long-legged pantie-girdle of quite severe construction (something like a Spirella Coppelia 51 or perhaps the Charis panty-girdle). The Father was horrified that his daughter was confined in such things. This hardly constitutes a severe corset, although by today's standards, they possess a strength completely unknown to the average woman.
Perhaps, Doreen Caldwell who wrote the utterly charming book, 'And All was Revealed' (1981), sums it up. "It was curious that girls who appeared to us all as fearless Dianas, even Amazons, should have crushed themselves into such constricting garments." I believe that the key word here is "constricting" and that this has much to do with the fetish aspect of corsetry in general.
Perhaps the opposite is true? I've heard a couple of times, instances where the mother, grandmother, or mother-in-law was confined by a woman driven to distraction by unreasonable goading or complaining.
A newspaper article in the 1960's explained the predicament of an American corsetiere. This lady (and it was quite common then) would copy corsets or make them to personal design. She had received all sorts of requests from fashion items to surgical appliances. One of the most complex had been a highly adjustable corset with legs for a maternity case where the pelvis needed intense support whilst accommodating the expanding abdomen. The problem was that she had recently received a request from a lady to construct a corset with legs but also with arms, boned arms that went down to the wrist. The corsetiere could not imagine what medical condition might necessitate such a device and on querying the potential client discovered that the corset was for her mother who had become 'bothersome' and the corset was simply to confine the movements of the unfortunate woman. The corsetiere was very unhappy about this project and on consulting a lawyer discovered that such a restraint outside a registered institution would be quite illegal. The fascinating device was never constructed.
Although I have said that daughters could not really be confined against their wishes, I know of several cases where teenage girls who were diagnosed with a mild scoliosis would be confined into a corset / brace device. In one case, to add to the girl's embarrassment (and perhaps more practically, to get her daughter through the corrective stages as quickly as possible) her mother decided that she might as well have her teeth straightened at the same time. The poor girl had to live in close and tight fitting 'scaffolding' for a year. I believe the results were successful, however, the mother declared that she had a year free from worry since no boy dared to approach her daughter whilst thus confined. A similar case was uncompromisingly summed up by the mother "Well; you'll end up with dentures and corsets anyway like me, so you might as well get used to it!"
Sleeping in one's corsets is another not uncommon fantasy that is entertained by some correspondents. But in this case, it does happen in reality.
I have known several women who have slept in their corsets. Invariably they have serious back problems, and however hard the bed, a firm corset for the night-time can give tremendous relief. The lady pictured on the right is featured in Spencer's "Advice to Doctors: 1953". The poor lady in question had a bad back following pregnancy and was quite incapacitated until fitted with these corsets. She wore them night and day for five months and were described as "quite comfortable to sleep in".
This last example reveals the eternal difference between women and men, where the woman wishes, in the final analysis, to be comfortable. The men entertain an image that they wish their wives to achieve, even at the expense of comfort. A compromise is usually reached, however, some men pursue the image beyond reality, and thus is a fantasy world created (see below).
closest occasion to confinement occurred during my involvement in a perfectly
normal wedding. I was asked to be a bridesmaid and at a time when I normally
wore a girdle, I elected to achieve a desirable shape by wearing my classic (but
rarely worn) Spirella 305. My friend, at her Mother's insistence, wore a 315,
the back-lacer, that came up high in the back and reached well over her hips.
She looked utterly fabulous (much nicer than me). It took me ages to help my
friend dress, the process being complicated by the corset and the back fastening
of the dress which was covered by at least 30 buttons. There was no way that my
friend could release herself from the dress and corset without help. In fact, I
remember having great difficulty in removing my own dress that evening since my
arms filled the sleeves so tightly that reaching behind my head to undo the zip
was nigh on impossible.
A correspondent relates how at a cousin's wedding, the bridesmaids had to wear culotte dresses. In the fashion of the times, the dresses, including the bride's covered from neck to ankle to cuff. No escape was possible. The design forced the wearer to adopt the new pantie-girdle making any 'comfort break' quite impossible. She remembers hating the whole experience and that (she actually mentions the word) the confinement was in some way humiliating. Nevertheless, the heavy satin outfit brought her many appreciative looks including some blatant staring from some of the men present. We deal with satin below.
