What did women wear in the 50's and 60's? Separating the advertisements and marketing from the truth is not easy. Spirella tried to tell us that corsets were virtually de rigeur for weddings, however, I've not yet met a lady from that era under the age of 60 who actually wore one. Girdles were very common of course, but the only way to find out what these ladies really wore was know them or to find relatives and friends that did. Of these ladies, Auntie A.M. and Auntie Vera were family friends and I know exactly what they normally wore, the others are relatives of readers who have sent in their brief descriptions. That two of these correspondents are men, leaves one wondering how their adolescent curiosity lead them to discover the nature of their auntie's underpinnings!

Auntie Edie  (Sutton 1958)

I was always amazed at how Auntie Edie advertised her underwear simply by the poor cut of her clothes. Her small bust caused a sag in the material at the front, yet the bra band and the top of her too short girdle showed clearly in the lines and ridges outlined on her dress. (I have to agree since I've seen so many women similarly attired. The dress could have been re-cut by a good seamstress and a high-waisted girdle would have worked wonders - Ivy)


In contrast to the ill-fitting clothes of Auntie Edie, we move onto ...

Auntie A.M.  (Utrecht 1957)  Auntie A.M. was a very attractive brunette even in her 50ís and was a stunner in her prime. Careful choice of clothes (for she always dressed well) disguised the fact that was, in fact, distressingly short-waisted (that is the waist is far closer to the bust than the hips) which exacerbated the fact that her hips and legs were very big. Her Mother encouraged her to wear corsets right from the 1930ís (very unusual in Holland) and with the appropriate clothes and corsets she found no shortage of male partners. (Frankly, itís unlikely that any non-made-to-measure foundation would ever have fitted her shape.) Only after the war when she moved to London, did she discard her corsets in favour of a girdle, and but latterly reverted to the strength of her corsets once again. When this photo was taken in 1958, she was in her girdle phase and chose Gossard.



Auntie Bea  (Ayr 1957)

I stayed with Auntie Bea and her her husband many times as a teenager and the weekly washing line showed exactly what foundations her unexceptional, but well-shaped figure required. Like many women in the1950's she wore a long-line bra and girdle that she ordered from the local Spencer agent. It was a rare extravagance, but in those days, the middle classes shopped for quality and durability.


Auntie Leyburn (right)   (Leyburn early '60s)

I called her that because that's where she lived. Her real name was Cecilia which she detested and preferred to be called Cissy which I thought was silly! She tried to sell corsets for Spirella over a period of 10 years. I took the photo in 1962 as she stalked her prey in York , however, this was blatant poaching of the town fitters and she fared badly. Although the Yorkshire woman of the 50's and 60's was given to a good farm diet with the consequent effect upon the figure, the reluctance of these thrifty Dales folk to part with money for expensive fripperies (and Spirella's corsets came into this category) made sales something of a challenge. True to her training in Letchworth, she always wore what she tried to sell. I have no idea what she was wearing that particular day, however, if the client wanted a corset, so she would wear one; if a girdle was the order, so be it. I do know her preference was for a girdle. When she passed away, I helped clear her effects and took a dozen girdles to the charity shop in town. Surprisingly, the worn ones were from Marks and Spencer. I don't think she ever wore Spirella's own, unless on a mission!


Auntie Vera (who was in fact a friend of my family, in Winchester 1965 and London 1967 at a wedding)


Auntie Vera is mentioned under 'weddings', and I pontificated about her wearing a girdle and 'pooh-poohing' her peers who attributed her figure to a corset. Well, I stand corrected since a closer friend than myself (and I was young at the time) states that she normally wore a girdle (left at home), but for posh dos wore a corset bought expressly for this purpose and virtually never worn otherwise. Regard her posture at the wedding two years later (right). Her stomach is as flat as a board and she has a curiously stooped forward stance often adopted by women unused to the stiffness of a corset. On the left, her tummy has the confined, but distinctly feminine bulge indicative of an elastic garment. I'm always grateful to be corrected since one learns more from such comments than by living in ignorance.

