US Girdle-Sales Statistics, 1960–1982


Roger K




The common impression that “American women began getting rid of their girdles in large numbers roughly the mid-1960s” is contradicted by the annual sales statistics collected by the Dept. of Commerce and published in their “Current Industrial Reports” pamphlets each year, under the title “Brassieres, Corsets, and Allied Garments.” I don’t have the complete run of these pamphlets, but here are the figures from ones I do have. (Sales were originally given in thousands of dozens; I’ve converted this to thousands. I.e., 60,240 below stands for 60,240,000.)

This periodical is no longer published; it fell victim to David Stockman’s budget-cutting ax in 1983.


Column headings:


1.      Year;

2.      Girdles. The Census Bureau collected statistics on sales in price ranges for both zippered and roll-on girdles, but unfortunately failed to collect data on two subdivisions of much more interest to fashion historians: Open Bottom Girdles vs. Pantie Girdles, and High-Waist vs. Normal Waist;

3.      Corsets (the Census Bureau’s outdated term for the mild, 20th century foundations with flexible busks or no busks at all—so a better term would be Laced Foundation or Non-Elastic Foundation);

4.      Corselets;

5.      Total of columns 2–4 (Girdles, Corsets, and Corselets);

6.      Garter Belts;

7.      Torsolettes. These are commonly known as Merry Widows, a trade name that the Census Bureau avoided with the neutral term, “bra-lettes,” defined as “hip-length with garters.” “Torsolettes” would have been a better choice, being the generic term used by other manufacturers. (Note: in 1974 the Census Bureau added the words, “including briefers,” which caused an immediate 80% jump in this category, and began a strong upward trend. That explains a puzzle, because Torsolettes had to have the by-then unpopular garters.)


The figures include imports, which rose from .3% of shipments in 1960 to 14% in 1980. In all cases except 1982 I have used the revised figures that appeared in the next year’s Report. E.g., the 1961 figures were taken from the 1962 Report. Once again, the numbers below represent thousands sold.


Sales Statistics

                                                                                        Garter       Torso-

               Girdles     Corsets  Corselets         Total          belts         lettes


1960:       60,240            900         2,856       63,996         6,792         1,728

1961:       67,032            840         3,120       70,992         7,452         1,716

1962:       70,776            780         3,072       74,628         9,324         1,632

1963:       75,624            756         2,952       79,332         9,024         1,176


1964:       84,960            696         3,000       88,656         9,804         1,008

1965        88,368            828         3,012       92,208       11,484            924

1966:       90,552            780         2,880       94,212       12,828            828

1967:       94,080            780         2,700       97,560       12,708            792


1968:       94,956            720         2,916       98,592         9,060            636

1969:       82,692            720         3,060       86,472         7,032            540

1970:       70,884            636         2,388       73,908         4,104            372

1971:       63,096            360         2,184       65,640         3,180            324


1972:       61,128            348         2,640       64,116         2,436            300

1973:       53,256            312         3,108       56,676         1,956            252

1974:       45,192            240         3,336       48,768         1,644            456

1975:       46,464            216         2,916       49,596         1,500            372


1976:       44,532            120         3,648       48,300         1,236            420

1977        46,308              96         3,864       50,268            960            480

1978:       44,112              84         3,492       47,688            948            420

1979        43,068              72         2,736       45,876         1,200            660


1980:       43,992            108         2,256       46,356         1,320            564

1981:       42,492              72         2,676       45,240         1,656            828

1982:       37,740              48         3,636       41,424         1,884            648


Discussion of Trends:


1. Sales of girdles and garter belts rose each year during the 60’s until 1968.

E.g., girdle sales rose by over 10% from 1960 to 1961, and rose 36% from 1960 to 1968. This increase involved a large number, 24 million items, suggesting that more women were wearing a girdle more of the time. (Especially since these girdles were lasting longer, due to their being made of Lycra / Spandex, not latex / rubber.) Sales in 1970 of these longer-lasting girdles were 118% those of 1960, so it’s highly inaccurate to say that the girdle died in the sixties.


2. The transition away from the girdle was not an overnight affair.

In 1974 girdle sales were still 48% of the high-water mark six years earlier, in 1968. Furthermore, in the next six years girdle sales fell only 3% (by 1980), refuting the common notion that a reified group called “women” trash-canned their girdles en bloc as soon as they could. Only half of them did so. And even that is an overstatement. What the figures more likely suggest is that a minority of women (say 40%) abandoned them for everyday wear, some of them continuing to buy girdles occasionally for special events, others wearing pantie girdles regularly to help hold up saggy early pantyhose.