Following this train of thought, consider any formal function, a wedding in the 1960's would be a good example. The bride needs bridesmaids to control the flowing train. She needs help to alight from car, even to sit down, and undressing by herself is impossible. Her mother, heroically girdled to fit a dress two sizes too small barely dares to breathe. Her feet ache in unaccustomed shoes and any attempt to sit causes her thighs to spring open alarmingly. Granny totters around, the rubber, elastic and steel contraption that is her foundation confining her locomotion to that of a marionette. Even the gorgeous young thing in the modern twin set is reduced by her panty-girdle, pencil skirt and heels to a ludicrous mincing gait. Not one of the ladies can sit in comfort, going to the loo is a nightmare, and nobody walks in the way that nature intended. An extreme example perhaps? I don't think so, and that's why everybody stands at weddings! The St. Johns Ambulance helpers at any royal garden party, spends hours attending to blistered feet and not so long ago had to free a number of ladies from their over-tightened corsets!
|I have alluded to such devices above, and we have several in our collection, however, the devices described in this section, one suspects, have strayed into the realms of fantasy. A more analytical description is provided in the Technical Corsetry section of the web site. To read about these devices, please click on the long corset.|
Neck Corsets and Teeth Corsets!
Of course, these can be worn for medical reasons, however, elements of fantasy abound here. Just as the body is confined by the corset, so the neck can be confined also, however, tight-lacing these corsets obviously carries extreme danger. On the right we see an example of teeth corsets! Basically, this lady in 1974 wanted to lose weight and asked her dentist to wire her jaws together, an uncommon, but certainly not unknown practice. He fitted upper and lower braces that were pulled together by means of the strong elastic bands.
Strangely, all these women seem to be completely at ease with their neckwear.
The wedding theme recurs in many of the questions that have come to our site. The link between weddings and corsets is, I believe quite simple. It is that the women present at the wedding will be dressed in their best, and in the 1930's to the 1980's (and to some extent today) that means the outerwear and innerwear will be made of that fascinating material satin. Satin is a glorious material, very feminine and flattering. Its use in underwear is common for the very good reason that satin slides easily and allows layers of underclothes and dress linings to pass across each other unimpeded. To a woman, satin feels good, but more importantly, hangs well and compliments the wearer. To the male, the feeling and shininess can be a powerful stimulant. This power is well known to the corsetry marketing departments, and if a satin panel will result in compliments from the buyer's husband, then it will be included. The use of satin in foundation garments is attractive, and as I mentioned practical, and the token satin panel at the front of a pantie-girdle is a vestigial reminder of the full satin panelling of the traditional corset.
Many manufacturers, particularly before the era of the salaried women, appealed strongly to whatever would influence the loosening of the husband's wallet. Berlei (left) went straight for the jugular with this image, ostensibly advertising the Maidenform Brassiere, but blatantly using the satin skirt and top as a male attractant. My husband instantly remarked on this when he first saw the picture, and later was unable to describe the brassiere in any detail at all. And as for the Pan-American advertisement (right), somebody somewhere in the marketing department (and you can bet that it would be a man) had a seriously strong understanding of what would rip a man's eyeballs from their sockets! Satin, a woman in uniform and a white blouse are assembled here to devastating effect.
I can relate two tales from my (and my husband's) own experiences. A teacher of my acquaintance wore a satin blouse to school on a few occasions but had to stop since the frank stares of the adolescent males in her class became unnerving. The blouse was cut conservatively and was no different from her normal working attire other then the material. My husband tells of a Sunday lunch in the 1950's at which his Aunt and Uncle were invited. A young boy, well before puberty, he became fascinated by the shiny material of his Aunt's dress. During lunch he surreptitiously touched his Aunt's skirt which, to his mortification, she noticed and made comment. The adults passed off the incident with the usual "Oh, you shouldn't have given the child a glass of wine", and, "Well, he's growing up fast, you'd better watch out". My husband remembers the episode vividly.
Lyn Locke made a very telling statement quite recently when describing that rarest of items, a back-zippered girdle. "You guys probably wouldn't like it, it was all spandex finger panels, no satin."