A martyr to her varicose veins for 40 years, a girdle (or corset) was simply necessary to support the tension of her powerful elastic stockings. When she finally succumbed to the panty-girdle in the middle of her seventh decade, she still required suspenders to hold her stockings. More than once she complained about her wrinkly stockings saying that "this never used to happen with old-fashioned underwear!"

Regard also her oversized shoes. Years of wearing pointed stilettos had wreaked havoc on her feet. Determined to dress well, however, required larger shoes (as many elderly women wear) to accommodate the damage inflicted by decades of vanity.




Auntie K. (Pisa 1966) was a northerner - and proud of it. Blunt to he point of rudeness, but with a heart of gold, Auntie K. and her husband, without the anchor and input of children, they went their own way, growing slowly, but distinctly more eccentric with age. Once a slim and attractive brunette, she tended to the old-fashioned and wore a long-line bra and girdle well into the 1980's. Even in the 1990's, she used to bemoan the lack of custom-fitted suspenders on her panty-girdles that apparently the Millicent Wise assistants used to fix for her. She quite shocked my teenage son on our weekly visit, by producing such a garment to discuss its merits. I remember desperately trying to divert the conversation whilst my son looked like he wanted the floor to open up! When this picture was taken, we see a slim-hipped, well-endowed woman who, by today's standards would be considered as not needing any support at all other than a good bra, yet, in the heat of the Italian summer, she was fully attired in girdle, long bra, stockings and slip. Like C.S. Forrester's heroine in 'African Queen', she felt guilty to be attired in anything less that 'proper' underwear!

Auntie Mc. (right)  (Aberdeen 1959)  Looking a bit like an elderly Auntie Edie (above), Auntie Mc. should have been from a generation that wore corsets, and I know her mother did, but she didn't! A girdle with just enough strength to hold up her stockings and provide a little shape to her tummy was all she wanted. Had she been a 'victim' of Spirella, I'm sure she would have looked far better, certainly that bust-line sagging at half-mast would have been fully hoisted, but Auntie Mc., cared little for her appearance as her wig, somewhat askew, demonstrates!



American aunties: Faults or no faults, women in the 1960's appreciated the effect of their foundations (even if they might not have been comfortable by modern standards). The two stunning women on the left are testimony to this. Slim by any standards, one can guarantee that a tight girdle was firmly anchored beneath those 24 inch waists.

British aunties: (A fashionable London wedding in 1958). The two ladies detested each other for some reason lost in history. To speak to one whilst the other was out of earshot would be to receive a litany of disapproval. Auntie H:- "You know she wears corsets. Imagine in this day and age. Her mother used to, but they all did then. She'd got no real figure than other what Mrs. H, the Spencer lady gives her!" Even this precise lady's grammar deserted her in her vitriolic attack on her peer. The response from Auntie W. was equally predictable. "A size 16 body in size 14 dress" the other lady would sniff, "and all held together with a size 12 girdle. Her daughter's the same (this was the bride). All tummy and no chest; she must be well strapped in today, just like her mother probably." And so a decades old battle of words continued. The joke was, as the Spencer lady well knew, that both ladies wore corsets regularly. The former, much to the corsetiere's annoyance, wore a Camp 944, and had done so for years. On one of her earlier visits to this lady, she utterly failed to impress her with Spencer's products. In fact, the lady produced her favourite 944 from the pulley in the kitchen and proceeded to tell the corsetiere of its benefits! Giving up Auntie H as a bad job, she had far more success with Auntie W. and her daughter. Front-laced corsets for the mother, and a trousseau of girdles and bras for the daughter.

The pictures here come from the late 1950's. Almost certainly, British women of the period wore a girdle, and perhaps a corset as these ladies did at the wedding in question. Their sisters from the other side of the Atlantic were probably in girdles as well, but a decade before the British, they would adopt that icon of American womanhood that lasted for nearly half a century - the pantie-girdle.




Oma Smit (left - Utrecht 1957). Oma (Granny) dressed in her finest at one of the family weddings when I was just a girl. I know she wore rubber corsets for many years, encouraged by one of my aunts, but she gave up the practice in the early 1970's, a few years before she passed away. Almost certainly she was wearing these dreadful foundations at the wedding. Her matronly tummy is well controlled but sadly, the powerful elastic of her stockings has overcome that of her suspenders and the characteristic wrinkles around the ankles are rather obvious.