3. Sales of garter belts rose and fell more swiftly than those of girdles, and peaked earlier.

The high year for garter belt sales was 1966; the high year for girdle sales was 1968. Sales of garter belts rose 89% from 1960 to 1966, whereas sales of girdles rose only 50%. On the downslope, sales of garter belts in 1970 fell by 68% from 1966 levels, whereas sales of girdles at that point fell only 22%. Over the next six years sales of garter belts continue to fall about twice as fast as those of girdles: In 1976, garter belt sales were only 30% of 1970 levels, compared to 63% for girdles.

Taken together, and bearing in mind that garter belts were primarily worn by the young, these figures support the contention that many high school girls switched from wearing knee socks and bobbie socks to garter belts and stockings at the start of the sixties, then started to switch to pantie girdles in the mid-sixties (since pantyhose sales didn’t take off until late 1967), then defected en masse to pantyhose in the late sixties. Probably only two-thirds (??) of women over 35 had abandoned girdles for daily wear by 1980. What women were abandoning, much more than their girdles, which they retained for evening wear, etc., were stockings. Again, this is contrary to the message conveyed by many impressionistic histories of the period.

However, the girdles that were sold in the mid-seventies and after came without garters attached, were rarely open bottom type (because those required stockings), and were rarely zippered (see item 4 below)—and hence were likely less firm on the average than earlier girdles. (There are no Census Bureau statistics on OBG vs. PG sales, because the dumbkopfs there didn’t realize we’d be curious about it.)


4. Sales of zippered girdles declined steadily as a percentage of girdle sales from 1962 onwards.

These were typically worn by those needing support (older women), This suggests that the surge in girdle wear up to 1968 was primarily due to younger women, especially students, adopting girdles, not to all segments of the girdle-wearing population increasing their girdle wardrobe due to greater prosperity. It also indicates a trend away from firm girdles and the flat-tummy look of the 50s and early 60s in subsequent years.

(Note: Prior to 1962 it’s not possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison, because prior to 1962 a third category that was subsequently merged with the other two, Latex Girdles, didn’t differentiate between zipped and unzipped items.)

Here’s the percentage of zippered sales to all girdle sales for even numbered years:


1962: 32%

1964: 31%

1966: 30%

1968: 28%

1970: 28%

1972: 23%

1974: 24%

1976: 22%

1978: 21%

1980: 20%


5. Sales of corselets rose by only 2% from 1960 to 1968.

These were typically worn as an alternative to the combination of longline bra and high-waist girdle by those needing support (older women). This further buttresses the proposition that the much larger surge (36%) in girdle wear in that time frame was primarily due to younger women adopting girdles, rather than to all segments of the girdle-wearing population increasing their foundation wardrobe due to greater prosperity.


6. Anomalies (surges and dips) in corselet sales.

There was a surge in the sales of corselets in the years 1968 & 1969, which was odd in light of the declining sales of the three other items in this category in those years. It was followed by a peculiar sharp drop in 1970 (perhaps due to a bankrupt company not reporting sales at the end of the year), and then by a pronounced upward spike in 1972-1978. Probably this was due to a surge in popularity of garterless body briefers. (The suddenness of these jumps and dips may also have been the result of certain manufacturers re-categorizing items in their product lines, or realizing that they had either been failing to record sales in this category, or had been recording sales of corselets as both corselets and girdles.)

Again, since younger women were overwhelmingly the purchasers of these lightweight items, this indicates that there was no mass “consciousness raising” against indulging in figure firming and its associated feminine fripperies per se, although histories of the period sometimes imply or assert that that was the case, based on the attitudes of progressive types. E.g., see Ellen Melinkoff’s What We Wore: An Offbeat Social History of Women’s Clothing, 1950 to 1980, p. 125: “By the end of the sixties … all girdles were viewed with suspicion.” Rather, for most, the shift was based more on fashion and technological changes than on an anti-undie mindset (although that too existed to some extent).


7. Anomaly: sharp drop in sales of laced foundations in 1971.

In 1971 sales were only 57% of the 1970 level. This is another probable statistical artifact, possibly due to a bankruptcy.



Comments on two terms.


Although the Census Bureau called them “corsets,” most of them lack a busk, which is a key element of a true corset. And yet they can’t be called girdles, even if they have a lot of elastic. They’re in a sort of gray area—“laced (or “rigid”) foundations” is probably the best term for them.)



It’s occurred to me that there was a coded message from manufacturers to young women when they popularized the term “roll-on,” in the thirties: It indicated that roll-ons were boneless—i.e., unlike the laced foundations worn by their moms. This differentiation would have pleased the youngsters’ rebellious streak.