Regard the German girdles on the right. Both went on auction and, apart from the front panel, are identical. The satin-panelled went for five times the value of the other. It was, of course, purchased by a man. Personally, I prefer the one on the right.
The effect of the above stimulants on the adolescent male can be overwhelming but I will not pursue this line of thought. Suffice it to say, that many males appear to experience this stimulant but normally the effects remains within control. The clever woman knows well how to harness this powerful force to the benefit of a strong and happy relationship.
On the left we have the archetypal 1950's - 60's girdle. Was this combination of elastic, satin panels, boning and zips the garment that triggered a thousand male fantasies? Who can tell? My husband suggests that, indeed, on the east side of the Atlantic perhaps it was. On the west side, the American pantie-girdle (right) may have played more of a part. Interestingly, the British pantie-girdle that supplanted the girdle in the late 1960's, was a feeble cousin to the American version. It seems that the important ingredients were strength and confinement, but with that critical catalyst, satin.
|Fetish and Fantasy
As I stated at the beginning of this page, the fantasy world of the male imagination plays no part in a web site dedicated to a serious study of the art of the corsetiere, however, one cannot ignore such fantasies. For those that wish to pursue this 'other side', there are web-sites dedicated to extending corsetry to its illogical conclusion, to a fantastical world where women are dominant (my husband added "what's so unreal about that") and somewhat overdeveloped.
The Forbidden Fruit
There are numerous accounts of the desire of the male to look at, touch or even wear female undergarments. As with many serious but potentially embarrassing subjects, it is common to avoid direct confrontation and to treat the subject in a humorous manner.
The 'lady' in the bra and girdle on the left (and such a sight must have been common for husbands, and less so for sons in the 1960's) may have been the catalyst for many forbidden desires. However, the 'lady' in question is Glenn Milstead also known as the drag queen 'Divine' and a favourite of John Waters, the director of 'Hairspray' from which the clips have been taken. The 'lady' on the right is of course, Dustin Hoffman!
I doubt if such films act as a catalyst for the forbidden fruit, nor even films where men, either disguised as women, or playing the part of a woman, actually appear in female underwear. 'Hairspray' (1988) and 'Tootsie' (1982) for example.
However, at boy's schools, certainly pre-1970's before many became co-educational, female parts simply had to be acted by boys. The picture from a private American school (right - undated) shows a youth in the back row with an obviously well corseted waist. Surely that could have a profound effect?
Amazingly, Lawrence Oliver dons a girdle for a 1964 charity show at the London Palladium where a number of famous stars appeared in drag (23rd July 1964 - The Night of A Hundred Stars). Was there any real necessity for the girdle, for frankly it does little to modify his male figure. But we all wore girdles then! In the background of the third picture sits a nervous-looking Kenneth More, apparently not happy with this change from his usual character.
Apocryphal stories abound of new underwear company executives being initiated by wearing the latest girdle. I doubt if this has ever been true, certainly not for the male employees, however, it seems to make for a good joke in the gentlemen's' locker room of the golf club. The classic joke on this subject is the male golfer who is found to be wearing a girdle. "How long have you had to wear that?", his friends ask. "Ever since my wife found it in the car", he replies!
At what age this fascination begins and what triggers it is a mystery to women, and often a mystery to the men who find an irresistible attraction for female underwear. How many corsetieres receive orders whose measurements are obviously designed for a man? How many corsetieres have been approached by clients worried or disturbed by their sons' behaviour?
I knew one women who discovered that her teenage son had been trying on her girdles. In all other respects the young lad was a normal, healthy youth who played football and had many friends. He had the normal adolescent curiosities, however, in this one respect, his curiosity had been extended into reality. When challenged by his mother, the youth had become very embarrassed and defensive, and the topic became a forbidden area of conversation. The lady didn't know what action to take. Revealing her son's secret passion to her husband would have resulted in a violent scene, which could as easily exacerbate as cure the problem. Perhaps he would grow out of it? Hoping that the latter would be true, she offered one of her less favourite girdles as an olive leaf of truce. She was surprised when the garment was rejected because it didn't have any satin panels. Unfortunately, her most expensive girdle was her son's favourite. Once again, the confinement of the girdle, and the feel of heavy satin must be extremely powerful stimulants to the male.