A corselette might have provided the solution (see Oma Helga - right), but I have never heard of anybody wearing a rubber one although they were available - Ivy

Oma Helga (right - DŁsseldorf 1962). Oma Helga was another doyenne of the wrinkly surgical stocking brigade. It was her stockings, and the need to contain her enormous tummy that dictated her choice of foundation. With no difference in measurement between her bust, waist and hips, any corset or girdle with the strength to hold up her abdomen would be pulled earthwards by the combination of her stockings and gravity in short order. A back-laced corselette made by Triumph of Germany was her choice of support. The laced corselette accentuated her circularlity, however, friction and the firm shoulder straps ensured that her stocking might wrinkle, but largely remain in place. For this photo she was laced a little tighter than normal to fit into her rayon twin-set that she had purchased some centimetres previously.

Aunt Gwendolyn (above centre): Poor Auntie G., as she was invariably known, was used by my mother as an example of all the ills that would befall me if I failed to heed  her advice on brushing my teeth and colouring my hair. Well into her 60ís, she had been without teeth since her 20ís and hair since her 40ís, however, this was not unusual for a woman of her years and her body simply represented six decades living in an environment harder than we know today.

It's so easy to forget that for most of Auntie's G's life, there was no central-heating, no heating in cars and no fluoride in the water. She witnessed two World Wars and the hardships of rationing that denied the frivolities of fashion. Dietary requirement were unknown to the masses and the concept of a woman exercising, positively injurious. If you wanted a good figure, you bought a good corset; if you could afford one that is!

Despite her natural physical deterioration, she was a friendly, charming lady and courtesy of Spencer, Triumph and Elbeo, her aging body could be transformed into a well-dressed, elegant woman, despite a slightly wayward and over-enthusiastic application of lipstick. Laced to an unyielding circularity, her corset supported her surgical stockings that did their best to disguise the thin old woman legs with their intricate protuberance of varicose veins. Her breasts were hoisted to impressive heights (as was her jacket), a feature that in proportion to her rigidly confined waist and hips, gave her a rather top-heavy appearance but she cut a fine figure at her nieceís wedding, and, in contrast to my mother's early warnings, could be seen more as an example of how to survive an era of hardships that would destroy a modern woman. "They broke the mold when Auntie G. was born."


When Aunties get it Wrong!

This actually could be used as a test in a corsetiere's training manual.

Aunt #1: She might just be wearing a panty-girdle or is it her slacks holding her tummy not quite in. On dear! That bosom needs a lift.

Aunt #2: Good effort with the girdle. The skirt of the dress just fits round it, but the bust is far too loose.

Aunt #3: The creases in her dress show where her girdle begins and ends, but she has excellent legs for an elderly woman. A longer girdle is required.

Aunt #4: Good foundations, but the dress is a size too small. If the zip lasts the evening, I'll be surprised.

Aunt #5: Sensibly dressed to hide any evidence of her (probably) substantial underwear, her shoes are way too small. She has the splayed in legs of the very heavy woman that will eventually splay outwards (Oma Helga - above) in later life.


















They've all tried hard, but in various ways they just haven't got it quite right!




Aunt #6: Good foundations. In fact, they are so tight (does she have a back problem?) that her natural stance is for her arms to stand clear of her body. This is a common effect of a tightly laced corselette, where the inevitable bulge of flesh under the armpit forces the arms out stance.


Aunt #7: The classic girdle just tight enough to fit the tummy into the dress with insufficient attention to the upper foundation. A better brassiere, or perhaps a well cut corselette could really improve this lady's appearance.


Aunts #8 & 9: The classic evidence

of a gap twixt bra and girdle. In the older lady's case, the ghastly outline of her tummy button adds to the eccentricity!

Aunt #10: So near and yet so far!

The cut of the dress needs to be a smidgen lower, or the pantie-girdle a tad higher. As it is, one could almost grab the top edge and give it a snap!