My colleagues have suggested that an only child may be more susceptible to the emotions described above, however, there are numerous documented cases of young, adolescent males interfering with their elder sister's underwear. The classic cartoon depicted at the top of the page is based on fact. There is a very fine dividing line between the naughty mocking of one's sister's elaborate underpinnings, and a desire to investigate those same underpinnings further. In fact, the more overt and 'macho' the mocking, the more dangerously close does the youngster stray towards that line.
Another instance that I shall recount here, for it contains all the elements that I have so far mentioned, was the extraordinary behaviour of a teenage boy who was caught by his mother wearing an incredible assortment of her own, her mother's and his sister's cast-off attire. The hugely embarrassed boy was wearing no less than three satin bridesmaid's dresses, each layer secured by one of her old girdles. Underneath it all was the crushing embrace of his granny's old surgical corsets. Apparently, he had collected a veritable wardrobe of cast off clothes and underwear from the female family members, and loved nothing better than to cocoon himself in the embrace of these quintessentially female garments. An appalling scene followed, however, the mother, recovering from her shock, returned to her son and tried to fathom his strange desires. In fact, he had as much clue as to the root cause of his compulsion as did his mother, however, he promised not to repeat his actions and ended up a happily married man with three children. The only evidence of his underlying desires, and this came from the man's wife, was that he liked her to wear satin and was disappointed when she stopped wearing girdles in the mid-1970's. The confinement, the satin and the cocooning appear classic stimulants. Psychologists suggest that the secrecy, and a latent desire to be caught all play a part in this fantastical world.
Another gentleman related his first experiences of the other side. As a young teenager, he unmercifully teased his elder sister when she stalked the house in curlers, creams, and her nylon wrap barely concealing her bra and girdle. One day she snapped and he was shocked by the venom of her verbal attack. To this day, he cannot say where the impulse came from, but when he was left alone in the house later that day, he felt a desire to try on her bra and girdle as some obscure revenge. He claims that it was the most erotic experience of his life and in short order he had tried on some of her clothes and soon had advanced to wearing his mother's even more substantial girdles. He was hooked for life.
Another account, this time from the man, tries to pin-point the cause of these desires. As a child, the family used to tow their small caravan down to the sea-side in the summer. Modesty dictated that father and son got dressed first and then left the caravan whilst mother got dressed. On rainy days mother would writhe and contort under the sheets as she donned her bra and stockings but she had to stand up to get into her girdle. "I'm going to get dressed now - and NO peeking!" Inevitably the man got his first glimpses of a woman struggling into her girdle. The first time this happened, the man was unimpressed, but as time went on, he became unaccountably obsessed with a desire to touch this article of clothing for himself, but why? To this day he has no idea, but the obsession is as powerful as it was all those decades ago.
There are many tales of boys and men, who once attired in whatever stimulates them, find it impossible to escape. It is the back zip that causes problems since most men (and many women "Would you zip me up Darling?") are not double-jointed enough to pull the zip to the top, or once zipped up to release it. The famous British comedian, Ted Ray, appeared in a situation comedy where he tried on his wife's dress and used a nail in the wall to pull the zip all the way up. Of course, the nail snagged the dress and he was left trapped on the wall until his angry wife could release her humiliated husband. A friend's son was caught in tears of shame having tried on his sister's satin party dress (satin appears once again) using a string through the zip tag. Once zipped up, the string unfortunately became undone and the wretched youth was trapped. Either he burst the zip of a rather expensive dress or got caught, and either way spelt trouble!
We have mentioned elsewhere that corsets can split due to age or defective materials. This happened to one poor teenager who, over-nighting at his aunt's house, found a bedroom drawer that contained her corsets. He had previously tried on his mother's girdles and was excited at the chance to wear a real corset. Unused to the complexity of a laced garment, it took a while to get the corset fastened but he eventually succeeded. The unaccustomed pressure of the garment was hugely exciting and he adjusted the laces to make the corset as tight as possible. He then tried to sit down and as he lowered himself onto the bed - catastrophe - the corsets split up one of the seams. He got the wretched things off and replaced them at the back of the drawer. He lived for months in fear of an angry call from his aunt, but no call came. He was lucky; in all probability his aunt would had given up her corsets years before but could not bear to part with such expensive items. I strongly suspect that a number of adolescents have spent days in fear that having moved or worn a garment, they have not replaced it as they found it. In reality, women are not usually that careful!
Damaging a garment is a real risk for the closet dresser. A gentleman recounted that as a teenager in the 1960's, he loved to try on his older sister's girdles. Apparently his mother's underwear was rather too big for him. One day, he split a Playtex panty-girdle whilst removing it and in an agony of apprehension, stuffed it into a bin some miles away from home. The loss of the girdle was never mentioned, but did his sister know of his clandestine activities? He never knew.
We have mentioned the allure of satin (above). I knew of a lady who was deeply concerned for her son since she had caught him wearing her girdles. The family was very Welsh and very traditional and the lady had kept her son's desires secret from the father whose reaction was likely to be quite explosive. Like many women, she migrated from her girdles to panty-girdles at the end of the 1960's, but this did not stop her son's activities. She even made her son wear one of her panty-girdles for a whole day's outing but she was worried that this might exacerbate the problem. After some years, she realised that her girdle drawer had remained unmolested for months. She asked her son about this and he explained that her girdles no longer contained any satin panels. She had been unaware of the design change (a girdle's a girdle) but for her son, it was a fundamental element of his desire. She was immensely relieved and chose satin-less underwear after that but she often wondered if her son's desires would find some other outlet.
Another recurring theme, that possibly starts pre-puberty and continues into adulthood, is the fascination for women wearing some sort of uniform. However, not just any uniform as I'm sure statistics on this subject would reveal. The uniform must contain that essential ingredient, the crisp white shirt or blouse. Where does this start? Is it the adolescent views of girls, possibly sisters in their riding attire? Whatever the cause, the end result is that groups as diverse as the local gymkhana club, policewomen, WRNS officers and airline stewardesses attract an unusual amount of attention.
Women confronted by their sons or husbands wearing female attire react in many different ways as I've described above. Emotions from shock and horror, through mockery and humiliation to acceptance and encouragement all happen (right).
I received an excellent, well-written letter from a gentleman who we shall call Simon. His Mother, having discovered his clandestine wearing of Granny's corsets, forced the youth to continue wearing them. The idea that this punishment would cure him had exactly the opposite effect, and a life-long addition was born. Similar tales have been sent in from Kevin, Mike, Paul, Stephen, Larry, Harry, Robin and Phil. I leave to the reader to decide the veracity of these accounts.
The idea of a man wearing a corset for reasons of vanity, rather than health, lies in that poorly understood area somewhere between disgust and amusement. Authors as diverse as Spike Milligan in Puckoon ("The Major was a fine figure of a man, and why wouldn't he be, laced as he was from mid-thigh to shoulder, in corsets secretly made for him by Marie Lloyd's dresser"), and Tom Sharpe in Indecent Exposure deliver a volley of references. ("These step-ins of Daphne's are damned tight" he said. "...dashed into his study with all the speed that his wife's step-ins allowed." "Wouldn't have happened if she'd been here" he gasped, a tribute less to her power of personality than to the constriction of her pantie girdle that was playing havoc with his innards. .... the Colonel, whose sleep had not deflated him sufficiently to escape from the intractable embrace of his wife's corsets. ....the Colonel hauled the bush out of the ground, an feat which had it not been for his wife's corsets would certainly have ruptured him.) All these references poke fun at the man in corsets. There's an amusing cartoon that I saw in Punch magazine where a group of naval officers enter the Captain's cabin to find him dressed in a bra and girdle, "Begging your pardon Sir; but we hereby relieve you of command!"
The Danny Thomas Show pokes fun at a husband who has tried on his wife's girdle. The reaction is predictable!
I was absolutely stunned once by an old woman who I had engaged in conversation at a retirement home. She said, when she learned of our interest in corsetry, "My husband used to wear my corsets." I was stunned, and at a loss as to how to reply and I asked if he had a bad back. "No" she said quite openly "He just liked to try them on, it, you know, stimulated him." Apparently the couple had been happily married for over 50 years; her late husband was pleasant, well regarded and completely unexceptional other than for his secret desire. The woman had reacted sensibly, realising that this desire was controlled, harmless and probably good for their marriage. She simply accepted it in an era when most women would not have done.