Here we have some examples from the 1970's. Proper foundations were being consigned to the dustbin and, frankly, some women simply didn't bother at all. On the left, the top and bottom of her totally inadequate foundation is all too apparent. At least her upper garment does a respectable job. The dress is, no doubt, totally synthetic!

On the right, the young middle-aged woman actually smiles in a banal fashion as if she doesn't even care that her stomach is the focus of the photographer's attention. Even a light corselette would have been better than the totally inadequate bra and knickers worn by this dumpy frumpy woman!


On the left, the irritated woman seems to say "I left my girdle at home - OK!"

What a lovely example here on the right of two almost identical women. The lady on the left wears 'proper foundations', a brassiere and girdle specially made by Spirella. She wears heels to accentuate her calves. She looks splendid. On the right, her peer who would look similarly attractive but for the absence of heels, foundations or, basically any preparation whatsoever. It seems that the wedding caught her by surprise!


Here we have two women who have not fallen into the slovenly lassitude of the 1970's. On the left, the matron grimaces rather than smiles. If you had seen the effort that it took her to lace tight that unaccustomed corset, you would not be surprised at her expression. Her eyes bulge, her bosom is hoisted inches higher than even Howard Hughes intended by the hip-quenching force of her formidably over-tightened stays. Her corsets have removed her feminine hips and she tapers like a female tent-peg into the arrow-head agony of her stilettos. Nevertheless, the agony is not without effect for she looks very attractive.

On the right, the spectacularly elevated bosom must have prevented the matron from seeing her food when she sat down to eat, even if she could sit down. Unlike her sister on the left, her corsets have not been tightened to life-threatening levels. As a Mother-in-Law, I suspect the groom would have been terrified of that alarming bosom and secretly concerned about the future looks of his new bride. Note the disapproving stare. "Don't you dare comment on my bust!" those pursed lips seem to say!


Disguising it!

Amazingly, in the 1960's, the rayon twin set, although tailored, managed to conceal what almost certainly was a heavily girdled figure (left). Again, she looks very elegant and could wear the dress even if two sizes larger, as she undoubtedly would to future weddings.

On the right, the mother and granny of the bride wear sheaths that might well be armour plated and certainly disguise any shape beneath. This was the 1970's when the women could have been wearing anything from corsets to panty-girdles.*


By the 1990's women rarely cared about their foundations, but they certainly cared about not revealing to much in the way of uncontrolled or excess avoirdupois. The beautiful lady above has used thick, generously cut satin to conceal any flaws.

* The mother is, in fact, wearing one of Spirella's Coppelia girdles, as is her daughter, the bride. Granny wears the complex Spirella 325 to anchor her abdomen, support her back and to hold up her powerful surgical stockings.

This is a charming piece of 1950's Americana. Four women are wearing corsets and one is wearing a girdle.

The lady on the left sits up straight, the only comfortable posture of the corsetted figure, but sadly has saved money on a poorly fitting brassiere that is neither symmetrical nor even supportive enough to raise her right breast above the rim of her lower foundation. The barrel tummy and the posture shout corset.

The older lady next to her has fallen asleep again. Her corset, that is extended high in the back with shoulder straps, stops her from falling off the chair but her unsupported neck leans forward. The corset supports not just her weakened spine but her industrial strength surgical stockings.

The lady standing has a good figure, the tell-tale bulge of the abdomen kept well in check by her zippered and boned girdle.

The lady sitting underneath the cup is similar to the first lady, but in this case the sheer pressure of her stays has overcome decorum and her legs have sprung apart to reveal her virtuous directoires to the photographer. This is the classic pose of the over-corsetted or careless woman. Her colleague on the left keeps her knees together, however, note that her ankles are crossed and locked to overcome what will become intolerable pressure from her thighs.

On the right, this lady is similar to her corsetted peers and, yet again, dates the picture as coming from the 1950's since the American pre-occupation with the pneumatic bosom is far from evident.








"And, dear reader, you will never, ever, know what I am wearing beneath my sensible woolens; so don't even try to guess!"