A rather sad tale came our way concerning a married man who had an urge to dress as a woman. His wife did not understand or encourage this and his fantasies remain unfulfilled until the day that his wife agreed for him to try on some of her clothes. She was quite firm with him and hoped that the experience would 'get it out of his system' once and for all. To this end, she made him wear the full works with bra, girdle, stockings, slip, dress, full make-up and a wig. The result was totally unexpected. The man looked grotesque and felt ashamed and humiliated, the experience certainly not living up to his fantastical desires. His wife, on the other hand, derived considerable satisfaction from her husband thus attired and proceeded to encourage him to dress up more often, an act that the husband was now loathe to do. Fantasies should stay as fantasies.
Rarely does my husband receive correspondence on corsetry, however, the following tales came to light recently. Basically, the author was asking if a passion for girdles could have been started by the following episode, vividly remembered.
The lady next door is a frail, wispy 90-year-old, but 35 years ago, when I was starting university, she must have been 55. That’s amazing, that’s nearly my own age these days. My mother didn’t really like our neighbour, who she regarded as a bit ‘racy’, moreover, her daughter had recently been divorced. In those days, divorce was quite rare and confined to the stars of Hollywood, not London suburbia. Certainly, one habit of this lady of which my mother strongly disapproved, came to light one hot afternoon in 1969. Our ancient gardener was tending the roses when he suddenly stopped still, and remained immobile gazing through the roses across the fence. My mother thought that perhaps he was ill until she followed his light of sight. There in our neighbour’s garden was Mrs. G, watering her own plants attired in long-line bra and a waist-slip. What lay beneath the slip was evidenced by the row of pantie-girdles strung on the washing-line. My mother tut-tutted vigorously and the gardener guiltily averted his gaze; but I didn’t! I was fascinated, never having seen a woman in her underwear before. I looked forward to the hot days after that, and Mrs. G rarely disappointed!
I suspect that the gentleman was already well along the road towards his latent desires, and that some earlier episode in his early teenage would have been the trigger for his passion.
I used to go out with a girl in the early 1970's whose family had fallen on hard times. I travelled over 70 miles to see her and take her to dinner. Her mother would erect a camp bed in the lounge for me to sleep in and I was allowed to use the mother's room to change into a suit in the evening. I couldn't resist seeing what my potential mother-in-law wore and was amazed at one drawer entirely stuffed full of M&S girdles. There must have been dozens! My girlfriend wore a panty-girdle and a long-line bra. I knew that because she told me. There was no way in those days that I could visit her bedroom.
and another from 1967:-
My parents had friends in Woking who we visited a few times a year. Their daughter was much older than me and I had little to do with her, but one day when we arrived, her mother greeted us with an arm full of female things. I remember Mrs D. saying that she was just taking her daughter's smalls upstairs since she had just left for university. Curiosity lead me upstairs later to investigate these smalls and I remember feeling faint at the sight of some truly sturdy panty-girdles lying on the bed. Her wardrobe contained two bridesmaid dresses, one in pink and another in pale blue. The pale blue one was made of satin and I remember to this day the feel and the discrete odour of that high quality satin.
Once again, satin features and, not for the first time, the subtle odour of the material is mentioned.
Another much longer missive recalls life in Wales c. 1950:-
I was brought up in a working class family and can recall quite vividly that my mother and her sister both wore Excelsior corsetry in a pinky colour which I believe is known as `tea-rose'. My maternal grandmother, who lived in a remote village, appeared to be a faithful mail-order customer of Ambrose Wilson.
My mother was also on the Ambrose Wilson mailing list but on the odd occasion she would bring home an Excelsior brochure which had been loaned to her by her sister. When it was convenient, the two ladies would discuss the pros and cons of the garments in both catalogues but Excelsior appeared to be the most favoured company. For some reason my grandmother's purchases would also crop up in the conversation. My mother and aunt were both of average height and build for ladies at that time but my grandmother had a much larger frame and was also a good inch or so taller. Perhaps each company favoured the two different sizes in their own particular way. All three women wore the back laced type with keyhole type fastenings at the front.
We lived in a two-up, two-down terraced house and for reasons which I will not go into, on two occasions I had to share my room with my aunt. Being in my early teens and of school age I would retire to bed earlier than the rest of the household but I `refused to go to sleep for I cherished the thought of watching my aunt get undressed. She was always impeccably dressed and wore her directoire knickers over her corset. In undressing she would undo her suspenders and remove her stockings before unfastening the clips at the front of her corset. She would then remove her corset from inside her knickers and place it on stool in the room before donning her nightie.
The morning ritual was slightly more complex but somehow she managed to roll her corset on to her torso without lowering her knickers. She would then put on her stockings, taking great care to ensure that the seams were straight, before adjusting the elasticated legs of her knickers.
I can remember quite vividly my aunt arriving at our house one autumn evening in a real fluster. Apparently the cord had snapped in her corset and she was completely out of kilter. My mother agreed to fix it for her and without more ado my aunt lifted her skirt to the waist, and leant against the dining table whilst my mother adjusted the lace and tied off the broken ends. My eyes stood out like chapel hat pegs in sheer amazement! I can still visualise the sight of my mother fumbling inside those magnificent pale blue directoire knickers! In this strictly PC but enlightened age it is almost unbelievable that this actually happened but it did.
Typical correspondence from men include the following revelations:-
“When my mother went shopping, I used to peek in the third drawer down in her bedroom. There lay two girdles; a Sarongster, which was quite short, and a higher-waisted one. The latter’s label had faded through frequent use and it seemed to be older. To my dismay, these two girdles vanished in 1967 and my mother became a regular wearer of M&S pantie-girdles. This garment was quite unremarkable except for a small satin diamond that formed the front of the garment”.
Another quotes “I used to visit my aunt several times each year in the late 1960’s. She must have been about 65 then. When she went into the garden, I would excuse myself and silently rush upstairs to gain access to her bedroom. She always kept her cupboards open, and lying there were her M&S girdles. Sadly, these fascinating garments were replaced by pantie-girdles in 1969. I remember the year since I went off to university then, and she gave me five pounds”.
The latter gentleman admitted that on two occasions he tried on his aunt's girdles and had at other times worn another aunt's corsets and his mother's girdles. He recounted that the experience was the most erotic of his life and left him weak and shaken. In many ways this is a sad admission, however, it does reveal the intense power of his emotions. He had no idea when or why this fascination began.
A sight from the 1960's
Rather than being offended by such letters, which really are little more than harmless adolescent 'voyeurism', the information they contain is important. I selected these letters as examples where dates and ages are quoted. Specifically, a 57 year-old women binned her girdles in 1967 and a 65-year-old in 1969. A change to the traditional foundation garment was afoot as is described elsewhere in this site. However, these clandestine, but harmless activities can stray perilously close to furious misunderstanding at best to outright illegality at worst. I have quoted some examples below:-
In America in the 1950's, any such behaviour brought to the attention of the authorities could result in some unpleasant experiences in a psychiatric institution. There is a well documented case of a teenage boy who had transgressed the moral code of the day who was shown a series of slides. Accompanying any slide that showed a girdle (for that was his addiction) was a powerful electric shock. Whether this successfully subdued his passion is not recorded.
A gentleman wrote to us and claimed that in his adolescence he had frequently worn his mother's girdles, those of a neighbour, two aunts and latterly the corsets of his landlady. He never removed any articles, for in his personal moral code, theft was wrong. That he had abrogated the trust of these woman he was well aware but was was prepared to accept this as a lesser crime. In fact, the secret knowledge that he had worn something intimate from a lady who he knew well added to his excitement. In such a case, where does obsession end and perversion begin. Within the family circle, this adolescent curiosity can remain within the family, however, and using the above as an example, moving outside the family circle by wearing the neighbour's and landlady's foundations could well be seriously misunderstood. Should the discovery of such clandestine activities reach a court of law, then I feel that the verdict would be less than accommodating.
On a similar vein was the teenage boy whose mother discovered his veritable hoard of girdles. His mother was furious and screamed at her son for stealing these intimate belongings until he patiently explained that his collection was the consequence of numerous visits to charity (thrift) shops. The balloon of her anger was pierced and she apologised. To his amazement she simply warned him not to make purchases within the neighbourhood where he might be recognised and, he cleverly realised, the shame might reflect back onto his mother. It was the fear of breaking the law, of shame and her potential humiliation that had upset her. She was quite unconcerned about the consequences to her son either legally or emotionally.
We are always on the look-out for recollections of this bygone era. Obviously, the recollections of a corsetiere are as confidential as those of a doctor, however, from time to time, completely anonymous references can be made to episodes from the past. I received today one of the rare confidences from a Spirella corsetiere that I can relate without embarrassment towards the parties concerned. Jobs and locations have been changed, however, the descriptions are otherwise taken from the letter.
The most amazing letter that I ever received, was originally included in Ivy Leaf's Diary, however, I feel it should reside here.
an introduction, I will mention a letter from a lady
Mayoress who wrote to extol the virtues of her foundations in carrying out
the rigours of her office, but a Mayor? Well, that is a different matter.
The Ladies' Man
wife, a lady in her 50's, had been a regular client of mine for over two
decades and every six months ordered new 'lowers' (Spirella 315's - the back
lacing corset) and four matching 'uppers'. The lady was pleasant,
well-mannered but unexceptional. The regular order was typical of many
middle-aged, middle-class clients of that period. I often felt some sympathy for
the woman since she seemed to lack the sparkle that somebody in her social
position would be expected to have. The sparkle and charisma belonged to her
famous, even notorious husband.
was in 1967 that I visited the lady at her home to fit her for another order.
Unusually, she asked for the most expensive material, and requested a duplicate
set in black orchid. There was also a determination in the lady that had been
absent for years. She seemed to pluck up courage and asked if I could order a
corset for a friend. Referrals such as this were common and most welcome,
however, she indicated that the friend was unavailable, and could I order the
corset from measurements supplied. I had done this in the past making sure that
the customer realised that there would be no 'come back' in the event of a poor
fit. She supplied the measurements and, as any corsetiere with experience could
tell instantly, they were obviously male measurements!
How often have corsetieres received measurements from a man
purporting to be for his Mother. Men and women are quite different shapes.
Men have virtually no hip spring and there are many other detail
'giveaways'. What to do? The lady was a valued client and had recommended
me to many of her friends. While I was pondering this dilemma, she asked
for the corset to made in a material as close to pink satin as the
Spirella brochure would allow. Nowadays, of course, only white and flesh
tones exist, but back then, a fabulous pink satin was available
have a Spen-all
in a similar material and it is truly superb - IL).
The lady's corsets and the 'one off' pink corset were duly furnished within the month and the episode might have passed out of my mind had I not met the Mayor and his wife some months later at a charity dinner. Amazingly, it seemed that the energy of the couple had been transferred from the Mayor to his wife. She was radiant and he seemed ill-at-ease and generally uncomfortable. I suddenly realised the truth! Whether the Mayor had a penchant for wearing lady's underwear, I doubt. Perhaps his long-suffering wife had found out a little too much about her husband's extra-marital 'Mayorial duties' and had decided to take her revenge. Not only can a good corsetiere tell male measurements from female measurements, but she can also tell when a man or a woman is wearing a corset.
I've discussed this episode with my husband on several occasions, and he has proposed the alternative theory that the Mayor, despite his all too obvious virility, was one of those men who actually enjoyed wearing women's underwear. This facet of his nature had been better disguised than his extra-marital affairs, however, his wife had discovered the secret and had exacted a subtle two-fold revenge.
The Outer Fringe
At the beginning and repeatedly throughout this page, we refer to restriction and the attraction that certain materials hold for men. This desire has lead some into the fantastical world of the serious fetishist and two books that describe this are "The Outer Fringe of Sex" by Maurice North (1970) and "Fashion and Fetishism" by David Kunzle (1982). Within their pages lie the fetishists' world of the Victorian Ladies School:-
"... the girl sleeps immobile in a straight-jacket or one-piece leather or rubber suit and often in several; again and again girls are put into layers of restraining garments, first a rubber suit, then a leather one and sometimes a steel one on top of the others." North 1970
but this is part of the fetishists' fantastical world and is well beyond what we wish to cover here.